The summer of 2013 was perhaps the best of my life. It was the first summer since 2001 that I hadn't either spent on the road leading worship or in a seminary classroom. Charlotte had been born the previous January, and our boys - then two and four - were a blast. I was beginning a transition at church from being a long-time worship pastor to being a primary member of our teaching team on Sundays. All these factors contributed to a great sense of alignment and freedom for me and Karen.
The highlight of the summer, though, was a trip that I took with my dad and brother. Patrick and I had talked for years about going on a baseball road trip with Dad, and this was the first summer that we actually had the opportunity. So back in February, we planned the trip, figuring out which teams were in town on what days, how we would travel, and where we would stay.
On the morning of July 23, the three of us woke up before dawn in Dallas, ready to board a plane to Boston. Over the next ten days, we would see games at Fenway Park, Citi Field (Mets), Yankee Stadium, Nationals Park (Washington, D.C.), Camden Yards (Baltimore), Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia), PNC Park (Pittsburgh), and Progressive Field (Cleveland). It was the Quintessential American Vacation.
But something happened that we couldn't have planned on. As we arrived at Love Field in Dallas and were standing in the security line, Patrick commented that he must've slept funny, because his "midsection" was feeling a bit tender. Being the older brother that I am, I shrugged it off as no big deal and figured he was just being a baby. But as the day went on, he got more and more uncomfortable - which I attributed to him sitting still on a cramped airplane for 6 hours. Perfectly logical explanation!
We arrived in Boston and checked into our hotel. And then Patrick, who was miserable by now, located an urgent care facility in the area and went to seek treatment. He met me and dad during the third inning of the ballgame, without much relief.
At about two in the morning, Patrick woke us up and was in terrible pain. He and dad got a cab to Beth Israel hospital (the same place that the Boston Bomber had been held that spring), and he spent the rest of the night in the ER. He was given pain meds and had an ultrasound done. The results were inconclusive, but he was advised to go see an oncologist when he arrived back home.
I spent the rest of that day pushing Patrick around the brick sidewalks of Old Boston in a rented wheelchair. Best workout of 2013 for me.
|Dad, Patrick, and Wheelchair at the site of the Boston Massacre.|
When we got home from the trip, we were absolutely exhausted. But we had a sense that we had just been a part of something incredible. For two boys to share that with their dad - we couldn't really put it into words - it was just special.
Patrick went to the doctor, mostly as a formality, because by that time he was feeling much better. But on August 8, he got the word that his pain was the result of testicular cancer. He called and told me, and I felt like I had gotten punched in the gut. No one in my immediate family - or distant family for that matter - had ever gotten cancer. Did that happen to people like us? Normal* people? Up until that point, I didn't really think so.
That night, I led worship for a missionary send-off service at church. The words of this song took on deeper meaning for me as they gave language to my soul to express to God what I needed to say.
God, I look to You, I won't be overwhelmed,Patrick's cancer crises proved to be relatively minor: he had a surgical procedure to remove the tumor, and thankfully nothing had spread. But I remember the days of feeling nauseous, wondering where that road would lead. And I learned from my brother's experience that normal people get cancer. Young husbands and fathers get cancer. The glass bubble of my naivety had been shattered.
Give me vision to see things like You do.
God, I look to You, You're where my help comes from,
Give me wisdom, You know just what to do.
I believe God used that terrible news to prepare me for what would come my way just two months later.
*Editor's Note: Upon reflection, I am definitely not normal.