I’m going to open by asking some questions that I don’t really expect you to answer. Has anyone here ever had a lucky rabbit’s foot or a lucky shirt? Ever spoken about having lady luck on your side or felt down on your luck? Have you ever marveled at the wonders of mother nature? Have any of you ever referred to God as “the man upstairs”? I have done these things in the past and I mention them to give you a little background as to the type “Christian” I was when God reached into my life and “chose me out of this world”.
As a child I attended three different churches with my parents. My earliest memories of church life were not happy ones, but as a young teenager I had many good ones. I never developed a close relationship with church in general and drifted away as a teenager. When I met my wife, her family was Catholic, and we were married in St. Patrick’s church in Cato. After our children were born we attended church there for awhile, but once again I drifted away. I guess I had better things to do. I spent the next 25 or more years of my life as a non church goer. I considered myself to be a christian person however. In my mind I was a good person. I believed in God and I considered myself to be living by Christian values. I gave up a lot of personal time over the years to be involved with our local ambulance and fire dept. and things like that.
You see, I thought I was living my life as a good Christian person, but I wasn’t spending time with God. I was like one of those folks in the church of Laodicea, neither warm or cold. I wasn’t studying God’s word. I never really learned to pray. I took God for granted. I was treating him with indifference. But still my life was going great! I had made a nice life for myself. I was blessed with an adorable little wife and a beautiful family. I had a nice home, and lots of material things. But I had worked hard. I earned a lot of this stuff! (notice the extended use of the words I, me and myself?) And then in a instant my life came crashing down.
The next thing I need to share with you is the fact that I am considered to be a terminally ill cancer patient, and I will be sharing with you the the darkest, loneliest, most terrifiing time in my life. And I arrived at this point in my life without God in it. It is not a place I ever want to return to. But what I hope to relay to you is a message of hope and inner peace that I have attained in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The peace I speak of is the “peace that surpasses all understanding.”
I got serious about my relationship with God on Jan. 30, 2010, my wife’s birthday. I had been ill for several months and had been going through a multitude of tests. It was on that day that I got the test results that everyone fears most. I had liver cancer. A short time later it was updated to pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to my liver, and then came the news that it was incurable. The drive home from Auburn that afternoon was quiet. I remember the feelings of terror and darkness and thinking about dying soon and the things that needed to be done. But my main thought was of getting myself right with God. It was a strong feeling, a decision that I really meant. I was crying out to God. I never once thought about looking for my lucky rabbits foot or shirt or confiding in Mother Nature or Lady Luck. When I cried out to God, I didn’t think of him as the Man upstairs. It was about 3:00 that afternoon and we had just turned on to Emerson Rd when I finally spoke to Sue. I turned to her and said simply that, “I would like to start attending Church again.” I didn’t have the knowledge to say anything like I have decided to accept Jesus into my life as my Lord and Savior. But it didn’t matter to God. He knew what I meant. Sue agreed and we both started getting more serious about our relationship with Christ. We have been learning and growing and receiving blessings ever since.
Upon arriving home I called a friend in our local ambulance corp. I knew he was active in his church and explained my predicament and wishes. He said he would contact his pastor and arrange a visit. He came the next day with another friend and Pastor Settle. We had a discussion about salvation and about believing in and accepting Christ as ones savior. Paster Settle brought with him a small leaflet called, are you 100% sure?
We went through that and prayed the short prayer at the end. Pastor Settle said, do you mean it? You have to mean it in your heart. I did mean it in my heart the same as the day before. But there was this little voice in my head asking if I was 100% sure that I was saved.
We started attending the Armor of Light Baptist Church in Victory. I found the people in that church and Pastor Settle to be good sincere Christians. However, I did not feel like I fit in. I had not progressed very far yet in my walk with Christ. Many folks there were very energetic and vocal about being saved and most could point to a specific time or place where it happened for them. I still, in my heart, I could not. You see at that time I was an emotional and spiritual mess. I wanted to feel the same way. I wanted to want salvation more than anything else in my life. But looking back, I realize that I didn’t. What I wanted the most was healing, to be free from cancer. The rest of my story is about the incredible effort that God went to and the people and circumstances that God put in my life to get me to see things so differently compared to 3 1/2 years ago.
Some time later I was given a prayer shawl by a member of the prayer shawl ministry at Countryside Methodist Church. With that I started praying more often. I found it helpful and supportive. In those days I would often have trouble sleeping at night due to discomfort and worry and I would get up at night and go sit in our sunroom to pray and think about things. I would wrap my prayer shawl around my shoulders and hold this bible from my childhood while doing this.
My early prayer requests of God were for success in my cancer treatments and help in coping with death. The spring of 2010 was the darkest lowest point in my life. In addition to feeling tired and sick there was the mental anguish. The thought of cancer dominated every aspect of my life. It was always there. It made most things seem pointless. Why bother? I continued praying for healing but I started to evolve somewhat also prayed for strength to get through it. That first lenten season I became acquainted with a prayer that Jesus prayed on the eve of his crucifixion. In Luke 22:42 Jesus prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.” Those words kind of jumped off the page to me. I’ve pondered on and prayed that prayer for myself often and still do. In taking it to heart and accepting it’s meaning, I slowly learned to give everything over to God and accept that he has a plan for my life and that he is in control. Looking back this was a key turning point in my life. In doing this God removed much of the fear and anxiety I had been feeling. I was starting to attain the “peace that surpasses all understanding.”
In June of 2010 my doctor told me that my cancer was not responding to treatment and that I might have as little as one and one half months left to live. He discussed a known treatment that I could have that would add a few months to my life. It would shrink the tumors for a while and after that nothing more could be done. He also recommended that I seek out advise at a cancer center in Buffalo. I prayed that I would get that treatment soon, but it seemed my prayers went unanswered. We were put off by what seemed endless problems with insurance procedures that took over two months to resolve. And then I could not get an appointment to see a doctor in Buffalo for over a month. The wait was stressful. That summer I felt so ill, so tired, and each month seemed like it might be my last. I lost 35 lbs.
In late Sept. I had an experience where I believe God actually spoke to me through another person. A real life angel! I had developed a tooth ache and needed extensive dental work. In talking about my health problems with my dentist, Dr. Lyons, told me that his assistant was a very devoted prayer warrior and he believed that she had a stronger effect than most people in this way. I had learned about prayer warriors in connection with my prayer shawl. When I got out of the dentist chair to leave that day, Doctor Lyon’s assistant,Tammy, got in front of me and and with a “this is how it’s going to be look”, she said Verne, I’m going to be praying for you. She explained that she gets up at 5:30 each morning to pray and that I would be on her agenda as well as friends of hers at church. I left there wondering what had just happened. It may be a coincidence, but this seemed be another turning point in this chapter of my life. I started feeling somewhat better even before treatment. As Christians we all have points in our lives when we know God speaks to us and this was one of those times for me.
Shortly after that I received what I call the blessing of unanswered prayers. In Oct. of 2010 when I finally got to see a doctor at the Buffalo hospital, we learned that there was a new treatment available for my type of cancer and that I would be one of the first to receive it. It turned out to be very successful and it gave me back a quality of life that I thought was gone forever. This procedure is not a cure, but unlike the one that I had been praying for, it turned out to be much more effective and is repeatable. So you see, I thought my prayers were not being answered, but God had put stumbling blocks in front of our best efforts over the summer to ensure that I would be held off for something better.
Since then I have become a very different and very blessed person. My perception of what is important in life has changed. Each day is special. It doesn’t matter if it is a beautiful spring day or if the driveway needs to be plowed or my truck won’t start. Some days I still feel depressed, it’s the human element, but they are all still special days. In June of 2011 my wife and I went to a family reunion. It was held in the Netherlands. My moms parents were both born in Holland. I got to meet many of my second cousins and visited the area that my grandparents grew up in. This can be construed as a huge blessing or experience in itself, but I still enjoy the little daily hum drum things in life the most. Most of these things involve people. I recently read an article written by a seriously ill cancer patient. In it he expressed the extreme sadness and loss he felt because he could no longer participate in the things in life that he loved most like family and community gatherings. He said the thing that hurts me most is having to stay behind and being left out. He said I can no longer able to “run with pack”. I still enjoy going to church and bible studies. I cherish my little trips to the diner. I get to participate in our local ambulance corp. I still hold an office in the fire department and now also here in this church body. I get to enjoy my family and watch my four grandchildren grow up! I came close enough to the edge to see all these things slipping away, but as you can see now, I’m still running with the pack! And I praise and thank no one other than God for this.
As the months passed I kept asking God in prayer to show me what it was that he wanted me to do, how could I help implement his plan for me? I started to feel a calling. The one thing that kept coming to mind was the idea that I should reach out to other people in their times of need and to witness to them by telling and comparing my story with theirs. But it seemed so unlike anything I could do. After all I have always been a quiet shy type of person. In high school I was voted class bashful by my classmates. In addition I have suffered all my life with IBS which caused me to shy away from public activities. I absolutely could not speak in from a group of people such as I am doing today. My stomach would go nuts. And then I began to notice these symptoms had disappeared and that gave me the courage to make this calling known to pastor Marty. She told me I should go visit a very ill person named Eric who was losing his battle with cancer in one of our sister churches. I was very afraid to do this and made my feelings about it known to both the pastors in our church. Pastor Karen told me if I felt it was a calling to act on it and you will be amazed at what happens. She said God does not choose the qualified but qualifies the ones he chooses to carry out his wishes. I agreed to do so, but I did not tell them another reason I was afraid to visit Eric. I also had an actual phobia that I was ashamed of. In going on calls with the fire department and ambulance corp I have been in many situations involving severe injuries and death. I’ve had to help restrain and console family members in times of extreme tragedy. They have debriefings after such calls and offer help to those having trouble dealing with them. I was always able to cope with these types of calls. What bothered me was dealing with people that were very frail either by way of illness or old age. I just didn’t want to be around them and it would bother me for days afterward with minor sleep problems and loss of appetite. So I had this on my mind when I went to visit Eric, but I kept Paster Karen’s words of advise in mind. On our first meeting we became good friends and found that we had many things in common. We both liked outdoor activities and some of the simpler things in life like hunting, cutting firewood or just taking care of the back forty. Eric had a good career as a State Trooper in Wayne County. He kept and trained a dog as part of their canine unit. We both owned coon hounds! We had more visits through the fall of 2011, and each time I came away with more for myself than I felt I delivered. And as Eric’s health continued to degrade and he became that person that I thought I didn’t want to be around, I developed a very special bond of friendship with him. Then one day in Nov. when Eric was expecting Hospice to start coming the following week to help ease his final days, something happened for me during our conversation. I was looking at him listening to him talk and I began to realize I was looking at a mirror image of myself. I realized God put me there with him for a reason. I thought I was there to support him, and maybe I did, but I was the main beneficiary. So here I am looking at this person who had lost everything you might value in life. His health, his career and most of his material possessions were useless to him. He had been reduced to pair of pajamas a hospital bed and the love and care of his family and friends. And then Eric turned to me and expressed the happiness he felt that he had also been given the chance to accept Christ before dying so that in his own words, “he knew where he was going”. And it was more than just what he said, it was his expression when he said it, his sincerity and total lack of drama. It was the real deal. I realized God wanted me to witness this so that I would fully understand what it means to be saved and to finally realize it was there for me. Eric still had hope and peace and was fully trusting in God for everything. I knew just what he meant. I felt the same way. God was speaking to me through Eric. After 21 months I could positively say yes to the question that Pastor Settle had posed to me, are you 100% sure? I finally felt with certainty that I had been born again! 100% sure!
Back in Feb. I received some bad news from my doctor. The radiation treatments that had been working so well were no longer working and the tumors were really starting to grow. He suggested a couple of treatments, that in in his own words, might give me some more time to live. He recommended a Chemo treatment that helps with other types of cancer and I am receiving those now. They do seem to be working. So early one morning a few days later, I was sitting in my lazyboy reading a couple of chapters in my bible to prepare for bible study. Afterward I prayed for things to go well with the upcoming chemo treatments and for some other folks situations. I finished up as I often do asking God for guidance, was there anything he wanted me to do? I still felt he has shown me so much grace and I have done so little to deserve it. And then I did something a bit different. I kind of went into a meditative trance and just concentrated, waiting for an idea or an object or person to come to mind, but instead this phrase came to me. Just four words, “Go on your way”. It startled me. At first I thought maybe I just made it happen. But I know I was looking for a task to do or a person to visit, something that I could understand and this was neither. I thought about its meaning all day. Surely “Go on your way” couldn’t mean my way. I had been doing that most of my life. But instead I believe God was saying that my way has become more like his way or the way he has prepared for me.Then in Pastor Ron’s sermon from 2 weeks ago he spoke about the fact that we are chosen out of this world, not the other way around. Jesus says in John 15 verse 16, You did not choose me, But I chose you and appointed you that you should go forth and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.
So I have been spending all this time telling you this stuff and here it is in a nutshell.
Jesus chose me out of this world, transformed me through a three year training course that gave me courage, hope and strengths I never had before, and now he wants me to go forth and bear fruit. Go on my way!
So Susie and I are going forth, going on our way and we want our baptism to be part of that!
In closing, if you would so indulge me, I would like to offer this prayer.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I give you thanks for this chance to proclaim you as the all powerful and divine force in my life. And I pray Lord, that my testimony is a true reflection of that force and that it may be used to draw others closer to you.
It is through you Lord, and only you, that I have been transformed into a new person, a person I never thought I could be, doing things that I didn’t used to have the courage to do.
I thank you, Oh Lord, that I am no longer just living as a person with a terminal disease, but instead I have learned to trust in you, Lord. I am now a new person living for you and your glory and enjoying and savoring each day in a new way, looking forward to the day when I will be with you.
Until then Lord, I ask for your guidance and enlightenment to help me see the plan you have for my life as a member of your holy family.
These things I humbly pray in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen
Video of Verne and Sue Montana's Baptism
Blog posts may be authored by a variety of individuals including but not limited to Pastor Ron, Church Elders, Sunday School Teachers, Small Group Leaders and Ministry Leaders.