On Display for His Glory


May 2008:

When in recent years, as a pastor, I have dedicated a child to the Lord, I have taken up the practice of moving around the sanctuary, carrying the infant among the congregation. As I display the child for all to see I explain the significance of the event we are participating in together as a church. This little one belongs to the Lord and, with our prayers and support, these parents intend to raise him or her for God’s glory!

Eight months ago I had the privilege of carrying my grandson, Jackson, up and down the aisles of Parkway Fellowship where I had served the past 13 years. It was a joyful day for our family and our church. This spiritual milestone also coincided with a major transition for my daughter Kristen and her husband, Seth (Kolb), who were on their way to a posting with the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, where they have been since September 2007.

Just this past Sunday I walked Jackson around the sanctuary again, this time under very different circumstances. I was asking the congregation to pray a different sort of prayer. Kristen and Seth had spent the previous weekend in Cartagena, a coastal city of Colombia, for a combination of business and pleasure. They noticed some swelling above one of Jackson’s knees and remembered a few times recently when it seemed tender and sore.

Upon returning to Bogota they scheduled a doctor’s appointment. An x-ray indicated a shadowy presence of something not connected to the bone. An MRI was scheduled. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say the process of getting a very active nine-month-old to keep still long enough for an MRI can be a torturous ordeal for both mother and child; but the task was finally accomplished.

The phone connection from Bogota was terrible. When Kristen tearfully conveyed to me that the most likely diagnosis was cancer, I wasn’t at all sure I had heard correctly. I asked her to repeat herself and was stunned by the news. The doctor recommended that they return to the United States immediately—that evening if possible. After a scramble of phone calls, they had a flight the next day to Houston and an appointment on Friday with a leading pediatric oncologist at M.D. Anderson, one of the top cancer research and treatment centers in the United States.

The news was sobering. The oncologist diagnosed the tumor as one of two types of extremely rare cancer—even more rare in children under the age of one. The first was infantile fibrosarcoma and the second (and most suspected by the doctors on both continents), rhabdomyosarcoma. We were told that of approximately 350 cases per year in the United States, only 1 percent occur in children less than a year old. We later learned that only 50 percent of children this young are responsive to the harsh chemotherapy, and if Jackson survived he would likely have a weakened heart and little or no capacity to father a child later in life. This was in addition to the damage that would likely result from the removal of the tumor—which would severely limit his ability to walk and run. And if the disease invaded the bone, the loss of part the limb was possible.

At least three study groups had solicited permission to research this rare case. After having been personally contacted by the surgeon, an associate from one of the groups approached Kristen and Seth during Jackson’s surgery for a research approval signature. The group had never before been given the opportunity to study this type of cancer.

So last Sunday morning, I found myself carrying my grandson around the sanctuary, reminding us all that eight months earlier we had dedicated this happy little boy to the Lord and that Jackson belonged to Him. We anointed and prayed for him then waited on God as we waded into the week. Monday: consultations; Tuesday: bone scan . . . clear, thank you Lord; Wednesday: CT scan . . . clear, praise you Father. So far, so good. All indications are encouraging—no apparent metastasis, no bone infiltration. Thursday: a bright and early trip to M.D. Anderson for surgery on a killer tumor with an uncertain outcome. Literally thousands of people around the country and on several continents continued to pray.

The only people who may have been disappointed by the outcome on Thursday morning were the researchers. But no one was more surprised than the surgeon. She wanted to bring the good news to Jackson’s parents and grandparents personally because good news is so rare in her experience. “Someone must have been praying,” she said. “It is benign!” In fact, it wasn’t cancer at all. Two biopsy’s performed during surgery confirmed that it was a vascular malformation, easily removed with minimal damage to Jackson’s leg and with an expectation of a complete recovery.

The great outpouring of love and support from family and friends, the church and the two public schools where my wife has worked was surpassed only by the tremendous expressions of praise and worship of the Lord Jesus we have witnessed. As a result of being on display and vulnerable during this time, Jackson has become a vehicle for the display of God’s glory and power. And because we as his extended families (both Kristen’s and Seth’s) have waited on the Lord for whatever He would bring, He has allowed us to display His sustaining grace. It has been a very long but glorious week.

Update—December 2008:

Two weeks ago Kristen and Seth took Jackson back to M.D. Anderson for a six-month follow-up appointment. There were no signs of a recurrence and Jackson was given a clean bill of health! Praise the Lord.

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