To be perfectly honest, the past twelve months have amounted to the most difficult year of my life. One year ago today, as I stepped into the pulpit, I suffered what later was diagnosed as a “complicated migraine with stroke-like symptoms” as I began my sermon. As I attempted to read the scripture, like I had done countless times before, I was unable to. The words were forming in my mind but I could not say anything and everything was a blur. Immediately I knew something wasn’t right. The next fifteen minutes were scary and excruciating. In reality, it seemed like an eternity. I tried to speak, but I could only manage a few words through the tears. Looking back, it was as if I did not know what I was doing up there. My congregation knew things were not right. I could see it on their faces. I looked at my wife Terri who was sitting about three rows back to my right. I always know where she is sitting. She was crying. While I struggled with my words, I was trying to make a decision to step down or keep going. I decided to keep going. At the end of the service, I left the sanctuary to a room on the back hallway. I was met there by my wife and a few others. I remember feeling scared, nervous, and to be honest, a bit embarrassed. What followed over the next week was even more worrisome.
After seeing the doctor, having many tests run, and spending a night in the hospital, I was not sure how things were going to be going forward. I tried to read and study the next week, but was unable to remember anything I had read. I enjoy reading and writing so this was hard to handle. It was during this week that I began to ask some very difficult questions. I remember asking my wife, “What happens if I never get back to the point I was before?” I asked, “What if this is the end of my ministry as a pastor?” I remember asking “Should I just resign so the church could find someone else?” Thankfully, as the second week rolled around, I was able to remember more and more of what I had read. One of the significant changes I experienced from this “attack” was that my vision was altered. As a result, eyeglasses are now necessary. A year later, things are good. Every so often, I have a moment where I feel my mind “skip”, much like a CD will skip when the player is moved. Apart from that, no lingering effects. I am thankful that Lord allowed me to continue.
Roughly two months after this, my father was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that was inoperable. My father was living about four hours away from us and we made many trips back and forth to Tifton, GA to visit, talk with doctors, and just spend time with him. Dad decided to not undergo treatment for his cancer. The next few months brought many changes, for him and for us. My father died on Christmas Day 2012 at the age of 65. When he took his last breath, I was in the room alone with him. I am thankful for those last moments. My dad came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ very late in life. I remember the day he called me to let me know of his decision. He was so excited and I could not have been happier. There is a peace this certainty brings. I had the privilege of preaching my dad’s funeral. I miss my dad every day. We did not talk every day, but I thought of him every day. Deep down I believe that I have not really grieved the loss of my dad yet. I’m not really sure why that is.
Through these two events, along with the weight of pastoral ministry, I have learned some great lessons over the past year. Allow me to share what I have learned.
1. I have felt the weight of the truth of Romans 8:28. Paul wrote, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. I have always believed this verse. It is a verse with a promise to those who belong to God through His Son Jesus Christ. These two events are certainly not good. They are not circumstances anyone would want to deal with. However, God certainly can, and has, brought good as a result of these events. I have learned to not take for granted the small things in life (reading, writing, studying. etc.) I believe I am now better able to minister to families who lose loved ones. I understand the pain, hurt, highs and lows, and sorrow of losing someone very close to me. God is bringing good out of what is certainly not good.
2. I have seen the true meaning of “help-mate” in my wife. In the book of Genesis, God gave Adam a companion, a help-mate, one to literally complete him. Over this past year, Terri has truly been by completion. She has held my hand, cried with me, guarded my time, and loved me through the not so easy times. I do not know if I could have made it through this past year’s events without her. She is a true God-send.
3. The love of a congregation for its pastor runs deep. Over this past year, the people that I have the honor of pastoring have went out of their way to show their concern, support, love, and sympathy for me and my family. They have encouraged me to take as much time as I needed to in order to deal with these issues. They have prayed for me through it all. I truly love these people.
Looking back, the old adage is true, “God is good, all the time and all the time, God is good.”