Tough Faith Tough Times
IronClad Faith Tough Faith Tough Times is about my own experiences and struggles through some very difficult circumstances. I was diagnosed with a brain tumor where the surgery left me going blind with a near death experience.
Would God consider you faithful in the worst of circumstances? The promise of God is that all of those who have made Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior will be made new again. But your christian faith as good as a thing that it is, will not go easy just because you are a christian. That's why living out your intentional christian faith is so important. To readily prepare yourself for the storms ahead.
We are flesh and the flesh is weak. We feel pain. Our hearts ache. The pain from the trials we face seems unbearably hard as we finally find our way out of one trial only to inevitably enter into another unwelcome adversity. Just as the oceans ebb and flow, the mountain's peak and valley, just as the calm before that next storm, simply doing life can be a difficult thing. As you seem to be helplessly tossed upon the rocks of life's storms, cut, bruised, and bleeding, your faith is weakened, you feel that there is no hope and that you cannot endure it alone. You know this very well. You've lived it before. Some have been through the valley many times. And as some people face more challenges than others, and some of those challenges greater than others, it's how we face those challenges that determines who we really are. We cannot make it on our own. It's our choice to allow God to work through us to overcome them or not. And how we reflect God's peace and give him glory, even through the worst of storms, determines what will truly become of our faith.
We claim Jesus as our Savior. But do we choose to let the same Jesus, the same God who is our Savior also be our Over Comer? Do we let the same Savior who calmed the storm inside, be seen as the beacon of light and hope that He is, shining from the inside to the outside for everyone else to see. Or, do we insert our own ill sought after will and in bitterness try to hide the light, shun the love, and cry out in anger to God and then doubt his existence?
This isn't faith in action. This isn't living out an intentional christian faith. Do you say "God I have had so much pain and suffering that I seriously cannot take it anymore." And now you blame God for what you say he has done. Do you now think that God is going to have to answer to you one day because of what you say he has done? The Bible talks about this in 1 Timothy 1:19 saying: "some have made shipwreck of their faith". Or do you praise God for the amazing opportunity he has given you to show those that know you the abundant peace that he gives you even in the worst of storms. God chose you to allow this to happen. Will you welcome it and count it as a blessing that it is and an opportunity for God to work in your life? God can use both you and your circumstances to give hope, build faith and love in others. You can be an overcomer of this storm if you will only seek God and trust him. When you trust in him, and it won't be easy, your faith will be strengthened.
The Bible never talks of any easy passage through life. As a matter of fact, God tells us of the exact opposite. Life will be unpleasantly hard. Just think about the fall of man in Genesis where there was one bad decision in an act of disobedience to God- a sin changed mans future for every generation to come. Man's disobedience brought God's wrath upon himself at that very moment. Adam and Eve could have had a peaceful life tending to the garden and worshiping the Creator. Instead they were ejected from the garden and man was forevermore indicted to what the Bible describes as pain and suffering. Genesis 3: 16-19 tells what God said after the fall of Adam and Eve. "To the woman he said, "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
As we embark on life's journey, and though Adam and Eve failed, God's blessing can still be upon us as believers if we obey Jesus Christ's will for our life. When we choose to look at our circumstances with a biblical perspective, instead of a worldly perspective, and keep God as a central focal point in every ebb and flow of our life, God's peace will flow outwardly from us for others to see; even in the impossibilities. God's will is this: in every aspect of our life, we give him glory, honor, and praise and disciple others to do the same. We praise him in the calm, and we praise him in the storm. In all things we are to let his light shine so that God can use us to point others to Him. This is obedience to God, and he pours his blessings on those who bring him glory. We are blessed for our faith. Galatians 3:9 says: "So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. And to those who choose not to give honor to God's name the Bible says this in Malachi 2:2 "If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the LORD of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart."
No Easy Passage Through Life
As a very young boy raised up in Southeast Texas, although we were raised Catholic we didn't to church much. I struggled with the meaning of life from an early age in my life. My family which was once well established, quickly began to fall apart when my father whose great job with IBM became in jeapordy after he had a terrible accident with an 18-wheeler that put him in traction for several months from a whiplash. He eventually was fired from IBM, which began a quick downward spiral for my family. When I look back, had preparations been made for us as a family, we would have greatly increased our chances for surviving that storm had my parents had us grounded in Jesus Christ. Instead of being in church all that I ever remembered about my parents being together was that my parents fought all the time. And for some reason that I didn't understand then,was that I was afraid of my mother. I had nightmares about her. It was as if I was in a state of shock after seeing my mother being drunk,bowing before my father saying, "Who do you think you are- God Almighty?" Don't get me wrong, my mother was a remarkable woman and mother. But when she drank, she became a completely and totally different person. It was as if she didn't care much about anything except for her beer.
I clearly remember another time as we were on a family camping trip to Dam Bee, my mother became so intoxicated that my father had to tie her down to the front seat of the car because she kept trying to jump out. Those images have never left my mind, but Jesus healed my scars. When they divorced when I was six, I remember peeing in my pants when I had to sit in the witness chair at a court hearing to say who I wanted to live with. Divorce is such a terrible thing. For years I wished they were still together. I felt pain for the longest time. The divorce totally impacted who I was and who I would become. That is when I began my search for who God was.
Faith Brought Change
One day several years later, one of my oldest sisters- Sonia, began dating a young man who attended church. And my sister asked me and my two younger sisters Norma and Diane to church. We began going on a fairly regular basis, and at times when we could not get a ride to church, the church pastor would graciously drive his old beat up red VW Beetle way out of his way to come to our house to get us to take us there.
It was at that church- Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Port Arthur, Texas, that I finally turned my life to Jesus. Going to the front of that church was one of the hardest things I can remember doing as a thirteen year old. But I'll never forget how I felt as Pastor Braudis knelt beside me, put his arm around me, and powerfully prayed with me to accept Christ into my heart. As I knelt at the alter and as the hymn "I surrender all" was sung I said those words and I felt Jesus' presence sweep over me and peace and joy entered me as I was immediately forgiven of my sins. I didn't know what to do next. I just knew that I needed to fill a void of loneliness and the pain that I had carried with me.
What I didn't understand was that centered within every detail and circumstance, I didn't know how much God cared. Not only did I realize that he had always been there for me when I felt alone, but he wept with me and dried every tear along the way to my path to salvation. For my creator amazingly knew me before I was ever born. He kept me all along. I understand it now, but I didn't understand it then.
Touched By The Holy Spirit
After church that late Sunday afternoon as we arrived at my mother's home where I stayed for the week-end, I was looking forward to going out in the meadow to hunt with my pellet rifle. Over the last few years I had became quite a great shot with my Benjamin .22 air rifle. I was especially good at longer ranges and I shot just about anything living that was a challenge.
In the back yard as the sun was setting, I could see a silhouette of a dove sitting in a tree as he welcomed the end of the day in song. I gave no thought to it. I shot it from about forty yards away which left a splash of feathers blowing in the wind as the dove darted across the open meadow for safety along the next tree line. I gave chase. Noticing a difference in my heart, feeling sad for it, I finally arrived at the final resting place of the game-bird. I carefully looked for it under the cover of the thick Texas brush. A tiny and frail yet wonderful creation of God lied helplessly blinking under a bed of thorns.
As I saw those tiny eyes blink under the beautiful sunset, I saw a picture of myself laying there begging God to help me out of my own circumstances as I sought to put the bird out of his. I paused, transfixed with my eyes on that bird seeing him there just as helpless as I was. "Please help me God" I thought. "I need you so much. Is this all there is in life?" "I felt the weight of my circumstances come over me. My mother was a chronic alcoholic and it hurt me so much. I felt I had a father who didn’t love me, and was never around. There were many times that I wished my parents were back together and I felt torn in two as I dreaded going back and forth from one home to another. “You are my only hope God." The dove that I had killed lied there as as what I thought was a symbol of God’s love for me. I felt God’s spirit before me.
God had truly touched my heart that day as a young boy in so many ways. Not only had he saved me earlier that day, but he began to transform me.
How could I continue with who I was without a change? I no longer desired to be the person I had become. My careless attitude and selfish heart was changing. My heart had changed so suddenly- when I killed that bird that day, it was more than just about killing a bird. It was a parallel to me that God loves me when he doesn't have to. He could very easily do away with me and everyone else. But he chose me and to have a personal relationship with me.
I ran home and retreated to my room, sobbing I began to write down my experience of that afternoon. I wrote asking God's forgiveness.
I remember specifically writing:
"One day if the Lord is willing, the doves will be my friend."
I prayed that prayer. I felt horrible for my sins,
As I had finally let go of my will and finally desired to be in the will God, and willingly humble before him, I envisioned my life laid out before him. What did God want for me to do? I wondered who would be there to guide me?
Soon after, my sister Sonia, the one influential Godly person in my life that could guide me and give great spiritual leadership moved away with her husband after they were married. I no longer had a person in my life to disciple me. But somehow I survived those rough teenage years.
One thing I know terribly well is that my life has not been easy. With so many disappointments in life it came to a point that whenever bad things happened, it seemed to be a way of life. I come from a family of divorced alcoholic parents, my father was relieved of his job with IBM when I was 4 years old, and my five sisters and my brother grew up on welfare. My father got legal custody of all of us kids, and when we came home from school he was never there. In fact, most of the time when he did come home, he got cleaned up from work, got dressed, and then went out again. This was what he would call "Honkey Tonking."
Near Death Experience
When I was sixteen, I was driving my father and my sister Pud (Diane is her real name) back from my older sister Sonia’s house in Wace TX after spending Thanksgiving with them. We had a head-on collision that eventually caused the death of a young man that was headed back up to college. My sister escaped with a concussion and a bruised hip, and I broke an arm and a leg, but my father had his jaw broken in three places, crushed his knee which required several pins and plates and screws, six broken ribs, and a broken wrist. They were going to charge me for involuntary manslaughter, but witnesses reported the police that a truck pulled out in front of me and clipped the front of my car forcing me into the oncoming traffic at the start of a two-way bridge. For that I received a $29 citation for “Failure to yield one half of the road way.” To this day I do not remember what happened. I will never forget what happened the next day in the hospital when the young man who was in the other car, his sister knocked on the door of my hospital room that I shared with my dad, and said,
“Is this the Thibodeaux’s?”
I said, “Yes.” Not knowing who she was.
She said, “I just want you to know that because of you my brother is on the verge of dying!” And she turned and abruptly walked out. I lied there listening as her footsteps faded down the hallway.
I was crushed. I had just woken up from surgery and had barely enough time to recall everything. But once she said that, I quickly recalled all the vivid details of her brother, John. To this day I feel badly for what happened. I felt bad for the damage that I did. Although it was an accident and I cannot change the past, I do wish I could recall the seconds before I blacked out, all I can remember is hearing myself scream.
To Florida I Went
At 18 and with two alcoholic parents, I was finally out on my own. The words "my own" resonated in my head as I moved out. I had lived the last six years of my life without God's presence. I began a job at a cinder block plant, where my legs were pinned inside a hydraulic machine, nearly amputated, and severely compressed ankles and feet, I moved on to work at a refinery to be laid off from there a year and a half later. I then sold the car, bought a truck, and my sister Diane and I moved to Florida. She desired to be with her boyfriend, and I was looking for a fresh start.
In Florida as I was getting settled, I would lie awake at night and think about my life, all the hurt and despair that I felt over the course of life so far, and cry out to God to help me just as I did when I was a young boy. Moving to Florida to run away from my problems was not the answer. Easily, tears would stream down my face as God would slowly sooth my aching and lonely heart. I knew I could not continue to look for happiness where happiness was not to be found. God was working in my life and I really did not know it.
My so called friend and roommate that I became friends with at work stole money from me, and I later found he was on cocaine. I left for Texas around Christmas time to be home with family, only to come home to find that he had skipped out of our apartment rent, and our lease contract. I never saw him again. Unable to afford the rent for a two bedroom, I was forced to move out.
I quickly had to pick up a second job at a dive shop just to be able to afford rent. Little did I know that this would become a full time job, because shortly afterwards, there was a layoff and I found myself out of a construction job.
After being offered the job as a store sales representative, I was offered free dive classes to build upon my open water certification that I received in Texas just before I moved to Florida. I quickly moved my way up in dive certifications, and I found myself moving up to dive instructor level.
During this time I was continually feeling alone, seeking a true friend, and not knowing how to overcome the feelings I had of not doing what God had wanted me to do. God continued to remind me of the covenant he made with me. And the idea of me being a Christian, I was not ready to share with my friends, mainly because I knew they would not understand. I was torn between my two worlds. Still I felt alone in knowing the life I didn't want to live, with the life I knew that God must have in store for me. The life I excitedly wanted to know and desired more with each passing day.
One night I returned home after some time at a bar with colleagues, and I felt completely empty. There was an intensely clear belief that the life I was living was not where I was supposed to be. I sat in my apartment alone in the dark and I cried out to God. I didn't know what to say or what to do. I just knew I needed to pray. After a while and although I had prayed, there was still no clarity. I hadn't submitted my will to God.
The Holy Spirit Got My Attention
The next morning, as I went running along a trail in Orlando behind the Navy base, as I always did, God clearly got my attention.
As I was running along, I continued to hear a strange noise behind me. It sounded like a rushing of wind accompanied by a light sound- a whistle. At the time I really didn't think about it. But then I unexpectedly heard the same thing again, and then again, this time much closer followed by another short sound and a whistle I turned and looked behind me. To my surprise I had been followed by a dove trying to get my attention. As crazy as this sounds, I felt the exact same way.
"This is crazy" I thought.
"What does this dove want?"
I then said it out loud, and I was actually talking to a wild bird.
"What's wrong little bird?" I said.
I proceeded to follow the dove as it quietly walked away leading me down an embankment into a heavily wooded area. And as I followed and made my way through the entrance of the thick brush I came upon a small opening where I could squat down. As I looked again for the bird, I discovered it gently taking side steps back and forth as it was eating some tiny pieces of bread. It looked as though it was inviting me to feed it. I then reached down to pick up some of the bread and as I did the wild dove eagerly ate it from my hand. My next thought was to see if the bird would climb onto my finger. As I reached my hand down and rested my finger against the front of the its legs, it climbed onto my finger, one foot and then the next. I was so amazed but hesitant to rise the dove up to my eye level in fear that it might fly away. But as I did I looked into the birds eyes as it blinked, and I suddenly remembered the last dove that I had killed when I was a a young boy. I suddenly remembered how I had felt that day, and what I had written and prayed to God. "Maybe one day if The Lord is willing the doves will be my friend." An overwhelming feeling came over me. The Lord had shown me his presence again. God had revealed himself to me miraculously by sealing my desire from childhood.
"Maybe one day if the Lord is willing the doves will be my friend."
His spirit was totally upon me as I said out loud,
"Yes! Lord I want to know you more!"
God Is Always Faithful
There was however a period where everything in my life was going very well for me. My wife and three kids, church and God were all settled in for a nice ride. It seemed to me a little uneasy as I prayed and tried not to imagine the storms in life ahead.
Because one thing I know better than most is that my life has not been easy. It came to a point where nothing took me by surprise. Not even sickness or death. This is why whenever I lost four family members in six years between 2002 and 2008, my mother, my brother Andy, my nephew Mitchell, and my father, as hard as that time was, honestly, I was not surprised. I was not surprised when my best friend Kent lost his wife after a two year battle with brain cancer. As hard as it was to see her slip away from us like that, when you have a biblical perspective of what Jesus teaches us in the bible you have more of an understanding of God's will and how somehow through faith, God provides peace in the midst of the storm. Jesus teaches us in John 16:33 "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." Jesus has overcome all things, in all things He has overcome. There is a great peace in knowing God's own son Jesus has overcome all things. There is no trial, no tribulation, no pain or sickness that he has not overcome already, and he did it for you and I.
No easy passage guarantees. One day you are hopping happily along on your merry way and the next day you’re either ten toes to the ceiling in a hospital bed or in a coffin. One day your life is so beautiful and joyful and the next day you’re living through one of the worst events in your life. One day you count all your blessings and the next day you wish you had spent more time counting your blessings.
No matter your circumstances, hard times, sickness, or death, there is one who is always there. He is always faithful. I thank God, my Lord and my Savior Jesus Christ for that.
Have you ever wondered if there was ever a purpose for your life? Maybe you did already and you are now living your purpose. That’s excellent. Maybe you know there is a purpose and you are still searching for it.
What's My Purpose
There for a while I was wondering what my purpose was too. Things were going so well. It’s not that I was unhappy, but more that I had reached at a point in my life that I felt I was not being used by God. We had just finished up a bible study series in our life group called Secrets of the Vine, by Bruce Wilkinson. There was so much talk on pruning, growing, producing good fruit, producing bad fruit. Where was I with all of that?
All I knew was that I was very happily married to my beautiful wife Edie and that we had three healthy kids- Kaitlyn, Grant, and Mandy and a beautiful home where everything was great. But I sat and wondered through the entire class how is God using me other than the spiritual leader of my family? And I wondered endlessly- In what other ways can I make an impact for Him?
I had this burning desire to serve God in a way that I never knew possible. That’s when I prayed to God and asked him to use me in a mighty way. I then prayed no matter what I wanted to live his will for my life. The feeling that I felt was so overwhelming and somehow I just knew that God would show me how I could fulfill the purpose that I had. Peace about it came over me. As I closed my prayer I reflected on my prayer, and the feeling of peace that I had.
Well at that time I also did a faith check. I had just prayed for God to use me in a mighty way. I didn’t know what would come and I wasn’t all too certain that I was prepared for the reality of the task ahead.
I found myself keeping an eye open for that one opportunity that God would bring. My family and I had been heavily involved in the drama ministry at our church- First Baptist Church of Orlando. Every September we would start our usual Sunday afternoon rehearsal for The Singing Christmas Trees. And for Easter we would start rehearsal in February for the Easter drama. Although this is a great great family tradition and a excellent way to serve, I felt there must be other opportunities as well.
My wife Edie and I had talked about doing a mission trip together as a family and what that would be like one day. It would certainly make me feel used by going out of my comfort zone. But our kids were too young for that. How about volunteering our time in serving meals at a homeless shelter? We have taught our kids to pray for the homeless, for those in Haiti and Africa. How about serving in that capacity? It is always so sweet to hear our kids pray. Are they ready and willing to serve this way?
In knowing that God has a plan, whenever his plan is revealed, would we be ready? A simple moment can change and the next moment you find yourself in the middle of what may seem like a crisis, but it is also on how you look at it. It can also be a huge opportunity to serve in a way that you never imagined.
When My Symptoms Began
As a pharmaceutical sales rep for one of the largest pharmacies in the nation, I frequently traveled out of town for trade shows. And this time my work called me to Hilton Head Island for a few days. My family and I decided to make a vacation out of it. But something strange happened while we were there. I woke up the first morning and the left side of my face was almost completely numb.
I gently noticed it more as I showered. There was a difference between feeling the hot water splash on the right side of my face and not feeling the water splash on the left. It became more pronounced as I began to brush my teeth. When I spit, I could not spit. It felt as though I had just gotten a few shots of Novocain at the dentist office. “Now just spit in this cup.” There was a dribble here and a dribble there with a long strand just hanging on. The cold water felt cold and warm in my mouth at the same time. As I continued to get dressed my left eyelid got heavy and I began to feel the left side of my face and mouth droop.
I had heard of something with other people called Bell’s Palsy, but that only happened to old people. And I was young, healthy, and fit. And in my professional medical career, there is no room for that drooping of the face bit. I would have none of that.
As it turned out I was officially diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. And after a treatment of oral steroids for 10 days, most of the drooping, sagging and spittle eventually went away. It was a good thing. I was over having to sleep with my eyelid taped shut! Weird!
Whew, I was glad that was over. It was a terrible feeling. I was scared out of my mind. During those four weeks, I had heard story after story from people I knew who either knew or heard of someone who had Bell’s Palsy that had this happen or that they had that happen. How the lower eyelid sagged down to their waistline and the lip to the knee and so on. And I heard about how someone had it for decades and so on and so forth. But as if that wasn’t good enough it then returned again in ten years. Get me out of here…
I am not sure but looking back now I didn’t see a whole lot of encouraging words about it. I would not wish the drooping, dropping, and spittle on my worst enemy.
But as it turned out, about a week from the relief of the symptoms of Bell’s Palsy, I began having pain behind my left eye. The pain that I felt was a dull pain but a pain that from the very beginning never went away. I really did not give the pain much thought at first, especially having allergies and headaches that sometimes go with them. I had always been one to have a sinus issue and it was not uncommon for me to have some sinus pressure behind my eyes. And at times this pressure would lead to a sinus infection. A little to the left this time I thought. No big deal.
After two weeks of having the same headaches which gradually grew worse in pain, and no real sinus problems to talk about, I became quietly concerned. Concerned because the pain was consistent, getting worse, and it was then starting to wake me up in the middle of the night. I was concerned because the pain would not go away. Tylenol and Ibuprofen did not offer any relief.
I thought to myself how ironic it would be for me to have a brain tumor. No, I then would think. It’s not a tumor. But what if it is, I battled. It would be extremely ironic in two ways. One of your best friend’s wife died from almost a three year battle with brain cancer and you work in the cancer field
Nothing made me feel better. Fear started to take over. Do I talk to my wife or not? I didn’t want her to worry about me. There is something about bearing the burden as a man.I decided to take up my cross with Christ on this for a while. If the pain went away, I would share it with Edie. If it didn't get any better I would eventually share it with her.
I tried to go on with my day as normal. The pain grew more intense and there was no relief. As the days ensued I started to become very irritable.. Just doing simple things seemed hard for me to do. When I felt my best is when I could just close my eyes and not have to think.
I became irritated at the smallest things. I was irritated with some things that my wife would say even if jokingly. I became upset with my children, who I love very much. When they didn’t do something the right way or when they had an accident I would become irritated. I became impatient when they did not get along. It was not who I was. But I became a horribly irritated person. I did not like how I would respond to things or who I was at that point and what I was putting my beautiful wife and children through. It hurt me inside that I was being this way. It was not intentional.
The constant pain behind my left eye and up into the top of my head that went on hour after hour and day after day was relentless. And it took everything I had to not complain about it. But I had to ride it out for a while and let time prove that it was just a bad head ache.
After more than three weeks of the consistent pain behind my eye and in my head, I finally decided to sit down with Edie and share with her what I had been going through. Being the encourager that she is thought as I did that it was a sinus infection. She said I should go see a doctor if it did not get better in another week. But it certainly helped her to understand why I had been so cranky. As we talked it through the thought came across her mind about the following week where we had planned to go to church with our friends- The Brady’s. And because Scott is a physician, I should plan on talking to him then about my situation.
After church the following week Scott and I had a discussion about it. He recommended I go to the Centra Care walk in clinic just down the road. "Just go get checked out," he had said. "What’s the harm in that? If nothing else they can prescribe you an antibiotic for a sinus infection and get you feeling better in no time." I thought to myself, I have no symptoms of a sinus infection, but okay. I had decided to grind it out for another week and if there was no relief, I would go into the walk in clinic.
First Trip To The Doctor
It did not take a whole week for me to make a decision about it or for me to make up my mind that something was not right. A headache that did not go away for a month, and constant pain behind my left eye told me I could not put it off any longer. On Tuesday that week I had been home alone working from home. As I sat and I prayed for God to take my pain away and as the pain grew in the silence of my home I felt God prompt me. He said ” I am giving you all the signs that something is not right, and you have sought wise counsel in the matter. You are not doing yourself or your wife and children well by ignoring these signs that I have been giving you."
It was at that point, that I came to the realization that I really could have a brain tumor. And I also thought about other possibilities such as an aneurism, stroke, or even a cerebral brain hemorrhage. This was the real deal.
I picked up the phone and called Edie. I asked her to pray for me and that I had decided to go in to see the doctor. I was praying as I drove myself to the clinic. The fact that I was actually going into the doctor about something possibly being wrong inside my head seemed so unreal to me. I remember thinking “this cannot be happening.” I remember wishing my father was alive so I could talk to him, but, then again, But then I continued to remember my Heavenly Father, my Jehovah Raphe.
After all of the waiting and headaches I was finally able to see someone. I had finally came to this point of getting around to doing something about it. Fear had crept over me for an exhausting month, and as I approached the counter of the waiting room I felt strangulated by the same fear once again. I was at a decision point and I stopped and prayed once again. God once more overwhelmed me with his presence as he said to me, "I'm not through with you yet." At that moment chills and goosebumps covered my entire body as I then courageously walked up to the counter once again. I had decided to let God be in complete control of my situation. I no longer trusted myself with the diagnoses, or outcome.In that one moment of time I knew that no matter what, I was going to trust God whole heartedly with it all. I had decided good or bad that he would get the glory. When that moment came, I no longer worried, I no longer let fear overcome me, because my Overcomer had already paid it all for me at the cross. And God gave me the simplest peace about my whole circumstance.
They took me back and I waited. It was an unnerving time as I sat there in the room all alone as I thought about what I would say and how to describe my pain. I remember as I talked about my symptoms I felt somewhat relieved. There, I thought, I said it.
After the evaluation the physician didn't tell me that I had a brain tumor, nor could he rule it out. “There are sinus cavities where you are having your pain. It could be a sinus infection.” He said. “However, because you have had these headaches for over thirty days, and they've been waking you up in the middle of the night I think it is warranted for you to have a CT Scan.” “Also the fact that prior to the headaches you had Bells Palsy, the CT Scan is again a good idea.
Complete uncertainty rushed through my mind. Where I was hoping for closure there would be no closure. But no matter how uncertain and how dark the road ahead may or may not be, I was determined to remain faithful to letting everyone see God's strength portrayed in me. God's peace was with me and I felt lifted up. When I walked out of the clinic, I felt as light as a paper blowing in the wind. Submitting to my Heavenly Father, I made my way back home.
I needed to explain to my wife Edie what the physician said and explain why he ordered a CT Scan for me. I felt God telling me to be strong for my wife and family. As I shared with her the reasoning, I could sense her uncertainty. She is never the one to immediately let things get to her, but the more time she has to digest something, the more she tends to worry. It could be me, but it does seem that wife's get that sort of thing from their mothers.
When we turned the lights out after we prayed that night, I knew something was not right. I had never experienced such a headache. As I thought about it more and more, I started to tie all the pieces together. The Bells Palsy a month ago and the non-stop headache that continued to get worse seemed like too much to overlook. Yes, this is more than just a sinus infection. I dreaded finding out what was wrong with me. I laid there that night and I felt a need for strength like I had never felt I needed before. I thought about God, My thoughts of Him were endless. There were so many prayers to Him, small pleading words, and cries. My alone time became really alone. It was a long creepy night. Fear crept in and out. As much as I wanted to not be afraid, at times I still was. This is God's way of reminding me of my dependence on him.
After the CT scan that Friday, it was hurry up and wait. Unless there was something significant found, I probably would not hear from the radiologist for several days.The following Monday, I had driven to Atlanta for work. On my way up the drive was longer than I ever remembered. I took advantage of the time to ask God some things in my life that I needed to change. It is amazing how when we are sometimes faced with the possibility of a life changing event we start searching for God.
I remembered the prayer to God about Him using me in a mighty way. Could this be what He had in mind for me. I then found myself praying “no matter the outcome Lord, I want to give you glory.” "I want to do your will for my life." I felt like I was on a journey. Even though I had no diagnoses, I was totally and completely relying on God like I never did before. The fear of the unknown that I had, drew me even closer to him.
Going to work the next day really helped to get my mind off of things. As the day progressed, I gave my situation almost no thought. It was good to have my mind preoccupied after another restless night.
First MRI Results
When I returned to the hotel around 5:30 that evening, my cell phone rang. It was the physician from the clinic. What he said to me I did not understand. I was caught off guard by his phone call, as well as my wandering off from the conversation at hand. Anxiety came back over me as I awaited him to get to the point of his phone call. He said, 'The radiologist report shows they found a large calcified mass. He wants you to have an MRI taken to rule out the possible mass or aneurism.” Totally caught off guard, I had to have him repeat what he said one more time as I tried to regain my composure.
As I sat in my hotel room thinking about the next steps and how I would approach my wife over the phone, I automatically prayed to God. Again as I prayed I prayed for God's will. I asked him for my leadership for my family, I prayed for wisdom and the courage to proceed unafraid.
Before I called my wife, I thought about the opportunity I found myself in to show my wife and kids how to overcome adversity and rely solely on God during one of the worst times in your life. This was certainly shaping up to be one of those times and I had the opportunity to be courageous, or be weak. A simple choice when times are hard could make you or break you. I thought about how that wrong choice had made a difference in my family as I was growing up and how I wanted better for my own.
I picked up the phone and explained everything to Edie. She handled it well over the phone but I knew immediately upon hanging up that she would most certainly be attacked with fear, doubt, and anxiety. I had warned her not to start searching on the internet, because that was my natural temptation- to go there to search for answers. Even though I had warned her not to do so, I could not keep myself from it.
The Long Drive Home
The next day it was really rough to be away from home and my family. I had a few more things to do that day before I could start the drive back home. I had looked forward to more time alone with God. And I desired to search him for answers as to the different scenarios depending on the outcome. On one account I understood from what the physician said that there was one of two things. An aneurism or a mass.
As I drove home for six hours that night, I prayed and tuned in to christian radio and I worshiped all the way home.. I felt as though God was using me in a great way. I accepted the challenge, because in this I knew others could see God alive in me. In life we have no choice at times, but I accepted my circumstance as a gift of hope to share with others for what God was about to do in my life. The faith that I had, even not knowing what the journey would entail, I knew that God was not through with me yet.
Upon finally arriving home, I sat in the driveway as I collected my last thoughts, because from this moment on it was going to be moving wisely forward, with no looking back.
Isaiah 41:10 Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God. I will help you, I will strengthen you and uphold you with my righteous right hand.
IronClad Faith Tough Faith Tough Times
That night my wife and I sat and prayed about a lot of things. It was time to face reality that in addition to our concerns about my health, we could be in for some really hard times ahead. Edie, being the most amazingly wonderful and loving wife that she is, she had already started a prayer chain, and she somehow had people praying for me and my family as far away as China. When she told me that I immediately felt embraced by the body of Christ. I knew that despite my health concern, my family would be okay.
We started to discuss and plan for the MRI, diagnoses, and tried not to speculate about the treatment(s) if necessary. I shared with my wife how amazingly strong that I felt that God was making me and I wanted and prayed for the same thing for her. Being the worrier type person that she is, keeping her from worrying was going to be very difficult and I knew that I was going to have to leave it up to God for that. God would be able to bring her peace, not me. I would only need to be the one to bring her to it.
As we sat together that Tuesday night in the silence after prayer, it would have been easy to allow anxiety to overtake us. We had been encouraged by a friend about Philippians 4:6 "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." We knew that until the MRI we needn't worry, nor should we involve our three beautiful children Kaitlyn age 10, Grant age 8, and Mandy age 5. There was no need to bring this situation up to them until we knew what the outcome of the MRI was and what medical treatment would be needed.
The MRI was set for Friday and it seemed like an incredibly long time away. But somehow we managed to get through the next couple of days as we felt completely prayed over and at peace from all of the love and support from friends and family.
The Final MRI Results
As I drove home I had intended to wait to read the report with my wife as we had discussed. But the longer I waited during the first red light, the more the temptation overwhelmingly took over. I slid the radiology report out of the envelope that laid on the passenger seat as it made a "shhhtttt" sound. I could hardly wait to read the results. I hoped Edie would forgive me for looking ahead without her, but I could not wait to see the results. As soon as I began to read the results the light turned green, and I think for the first time in my life I wished for a longer red light. As I drove I hoped for another chance to stop so I could read the report. I had already begun to read what I promised Edie I would wait for, but since I had begun there was no stopping me now. I finally came to a sudden stop at a major intersection. I quickly picked up the report and tried to summon the calm and peace that I once had as my eyes blared at every word of the report. Deep breathing took place as I could hear my heart beating in my ears. As I anxiously began reading I couldn't wait to get passed all the unimportant stuff to finally reached the most important paragraph. The radiology report suggested that there was definitely a tumor and that the tumor was most likely a supra cellar adenoma or a Craniopharyngioma. As my eyes read over and over the words "surgery recommended" I came back to reality to a "honk, honk!" as the impatient driver behind me began to get ever so close to me. Didn't he know I was reading a long awaited radiology report, and that my world was being cracked in half. As I started to slowly pull forward I felt like my whole world was standing still. Around me life was moving forward. I felt hot. I needed my wife, I needed to phone someone. I needed God. I recalled a verse in the Bible John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.."
I don't remember much about the drive home, but I anxiously wanted to be with my soulmate-Edie. As I made my way home, I was finally able to read over the radiology report with her and we talked about what that meant. We had a lot of questions that needed answered. We both sat still for a few moments in our own silence, away from our kids laughter coming from the other room, as we let the thought of brain surgery process in our minds. We sat in our space and gathered our thoughts. We prayed for God's guidance, wisdom, and healing. I prayed for my wife, and our family, that wherever there was a need that God would provide for my family.
It appeared that just about everything that God had prepared me for had come to be. God reminded me to not fear, that he was my Overcomer. I had a strong sense of the Holy Spirit as I felt God saying to me, "I am not finished with you yet."
A Call To Action
The week after the MRI I had a scheduled appointment with Dr. Max Madery- a well known neurosurgeon in Orlando, to discuss the results of the MRI. Not knowing who to go to, this doctor was recommended to Edie and I by several friends.
Upon meeting with Dr. Madery, even though it was our first time meeting him, he appeared to be very concerned. He reached over and grabbed a model of the human brain, and then proceeded to articulate where my tumor was located. And this is where his concern came from. The problem was that the tumor, as he put it, was in a very delicate and complicated area in the brain, and that it would be extremely difficult to get to.
The tumor was attached to the stalk of my pituitary gland, rising above the gland two centimeters and pushing downward onto the pituitary gland. The pain behind my left eye, Dr. Madery explained, was arising from the pressure of the tumor pressing against the optic chiasm and optic nerve. A new word to us, which he described, as a place where the optic nerve from the left eye and the optic nerve from the right eye connect, and where the nerve started to continue into the back of the brain called the optic tract.
"To do a procedure in this are would not be easy. First of all," Dr. Madery continued, "in order for me to do the procedure," he once again showed us the model of the human brain, "a craniotomy would be necessary " as he twisted off the top of the model of the skull. This, we later discussed, was not the best bedside manner that a surgeon could have.
Dr Madery informed us that there were high risks of performing a procedure in this area of the brain. The first one being the loss of sight, the loss of a pituitary gland if it was deemed necessary to remove some of or all of the gland, and then there was the danger of damaging the Hypothalamus which controls several critical functions of our existence.
Dr. Madery shared with is that he could do the surgery, but would most likely have to remove the area of the pituitary gland that the tumor was attached. He said that there was uncertainty, because from the MRI, it was hard to tell whether or not the tumor was attached in other places or not. If so the entire Pituitary would need to be removed.
After discussing the craniotomy, he did say there was another option to get to the tumor through the nose and to then drill through the sphenoid sinus cavity- thus it's called Transphenoidal surgery.
Dr. Madery shared with us that he had never done this type of surgery as it was extremely complicated. He recommended only the most experienced need perform this procedure on me and that if we wanted to go this route he could not be our surgeon. This only made my situation more complicated. Not only did I need to have surgery, I had to make decisions based on my best advice and counsel and pray for the best outcome.
We asked Dr. Madery if he could recommend anyone. He recommend the surgeon who trained him while he went through medical school, Takanori Fukushima, from Japan. He went on to explain that Dr. Takanori had performed hundreds of surgeries in and around the brain. He also added that he traveled from Japan, to Duke Raleigh hospital in North Carolina, and also Africa to perform surgeries. He said, "if I were going to have this surgery, Dr. Fukushima is who I would go to."
This certainly gave us some information about who we should contact. It was by no means a decision we had made, but rather, we thought, perhaps God was leading us along the right path. Logistically we didn't know how it would work, living in Orlando and having brain surgery in North Carolina. But Dr. Madery assured us that he keeps close contact with Dr. Fukushima and that he would provide patient follow up with me when I returned back to Orlando.
The next day I had a phone appointment with University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. It was one of the highly recommended medical centers that had vast experience and successes with brain tumors. I anxiously awaited to get on the phone with the physicians that I had scheduled a telephone call with.
Once I got into the conversation they assured me that they would be able to have success they felt even though my tumor was in such a highly delicate part of the brain. My one main question that I wanted answered was whether or not a craniotomy would be required. They told me that the procedure they perform would be a transphenoidal surgery through the nose. That they also use a GPS locating system to help guide them through to the tumor and for accuracy. I immediately thought of the bad experiences I had a using my GPS enabled Garmen that sent me circling 'round and 'round on many occasions because it didn't know how to get me to my desired location. And I decided right then that no GPS would be guiding anyone anywhere inside of my brain. End of story.
I also consulted with another physician in Orlando that felt that the only way that he could do the surgery was through a craniotomy. I was beginning to get more comfortable in making a decision to where I though God was leading me to go. With Dr. Fukushima's vast experience and successful track record, and familiarity with the delicate part of my brain, our prayers we though were finally being answered. All that was left to do was to figure out all of the logistics of the entire process.
Just to brag on my wife- Edie just a little. She is such an amazing wife and mother to our three beautiful children. Our kids at that time were oblivious to what was going on. They were so used to being around their mother who was always loving on them. But not only did she love on them, she loved on just about every person that God put in her life. She truly is my best friend, and wonderful friend to so many others, I can't keep track of them all. I am just so blessed and thankful to have her walk by my side during life's journey.
When we had made our final decision in Dr. Madery's Orlando office, there was such a sinking feeling inside of me. It was obvious that she too was feeling overwhelmed at the thought of my having brain surgery.
As we got to the check out counter, she said "Im going to just go sit down in the lobby while you check out." Now I know her so well that I had to stop her from being alone at that moment. I knew she was about to have a bad moment. Because I love her, and men you can probably relate, you'll do everything you can to help your wife in this crucial moment.
I may not have been the best spiritual leader for my wife in the past, but this was one moment that I was not going to fail.
I said to her, "We can't do this. We need to look forward, trust God and have no regrets. Let's allow God to use us so others who need hope can see our faith in action."
I asked her to be strong for our family and to be strong for all the people that need to see how we will act and see what we do with this. Until that moment I don't think that either one of us really had our faith tested like this before. At least not to this level. She looked in my eyes and in that moment I could see the strength of God in her. And I could tell that she had decided right then that that was what she was going to do. We needed tough faith for tough times. IronClad Faith Tough Faith Tough Times
Late that night I began to reflect about my father who went through some tough times late in life. He was a successful electrician and typewriter technician with IBM. He traveled from time to time, even trips to Washington DC. My siblings and I would get so excited when he would return home. One day while on his way home, he was run off of the road by an eighteen-wheeler. His car was forced onto an embankment on the side of an overpass and his car flipped. He suffered a major neck whiplash that left him in traction and under medical care for weeks and was unable to return to work. His employer was patient for him to return to work, but after some failed attempts, he was eventually severed from the company.
Recalling everything about those days is difficult, but I remember our family going on welfare, and seven children were very happy to have food on the table. We got huge jars of pickles and gigantic blocks of cheese. Then, there was powdered milk. If you have ever tried it, I needn't say more.
Reflecting on that made me feel that my situation was similar to what my father went through.
Being strong in a rough situation, especially a health crisis freaked me out. I felt as though my whole body was numb and I became in a state of focus on one thing. That was to feel the power of God and completely trust him without worry, doubt, or regret. I had an opportunity to use this as a way to point others to Jesus. Although I wasn't excited to be where I was, I wanted to do the best with my situation that I could and I felt God leading us along the way.
Edie was fantastic in working out all of the details. She did so much for me during the next few days. She had to work out a surgery date, all of the logistics for our getting to and from the hotel in North Carolina, gather friends and family to watch our kids, someone to watch Zoey- our Golden Doodle, schedule a meeting with the pastors of our church to pray over me and anoint me with oil, schedule a prayer time with friends and family that could make it, all while I worked until it was time to leave for the surgery.
-To be continued