I felt like I needed to applaud or cheer when he started walking towards the podium. It had been about six weeks since he had stood in that spot and we had all missed him. He looked exactly the same, and even had a smile on his face when he started to speak. First, he said, he should probably address the elephant in the room. He had to talk about the reason for his absence. Exactly 39 days ago he received the phone call that completely changed his life. As he sat in the chair in his office, his doctor told him “Andy, you have cancer”.
That man is my pastor. Andy McQuitty, the senior pastor of Irving Bible Church in Irving, TX where my family and I have attended faithfully for over five years. Pastor Andy is a husband, a father of five, and a grandfather. He rides a Harley and drinks Starbucks coffee like it is going out of style. He loves to quote lines from movies and books, and he breathes better when he is on the golf course. He takes his family to dinner on Sunday evenings and inspires SO MANY people in his congregation. I have always admired (and envied) his way with words, he finds the right balance of wit and intelligence. I am amazed at how he makes me feel like he writes his sermon directly for me every Sunday. And he has cancer.
I am on his email list at church and about five weeks ago he send out a very candid message that tell us about his “news”. About a week later he went in for major surgery and had several inches of his colon removed. While waiting for additional test results, we were relieved to hear that he was recovering quickly from his surgery and could be back to preaching in as little as six weeks. As a church body (and IBC is a fairly large congregation), we wanted to reach out to our pastor and his family. However, it would probably be a tad overwhelming if we all started calling, emailing, texting or stopping by to visit. So last week the church came up with the idea of a “prayer line” for Andy. It is a phone number to a pager and we can call when we are praying for him, to let him know that he is in our thoughts. Pastor Andy brought the pager with him as he spoke to the congregation this Sunday morning and joked about how often it vibrates – he said it goes off all hours of the day, so often that he has replaced the battery three times, and so much that he can almost get a massage from the vibration. He is able to joke about his cancer.
So last week, I was saddened when I opened his email and read the news that Pastor Andy had to share. He has (in his words) “a pretty band cancer and the next two to three months are crucial in determining how much longer I’m going to… be on this planet”. He explained how the Oncologists rank the seriousness of this disease with One being the least serious and Four being barely hanging on. He is in late Stage three. He starts six months of chemotherapy on Wednesday to attack those dirty little cancer devils.
So do you want to know how I feel about this news? It’s not pretty. I don’t know if I can joke about it.
The first thing that happened when I heard about Pastor Andy having cancer…
I got MAD. At God. Really ticked off, to tell you the truth.
I told God that He was wrong; that He had picked the wrong person for this evil disease (although I’m not sure if there is a right person to deserve cancer). I told God that there are so many people that NEED Andy around a lot longer. I told God that He was wrong if He thought that something good would come out of this “journey” that He has selected Andy to endure. I told God that maybe He should have considered all the people of IBC, all the people’s lives that Andy touches before He gave him an all access pass to the Cancer Club. I basically sat down to pray but ended up telling God off.
Let me tell you that in my 20+ years of experience as a Christian, getting mad at God DOES NOT WORK. So I cried instead.
When I heard that Pastor Andy would be speaking at church this morning, I made sure my entire family got up on time to be there. It was a relief to see him standing in his usual spot for a change. I also needed to hear what he had to say, I needed to hear how he was dealing with this life-altering news. I needed to know how to pray for him and his family. When Andy spoke this morning, he questioned if the rules were different now that he had to endure the burden of cancer. He wondered if he should get a “free pass” on how to handle things now that he is sick. The answer is No. Then he quoted Matthew 6:25-34.
In the past five years, this has become the passage of scripture that I turn when I am anxious, worried, or feeling lost. This is the passage that I seek when I am struggling to see God’s plan in my life. It is the passage that reminds me that God is in control, that I need to continue to put him first in my life and continue to spread his word. It humbles me every time I read it. We all have burdens and struggles in our lives, but that does not mean that the rules no longer apply to us. Nobody gets a free pass. I am still struggling with the news that my Pastor has Stage three cancer, but I also realize that I have no control over this diagnosis. I am reminded that I have to put my faith in God, realize that He is in control and He has a plan (I just wish He would have consulted me on His plan because I have VERY STRONG opinion about it).
Today I left church feeling rattled and a little raw. I'm still angry and upset at the fight that Andy, his wife and his family is facing over the next several months. I think about how I would feel if we got the same news about Trey and it made me want to scream. When we got home, I found my way into Trey’s arms and we held each other without words. I cradled my infant son and kissed his sweet, chubby cheeks. I hugged Sophia tight before she went down for her nap. I have been reminded that the time that we have here on this earth is very short and we never know when God decides to bring one of us home. I still don't know how to handles what I am feeling, but that is for God and me to figure out. We have a lot more talking to do. I still have a srong opinion about cancer though - it sucks.