|Dear First Baptist Family,
This morning in our church service I made a personal announcement that is going to have an impact on the life of our congregation. I wanted to follow up that announcement with a letter to you to ensure that anyone who missed it could learn about this directly from me.
In 2017, I began experiencing uncontrolled movements in my face, neck, arm, and hand on the right side of my body. I discounted these symptoms as the result of stress and a lack of sleep. I even made jokes about them with my friends and family. After a while, however, the symptoms grew more pronounced and Lauren insisted that I see our physician to discover what might be wrong. Our family physician expressed a high level of concern about this “pattern of neurological decline” and immediately referred me to a neurologist.
That referral began a journey of countless visits with specialists, many MRIs, and several very scary diagnoses. Eventually, we were able to discover that the culprit, far from any of the scariest options, was a small cluster of blood vessels in my brain that have compressed and damaged a nerve that controls muscle movement on the right side of my body. I began treatments for this problem as soon as the diagnosis was apparent, and, for the last two years, have been pursuing treatment with specialists as far away as Orlando, and, most recently, at Mayo Clinic.
Since last December it has become increasingly apparent that the medical interventions attempted by my neurologists are failing to improve my condition, while my symptoms are worsening. Even in the last few months I have noticed increasingly uncontrollable spasms in my face (some of you have noticed them too!), and have had growing trouble speaking and chewing. These problems will continue to increase, and my condition will continue to decline unless the pressure on the nerve is relieved, which no medicine can make happen. That is why the last four specialists we have seen have recommended brain surgery as the only solution to my problem.
I do not want to have brain surgery, and my wife does not want me to have it either. But our desire to fix a declining problem is greater than our desire to avoid surgery, and so we have decided to fix the problem now before it gets worse than it already is.
On Friday, September 18, I will go to the hospital for brain surgery. The highly invasive nature of the surgery will require a stay of several days in the hospital, and a recuperation of several weeks at home. My last day in the pulpit before surgery will be Sunday, September 13. I will be at church the first half of the following week, and then will have to go off the grid for surgery and healing. It is the nature of the required recuperation that I will be completely unavailable for a period of weeks. I will not be able to text, make phone calls, or write emails. I will not be on social media, or attending church.
You might not know how hard this is for me. I love you all so much. You are my family. It is my joy to serve you and be with you each week. I have never been as disconnected from you as I will be during the weeks ahead, and that is a source of great pain to me. Still, I need to follow the advice of the physicians and accountability partners that the Lord has placed around me, and use this time to fix my problem. My prayer is that I will be able to return to church in October. Until then, I’ll be joining our services online whenever I can.
I want to ask you to pray with me in a few very specific ways.
First, pray for my family. During this season, Lauren will be adding increased care for me to an already full plate. Lauren also needs your prayers because the nature of COVID-19 means she cannot be with me while I am in the hospital. Lauren loves me and is a servant, and it is hard on her to think of being separated from me. Pray also for Carson, Chloe, and Connor who are concerned for their dad, and will need to help their mom out during this time.
Second, pray for me. My physicians are unanimously recommending this operation for a reason. They tell me there is a 95% chance that the operation will be a success, and I will be fine for the rest of my life. I am following their advice to fix the problem. But brain surgery is a big deal. And there is that pesky 5% where scary things happen. You and I know, however, that there are no real odds in God’s world, but just His generous loving care. Would you please ask God that this surgery would work, that I would recover quickly, and that He would get glory in this?
Finally, pray for our church. This is an extraordinary season in the life of our family, and is not an ideal time for me to be disconnected from all that is going on. Still, the Lord knows best, and here we are. Pray for our leadership. We have a remarkable team of faithful leaders who will serve well during this time. We have an incredibly gifted team of preachers who are going to deliver the Word of God to you with great faithfulness. We will not even miss a beat. I can’t wait for you to experience the kindness of God from these men as they serve you while I am out. Pray for them.
I write this letter to you with great joy and confidence in Jesus Christ. 2020 has thrown a lot at all of us. Now I have brain surgery to add to the list. But God is allowing all of this for a reason. He is doing good and glorious things that we cannot now imagine. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect, and complete lacking in nothing.”
That says that all of us can be joyful when things are hard, not because hard times are fun, but because God uses trials to make us more like Jesus. I would not have chosen any of the trials I have endured for the last 2 ½ years, but that is ok. I believe that God is doing something in the midst of it all that is better than anything I could ever have come up with. I trust Him with it, and cannot wait to see all the good He will bring out of it.
I look forward to sharing that joy with you.
In the meantime, know that I love you, and that it is the joy of my life to be with you here at our remarkable church. I’ll cherish the next week together. And when I return, by God’s grace, there won’t be anybody on the planet who has ever been more happy to see you than I will be.
Rich blessings to you in Jesus’ name,