Friday, September 19, 2008

Anniversaries

We all have some dates etched into our minds, and they are like bench marks, or sign posts that remind us of what we have done, or where we have been. Birthdays, graduations, marriages, births, deaths, our moment of salvation all have months, days, and years attached to them, and every time we reach one of these dates, our memories can be drawn back to that day and the things that happened. Today, Sept 19, is such a day for me. On this date last year, Marie and I flew to Miami, Florida so I could teach at CC Kendall's Wednesday night service, and then teach four times at their yearly marriage couple's retreat. I was on "vacation" (I usually take working vacations) and thought it would be nice to combine ministry with fellowship, and because we wanted to spend time with Pedro, Kendall's pastor, we decided to go. We left early that morning, getting up around 4 a.m., and took an early flight to Florida. While en route, I distinctly remember that I was reading, and could not focus on the words on the page. I prayed, "O God, I know that I am losing my memory. Please do not let it happen while I am teaching". I didn't tell Marie what I was experiencing, as I did not want to alarm her, but I knew something was going to happen. After arriving in Miami, we went to our room, and I quickly got ready for the evening service, and within an hour or two after arrival was sitting in Pedro's office, waiting for the service to start. Marie brought me two Cuban coffee's (very strong espresso) and I went out to teach. At the end of the study my memory faded and was almost completely erased. I gave an invitation, prayed with people at the foot of the platform, and then told Marie that I did not know where I was. Paramedics were called, and my blood pressure was something like 200 over 100 and they said that I was in danger of having a stroke, so they put me in an ambulance and I was hospitalized for three days. Quite an experience, I must say. This turned my world upside down, as I began going to specialists to get tests to determine what was wrong, and much of my life was changed from that day on. The initial prognosis was early stages of Alzheimer's, and the neuropsychologist I went to said that I might live a normal life for the next 7 years. Stress was to be avoided, weight was to be lost, exercise was to begin, and my life pretty much changed. Added to this was a diagnosis of stage 2 diabetes, early stages of melanoma, and the early stages of cataracts. This all took place between Sept 19th and November. When November arrived, we had a trip scheduled to go to Hawaii, and I felt that I needed to get away, to try to regroup and to think of what all of this was going to do to my family, and my ministry. We have a fairly large church, and the needs represented by such a group are huge and continuous. When the neuropsychologist told me I needed to reduce stress, I told her that that would be difficult to do, because I am a pastor: stress is part of the package. I was feeling bad because I couldn't concentrate on all the daily concerns of the church, and felt like I was failing as a pastor, as I could not be there like I used to be. I was having difficulty remembering names of people I had known for over 20 years, and as I read and studied my bible, I had to re-read the passage, as I would pretty much forget what I had just read. I began relying on my notes more extensively, as I could not remember where I wanted to go, even after teaching the passage in first and second service. I didn't want to tell the church, as I did not want to cause them concern, not to mention that I knew that some would leave the church because they could not handle being taught by a pastor in poor health. People can be interesting when it comes to things like this. I remembered how many people left the church shortly after my father died, because my emotions would get the best of me as I taught, and I would begin to cry when I mentioned him. Some just cannot handle this kind of thing, and I am aware of it and for this reason, kept these things pretty much to myself and told only a handful of people about what was going on. All of this was pretty much a bummer, I can tell you, but there are benefits. My good friend Mike MacIntosh recently wrote me and he said that these kinds of events reveal two things: our own mortality, and our need for humility, as we are put in the position of trusting the Lord much more, with a sense that we are not going to pastor the church forever! He is so right, and my life has been changed by the events of Sept 19th. I should add, that after the diagnosis of dementia (early Alzheimer's) the neurologist told me that he misdiagnosed me, and gave me a clean bill of health. The skin specialist provided treatment, and the early melanoma was dealt with, and I have lost weight and hope to avoid insulin with the stage 2 diabetes. All in all, good has resulted. I pastor a wonderful group of people, and those who have been with me for years have remained compassionate, understanding, and supportive as my family and I have walked this valley. I still don't know exactly what caused my memory loss, and perhaps may never know, but that is something I can live with. With this in mind, I think of how Paul had a divine gift, what he referred to as his "thorn in the flesh", so today is my anniversary of my own "thorn". Through this,  I have come to know in a deeper way that "when I am weak, then I am strong" because "God's strength is made perfect in weakness". To Him be the glory, great things He is doing, great things He has done! Even so, I will serve Him as faithfully as I can until I see His face and can tell Him how much I love Him. 

5 comments:

James said...

Pastor David,
Happy Annivarsary! Our Lord always prunes the branches of our lives that we may bear more fruit for His Glory. I am SO GRATEFUL that you are using the gifts and talents that He has given you to build up the body of Christ! Our Father is ever FAITHFUL! Thank you for preaching the word, thereby allowing me to receive my biggest assest...my salvation. You're my spiritual mentor but HE IS MY DADDY! As we walk with Him, may we learn to suffer with joy knowing His plan is ALWAYS better than ours.
With Much Affection,
Lidia Martinez
Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Michelle said...

Dear Pastor David,
We too are thinking of this day and am so grateful that God listens to our prayers. We have a good a mighty God who sometimes has to use the hard road to get our attention, I am glad that he got yours. But have your remembered the money I lent you yet? In Christs love, Michelle Cuevas

dpleon said...

Pastor David,

We are ever so thankful to God for you, Marie, and your precious family. Thank you for being a willing vessel, used by God to bring many to Him.

Thank you for being a loving example of Christ. We especially appreciate your faithfulness to teach the Word of God during the difficult times. It reminds us that His grace is sufficient for us also.

You are in our prayers,

Dennis and Pat

Yolanda said...

Dear Pastor David,
I just read your entry of 9/19 and am very happy all turned out well for you. I can't imagine church without you!!
Recently on Sunday morning you told that story, You mentioned how as the doctor was giving you the grim prognosis you couldn't look at Marie. You mentioned that "blow to the gut" feeling. My husband I listened knowing all too well that feeling as my husband was diagnosed, in Dec 2007, with Small Cell Lung Cancer. We met with you after service and you prayed with us. I don't know if you remember him, his name was Calvin. My precious Calvin went home to Jesus on 9/18/08 at 10:15pm. He so loved and respected you. He loved being in the Gideons and all his brothers. He wanted to serve as an usher but never got the chance.
He couldn't make it to church anymore but I or one of the brothers would give him the service CDs.
He had been living in the VA Nursing Home in Loma Linda while undergoing treatment. He was a very proud Vietnam Verteran having served in the Army. Pastor it would be an honor if you could preside over his funeral service. He would really love that but if it's not possible it's ok.
I'll know more tomorrow when the service will be. Thanks for allowing me to aire my feelings. God Bless You. Take care
Love
Yolanda Contreras-Chittenden

David said...

Hello Pasor David, One of the things that I have always loved about you is your attempt to be transparent in your walk with our Lord Jesus Christ. As I happened on your blog and read of your experience last year (I knew of some health issues as related by Sean) it reminded me of your commitment to teaching God's word and your desire that the body of Christ might grow by it. My Bible is marked page after page of notes given by you in the pulpit or over breakfast, and much more my life is forever changed by your faithful commitment to teaching God's people His word. My experience with you as my pastor is just one of countless thousands you have touched by being faithful to follow our Lord. I can't wait to hear how this experience has made your walk that much deeper. I am reminded of what you taught me years ago....'if you want to have a deep walk with the Lord, you will go through deep things as you follow him'. Thank you for being an example in my life as a true Man of God. God bless you, Marie and though whole gang!

David