I will sing!!

I will sing!!

Dec 10, 2012

“I will sing!!” by Dan Richards, Texarkana, AR

There I was with a beautiful wife, five fantastic children, and part of a great loving church. Life was so good. But then, as if overnight, my life was turned upside down.

In the past I had directed the youth and adult church choirs in Christmas pageants. It was a lot of fun letting my imagination loose and trying to get others to do the same. (Picture Pastor Mynor Soper in a gorilla suit.)
Over the years, I tried to make the pageants more and more challenging. I found that it made the program and rehearsals exciting for all involved. It was good to stretch ourselves.
For Christmas of 2002, we took a really big step of faith. We decided to present “Christmas Shoes.” The practices where going great and we had a big portion of our church involved in the production.

Better get this sore throat checked out
Thanksgiving arrived and I had developed a sore throat. At the job site with my carpentry business, the plumbers needed to do their thing so I was going to be shut down for three or four hours. Now, I’m not one to go to the doctor very much and didn’t really want to go then. But with a couple of solos in the upcoming program, I decided to get a jump on this sore throat.
At the doctors that day, we found out that my left tonsil was swollen so big that it was half way across my throat. (That explains those squeaky notes.) The doctor put me on a week’s worth of heavy antibiotics to see if it would improve. It didn’t. So, off to the Ears Nose and Throat specialist.
Knowing that a tonsillectomy might be coming, our Christmas program needed a backup plan, just in case. The ENT doctor took a look down my throat and made that “Hmm…” sound that makes your mind wander to places you really don’t want to go. Her comment was, “This could be serious.”
Now I’ve always heard that a tonsillectomy for an adult was serious, but come on now—you cut it off and take it out. How serious can that be? Come on, it’s just a tonsil!
What came next was a total shock, one I don’t wish on anyone. “It looks like it might be cancer. I am going to get a CAT scan scheduled,” she said and left the room.
Needless to say, I was in shock. “What did she say? Did I hear her right?”
I am not too sure how I felt over the next few days. Unbelief… fear… anger… denial… The doctor said, “MIGHT be cancer, not that it WAS cancer.” That was what I kept telling myself. This was a bad dream and I just wanted to wake up.

A sad Christmas story becomes real
It wasn’t until I told the cast for the church play about the possibilities, that it hit me. I can still feel the tears running down my face and see the tears in the eyes of those there. It was just about more than I could take. What we had been planning and working so hard on for the last couple of months, was now happening for real.
I had been telling them that with this program, we were going to have the audience laughing and then turn that laughter into tears, and then make them examine their own personal lives and their walk with the Lord. Now, it was no longer just a story on paper to be acted out; this was not “rehearsal” anymore. This was real and we all were going to have to examine our own lives and how much we trusted the Lord through this tough, real-life experience.

From roller coaster to rock-solid support
As much as I hoped that it was not cancer, I knew it was. It wasn’t an “Oh ye of little faith” thing, I just seemed to know that it was cancer. So on December 20th, when they did the tonsillectomy, I was not totally shocked when the results came back.
The next few months our lives resembled a roller coaster ride of emotion. We would never have guessed that there could be so many ups and downs, or so many twists and turns, trying to eject us from this ride that we were on. It seemed as though we were out of control and not really sure of who was in control.
After months of being poked and prodded and put through this test and that test, being run through this tube and that tube to get pictures of my “parts,” we were exhausted! And we hadn’t started treatment yet or even knew what kind of cancer it was.
Finally we had a name: Mantel Cell Lymphoma was our new nemesis. (One of the rarest of the non-Hodgkins lymphomas.) At least we knew what it was called. Now, what kind of treatment would be required?
It was (and still is) so amazing to us how big the family of God became. This family of believers was always there, even before the cancer—our eyes were just not focused on them. Prayers and concern and encouragement came in from all over the country. Many of you prayed countless prayers and we thank you so much.

Everything pointed toward Houston
It seemed as though every one of our friends in the medical field were all pointing to MD Anderson Cancer Center and a treatment system call Hyper CVAD. It was a treatment that was researched and started there at Anderson in Houston and was having some good results.
During our many prayers about what to do, I couldn’t stop thinking of my cousin, Dr. Richard Wheeler. We needed to have some direction so we called him to get his advice. After researching it a few days, Richard called to tell us that MD Anderson looked like a very good option to take.
We decided to wait and see what our oncologist proposed to attack this monster inside of me. Her suggested treatment was (surprise, surprise) Hyper CVAD. Now… how do I ask her about going to MD Anderson to get this treatment? I appreciated all of her work and wanted her to know that. She had become more than just a doctor to us, she had become a friend.

How would she handle a second opinion?
Our oncologist was a short woman from India. At my next office visit, she seemed to sense that something was wrong and asked what was going on. She pulled a chair up and started asking me questions about my family. (We had just lost a cousin to cancer.)
For the next half hour, we didn’t talk of cancer at all. We talked about my family and she shared some about her family over in India and what life there was like. Those 30 minutes were key for me. It made me realize once again that I wasn’t the only one in this. It was a battle for all of us to fight together and I needed to do everything that I could to beat this thing. I found a new friend.
This made it harder yet to ask her for a second opinion. But I did. “I know from my research that this treatment system was developed at MD Anderson. Would I be wise to go there?”
My new friend sat down in a chair and lowered her head. I was sure that I had hurt her feelings. Then she looked straight into my eyes and said, “If anyone in my family ever came down with this, Anderson is the first place I would want them to go. I’ll start the process.”
At that, she left the room. She didn’t wait for a response from me. She couldn’t wait to get the ball rolling. It is was like she wanted me to ask that question and was relieved when I did.

Huge concern lifted, then… the phone call
The treatment would involve both chemotherapy and radiation. I had heard horror stories about people getting radiation around their neck area and being so burned by it that they could never swallow again. This does not sound good. How do I say it politely? This concerned me.
To show how great our God is, He had already taken care of this concern. Two weeks prior to this, my oncologist had taken a weekend seminar on topics including (wait for it…) the Hyper CAVD treatment system. They were recommending that radiation be removed from this treatment because it was doing more damage than good for this type of cancer. Praise the Lord!!
The appointment at Anderson was made. We had all of the test results and all of the pictures taken and in hand, ready for our appointment on Tuesday. On Friday while I was getting things in order to go to Houston, I got a phone call.
“Is a Mr. Daniel E. Richards there?”
“Yes, you are talking to him.”
“This is [so-and-so] from MD Anderson in Houston.”
“Yes, how are you doing?”
“Fine, thank you. You have an appointment at 8:00 Tuesday morning here.”
“That’s right.”
“When you come in Tuesday morning you need to bring us $11,500.”
“Say WHAT?”
“When you come here Tuesday morning, you need to bring in $11,500.”
“For WHAT??”
“In order for us to see you, we need to have $11,500 up front.”
“And if I CAN’T?”
“We can’t see you.”
“Well… I can’t do that. I guess that I’ll just die here.”
I hung up. LORD, WHY?? We were so encouraged and it looked as though You had worked everything out and now this?!! $11,500! REALLY??


Did God not care?
So, this is what depression feels like. We knew of the possibility of cancer back in December and now it was the middle of April and nothing was being done. To top it all off, I felt as though all of the prayers, all of the “My life is in the Lord’s Hands” had—do I dare say it?—been a waste of time. I felt scared… all alone… and not even God seemed to care.
Through all of this time I had continued to play the guitar and lead worship. Leading the congregation in praise and worship songs gave me a time in my week to get the focus off of my circumstances and focus on more pleasant things.
That Sabbath I didn’t feel much like leading worship or even being in church. But I knew that I had that responsibility to the church and to my Lord, so I went ahead and put a smile on my face and did it, even though I didn’t feel like it.

Why this song?
One of the things I’ve learned over my 25 years of leading worship is that part of leading is also depending on my emotions and what is going on in my life. It is in our emotions that we become honest with ourselves and our Lord through our worship.
The first song I chose was Don Moen’s song, “I Will Sing.”
Lord You seem so far away, a million miles or more it feels today
And though I haven’t lost my faith
I must confess right now, that it’s hard for me to pray
But I don’t know what to say, and I don’t know where to start
But as You give the grace, with all that’s in my heart

I will sing, I will praise, even in my darkest hour, through the darkness and the pain.
I will sing, I will praise, Lift my hands to honor You, because Your Word is true, I will sing

Lord it’s hard for me to see, all the thoughts and plans You have for me
But I will put my trust in You, knowing that You died to set me free
But I don’t know what to say, and I don’t know where to start
But as You give the grace, with all that’s in my heart

Right there in church,  worshiping and singing from my heart, something happened to me. As we finished the first verse, I had a peace come over me that I could not (or cannot) explain. No language can adequately explain peace that comes from our Heavenly Father. All of a sudden, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had not closed His eyes or His ears to me. He knew exactly what was going on and He was holding me in His hand all of this time, waiting for me to simply trust Him in what was ahead.
On Monday we got together with our oncologist and told her what had happened with M.D. Anderson. She was not “a happy camper.” Two days later, we were checking into the Baylor Hospital in Dallas.
(I should say here that MD Anderson is a fantastic hospital for cancer treatment. It wasn’t necessarily their fault; it apparently was an insurance thing. But most importantly, God knew I had put my trust in that hospital and their doctors for a cure, when what I really needed was to put my trust in Him.)

Hooked up like Pinocchio
Five kinds of chemo, 24 hours a day, six days straight. I-V lines in both arms and in my chest, the humming of four I-V pumps every minute of the day and night was now the daily routine. Books, magazines and television got “old” real quick. I had Dawn bring up my guitar but that was difficult to play with all of the I-V tubes running everywhere. (I thought of Pinocchio and now knew why he wanted to get loose from all of those strings.)
Having visitors and my family around me was a highlight for my day. Having them there made it easier for me to be strong and positive myself.
The toughest times were at night when no one was there and the only sound was the humming of the pumps and the nurses coming in the room. (Why do they have to weigh you at 3:00 in the morning?) It was at night while I was alone that the devil tried his hardest to distract and discourage me.


Another song
I believe it was the fourth night, I was trying not to feel sorry for myself (and not doing a very good job of it) when I picked up my guitar and started to play and sing my prayers to the Lord. All of a sudden there was a chord sequence, a melody and words that, well… they were just there, and that song became my reminder of what God asked of me then and still does today.

You took the shame of the cross, You took the nails for the lost
You took the hate and the scorn, so that I might be reborn
You took the spear in your side, for me Jesus
You took the death for me, so that I might be free
To know who You are and to hear You say—
“Welcome home my child.”
I give my life back to You, that’s all You ask me to do
I give my heart and my soul, to be completely Yours alone
I lift my eyes up to You, my dear Jesus
To see the things that You do for me Jesus
Just to be, where You are, and to hear You say—
“Welcome home my child.”

Home, sweet home
After day six, they let us escape and go home from the hospital for two weeks of recovery. It was a rainy evening and a chilly spring wind was blowing. By this time the chemo had taken hold of me and I was feeling miserable but glad to be going home. (My wife had better not wake me up at 3:00 in the morning to weigh me.)
Our big old house was such a welcome sight. It felt so good to recline in my own chair. The sound of footsteps on the hardwood floors and even the squeaks were relaxing to hear, even the banging of pots and pans as Dawn and the girls fixed supper. All of the sounds that used to be so annoying to me were now precious memories, treasured up in my mind for all time.
We were supposed to do this routine six times. Six days on chemo in the hospital, two weeks at home for recovery so that we could go through it all over again. With each round of treatment, I was feeling worse and it was getting harder to recover. I began to wonder if I could make it through six rounds.
The oncologist decided to take another test after the third round to see if the rest of the treatments would be necessary. The good results back meant that it was “good news.” The torture was over. Now recovery!!!!!

He doesn’t ask us to understand
I don’t know why I recovered from this dreaded disease, not just this time but three more times. One time I received a stem cell transplant using my own stem cells. I have known so many people who have not survived, and I just don’t understand. God doesn’t ask me to understand, but to simply trust Him and be faithful to Him and His calling for me.
While this is my story, it isn’t unique. Many of you know exactly what I have been talking about—not about the cancer, but about tough times that seem to be overwhelming.
I had cancer. Other health issues are just as serious. Some folks are drowning under financial pressure. Some are experiencing overwhelming relationship problems.
All of these stresses of life are real and serious. We become confused, wondering why. We hurt and can’t seem to find the answers that we need. We pray and pray and pray over them and just can’t seem to hear God or see Him moving.

Our mission:  To encourage others
I am not some super-Christian, but this much I know from experience. When I am focused just on my problems, I cannot see any solutions. When I release myself to praising and serving my Master, no matter what is going on around me, trusting Him and His love for me, I experience His peace. “I WILL SING, I WILL PRAISE HIM!” “I GIVE MY LIFE BACK TO YOU, THAT’S ALL YOU ASK ME TO DO.”
I have made it my goal not to simply be positive with my situation, but to focus on those around me and try to encourage them any way that I can. It’s really not hard to take the focus off of yourself and put it someone else, especially when you are lifting them up in prayer.
Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-11. Paul can explain this so much better than I can. Our experiences are not just for us but also for the encouragement and teaching of the rest of the body of believers, and those straddling the fence between carnal and spiritual.
As we lift up and encourage those around us, we will also be lifted up and encouraged. And (most importantly) God will be lifted up, and He will be the one to receive all of the glory, honor, and praise.

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