I resigned last week. This is the big life decision Jen and I have been mulling over for months.
As of August first, I’ve been unemployed. It went like this: When I was diagnosed last May, Emmaus kept me on staff and on payroll – in spite of the fact I was hardly able to work – with the expectation that after six months or so of intense treatment, I’d be able to return to work full time. Six months came and went, and I still had tubes coming out of my chest. Nine months, and the tubes were gone, but I was still relatively incapacitated. Twelve months, and the ongoing “maintenance therapy” was difficult enough I was shirking key aspects of my treatment just so I could have the physical stamina and mental/emotional fortitude necessary to keep “doing life.”
When my doctor finally convinced me the remainder of my treatment was important enough for me to pick it back up – to stick it out – I knew the decision was more or less made. I’d been waiting for six months for things to change – for a noticeable and sustained increase in energy and ability to focus – and there’d be a week or two at a time when I thought I’d busted out into the open (most often when I was protesting treatment). But each respite proved to be the exception rather than the norm.
In that decisive conversation with Doctor Hurley, the seriousness of the cancer I had (versus the yuck of ongoing treatment) weighed in for the first time since that dark day in May, when I had just been diagnosed, had transferred to Regions, and had yet to learn that my prognosis was not imminent death. I’ve learned in recent days that in spite of the 90% remission rate in response to chemo, the actual 5-year survival rate for T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma patients is 50%. And that’s a statistic primarily referring to cases in children, who regularly fare better than adults. While these odds honestly don’t diminish our hope for recovery, they do accentuate the need to take treatment – all of it – seriously.
So… making treatment a priority meant the ministry for which I was responsible became not only peripheral, but also daunting. Maintaining a youth ministry for a church the size of Emmaus is exhausting in the best of circumstances, and near impossible under cycles of fatigue and emotional volatility. It became quite clear that it was best both for our church and me for me to step down; to allow someone who could do the job to do it; and to free me up to focus on the remaining healing stages of treatment.
In spite of this clarity, there were many concerns accompanying my resignation, health insurance among them. Graciously (and that word doesn’t even begin to convey how grateful we are), Emmaus has transferred my health insurance benefits to Jen’s employment, so we’re still covered. This is huge.
Second to this is the need to replace two-thirds of our monthly income. While we are engaging in the process of applying for Social Security Disability benefits, the qualifications are complex, more so than I can go into here. My doctors and our church both are ready to vouch for the validity of my inability to do now what I was doing before, but with the government, it may not be so cut and dry. Virtually every social worker we’ve talked to has been optimistic with us at the onset, hemming and hawing more and more as we go further into the specifics of our situation. The process takes 3 to 6 months to complete, and we really won’t even know for sure whether we’re eligible, or for how much, until that time.
So I guess what I’m saying is, there may be a need for us to look creatively at other means of paying our bills in this season. It simply may not be as easy as turning in a slew of papers to the government and waiting for a paycheck. Please pray for creativity and discernment in this area, for us and for a good handful of people who’ve got a heart to see something work.
I’m excited about and eager to take what opportunities I can to speak and teach and maybe perform to whatever extent stamina (or my heart) allows, here at Emmaus, and elsewhere. But my primary responsibility, at least through May of next year, is to be a cancer patient as well as a rehabilitating husband and dad.
It seems a good part of that rehab is a great deal of introspection, and an ongoing question and answer session with the Spirit of God regarding cancers of the heart. I’m asking Him for an emotional (and physical) wholeness on the other side of this ordeal that’ll make this mess worth it. “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10. I really, really want that. And I pray that in the end I would find that I want that more than a good many other things that I want quite badly, too.
Few are allowed the extended season of introspection I’ve found myself in. And it’s a good thing, I think. It feels a bit precarious. It’s a wonder I don’t numb my spiritual sense silly, to the point of perpetual distraction, with movies, books, and world news. A close friend of ours remarked shortly after my diagnosis that I was somehow “lucky” to have happened upon such respite – months upon months of reading and thinking with so little responsibility otherwise – an unripe comment that I may’ve made (and perhaps once thought myself) before recognizing how susceptible to self-pity the human heart (mine, mostly) can be; and before coming to understand that responsibility is the weight necessary for refining the raw materials of thought life into useful fuel for life.
Like the mountain that sits upon coal, making the diamond; or the weight of gravity in a dance with motion, fighting off atrophy and bedsores, we need pressure and activity as much as we need rest. The balance shifts somewhat in certain seasons, illness being one of them, and it takes some skill and sensitivity then to find the fulcrum. This is the beginning of another season, and I hope to find the fulcrum.
So with that I assume I’ve offered enough to inform whatever prayers you may pray for us here. And we really do covet those prayers. Not just for our physical sustenance, but for our spirits as well. God presses our “reset buttons” in sickness and suffering (Bernie Siegel?), and we’re praying for that full reset, inside and out.
To that end, Jen and I will be vacationing for three nights next week at a cabin on Lake of the Woods in Canada, while the boys stay with Grandma and Grandpa on the farm near Roseau. Just last weekend, we were able to spend a night with close friends up on Lake Superior. Aedan can say “Gitchee Gumee” now. And I dug a fire pit in our backyard last week on a good day. We made smores Monday night. Goodness, the goodness of God. So undeserved. May we never cease to recognize all this good stuff comes from Him. So much good stuff…
Jeremy, Jen, Aedan, & Eli
PS. We posted a new downloadable message a few weeks back. My buddy Mark pointed out that this website now claims to do something few websites do – uploads messages from the future: 2007! (The real date was in 2006, but I say 2007 adds to the intrigue…) I hope to post a musings blog sometime soon on the book that inspired the title of this message: “Eat This Book” by Eugene Peterson. Friend Eddie Britz calls Eugene “a brain on legs.” I agree. He’s got heart, too.