It was the summer of 1977. Pam and I were newlyweds. I had just graduated and Pam was still in school at Baylor. I was working in a plant called Mosley Machinery. We built the machines which were used to flatten cars. All was right for this young couple beginning their lives together.
Every morning Pam sent me off to work with my packed lunch pail. I thoroughly enjoyed working there. I especially loved test days (always a Thursday) when a new car-crushing behemoth came off of the line for its first trial run. A crane with a giant claw would pick up an old, unsuspecting car and drop it into the belly of the beast. Slowly the great metal plates enveloped the doomed vehicle and closed in, flattening the car to the cheers of the 300+ employees who watched the car’s fateful end with great delight. Good days indeed. (Thursday was also the day we had “church” but that’s a story for another day.)
I returned home at the end of the day usually covered in dirt, oil, and debris as my job primarily consisted of tearing down buildings to make room for expansion at the plant. The old buildings had been in use for decades and had not been cleaned except for a daily sweeping. I brought home the filth of the decades. Pam made me remove most of my clothes before coming into our apartment. I was never indecent, but I was barefoot and shirtless before entering – just the way Pam wanted me. I went straight to the shower and, after cleaning up and getting dressed, I would relax a while and then we would eat supper. Pam was trying out all of her newlywed recipes which were usually designed to feed 8 people. After swinging a sledgehammer all day I was famished so I would consume my 7 portions while Pam ate her one. (After a few days of this routine she told me that if I didn’t eat all of it, I could have some in my lunch the next day, so I reigned in my appetite.) The rest of the evening was spent watching TV, Pam’s studying and/or rehearsing, and visits with a dear friend, Tony, who lived in the same apartment complex. Life was simple. We were happy.
However, within a span of a little over a year, our happiness would be crushed like those hapless cars on test day. Pam would have to undergo emergency gallbladder surgery, we would move to another town where I would begin a new job, and “Pappa B,” Pam’s Dad, passed away along with my uncle and grandmother. Even though my new job seemed exciting, it was also stressful as was the move, so that dealt happiness a blow as well.
“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) It was in the midst of those stressful times that the seeds of joy began to grow and supersede the happiness which I had regarded as joy. It has been a slow growing plant – this joy in the Lord – but it has endured through many storms and droughts; through many harsh winters and scorching summers; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. In fact it has grown so much – this joy in the Lord – that it bloomed beautifully not too long ago when I was to undergo a biopsy procedure in which I would be placed under anesthesia.
For some reason, the day before my trip to the hospital, I had a sense that I might not come out of the procedure alive. It is very rare for someone to die in this procedure, but the thought was there nonetheless. I prayed and asked the Lord to give me peace and this absolute flood of joy came over me. I knew that all was well with my soul. I actually understood and experienced the peace, hope, confidence – and yes, joy – that I had often read about in Daniel 3:16-18. I knew that God would deliver me, but even if He didn’t, I would not bow my knee to the spirit of fear. Many times I have discussed the concept of “dying grace” in which the Lord gives you peace as you are about to leave this world, but I had never experienced it. Granted, it was just a little bit disconcerting when I pondered that this might be “dying grace,” but even that was fleeting in the face of God’s peace and joy. Even as I was going under in the operating room I was full of joy talking about the Isle of Skye and remembering the wonderful time Pam and I had spent there. When I awoke in the recovery room I glanced around and realized pretty quickly that I was not in Heaven. I smiled and even chuckled a bit – not because I was still alive, but because my Joy was with me.
The biopsy did reveal that I have prostate cancer. The Gleason score is 9 (out of 10) which they tell me indicates an aggressive, high risk form of cancer. And yet, my Joy remains. My doctor believes it can be cured, but even before he said that I knew that all is and will be well with my soul. I’m going to MD Anderson for surgery and treatment. It’s regarded as one of the best (if not The Best) cancer centers in the world. Even so, my hope is not in them, but in the One Who gave them the wisdom and knowledge that they use on a daily basis. My doctor there is a preeminent prostate cancer expert, but I know that God will direct him as He sees fit with no regard for his outstanding qualifications. I can even see how God has orchestrated all of the events in the past few weeks to put me in the care of such capable doctors and surgeons. Still, through all that I will face I know that it is my God Who will deliver me, but even if He doesn’t, I will not bow my knee to the spirit of fear for the Joy of the Lord is my Strength. It truly is well with my soul. Hallelujah!