Hope in the darkness, a prodigal journey.
The following events began on Saturday, January 8, 2011.
After 6 months of treatment, the doctors had given up on my dad’s cancer. They let me know the night before. The Dr didn’t even have the decency to say so in person, just a phone call and expected me to tell dad. After the phone call, I completely broke down. Was on the floor of my room weeping and crying out for help in an empty room. My mother had passed from cancer 2 decades earlier, and dad and I had grown very close, even more so since his diagnoses shortly after Father’s Day, 2010.
I was getting ready in the morning to take dad to a local airshow, where his brother would be speaking at the veterans panel, and where his nephew (my cousin) would be demonstrating his Stearman biplane.
I had decided that I wouldn’t ruin this day with a pall of sadness, I would break the news after the weekend. We would just enjoy this day out and one more weekend. Shortly before leaving the house, I got a text from an old friend that I hadn’t heard from in months, who had no idea what was going on with my dad. The text simply asked how I was doing. I lied with a quick “ok, you?” And thought nothing more of it. My friend didn’t text back right away. Never has been one to reply quickly.
Later that day, after I got dad home, and I got home myself and once again began to break down and cry out for help. I distinctly recall, sobbing “I can’t do this on my own, I need someone to help me.” No sooner had I finished that sentence, than my phone buzzed, it was my friend texting back, you can see he screenshot of that text here. Simply put, my friend invited me to church.
I stared at that text for what felt like an eternity, and through tear soaked eyes, I looked up and said “you heard me?” I cautiously responded, ‘what kind of church?”
See, I had grown up with Christian parents, and grandparents, and knew all the warning signs to look out for, signs of the cults and pseudo Christian cults, like the LDS and JWs, and to look out for those “health and wealth” preachers as I called them, before I knew the term “prosperity gospel”, though, aside from weddings and funerals, I hadn’t set foot in a church since around the time my mother passed away, I felt that I had done something to be unworthy of God. My friend gave me the name of the church, and after I checked them out, looking for those warning signs, we decided to go on Wednesday, January 12th. I chose this date, not knowing what the topic would be.
As we approached the building, I saw this modern looking structure, not the traditional look of churches I had grown up seeing as a Presbyterian. I suddenly became concerned that this place might be one of those places that focuses on money. My mind associated the modern aesthetic to being a “prosperity” church, though it takes just as much, if not more, to maintain one of those fancy old buildings as the modern buildings. So I made a quick little comment, that I later realized was a prayer; “please don’t let this be one of those places that is all about health and wealth.”
We head in, and I’m confused, this is supposed to be a church, but where are the organs, the stained glass, the pews? They had guitars, GUITARS, and drums? The crosses were on the wall, but where were the robes and fancy clothes? These looked like…. Normal people! Regular clothes, no pomp and circumstance, no pretense.
Then the pastor takes the stage, in regular clothes. Not robes?! and starts talking about disease, not in platitudes, not promising healing if you only donate X amount of money, but in real terms, and in biblical terms. How much it sucks when people die, or get severely ill.
You can listen to the same message I heard that night, right here:
Check out the 9 minute mark of this sermon for the moment that got me, cause, wow. I WAS “just brought by a friend”, I was sick of hearing all the platitudes he addressed, he was speaking right to me, without even knowing me.
At the moment, I stared up and said “you got me…” I didn’t know it then, but my friends who brought me both looked over at me at that time, they were just as shocked to hear how specific Jack was being about my exact situation as I was. Then at 17 minutes, just to accentuate the point, he says “how do we deal with people who love God and have cancer?”
I began January 8th, 2011 with no hope, and had given up, by the end of the day I had begun to hope, and by the time that Wednesday church service was over (church, on a WEDNESDAY EVENING?!) I had hope, renewed energy, strength, and no longer felt like I was doing this all alone.
I had, previously, considered going back to church several times, but never went ahead and took that step until that night. Beginning that night, I never looked back. Like the prodigal son, God had welcomed me back with opened arms, and the way he had Jack write that message to speak directly to me, felt like he was running to me.
And one other not about that night, my prayer about the “don’t let this be a place all about the money” was answered. Jack forgot to even ask for an offering that night. I don’t, of course, have any problem with the offering, that’s biblical, but the “all about the money” stuff is different.
But that was just the beginning of this journey. And I didn’t even know then, but he would go on to describe a scenario in this message that was incredibly specific to what my future would end up being. Right down to the name of the building, no, actually, down to the room in the building that he named, where the woman who is now my wife, was at that moment in time.
I had been spending every evening visiting with dad in the long term care facility that was “home” to him for 6 months, so when I suddenly stopped showing up after work on Wednesdays, he asked where I was. I told him “I’ve been going back to church”, and his face lit up.
A few weeks later he would be sent home to me for his final days with hospice care. A few weeks after that he would pass away, I came home and found him. Had I been in the same state of mind I was in on January 7th, I might not be here today. But He got me. He reached out and pulled me to Him and I was willing to listen.
Prior to that night, 11 years ago, I didn’t really believe much in coincidence, after that day, I never believed in coincidence ever again.
After dad passed, I spoke at his funeral, something I never thought I would have had the strength to do, and after I was done, I heard: “you’ve spoken about your dad, now tell people about the Father.”
I could go on, listing time after time and incident after incident that people would like to dismiss as “coincidence” but which are instead, providence. Here are just a few highlights. (Note, the 2 churches involved are not your normal small town church of a hundred or so people, each one has a congregation of 10,000+ and are separated by a 30 minute drive)
- Dad’s sister had long been heavily involved in administrative roles in the Calvary chapel churches.
- We had the funeral at her church, which would become a second home to me, where I ended up meeting my wife.
- The pastor who did the funeral was the mentor of the pastor who did my wedding.
- My wife was also going to Calvary chino hills, and considered my aunt’s church as a secondary home.
- The worship leader who sung at my dad’s funeral (who has performed in front of stadiums full of people), would personally teach me for a couple of years, on writing Christian lyrics. He was only singing that day because the preferred singer, a friend of my aunt, was sick.
- My aunt later gave me the name of a son of a friend of her’s, and said “talk to him, you need friends at church” and I thought: “there are 10,000+ people there, I’ll never find this guy by name only.” A few minutes later I got a text from him, not because she gave him my number, but because I had actually ran into him and began talking and making a friend just 3 days earlier.
- The airport where that airshow happened was the same airport I too my first ever general aviation airplane ride in, via my other cousin’s RV-6 home built aircraft. And 9 years later, would be the airport where I passed my FAA check ride due to a covid induced last minute switch of airports away from my home airport.
- When I met the pastor who did my wedding, he told me that my cousin who took me up in that RV-6, was a “mutual friend”, as he is on the board for the men’s ministry there. That cousin is the son of the aunt mentioned previously.
- That cousin’s sister, helped found another nearby Calvary chapel.
All this, and so much more, just because my friend listened when God told her to invite me to church.
If this message resonated with you, please check out the links below