Written Tuesday, September 4:
Here I sit once again on a plane writing my thoughts on the experiences that lay behind me and before me. This flight from St. Louis back to NY was delayed nearly one week due to some unexpected circumstances. I have always said that the greatest opportunity to minister comes in difficult circumstances. Well, now I will add unexpected circumstances to that category.
Last Monday, August 27 I arranged to have a check-up with a doctor who is also a close friend. The check-up was for no particular reason than the fact that I recently turned 30. Many people have jokingly said that my body would fall apart at 30. Despite a problematic knee though, I felt (feel) great.
During the examination, the doctor noticed an abnormality that did not cause great alarm but required an ultrasound for follow-up. The ultrasound was relatively quick and non-concerning until the technician asked me to wait while he had the radiologist take a look.
I must interrupt the story to say that at no point in my experience was there any sense of trepidation. I believe that we don’t serve a God of karmic destiny but instead a God who is capable of using everything for His glory.
About 15 minutes later the radiologist came to the waiting room and invited me back. He introduced himself and began to share his appreciation for G2’s work in the Bronx. He had heard me speak the previous day at church as well as in his Sunday School class.
His next question was both unexpected and slightly humorous to me. “Do you know what the greatest thing is that can happen to a Christian brother or sister?”
I paused to answer, not because I didn’t know the answer or even because it startled me, but simply because I was amused that a doctor would begin a conversation in such a manner.
(As I write this now, this exchange still gives me a chuckle)
He continued by telling me what he read in the ultrasound. The abnormality that was found was likely testicular cancer and would require an orchiectomy (removal of the testicle). Through the whole conversation he was very reassuring, letting me know that he doesn’t normally talk to patients but thought he owed it to me as my Christian brother.
Returning to my primary care physician, we discussed possibilities and options. It seemed to make the most sense to return to NY and find a urologist.
The next day, my mom and I traveled to St. Louis. My flight back to NY was early Wednesday morning so we decided to go up the day before and spend the night. On the three hour drive from my mom’s house to St. Louis I began to call urologists in NY and even scheduled a couple different appointments. About half way through our journey I received a call from my physician (don’t forget he’s also a good friend). He had been on the phone with a leading urologist at Washington University in St. Louis and thought that I should give him a call. He gave me the urologist’s cell and home phone numbers!
The urologist had a great sense of urgency in treating the cancer. Apparently with this type of cancer, one week can make a difference. He was willing to refer me to a friend of his at Columbia University in NY, but he was also willing to work me into his schedule the next morning. After a few conversations back and forth, I decided to postpone my flight to NY and see him on Wednesday.
From my conversation with the doctor, it did not seem like I would be in surgery until Friday; nevertheless, I decided not to eat or drink anything the rest of the day, just in case.
Throughout this whole story I can point to you numerous moments of God’s sovereignty, providence, provision, mercy, grace and miracles. Getting a check-up for the first time in 15 years, receiving the cell phone number of a leading urologist, being surrounded by very capable friends and individuals who greatly care about my well-being…all signs to me of God’s presence. Nothing though was so blatant and obvious of a love note from God as what would happen next.
On Wednesday morning my mom and I headed to Barnes Jewish Hospital. We pulled into the parking garage sometime after 8 am. I got out of the car and heard someone say, “Andrew?!”
I turned and there stood a long-time family friend, Howard Garrett. He reached down (he is a very tall individual, and I’m well…not) and gave me a big hug. Although unexpected, it was an easy guess why he was there. His wife, Judy, has been fighting cancer for 20 years. She recently had her stomach removed and I was correct in assuming that they had driven from Springfield, MO to see her oncologist. I shared briefly what was going on with me. He said, “I’ll let Judy know.”
As I was signing in at the urology office Howard and Judy walked in. I can’t tell you the significance this moment had for me. I was walked onto the battlefield of cancer by a veteran warrior who has fought with incredible grace and faith. We visited, they prayed for me and Judy hugged me. To me that hug was the arms of God saying, “Andrew, you’re right to have perfect peace.”
From this point, as if they weren’t moving fast enough, things started moving pretty quick. I saw my urologist. He confirmed that I would need an orchiectomy. He said, if I was willing, he would have one of his fellows perform the surgery that afternoon. By 3 pm (about 48 hours after first being diagnosed) I was in surgery. I was kept overnight and the next morning they performed some scans. I was discharged Thursday by about 1 pm.
Up to this point I haven’t mentioned Proof. She was with me through the whole journey! If I had expected to be going to surgery, I would have had my sister dog-sit. Instead, Proof was with my mom and I in the hospital. In her typical fashion she even helped me out–I was upgraded to a private room due to her presence.
So what’s ahead? Honestly, I don’t know, but that is fine–that is part of this adventure. My labs and scans indicate that the cancer has spread to a couple of lymph nodes in my abdomen. It is highly likely that I will need chemotherapy and possibly another surgery down the road. For now, I am on my way back to the Bronx. I will be under the care of a urologist and oncologist in NYC who will determine the course of treatment.
So what is God teaching me? There are three things I have been repeating.
1. There is no reason this should be me and no reason this shouldn’t be me. The search for reasons inevitably leads us down a path where God is not in control or where God doesn’t love. Neither could be further from the truth. God didn’t cause this, sin didn’t cause this. I’m not even giving Satan the credit for causing this–no weapon formed against me shall prosper. That means Satan is powerless.
Weapons made to attack you won’t be successful; words spoken against you won’t hurt at all. (ISAIAH 54:17 CEV)
2. I didn’t choose this road and I can’t choose the road ahead, all I can do is choose how I walk it.
3. I will walk it in a way that glorifies God. I realize that I probably have hundreds of people praying for healing. I thank God for that! My prayer though is that God will use these circumstances to glorify Him. Use them to expand his kingdom–both in the Bronx and to any one God places in my path. Use these circumstances so that I can explore and reside in new depths in my relationship with Christ.
Some verses that are carrying new significance for me:
I honestly expect and hope I will never do anything to be ashamed of. Whether I live or die, I always want to be as brave as I am now and bring honor to Christ. If I live, it will be for Christ, and if I die, I will gain even more. (PHILIPPIANS 1:20-21 CEV)
Above all else, you must live in a way that brings honor to the good news about Christ. Then, whether I visit you or not, I will hear that all of you think alike. I will know that you are working together and are struggling side by side to get others to believe the good news. Be brave when you face your enemies. Your courage will show them that they are going to be destroyed, and it will show you that you will be saved. God will make all of this happen, and he has blessed you. Not only do you have faith in Christ, but you suffer for him. (PHILIPPIANS 1:27-29 CEV)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIV)