I experienced a moment of clarity and hope this afternoon in a place most people would consider wrought with despair. M.D. Anderson is a place where people chase hope while sailing on a sea of physical brokenness. It’s a place that feels heavy despite the amazing staff and facility. It is “heavy” there because in every room, in every hallway, in every beautiful gathering space, is a very real elephant in the room named “Mortality.” We all know the mortality rate in every generation that ever walked the planet is 100% but in the best cancer hospital in America, people are there hoping for more sunrises and sunsets, more birthday parties and weddings, more hugs and kisses, more of the goodness that is the gift of life. There is a fear that life will somehow end giving way to the worst-case scenario in human existence. Death.
My friend Jesse has brain cancer. He’s more than a friend. In Christ, he is my brother. Through the years, we have had our moments both good and bad, all for the glory of Christ and in the context of brotherhood. On this day, however, we had a moment I believe might change my life both in micro ways that no one sees but me and in macro ways that influence many. Today, either with precise intentionality or by complete accident, I am not sure which; Jesse spoke to me with unbelievable power recognizable to me as the whisper of the Holy Spirit.
To understand the moment, you need a little background. There are two things about Jesse that are clear to anyone who knows him. First, he begs God daily to be used in magnificent ways for the expansion of the Kingdom of Jesus and this is one thing that I love about him. Secondarily, Jesse has always been a person who needs to be in control. In fact, we have had many heart to heart conversations about this issue from every angle.
We sat down today face-to-face in a beautiful living room at the Rotary House where Jesse is awaiting surgery. I have been on this side of these meetings before. I’ll be honest; all day I was preparing myself emotionally as a pastor to help Jesse walk through planning for the worst-case scenario. The thought of the conversation was making me sick. Instead Jesse looked right into my eyes and opened his hands. He left his hands open for the entire conversation. He began to tell me about the enigma he is to the neurological staff at M.D. Anderson. How is a man with a 10cm brain tumor exhibiting no despair and by my own testimony exuding pure joy and peace? In the past few days he has had countless meetings around this question with baffled neurosurgeons and patients searching for hope. I believe he has shared the gospel dozens of times.
Hands still opened, he looked at me and said, “I have begged God to be used, not perfectly, but honestly, and he is doing it in a way I would have never imagined, and I love it.” Closing his hands and looking down at them he told me that his greatest sin in life was to live life with closed hands, clinched, trying to control things, even with the best of intentions. He opened his hands again and said the brain tumor brought him unbelievable theological clarity. “When we live life like this, hands opened, and surrendered to Jesus, we win no matter the circumstance. Our gracious King is constantly filling our open hands. When we close our hands and control things, we attempt to become gods and we lose every time. I have so much freedom Brian, and I don’t want to lose it. My greatest fear is that I would be healed of this cancer and lose my sense of surrender.”
In that moment I envied my friend with brain cancer. He has crossed over, loving surrender to Jesus more than life itself and this gives me great hope. As I drove home I thanked Jesus for talking to me through Jesse. I preached the gospel to myself out loud in the car. I repented of my desire for control and I surrendered again my head, my heart, my hands, and my feet to Jesus and returned to the Prince of Peace in humility.
Here is the lesson. “All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give. I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live.”
Would you pray for my friend Jesse, his wife Ashley, and their children? Jesse has an 8-15 hour surgery on Friday, September 25. That’s going to be a big day. Join me in interceding for him. Pray for healing that only enhances Jesse’s surrendered position in Christ. Maybe, open your hands wide while you pray and ask God to help you surrender and find freedom too.
To follow the story in greater detail and to learn more after the surgery, see the blog www.everylittlejot.com written by Jesse’s wife Ashley.