As I look at the photo I am reminded at just how much my mom and dad hated my "long" hair during my college years. I look at it now and wish for just a fraction of the thickness that I had back then. It is hard to imagine that just three years after this photo was taken I would be completely bald due to chemotherapy treatments. There would be no running up and down a basketball court; there would be no throwing an 85 mph fastball; instead, there would be people to assist me getting out of bed. I could have never pictured such a turn of events in my life.
At the end of my junior year in college I had been selected to the baseball All-Conference First Team. I went undefeated as a pitcher compiling a record of five wins and no losses. Starting a season at 5-0 as a pitcher did not seem like a big deal at the time. However, that feat was not accomplished again at Northeast (now Truman State University) for over 30 years. Imagine my surprise when I was doing a "Google" search and saw my name in a newspaper article in Iowa stating that my statistic had held up for all those years. As I look back now, it is still difficult to believe that I went from being physically fit and playing two sports at the collegiate level, only to find myself in a life and death battle a short time later.
I was a starter on the basketball team my junior and senior years, but I was not good enough to play pro sports either in basketball or baseball. However, the college experience sure provided many wonderful memories. It also taught me much about self-discipline and sacrifice. Staying in good physical shape all year round was also beneficial. I think it helped prepare me for the battle that would soon be in front of me.
Keeping up with studies while traveling for sports always had to remain a priority. My most treasured award from college was being named to the Academic All-American Baseball Team in 1983. I was not just an athlete. I was a student-athlete who wanted to succeed academically. I was able to do just that. God had blessed my life abundantly.
Then on July 17, 1986 I was diagnosed with cancer. That was just a mere three years after graduating from college. What was happening to all of my dreams at that point? I had been a healthy young man. How could this be?
As I now celebrate 32 years of survival since that diagnosis, it provides me with an opportunity to simply reflect back upon what has transpired since that shocking diagnosis. I could have never imagined where life would lead. Getting married, having children, and becoming a deacon were not even on the radar while I was going through chemotherapy treatments. I thought there was no point to dream. My life had changed in the blink of an eye, and finding a reason to hope was beyond difficult. I stopped dreaming of a bright future.
I won't go through the entire journey in this blog post. That is what I covered in my book. However, I just want to say that I missed opportunities to see the glory of God in the midst of the suffering. I focused on myself rather than focusing on God. It is difficult to maintain hope if we fail to look to the One that provides us with a reason to hope.
Today, I invite you to dream. Whatever challenges you face in life, don't give up hope. Stay focused on the One that provides hope. Don't give up your dreams. I know from first-hand experience that it isn't easy. However, I also know that if you persevere one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time, you can overcome greater things than you may have ever imagined. If you are in a tough spot right now--hang in there. Keep fighting and keep praying.
I lost a lot of things at an early age due to this diagnosis, and I felt cheated for a long time. Thankfully, God is patient. It took years for me to realize what I had also gained in the process. God brings good out of suffering. I knew this. After all, that is what the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus tells us. Amid His suffering and death came redemption and healing for sinners. Unfortunately, when I was the person in the midst of the suffering, I was unable to see those things clearly. I failed to understand. Subsequently, I failed to put it all into proper perspective at the time.
Bottom line--my ministry and my life has been shaped by the experience of suffering. Did I choose this particular path of learning? Absolutely not! But once I learned to accept it (at least partially), the Lord could work within me and through me. There are times I still resist, and there will always be room for growth. However, I am still daring to dream. If not, I would have never made such a drastic move across the country from Wyoming to South Carolina at this stage of my life. I felt the tug of God on my heart leading me to Hilton Head Island to St. Francis by the Sea. I am excited to see what God has in store for this new adventure.
Where is God leading you?