Teaching Men How to Fight Like a Girl
"Prayer is the intimate communication between the Heavenly Father and His child." Don Miller
One of the toughest assignments I have ever faced as a Dad was meeting our daughters to tell them that their mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I don't know why it bothered me so much. Dana was more than able to handle the situation without me. My wife has an inner strength and resiliency that seems to flourish in the midst of a crisis. I have seen it in many women who have been hit with the news of about cancer. It is an awesome sight to behold.
When we arrived in Southlake Town Center, we were a little bit ahead of Ashley and Allyson. It gave us time to walk, and talk and pray. Little did we know that we had fallen into pattern that would serve us well over the next two and one half years. As we walked south from the Barnes and Noble Book Store, I could see our daughters in the distance. It was late afternoon and the bright sun threw a shadow across their faces, but I could see the outline of their bodies as the approached where Dana and I were standing. Both of them are college graduates, beautiful, accomplished women who have great strength and poise, but they looked like two little girls as they held each other and made their way to us. The scene broke my heart, and my eyes began to flood with tears. My mind was swept of all the words I had been practicing to say. My cell phone rang. It was a friend 60 miles away who called to let me know that he had just heard the news. I had walked with him and his lovely wife through his six month old son's brain surgery, and he wanted to let me know their thoughts and prayers were with us. He said,"I'm not that good at this, but you were there for us and we are going to be there for you. As much as we know how, we are going to pray for you and Dana and be there for you through this like you were there for us." I was in full melt down at this time. I responded with, "Start praying! Our girls are about 20 feet away and I have to tell them the news, and I don't know how." He promised to pray and we hung up. In the short length of that phone call, Dana and the girls ran to meet each other, and they threw their arms around their bodies in a group hug and wept. They knew instinctively that they were about to hear bad news, and Dana responded with a powerful, maternal instinct to protect her children. I walked over and wrapped my arms around all three of these precious ladies, and just started praying aloud for them right there on the sidewalk. It was a short prayer, and the words I prayed do not come to mind, but I know our first response was to place this news in God's hands. I asked Him to take this out of our hands, and do something with it only He could get credit for. I unashamedly asked for His healing touch on Dana and His ability to stand along side of her as she faced what was coming her way. We then walked hand in hand to the gelato shop and ate Italian ice cream. Sounds a bit silly now, but ice cream really helped get the bad taste of cancer out our mouths.
I was beginning to learn the truth of a statement made by a travelling companion of mine. In March 2002 I was heading to speak in Florida, and had to connect with a flight out of Atlanta. When I got off of my plane in Georgia, I knew I had very little time to catch my next flight to Tampa. Imagine my relief, when the gate that I needed to reach was right next door to my arrival gate, and I just walked right on the plane without having to run or wait. I sat down in my seat and I must have said, "Thank you Lord." The man in the seat next to me said, "Oh, you know Him too." I was a little taken aback. I had not realized I had said it aloud. I was grateful, but had not intended to use my prayer as a conversation starter. He asked what I was going to do in Tampa. I told him I was on my way to teach people how to pray. His words put a chill in my spine. He said, "That's easy. Tell them to get cancer!" I know the look on my face had to be one of shock and awe. This stranger had invaded my space and dropped a real bomb right in my lap. He said, "Don't be alarmed. I am not being flippant. I just didn't really take prayer seriously until I got cancer. After I got that piece of news, prayer became very important to me, and Jesus and I have become very familiar with one another." You can't make this stuff up. I have to admit that I have fallen back on this statement many times over the past two and half years.
That night we drove home, all the while calling family and friends with the news over the 70 mile journey. By the time we arrived at our house we were exhausted with repeating the report over and over. All we could do was hold each other and cry. We didn't know what was next. We still had a lot to learn about the fight against cancer that was ahead.
We knew when the sun came up we had to find and oncologist and outline a battle plan. There was so much to do, and yet life still went on all around us. We were pastoring a church and in the middle of a building program. We were both on the Volunteer Fire Department of our city, and I was about to begin a two year term as member of our city council. People all around us expected us to meet some expectation they had of us, but we were in need of help ourselves. We were overwhelmed by the news we had received,and intimidated by the new vocabulary words we were having to learn.
I remember thinking as I put my head on the pillow that I would get up if the sun came up in the morning, but I did not have any other plans for the day. Thank God we did not know what was ahead of us or neither one of us would have slept that night.
Like many people who have faced crises over the past centuries, the 23rd Psalm came to my mind. The turning point in David's walk with God did not come from a mountain top experience, but from a valley. We were in a very deep, dark valley, and the words that came to my mind were, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." I don't know what David went through before he wrote these words, but somehow God became someone he talked to rather than he just talked about. His references to God were all in the third person until his crisis became so personal that it forced him to talk to God. I was a preacher and I was equipped and experienced at talking about God. Cancer was taking me through a valley that was filled with changing shadows and shifting light and exposing a vulnerability in my soul that could only be protected by talking to God face to face. There is a huge difference between preaching and praying. That is because of the distance between talking about God and talking to God. One requires informaton and a moderate degree of intelligence. The other is a personal intimacy that is cultivated in what Oswald Chambers called, "the valley of humiliation." He said, "God gives us the vision, then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of the vision, and it is in the valley that so many of us faint and give way. God has to take us into the valley...until we get to the place where He can trust us."
Dana and I have prayed for over 30 years that God would allow us to be part of something only He could get credit for. We had no idea how big a part cancer would play in answering our prayers.