All of life is a GIFT, even the things that do not feel like a gift. The beauty is that the GRACE of God is constantly present to help us navigate the difficult seasons or storms of life.
The Ride begins
As I sit in front of my computer to write this post, I feel all the anxiety and excitement you get when the rollercoaster starts that first climb to the top of the ride. With each click higher, my stomach would tighten. Once the cars would let go, oh boy.
With each twist and turn, your body is thrown first one way and then another. Halfway through the ride, I always ask myself, is this fun? Why in the world am I doing this? Once back on solid ground, the fear is gone, and only the exhilaration remains.
I hope you are ready for this ride. There will be twists and turns.
A difficult decision
On July 15th I met with Dr. Saroha. It is important to note that over the past five years Dr. Saroha and I have made decisions together.
There have only been two times (now three) where he has told me what to do. The first time came when I was on maintenance chemotherapy, and my body was severely worn down. He walked into my room, took one look at me, and said, “We are stopping treatment.” The second time came when my cancer started growing again. He stepped into the room and began with, “It is time to start treatment again. Here is what we are going to do.” In each situation there was no discussion, he knew what was best, and we were going to do that.
During my last visit, I brought up the topic of disability. I asked Dr. Saroha what he thought about my going on disability. He said now was the time to take the step. I chuckled and said, “No, I was thinking about early next year.” He turned to me and said, “Dan, it is time for you to take the step, do it now.”
We have built a good working relationship over the past five years. When Dr. Saroha speaks a certain way, I recognize that he sees things I do not and is looking out for my best interest.
On July 16th I opened a file with social security and applied for long-term disability. It was approved in less than ten days.
When I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer back in May of 2016, it caused me to think very hard about every area of my life. As a result, I made some crucial decisions about how I would live the remainder of my life.
One of those decisions was that I would continue to serve as pastor until I felt that I could no longer provide the kind of leadership that First Baptist deserves. I committed to myself that I would step aside as soon as I believed First Baptist would be better served by different leadership.
We have all seen people who have clung to a position or role long after doing it well. People who ignore the signs and end up having to be told it is time for them to step down. Early on, I committed that whatever happened, I would not be one of those people.
Over the past few months, it has become clear that my body does not have the energy required to serve First Baptist Church well and take care of my physical health. As a result, I have made the difficult decision to go on disability. There are a few essential things to be aware of:
- I am making this decision to change my relationship with First Baptist based on my oncologist’s recommendation. He told me that now is the time for me to go on disability.
- I am NOT making this decision because of any change in my cancer. My cancer is stable and shows no signs of growth. We recently decided to take a break from treatment.
- The reality is that while I know what to do, what steps to take, my body does not currently have the energy to carry out those steps. First Baptist needs, and deserves, a pastor with the energy to lead us to the next stage in our journey.
- We are redefining my relationship with First Baptist, not ending it.
A Unique Situation
First Baptist and I find ourselves in a unique situation. Typically when a pastor steps down from their role, one part of the relationship is excited. The pastor is eager for a new challenge or ministry context, or the church is eager for the pastor to leave. Neither one of those things is true in our situation.
First Baptist and I have built a strong relationship, and we are seeing God do amazing things in our midst. But, for reasons beyond our understanding, now is the time for a change. We are both grieving the loss of a partnership we have witnessed God bless.
Unique situations are filled with opportunities. Boxes do not apply, and we are open to discerning God’s invitation for our congregation and me.
We believe great things are in store for both of us.
If you have listened to me teach over the past five or so years, you have heard me talk about riding the waves of the Spirit of God.
The Spirit makes the waves, and like a good surfer, we get on and ride until the wave ends.
Anyone who has stood on the beach knows, when one wave ends, another is right behind it.
As I think about my role as pastor of First Baptist coming to an end, it is one wave reaching the shore. But, I can be confident there is another wave coming right behind.
I am not exactly sure what that wave will look like, but I am confident it is coming, and I am equally as confident that the Spirit will be present to help me ride it.
The Journey Continues
A few months ago, I received a FB message from a college friend. They work for a hospital in upstate New York. In the message, they said, “I have been following your posts, and I believe the doctors here can help you.”
I was quick to respond and share precisely why those doctors could not help me. It was a gut response to the myriad of well-intentioned people who want nothing more than to see me healed and offer every bit of advice they see regarding cancer treatment.
To be truthful, cancer treatment is very tricky. There is no one cure for all types of cancer. So much depends upon what kind of cancer you have, the genetic make-up of your cancer, how soon they found it. So a treatment that works for me will probably not work for someone with the same kind of cancer. That is part of what makes the fight so frustrating.
My friend was persistent. She met each of my responses with a compassionate and insistent voice that said, you need to talk with my doctors.
The long and the short of it is I did end up talking with the doctors she works with. They are nothing short of amazing.
Sometime in August, I will be traveling to upstate New York for a few days to undergo all kinds of tests and preliminary exams. No promises, no guarantees. If the tests go well, and if there is a clear path to help me, I could (the best way to think about this is that we are on a fact-finding mission, to determine if I am a viable candidate.) receive a liver transplant.
Can you feel the roller coaster coming around that corner?
If that were to happen, we would remove the only known cancer in my body right now. We would also remove all the damaged liver ducts and solve that issue! I am cautiously optimistic that this could be an answer to many prayers.
This post has grown much longer than I intended. Kind of like some of the newer rollercoasters.
I have attached my official letter of communication to the First Baptist Church family and the letter the First Baptist leadership sent in response.
Thank you for your prayers during this time of transition.
Please be in prayer for Nancy. In a few short weeks, I will be at home all the time with no work to keep me busy. She has already been seeking places for me to volunteer my time.
I have included the two letters shared with the congregation earlier this week:
My Letter to the Congregation: pastoral letter 080221
Church leadership letter of response: leadership response
Thank you Pastor Dan for sharing this message guided by wisdom and discernment. You have brought the Spirit’s life to First Baptist and to the broader community in bright and beautiful ways. There are not enough words of gratitude for all you have given through your ministry. And, yes, you still have more to give in a community outreach role.
Now, I am sending prayers for a miracle that completely heals you. With Love, Joan Holliday