All posts written by Daniel Montgomery

Sojourner Stories Of Suffering: Assault, Cancer and God’s Sweet Providence

Stories of Suffering

During this season of Lent, we’re journeying together through the Book of Job. It’s a story of suffering, faith, questions, and one man who cries out to God in the midst of heartbreaking affliction.

Over the last few weeks I’ve shared stories of “suffering well” with you, from Sojourners at each of our campuses and from brothers and sisters that have come to know Christ through Sojourn International, our missions ministry. Here is a testimony from a Sojourn Midtown campus member:

I serve with SojournKids on Sundays by teaching and watching over Avy and Ever Stettler. Avy was diagnosed with Leukemia and underwent chemotherapy. He is now at the end of his treatment and in remission. Chemotherapy kills an individual’s immune system, sometimes to the point of needing to be quarantined. Avy does have a weakened immune system, but fortunately not to this extreme.

Because of his progress in recovery and Sojourn’s Special Needs Program, the Stettlers were able to return to church again in November, which is where I come in. Because of Avy’s weakened immune system, his risk of becoming sick is much higher than the average child’s. The effects of illness are also much more extreme for Avy should he ever become sick, so I (and another servant) teach the Stettlers and watch over them each Sunday in a separate room from the other children. We will continue to watch over them until the beginning of May when, God willing, Avy’s immune system will be restored to its normal strength and he can be around his peers again.

I feel a deep connection to Avy and what his family has been through with his illness, as I also had cancer. When I was 13 years old, I was sexually assaulted by my music teacher. I found out two years later that, because of the assault, I had HPV. The strain of HPV I was given is considered one of “the killers”, and is now completely preventable through vaccination. Because the HPV went undiagnosed for so long (there are no symptoms), I developed Cervical and Ovarian cancer.

Words cannot explain how it feels to find out you have cancer. It is incomprehensible, a parent’s worst nightmare for their child, and a fate I believed to be worse than death once I was in the full swing of treatment. I was not a Christian, nor did I have believers in my life when I found out the news. I underwent several years of chemotherapy, radiation, and an additional year’s worth of experimental treatment in France. The United States has policies against several life-saving experimental treatments for cancer patients, and my Dad wasn’t ready to let me go, as my doctors in Kentucky told my family was inevitable.

I lived in a hospital in France alone for a year. My parents were not able to move with me because they had to work to pay for the medical bills. When you seek treatment outside of the US it is completely elective and comes out of your own pocket.

France kept me alive but barely hanging on. My life really started to change when I moved back to the US so I could pass away, surrounded by my family. It was expected that I had only a few months left. A volunteer at the hospital, Alan, began visiting with me every day. He got to know me and started asking me questions about my faith and what I “believed in.”

I told him I believed in random occurrences and spontaneous events and that the world was an evil place and that no God would do this to someone he loved.

I told him I was an atheist.

I told him I would rather die than live in this pain and put my family through this.

He began sharing the gospel with me. He taught me about Jesus and the perfect life he lived, only to be beaten, nailed to a cross, and killed so that I, too, may live. The fog and anger that once consumed my thoughts on what I was going through was soon replaced by relief and understanding. I slowly realized that I deserved much worse than what I was going through, and that there was something so much greater than anything this life could offer, waiting for me when it was all over.

The feeling that I was fighting for my life made me realize that it wasn’t me, but it was God. He was with me even when I didn’t know Him. I now realize more than ever that had I not been assaulted, diagnosed with cancer, and brought within an inch of my life, I would not know Christ. But I thank the Lord every day that Christ knew me then and was fighting for me, my heart, and my salvation.

As you can see, I’m still here today. Before giving up, as I so wanted to do, I promised my father I would take one last surgery when I was 19. The doctors told me that there was 99% chance I wouldn’t make it out of the OR but I did. I came out 5 hours later to a room full of smiling and tearful faces.

It was nothing short of a miracle. I went into remission, and it has been a long and painful process. To this day I go to the doctor every 2 weeks so tests can be run, and I am down one ovary. But I am more full of hope and faith now than I was when things were fine, and there was nothing to complain about in my life. God truly works in mysterious ways, and although life is harder now that I have to live instead of prepare to die, I know He is always with me and always has been.

Every second is a gift, and I can only hope and pray that I don’t waste it or take it for granted. This brings me back to Sojourn and the Stettlers. I began attending Sojourn in September of 2011 with a new friend, Kasey Miller, who has since moved to Detroit. My faith was a private thing until my first visit. I was scared of church, scared of judgment, and scared I would actually have to share my story with others.

She told me I was wrong, she told me that Christians are accepting and that I should try living in community. Not just living in the community of St. Matthews, like I currently do, but living out the gospel in Christian community with my brothers and sisters.

It sounded like a cult, but I thought I would try it out.

From the very first sermon, I was hooked. I didn’t feel judged because Pastor Daniel admitted he was struggling with the very things he was preaching about as well. Strangers shook my hand, and seemed to genuinely love me even though they knew nothing about me. I couldn’t help but think that this is how Church was meant to be.

My boyfriend moved back from Colorado and started attending with me, and we decided to take the next step: join a Community Group. We went on a walk to Waterfront Park with my dog one warm evening, when a Mexican man came running towards us asking if he could pet my dog. I thought I recognized him and asked if he attended Sojourn, and he did – his name was Leandro.

We began chatting and got on the topic of Charlie Ray, and me wanting to join a Community Group. He invited us to come meet his Community Group as they were at the park with him for a multiplication celebration. That’s when we met Blake and Haley Nail and they invited us to visit their group the next week. We did, and we have been members of that Community Group ever since.

After getting plugged into the Community Group, we decided it was time to take the next step and become members of Sojourn. At my membership interview with Pastor Chad, I remember sharing pieces of my story and then explaining my desire to serve the church more faithfully.

The next week, we went to brunch after church with our Community Group and Haley told me that Sojourn Kids looking for a couple members to watch a little boy who had Leukemia, but was in remission. This was the answer to my prayers regarding getting plugged into service at Church.

For the rest of my life, I will never forget the first morning I met Avy Stettler. He lifted up his shirt, pointed at his chest and said “Look, this is where my chemo port was. This is where Jesus healed me!” with the biggest grin on his face. I have learned so much from Avy and his spirit, about what he has been through. He has, and I’m not even kidding, made me less reserved and ashamed of what I went through…and he is 4 years old (but going on 5 soon, he would want me to say that).

He loves the Bible and he reallllyyyyyy loves King David. We were teaching one Sunday about how David was anointed with oil on his head, so Avy came in a few weeks later to a completely separate activity that involved oil and asked if we were going to anoint him (he is so smart!). Another favorite story of mine is when we were about to pray one morning before the lesson began, and he asked if he could pray. He prayed for his teachers.

He makes my heart so happy and I find myself praying that my heart could reflect a childlike spirit of warmth and understanding and trust in God, like Avy’s. I also pray that Avy’s heart remain the same in that regard as he grows up.

A few weeks ago, I finally mustered the courage to tell my story to Avy’s parents.  They were aware that I had been through cancer, but that was the extent of what I had shared. When I finally explained the whole story, I felt a connection with them that I had not felt before. I have learned over my short time as a Christian that we have to share with one another to really know and care for one another.

Paige, Avy’s mother, and I shared our common desires and fears surrounding getting more involved in the cancer community in Louisville, how we would both probably be great advocates and supporters for those facing cancer. We realized our fears were somewhat related. For her, it was facing parents that are losing children while hers is still here, and for me it is watching people pass away from something I survived, and the guilt I would feel and have felt as a result.

We both shared a nervous chuckle as we realized that Sojourn would be digging into the book of Job and how hard it would be for us. Job has always been a book that I have avoided (you would think by now that I would suffer well, but I still do not). We plan on meeting for coffee and digging deeper into our fears and desires that have been brought about due to the impact cancer has had on our lives.

I know this was pretty long, but in sharing my story with others over the past year I have learned that there is no easy or short way to tell it. But, I do think it paints a great picture of God’s work in my life, and how the Special Needs Program for Sojourn Kids has a way of bringing people together and changing lives in ways that are so unexpected, in ways I don’t even deserve.

Every day I am amazed by God’s grace in my life. Just when I think it can’t get much better, or in my pessimistic hours when I think this is all life has to offer, God reveals himself in ways I could have never imagined.

I thought I would just be walking into Sojourn every Sunday morning to read the Bible to some kids, and make sure they were safe for the 90 minutes or so that their parents were in the service. In my wildest dreams, and in my best prayers, I would have never been able to hope for what God has provided in my time with this program and the Stettlers every Sunday morning.

Sojourner Stories Of Suffering: Grace To Say Goodbye To A Brother Dying Young

Stories of Suffering

During this season of Lent, we’re journeying together through the Book of Job. It’s a story of suffering, faith, questions, and one man who cries out to God in the midst of heartbreaking affliction.

Over the last few weeks I’ve shared stories of “suffering well” with you, from Sojourners at each of our campuses and from brothers and sisters that have come to know Christ through Sojourn International, our missions ministry. Here is a testimony from Sojourn East campus member Macy English:

In times of suffering you flee from what brings pain and run to what brings comfort. Suffering, in a way, shows us the core of who we are, where our hope is and where we find security.

Wednesday, February 27th, marked the 1-year anniversary of my brother, Samuel Ray Sinclair, being diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). I remember exactly where I was when I received the news. My heart sank and my thoughts immediately went to how I could best love and support my brother in this moment. I quickly called him and tried to be the supporting and loving sister that I know he needed, wishing I could be next to him in Houston. Wishing I could be present. I remember affirming him in our shared hoped in the Lord and that God would only bring this upon Sam to lead others to come to know him. Sam agreed, as tears streamed down his face in fear of the unknown. Little did I know how much God would do in the next 72 hours in order to bring glory to His name.

Sam was quickly rushed to M.D. Anderson in Houston, where they started on chemotherapy and a multitude of tests to determine the best treatment plan. It wasn’t long after, that literally hundreds of people started to arrive at the hospital. Sam was one of the most well connected people. His passion for relationships and loving on people is far more than I can ever or will ever know. They were there to be present with him during this time of suffering. I remember calling him again the next day and laughter and joy were in his speech. He was loved on so much by his friends and my parents who were constantly there with him.

Friday morning, March 1st, Sam complained of a severe headache and was quickly rushed to receive a CAT scan of his brain. Shortly thereafter he slipped into a coma, induced by a brain bleed. Mom and dad rushed to the hospital and soon called with the news.

I was stricken with fear of the unknown. “This can’t be happening”, I thought to myself. Immediately, I pleaded with the Lord to work a miracle. Not knowing any specifics or what was going to happen, my husband, JT, and I hit our knees in prayer. We got on the first plane out of Louisville. My other brothers, Chris and Charlie, also got on the first plane to Houston from their respective cities.

The entire way traveling to Houston I couldn’t stop listening to piano hymns while reading Psalms. I started with the first chapter and just read and read and read. I knew nothing could bring more clarity or comfort.

After arriving to the hospital, we quickly realized that Sam’s condition was irreversible. He was going to die. We gathered around his bed, sang hymns, shared memories, talked to him, wept in anguish and prayed. I’ve never experienced such utter pain in my life. It didn’t even feel real. I held his warm, strong hand and pleaded with him to get up. We all did.

At 11:10pm on Friday, March 1st, 2012, my brother Samuel Ray Sinclair, age 31, passed away. The Lord had kept Sam stable just long enough for us all to be together as a family and have a few hours together. Oh, how sweet the Lord is. Even in those moments of gut-wrenching pain, I could see God’s grace.

It was gracious for Him to give us time together as a family. It was gracious for Him to allow my parents to be with him the last 48 hours of his life. It was gracious of Him to surround Sam with hundreds of friends. It was gracious of Him to save my brother from his sins!

As we left the hospital that night and in the days after, I remember repeating to myself over and over, “God is in control. God is in control. He is our only hope.” I just couldn’t wrap my mind around what was happening or going on, but that is the truth I had to cling to. I remember asking my closets friends, “Please pray for joy among the saints as we rejoice at the grace of God in my brothers life. May God grant us peace and grace to face the days ahead.”

This was and is my hope: Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

Christ will one day return and he will speak the same words we spoke, “Sam, get up!” and Sam will rise! Oh, that I will be able to see him again!

The suffering of losing my brother has reminded me of my depravity and the certainty of sin’s curse – death. I hate death. I hate the pain and despair it brings. But for me, it does not stop there. I know where I place my hope and in whom I am secure. Christ will come again and restore all things and that is the day that I long for. But until then, I press on and run the race God has laid before me. That I might make much of Him and glorify Him in all that I do so that others may come to know Him.

This past year has been one of much heartache and joy. I never knew how much I’d need my husband, our church, our friends, and our family. They have surrounded me, poured love out on me, been present with me, and prayed for me. Suffering really is meant to be shared among community. They have prayed for the peace of God which surpasses all understanding to guard my heart in Christ. It has.

The pain is not gone and at times, Sam’s death doesn’t feel real. But the one thing I know is real is my constant comfort and hope.

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

“What was lost, God will restore.” – John Piper

 

Sojourner Stories Of Suffering: Abandoned By Society, Loved By Jesus

Stories of Suffering

During this season of Lent, we’re journeying together through the Book of Job. It’s a story of suffering, faith, questions, and one man who cries out to God in the midst of heartbreaking affliction.

Over the last few weeks I’ve shared stories of “suffering well” with you, from Sojourners at each of our campuses and from brothers and sisters that have come to know Christ through Sojourn International, our missions ministry. Here is another international story, as written by one of our missionaries in the field (I can’t tell you his name because it would put him in danger. For the same reason, we can’t use the real name of the woman from this testimony, but we’ll call her “Mary”):

Mary* was born deep in the countryside of one of the poorest nations in the world.  As a girl she learned from the time she could walk how to fetch water, cook, and farm until there were deep callouses on her little hands.  She was taught that life for a woman meant two things: commitment to the local religion and bearing children.  Before she was old enough to think otherwise she was tattooed on the face with religious symbols and promised in marriage to a man she didn’t know.

She began that marriage barely a teenager and became pregnant soon afterward.  For reasons only known to him Mary’s husband then decided to leave her.  She was ashamed as rumors flew.  Eventually the entire village turned against her, leaving her alone in a communal society.  Her only refuge was a friend’s family that tolerated her until she gave birth to a tiny baby girl.

Malnourished without medical care, Mary and her baby became very sick.  They fled the countryside for a nearby city. Knowing no one, they ended up on the streets.  Mary was on the brink of leaving her baby on the stoop of an orphanage and running away.  She had stopped producing milk and the baby was days from death.

By God’s grace, however, someone directed her to a local Christian shelter for women and children.  There, Mary and her baby were nursed back to health and given temporary housing.  That’s when she began working as a cook for one of our Sojourn partners living in the city.  She labored diligently and quickly became a beloved member of the household, but evidence of her suffering was written all over her somber face.  She avoided eye contact with most everyone, especially men, and never laughed or smiled.  She only responded to conversation with hushed one-word answers.

She expected it wouldn’t be long until she was hated and ridiculed like usual, and at best she hoped to just be ignored.  These deeply rooted troubles only relented when Mary encountered the good news about Jesus.

At first it was hard for her to believe in such a man since almost all men she’d ever known were harsh and abusive.  But the grace Jesus offered was irresistible and she gave in to trusting him.  Slowly Mary began to smile and converse.  She even laughed with close friends.  She really began to grow.  Then one day as she was cooking in her one-room home, her baby girl, now a toddler, fell into the fire and was burned severely.

This rocked Mary’s world.

She was terrified for her daughter, angry at herself for being neglectful, and faced with the bitter question of God’s goodness—why would he allow this to happen?!  But as the baby healed up, so did Mary.

“She is not my child,” Mary shared.  “She belongs to God and I trust him with a whole heart.”  This experience shaped Mary more than any moment in her life.  Despite the danger of persecution on her and her daughter, she now plants and disciples groups of women in the way of Christ.

Sojourner Stories Of Suffering: When Your Baby Has Heart Defects

Stories of Suffering

During this season of Lent, we’re journeying together through the Book of Job. It’s a story of suffering, faith, questions, and one man who cries out to God in the midst of heartbreaking affliction.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share stories of “suffering well” with you, from Sojourners at each of our campuses and from brothers and sisters that have come to know Christ through Sojourn International, our missions ministry. Earlier this week, I shared the testimony of Brian Ott from our Midtown Campus. Today, we hear from Blake McKinney of Sojourn East.

As my wife Jen and I were talking recently after church, it occurred to us that it has been just over a year since our daughter was diagnosed with multiple heart defects. 2012 was the best and worst year of my life.  It truly is the year I never hoped for, but it is the year God graciously walked me through.

One year ago this past January, we went to a pediatric cardiologist for the first time.  We hoped against hope that our sweet Lily would be just fine.  We hoped that all the doctors and specialists were simply mistaken and that there was nothing wrong with her. How could there be anything wrong with my baby girl? Let alone something so terrifying as a heart defect? After our first meeting with the pediatric cardiologist, we learned that our Lily not only had one heart defect – she had four.  Words cannot describe the emotional roller coaster that we embarked upon that day.  I could write a book about our experiences, but I will limit this post to listing things that I am grateful for from this year.

I am thankful for my wife Jennifer

My wife is a saint.  I love her, and I am immensely thankful for her.  In the midst of all of this, her conduct has reminded me constantly of why I fell in love with her.  This was the most heart-wrenching and difficult time of our life together, but we made it through it. I love you Jennifer.

I am thankful for our families

We were blessed to have near constant companionship from our families throughout our stay in the hospital, and they have continued lovingly supporting us over the months that followed.  The love and support that they have shown us can never be repaid.  We love y’all.

I am thankful for our friends

When Lily was in surgery, we had over a dozen of our friends sitting and waiting with us.  They prayed, ate, laughed, and cried with us.  I will never forget those hours.  You guys (and gals) that were there: you will never know what a blessing that was.  We had tons of people supporting us.  We received so many meals, gifts, emails, notes, calls, cups of coffee, texts, etc. that I could never hope to thank each person properly. So, Thank you to all of y’all.

I am thankful for our Church

We had been at Sojourn East just a few months when we found out Lily’s diagnosis.  From day one, our church stood side by side with us.  I am thankful for every sermon and every song that broke and restored me over 12 months of fear, pain, and joy.

I am thankful for that one usher that prayed with me on the Sunday after Lily’s surgery while I wept in the back of the auditorium. I don’t know your name dude, but you were the body of Christ to a brother in need that day. I am thankful for my elders and deacons that loved on us through the midst of all of this.  I am thankful for our community group that served as a second family.

I am thankful for my job

Prima has been incredible to me this year.  I was shown immense flexibility as I learned to deal with life-altering changes.  My co-workers are some of my closest friends, and they too served us in innumerable ways this year.

I am thankful for Kosair Children’s Hospital

Praise God for a place with such excellent doctors and nurses as Kosair’s.  Praise God for the care Lily received, and the kindness and concern shown to Jen and me every day.

I am thankful for medical technology

Lily’s heart defects were noticed in an ultrasound when Jen was 17 weeks pregnant.  Think about that. That’s crazy.  I am thankful that we were forewarned about Lily’s condition.  We had months to prepare for her surgery and care.  This is a blessing.  Some dear friends of ours faced a similar situation with about three days’ notice, and they handled it exceedingly well, but I am thankful that we had the time to prepare.

I am thankful for godly musicians

I am a musician at heart.  God continually ministered to me through music over the past year. I wrote one post about it: Farther Along.

And of course….I am thankful for my sweet daughter

McKinneyShe is doing incredibly well.  We still see a ton of doctors, but by all accounts, she is a normal little girl.  She is sweet. She is independent. She is hilarious.

So, 2012 wasn’t the year I hoped for, but it’s the year I got. I have learned more what faithfulness truly means.  God is faithful in the midst of our worst times.  He shows Himself to us through little bits of grace: a cup of coffee, a hug, a meal, a shared laugh during a hard time.  Thank you to all of you that ministered to us through this time.

Sojourner Stories Of Suffering: Disease, The Lord’s Prayer, and Hope

Stories of Suffering

During this season of Lent, we’re journeying together through the Book of Job. It’s a story of suffering, faith, questions, and one man who cries out to God in the midst of heartbreaking affliction.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share stories of “suffering well” with you, from Sojourners at each of our campuses and from brothers and sisters that have come to know Christ through Sojourn International, our missions ministry. This week, I’ll share a couple testimonies with you. Today we hear from Brian Ott a member at our Midtown Campus:

I’m not a perfect sufferer and I certainly don’t consider my suffering as comparable to some of the horrors that others face every day.  But the suffering that I have experienced has lead me time and time again to seek God and know His face.  And I can only be thankful for it.

When I was 13 I was diagnosed with Crohns disease. Crohns is a chronic immune disorder that effects your digestive system.  My case falls some where between moderate and severe.  At its worst, my Crohns leaves me on the couch in severe pain for months.  This leads to dangerous weight loss, anemia, hospitalization and in a couple of instances it has cost me my job. Medical bills pile up while my income screeches to a halt and I remain helplessly in pain.

I’ve thought many times about what my life would be like if I didn’t have Crohns.  I could have moved up higher in my job, made more money, achieved countless more goals and simply felt like an accomplished, grown man.  But what would I be giving up?  More than a disease.  During a flair up a few years back I began praying the Lords Prayer every day because I had grown tired of praying for healing and not getting it. I prayed it over and over until I could finally mean the words found in that prayer:

  • To call God “father”
  • to truly rely on Him for my “daily Bread”
  • to know that I need His forgiveness more than physical healing
  • to want His will to be done in my life just as it is in Heaven.

But I’m forgetful.  We all are!  And God knows this.  I mean, He calls us to think of His death and resurrection every time we eat bread or drink wine.  That’s a lot of reminding!  And you’d think that it’d be hard to forget how the God of the Universe died for our sins, but we do.  I do. Constantly.

And my God knows this.  And He cares enough to remind me.  Even when it means taking away my health so that I stop relying on earthly gods.  Our pain is not punishment, and it’s not always due to our screwed up prioritizing, but it’s always a chance for us to glorify God in a new way.  I may never see the end of my Crohns suffering before Christ returns, and sometimes that really bums me out.  But this I know with all my heart; God has saved me from my sin, and the day WILL come that my sinful body will be laid to rest and because of His mercy, my pain will end. And because of His grace I will be with Him.

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