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Hope When Life Unravels

Nine Years Ago Today

By Hope When Life Unravels No Comments

Some days live on in infamy.

Nine years ago, today, our journey with childhood cancer began. I still remember the musky smell of the room.  Cartoon characters decorated wood paneled walls and bundles of children’s books were on both sides of our chairs.  Bracing for the worst, I knew deep down that whatever the doctor was about to share couldn’t be good.  The events of the previous week seemed to point to it and the mood of the office personnel only confirmed that this was not a typical test result. 

Nestled between my legs with his arms around my waist, my three old son Carson seemed oblivious to what was happening.  And why wouldn’t he be?  Like any carefree child, this superhero wannabe’s only concern was how long would we have to stay in the doctor’s office. 

I tried to reassure myself that I was probably overreacting.  The swollen lymph nodes on Carson’s head, behind his ears, and under his arms were concerning, but his blood tests last month didn’t indicate any reason for alarm. 

After visiting family in Kentucky the previous week, it did seem strange that Carson lacked his usually energy, but most likely it was a nagging virus that wouldn’t go away.  More puzzling, however, was the bright red rash under his chin to the top of his chest that was smooth to the touch.  That is what prompted a Sunday afternoon check-up in the first place.  Convinced that something more serious was wrong, my wife Heather insisted that waiting until Monday morning wasn’t an option.  Turns out, she was right. 

When Dr. Roberts (our pediatrician)  walked in the room and sat on the round stool in front of us, both her posture and facial expression communicated concern.  “I wish I had better news,” she said, “but I believe that Carson has leukemia.”  Leukemia?  Not Carson.  How is that possible?  I’m ashamed to say that I knew little about pediatric cancer at this point and my knowledge about cancer in general was frightening. 

Fear immediately invaded my heart and tears quickly followed.  By now Heather was breaking down beside me.  Carson, who refused to stay with the nurse, watched this unfold and began comforting each of us.  Obviously, a three-year-old doesn’t understand words like leukemia.  His tender little heart, however, was breaking not for himself but for his parents.  “Please don’t cry Mommy!” he lamented.  “Everything is going to be okay, Daddy! I promise.”  These words were comforting reminders of why we love him so much and desperate warnings of how deeply we were afraid of losing him. 

By 10:00 p.m. on the same day, Carson was in a bed at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. Nurses began checking vitals and running more tests as I signed waiver after waiver.  These events seemed like a nightmare, but I wasn’t waking up.  Our near perfect, neatly packaged Christian life was unraveling before our eyes.  As anxiety welled up in my heart a myriad of questions bombarded me. 

Could we handle this?  Was our faith strong enough?  Would we lose our little boy?  Why was this happening at all? Of all the people forced to go through trials like these, why did God choose us?

Now, nine years later, we have a healthy son who is thriving. Do not assume, however, that things are just like they were before cancer interrupted our lives. The lessons God taught us during that dark period will remain with us forever. We learned that God is good, and God is enough. We learned that intimacy with the Lord is often found on the path of pain. We learned that God is willing to use our hardships for greater purposes than we can grasp. We learned that much of what happens in life can only be fully appreciated in eternity.

As I look back, my mind settles on the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 11:33-36:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?  Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever.  Amen.”

I understand God’s ways completely, but I trust HIM completely. I would have never chosen the path of childhood cancer, but I have learned to be thankful for it. Some things really are too painful to waste.

Do you find these lessons helpful? Want to read more insights from Adam Dooley? Preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels today by clicking here.

*A portion of this entry is an excerpt from Hope When Life Unravels; Finding God When it Hurts. If these lessons encourage you, order your copy here.

 **”Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.Lockman.org”

Unanswered Questions and the Christian Life

By Hope When Life Unravels No Comments

“Will my cancer ever go away, Dad?”

The question caught me off guard, but this was Carson’s way. As we traveled to St. Jude each week by plane, our time together was surprisingly joyful. What father would not appreciate 36 uninterrupted hours with his firstborn every week for nearly three years? We laughed, played games, and enjoyed one another’s company. Interspersed in our routine, however, were insightful questions like these that seemingly came from nowhere.

“Why did God give me cancer, Dad?”

“Does God really love me, Dad?”

“What purpose does God have for me, Dad?”

These were just a few of the more thoughtful discussions we had along the way. But not knowing Carson’s future was the most difficult part of the journey. After his initial diagnosis of leukemia in 2011, Carson was elevated from low to standard risk due to his unusually high white blood count. The worst thoughts imaginable ran amok during those early days of treatment. Was Carson going to die? Could he live a normal life even if he survived? What side effects would his invasive chemotherapy cause? 

We waited nervously to find out if cancer cells were in his spinal fluid. We paced the floor during the regular spinal taps called for by his treatment plan. We went home disappointed when Carson’s first bone marrow test revealed that his chemotherapy, though working, had not yet eradicated his cancer entirely. All the while, we wondered if we would ever defeat the uninvited guest that was wreaking havoc on our lives. 

The highs and lows along the way were too numerous to count. One drug Carson received was so powerful it had to be immediately flushed from his kidneys lest it cause permanent damage. We waited all night in the ERs of numerous cities every time he spiked a fever, fearing bacterial septicity. We grieved the loss of dear friends whose earthly battles with pediatric cancer ended with the least desirable outcomes, even as we wondered if the same fate awaited us.

Waiting.

Not knowing.

Fearing the worst.

So, one day at a time, we woke up and gave our son to the Lord. Certainly, we were more attuned to it during those days, but it occurs to me that much of our existence is very much the same. We do not know what the future holds (James 4:14a). Life is far too brief and fragile (James 4:14b). Our best bet is to give every day that we have to the Lord and trust Him with whatever comes our way (James 4:15). 

We need the same outlook to endure the uncertainties of the present. I do not know what the future holds, but there is much that causes me concern. When will the COVID-19 pandemic end? When will our economy stabilize? When will the political gridlock cease? When will the racial tensions subside? Or, to restate Carson’s question from all those years ago, “Will our problems ever go away?”

I wish I knew. The circumstances have changed, but some days I still find myself waiting, not knowing, and fearing the worst. So, what are we to do? Give every day to the Lord. Remember, that He is still on His throne and is in no way surprised by the world’s dilemmas. Do not allow the blindness of life to undermine your hope in the Lord’s goodness and strength. Live every day like it might be your last. And do it all for the Lord’s glory, never boasting in your own strength (James 4:16).

The Crucible of Fatherhood

By Fatherhood, Hope When Life Unravels No Comments

I love being a dad.  Each day pattering little feet greet me at the door when the alarm chime sounds at home.  One son grabs my leg, another throws his arms around my neck, and a third jumps to my back refusing to let go. The tender voices of my two daughters as they enthusiastically greet me is the highlight of my day.  The eyes of my children reveal not only where I have come from, but also the legacy I hope to leave behind.  I am often struck by how grateful I am for the amazing wife by my side and the sheer joy of leading my family.

But it is not always easy.  Carson’s battle with leukemia often left me feeling inadequate and overwhelmed as a dad.  Now, the burdens are different, but they are present nonetheless.  Fatherhood brings unique challenges that sometimes rival its opportunities.  There are at least two reasons this is true.

My Children are Sinners

Too often we parents are guilty of worshipping our children.  We forget that the adorable baby we cannot stop talking about has the potential to become a monster!  Contrary to contemporary theory, children are not born neutral, nor are they predisposed to good.  Actually, the opposite is true.  

Psalm 51:5 makes it plain:  “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”1  Rom. 5:19a explains that:  “through the one man’s [Adam] disobedience the many were made sinners. . .”  Psalm 14:2-3 offers God’s perspective of humanity: 

“The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men 

To see if there are any who understand, 

Who seek after God. 

3They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; 

There is no one who does good, not even one.”

As much as I want to believe otherwise, my children are not innocent.  No one need teach them to disobey.  They are often selfish, disrespectful, and rebellious.  This is why fathers are instructed to bring their children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).”

Because my kids are sinners, they need discipline.  This word can bear the idea of training and instruction (see 2 Tim. 3:16) or of punishment and chastisement (see Luke 23:16; Heb. 12:5-11).  Most likely, Paul intends both in Ephesians 6:4.  Discipline requires both instruction and correction when a child errs.  

Because my kids are sinners, they need instruction.  This word is synonymous with discipline, yet it communicates a more exhortative and motivational tone.  Again, the emphasis is on teaching truth and confronting rebellion.  

The underlying goal of these responsibilities is salvation.  Fathers must seek more for their children than behavior modification and moralistic platitudes.  I should desire more for my sons and daughters than career promotion, athletic development, or social acceptance.  Our ultimate charge as fathers is to lead our children to Christ.  Though nothing will guarantee the salvation of our little ones, dads must create an environment where Christ is magnified, the gospel is articulated, and obedience to the Scripture is modeled.  While I cannot obtain their salvation, I must be certain that I do not hinder it.  

I am a Sinner

Often forgotten when discussing fatherhood is the reality that dads are also sinners.  The primary reason I anticipate my children’s propensity to sin is because they inherited it from me.  In light of our depravity, fathers should avoid two extremes that diminish their influence over the spiritual growth of their children. 

On one hand, fathers must resist the temptation to be passive.  

1 Samuel 3:11-13 offers a chilling indictment of paternal passivity:  “The Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 “In that day I will carry out against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 “For I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them (emphasis mine).”

The devastation of these verses strikes a cord of fear in my heart.  God forbid that my unwillingness to correct, rebuke, or guide my children would lead to their condemnation.  Let’s be honest, men have a tendency to be spiritually lazy, or even worse, apathetic.  Yet, we cannot lead our children where we have not been.  Before God instructs us to teach our sons/daughters with diligence, He insists that we must first love Him with all our heart, soul, and might (Deut. 6:5-9).  God’s word must be on our heart before we share it with others.

Avoiding passivity means dads must actively refuse certain things:

  • Don’t be so distracted by social media that you disengage from your family while at home.
  • Don’t allow your children to disrespect their mother.  
  • Don’t sit by idly when your children disobey God.
  • Don’t delegate your children’s spiritual development to your wife. 
  • Don’t communicate with your actions that sports, leisure, or money are more important than walking with God.

Avoiding passivity also means that dads must actively cultivate opportunities for spiritual growth:

  • Do maintain your personal walk with God.  Scripture reading and prayer will be daily disciplines for spiritual leaders.
  • Do talk about the gospel often, seeking to apply it to real life situations.
  • Do lead your children in Bible reading and prayer.
  • Do admit when you are wrong and ask for forgiveness.   
  • Do confront, correct, and guide your children when they stray from the truth.
  • Do sacrificially love, encourage, and esteem your wife.

On the other hand, fathers must resist the temptation to be harsh.  

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger . . . (Eph. 6:4).”  Due to our fallenness, fathers often abuse the authority God gives us.  Just as my kids are prone to rebel, I am tempted to overreact and provoke them.  Excessive criticism and harshness can be just as damaging as a lack of involvement.  By contrast, the Apostle Paul admonishes us to “bring them up” with discipline and instruction (Eph. 6:4).  The same phrase appears in Ephesians 5:29 when husbands are told to “nourish” their wives as their own bodies.  With great care and sensitivity, dads should build up rather than tear down.  I want my kids to know that I love them deeply and that every correction is intended for their good.

The following actions will help dads avoid harshness:

  • Frequently say, “I love you.”
  • Embrace your children and assure them of your concern after discipline.
  • Avoid spanking when you are angry or children don’t understand their sin.
  • Be consistent when setting requirements and enforcing consequences.
  • Remember that every child is different, often requiring various means of discipline.
  • Pray for your children daily.

Some Words About Travis

By Hope When Life Unravels 4 Comments

“What is it like to work with Travis Cottrell?”

That’s a question I’ve grown accustomed to during my first year at Englewood. To those of us who know him well, the fanfare surrounding our friend can be humorous at times because he’s just so normal. Yet, we are all equally aware that every accolade Travis receives is well deserved. His accomplishments in the world of Contemporary Christian Music are well noted (they don’t give those Dove Awards to just anybody), but the realities behind the man are much more impressive than his public notoriety.  

When Travis and his wife Angela moved to Jackson, TN ten years ago, few people could believe it. Why would such a gifted artist leave the conveniences of the Nashville metroplex for such a small city? Why would a man who leads worship for arenas full of believers restrict himself to the service of a single congregation? Certainly, his friendship with then Pastor Ben Mandrell was a big factor. More than anything else, however, was the divine calling Travis and Angela felt as they followed the Lord to Englewood. 

God has done an amazing work in our congregation through the efforts of our most well-known member. With faithfulness and integrity, he has taught all of us how to worship Jesus more fully. Now, ten years later, we are all saddened by the news that God is calling Travis away. On the first Sunday in July, he will begin a new season of ministry as the worship leader at Brentwood Baptist Church, just south of Nashville.

I expected this might happen at some point, but I regret that Travis and I did not have more time to work with one another. Do not confuse my disappointment with anger, however. We all love Travis and Angela because they obediently followed the Lord to us. Loving them less for following the Lord away from us would be contrary to everything we’ve celebrated over the last decade.

Saying goodbye is difficult, though, largely because Travis has been so effective serving the Lord here in Jackson. Working with him has been a breath of fresh air for me. I have never doubted his support nor questioned his motives. Let me share what I appreciate most about this special servant.  

Perhaps more than anything, I admire his humility. 

The rare combination of uncontested skill and genuine humility is difficult to find. Yet, despite his being the most talented man in nearly every room, I have repeatedly watched Travis fade into the background in order to push others into the light repeatedly. Though he graciously accepts compliments, he never seems to seek them. While many are seemingly anxious to boast about their accomplishments, Travis seems more comfortable celebrating others instead. In fact, I imagine he is secretly angry because I have written this post, exposing this admirable quality! I love this brother because he doesn’t simply say that all glory goes to Jesus; he shows it

His love for people inspires me.

When our family visited Jackson for the first time, my oldest son was struggling with the prospect of leaving the familiar surroundings of our Texas home. Mr. Travis, as my kids have come to call him, invited us over for an impromptu visit. We laughed, ate tacos, and had a great visit. What I most remember, though, was the patience with which Travis answered my son’s questions about living in the Hub City. He shared how he, too, initially struggled to leave his home when God called him to Englewood. Next, he explained how thankful he was that his family obeyed the Lord. Travis also answered specific questions about our church that made all my kids feel better about relocating. It was a powerful moment that God used profoundly in my son’s life. Moving was much less frightening from that point forward. I will never forget the kindness he and Angela showed us.

My first week here in Jackson, Travis took my children out to lunch (by himself!). Then, a few months later, we attended one of his concerts at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. My four-year-old daughter, who hasn’t figured out she cannot marry Mr. Travis one day, was frustrated that in this setting she did not have his undivided attention. Not wanting to disappoint her, Travis left us amazed when he joined us in the balcony just to say hello between two of his songs. 

I could go on, but I am simply illustrating the powerful ways Travis shows others he cares about them. Our stories are not unique. Staff members and congregants alike will tell you about similar experiences they have shared him. He rallies believers to meet needs. He works hard to create moments people will remember. And he does it all without any ulterior motive for something in return. Whether it is distributing food to needy families while hiding behind a mask or empowering others to fulfill their calling, every room is better when this brother is in it.

He dances before the Lord.

In 2 Samuel 6:14, the Bible says that David danced before the Lord with all his might when the Ark of the Covenant was finally returned to Jerusalem. Interestingly, his wife Michal rebukes him for the indignity of his worship. Remarkably, King David cared nothing about how others perceived his worship and only about whether God received his worship. The whole scene reminds me of Travis. He is not unkind, but neither does he care what others think. He does not simply lead in worship, he worships. No clowning around. No entertaining. Just one worshipper leading others to do the same.

The greatest compliment I can give my friend is that often, on Sundays, I would forget that it was time for me to preach. The music was so moving and God-focused that I would often be lost in the beauty of worshipping the Lord rather than mulling over what I was about to say. No one has ever led me to worship our Savior like that. Travis makes me want to love the Lord more and His joy is contagious. He has, even in the short time we’ve worked together, made me a better pastor. 

Oh sure, I recognize that he has tremendous gifts. But because of his refusal to steal the glory for himself, our church has been free to focus on the Giver of those gifts. Though I always appreciate the excellence and skill with which Travis serves, I seldom dwell on these things because He always points me to Someone else.

What’s it been like to work with Travis Cottrell? Better than you can ever imagine. But not for the reasons you think. The man behind the music is even better than what the world sees. And he’d be the first to tell you that is only because of Jesus.

I will miss him deeply.

I will always count him as a friend. 

I will always turn his music up loud in my car.  

And I will keep worshipping Jesus with my whole heart, just as he has taught us to do.

The Trail of Tears

By Hope When Life Unravels No Comments

For years I’ve made at least one phone call whenever I don’t know what to do. Sometimes, other calls will follow. But without hesitation, the first call I make is to my mentor and friend, Hershael York. The day we learned Carson had leukemia was terrible in every way. Though our emotions brought us low with despair, there was little time to linger in our valley. In addition to the anxieties we carried, we had to pack a bag, travel to another state, and begin a journey that would span nearly three years. I knew my young family would look to me for strength, yet I had none. That’s when I made the call. Parts of that conversation will always remain private, but I’ve asked my friend to share his perspective about our conversation on that dark day.

Guest Contributor: Hershael York

I thought it odd that he would call early on a Sunday afternoon, so soon after church. Preachers don’t call then. They recuperate. A preacher must be “on” from the moment he arrives at the church until he leaves. His attentions are heightened, his thoughts focused, his emotions intense. After greeting, listening, leading, and preaching he’s left feeling like Jesus when an anonymous woman touched the hem of his garment: virtue has gone out of him. 

But that was precisely the moment on July 10, 2011, the caller id on my cell phone informed me Adam Dooley was calling. I thought he might be calling because of our time together the previous Thursday evening. I don’t think I had laughed so much and so hard for a long time, and I’m almost certain that the last time I had laughed like that had also been with Adam. Because we lived in different parts of the country, we didn’t get to be together much, but every time we did our time was characterized by a lot of laughs, usually at Adam’s expense.

He had been my student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I can remember the moment I noticed him in my preaching class. He soon distinguished himself as a guy who was very serious about preaching but, thankfully, not too serious about himself. I liked that combination, and he began stopping by my office, peppering me with questions about pastoral ministry and sermon preparation. When he decided to do a PhD in preaching, he asked me to be his supervisor and to oversee his dissertation. 

The more we were together, the more he became a son in the ministry to me. Our relationship grew rich and deep. He would have me preach for him in every church he pastored, seeking advice about how to grow and lead them. He wouldn’t get serious about Heather, the woman who would become his wife until Tanya and I got to know her and gave him our blessing—which we did the very first night we met her. When I judged that he was dragging his feet at asking her to marry him, one day when he was in my office, I picked up the phone and called her myself and asked her if she would say yes if he proposed. When she giggled and answered affirmatively, I handed him the phone. Within a few months, I did their premarital counseling and then performed the ceremony, happily pronouncing them husband and wife.

When Adam went with me on a mission trip to Brazil, a country I know well and whose language I speak because of my past as a missionary kid, I taught him some Portuguese phrases. I just didn’t teach him correct Portuguese. Every time Adam thought he was saying “thank you” to someone, he was instead innocently making a statement of (how shall I put this?) gastrointestinal confession. It took him three days to figure out that Brazilians weren’t merely laughing at his funny Gringo accent.

Amid all the practical jokes I played on him, Adam had grown into a first-rate preacher and scholar. His dissertation was innovative and brilliant. He was in demand as a conference speaker and had been called to pastor a large, historic church. I was proud of how he had grown and I would sometimes invite him to teach a summer modular class in preaching or pastoral ministry at Southern Seminary, his beloved alma mater. 

That’s what brought him back to Kentucky that week, allowing Tanya and me to take him out to dinner on Thursday night. Over a casual meal shared between dear friends whose lives had been so happily intertwined by a gracious providence, we laughed so hard that I kept losing my breath and wiping tears from my eyes. Folks around us must have been irritated to see three adults acting like kids getting tickled in church and unable to stop laughing. 

Three days later, my phone rang soon after church and I had no idea that it meant I would bear witness to one of the most challenging, gut-wrenching, grace-filled journeys I have ever seen anyone walk. Adam told me of what had just transpired that morning, of Carson’s dire diagnosis, of their imminent departure to Memphis and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. He and I both wept bitter tears as we prayed together about a dreadfully uncertain future. 

A professor-mentor feels a special joy at seeing someone he has trained do well, and Adam has been a source of that pleasure in many ways. While I am proud of his personal accomplishments as a preacher, pastor, and author, none of those delight me like watching him walk the long, hard road of suffering. I never saw him waver in his unshakeable commitment to Christ and to the bedrock belief that God is completely in control, even when nothing makes sense and life hurts. His stalwart shepherding of his family during those days, even when they were under attacks I can only interpret as satanic, challenged, and inspired me. 

During those years, Adam and Heather set a watch over Carson like Rizpah on the rock of Gibeah, beating back the forces of cancer and death through their vigilant prayers and unyielding care of their precious son. I saw them grow in faith and intimacy with a God who knows what it is to watch a Son suffer. I saw the Lord knit their hearts to His and to one another with a strength that could not have come through any other way. 

In time the laughter came back. These days the tears we wipe from our eyes are once again because we are laughing so hard. I love those tears. But they are richer and more precious because we shed the other kind together, too.

Do you find these lessons helpful? Want to read more insights from Adam Dooley? Preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels today by clicking here.

No Neutral Influence

By Hope When Life Unravels No Comments

Mile 18 was by far the most difficult.

I won’t say the first 13.1 miles were easy, but temperatures were cooler and the adrenaline of running in my first St. Jude Marathon was still pumping. When we broke from the large group that ended their race at a half-marathon finish line, my pride swelled, and the motivation continued to push me along. The atmosphere was fun. Bands played along the path and crowds of people cheered us on as we trekked across Nashville. 

At mile 18, however, I hit the proverbial wall. The novelty of outdistancing everyone else was now gone, and my legs just weren’t working. With eight miles remaining, I wondered if I could even finish. By this time, it was 86 degrees. My clothes were soaking wet; my feet were sore; and my entire body ached. But then, the very moment it seemed as if I could not continue, I spotted my son’s bald head glistening in the sunlight. He did not feel like being out on such a hot day, but he was there nonetheless, holding a sign of support to encourage me. 

With a lump in my throat, I pressed forward. The discomfort of a five-hour race now seemed insignificant compared to my son’s three-year battle with cancer. Inspired by his perseverance, I resolved that quitting was not an option. Though hundreds finished before me, Carson was waiting at the finish line with a personal trophy he and his mother made just for me. It was an incredible moment that I will never forget. 

If you haven’t already figured it out, I am no marathon runner. I’m just a dad who loves his son. Breaking records was never my goal. Instead, we set out to raise as much money as we could for the wonderful place that we had come to call “Carson’s hospital.” On a personal level, I wanted to do something difficult simply to show solidarity with my son. If he could endure so much hardship without complaint, surely I could run a marathon to bring awareness to his fight. Carson’s endurance was, and remains, an example that I desire to emulate. 

I know that fathers are supposed to shape their sons into godly young men, but most days I feel like my firstborn has done more to mold me than I have done to mold him. Though he is unaware, one verse in particular always reminds me of Carson when I read it. Writing to his protégé in the ministry, Paul says, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe (1 Tim. 4:12).” Thrust into a hardship he did not ask for at such a tender age, my son typified the pure, child-like faith God expects from all of us. I remain grateful for his testimony, and I am still learning from it today.

Did you know that your life has the same potential to impact the people around you? Granted, every struggle is different, but the influence we wield is determined in large part by how we respond to trials. We should never underestimate the significant impact our lives have on fellow believers, for good or bad. The Bible is full of evidence that our lives shape others in ways that we cannot always foresee.

For example, God warned Old Testament Israel about the contagious momentum of fear as it spreads among His people. In fact, the Lord insisted that every fainthearted soldier remain off the battlefield lest “his brothers’ hearts melt like his heart” (Deut. 20:8).  Likewise, the Scripture warns that worldly talk spreads like gangrene and that bad doctrine will lead some astray (2 Tim. 2:16-18). How many reckless examples could be avoided if we simply thought more about the ripple effect of our actions?

On the positive side, the generosity of the Macedonian churches in the midst of their poverty motivates us, like the Corinthian believers, to give sacrificially to the Lord’s work (2 Cor. 8:1). Paul’s faithfulness to the Lord while in prison inspires Christians today to be bold in their faith just as it did the Philippians so long ago (Phil. 1:14). The humility of Jesus while enduring the suffering caused by His cross compels us to look out for others more than ourselves (Phil. 2:3-8). And the example left by those in the great cloud of witnesses compels us to fix our eyes on Jesus as we lay aside sinful encumbrances in order to live by faith (Heb. 12:1-2).

Our lives make a difference, whether we want them to or not. Are you in the midst of a trial? Don’t waste it. Are you ready to throw your hands up and quit? Someone is watching. Is it difficult for you to trust God right now? Someone will follow in your footsteps. 

Do you find these lessons helpful? Want to read more insights from Adam Dooley? Preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels today by clicking here.

Preaching Through Tears

By Hope When Life Unravels One Comment

It was not my best sermon.

After being away from my congregation for six weeks, the induction phase of Carson’s chemotherapy ended, and we returned home from the Memphis Ronald McDonald House. Though he was now in remission, 128 consecutive weeks of treatment remained in order to prevent him from relapsing. We were tired, emotionally spent, and fearful of what lay ahead of us. 

With my pastoral duties resuming, I decided to preach through the book of Job. What I did not anticipate, however, was the uncontrollable emotion I felt when I opened my Bible and began to speak. As an active participant in the story, the passage I read was neither theoretical nor flat. Each verse struck a different emotive cord as I shared about the inevitability of trials in a fallen world. And with every insight I explained, it seemed as though God was speaking directly to me through His Word.

That’s when the tears began to flow. At first, I was embarrassed. The vulnerability of the message left me exposed like never before, and frankly, I did not like it. The more I tried to pull it together the less composure it seemed I had. Yet, as God carried me through the message, His strength was perfected through my weakness in an obvious way. I realized, like never before, that God usually breaks us before He uses us. 

Then, in a moment of spiritual clarity, I felt joy. Joy because the Holy Spirit was present and active. Joy because others were benefiting from my hardship. Joy because of the manifest power of God’s Word. And joy because, like never before, I needed the realities that I dared to proclaim. Don’t get me wrong, I never really doubted any of the doctrines in Scripture, but my son’s trial forced me to lean on the Lord’s promises like never before. When we move from merely explaining Scripture for the benefit of others to experiencing the same truth for ourselves, life change occurs. 

Such is the beauty of brokenness. 

Earthly pain is often God’s chosen method to help live out the eternal truths we claim to believe (James 1:2-4). He sometimes uses unexpected affliction to add the depth of experience to the width of our knowledge (Psalm 147:3). Tears, as unwelcome as they might be, are a powerful instrument to help us glory more in our Savior than ourselves (Psalm 6:8). The destination of obedience is often at the end of affliction’s road (Psalm 119:67).

So, I no longer run from the tears. 

Neither should you. Today’s heartache may become a future pillow with which you can comfort others who are hurting (2 Cor. 1:3-4).  Every trial is a potential platform for your declaring the gospel and demonstrating genuine faith (Phil. 1:12-14). Better still is the hope that our burdens are often doorways that lead to deeper intimacy with Christ as our faith is proven and stretched (1 Peter 1:6-9). No matter how God chooses to enter your suffering and regardless of how many tears you shed, remember that He promises to wipe each one of them away (Rev. 21:4). 

Maybe that sermon wasn’t so bad after all.  

Do you find these lessons helpful? Want to read more insights from Adam Dooley? Preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels today by clicking here.

 

What Does it Mean to Be Brave? (Guest Blog)

By Guest Blog, Hope When Life Unravels No Comments

Throughout Carson’s treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, I was continually amazed how God used him to impact others. Just shy of four years old on the day of his diagnosis, Carson showed tremendous wisdom for his age. Often, he would speak greater truth than he realized. Other times, he would ask a thought-provoking question at just the right time. 

In today’s entry, I’ve asked my brother, William Dooley, to share an experience he had with Carson during our initial days at St. Jude. I remember this conversation well; and I am thankful that William captured it for your encouragement.

What Does it Mean to Be Brave?

By William Dooley

I’ll never forget my first visit to the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis, Tennessee. I was there to visit my brother Adam and his family, primarily my nephew Carson who had been diagnosed with leukemia a few weeks before, just prior to his fourth birthday. Carson was being treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and living in the Ronald McDonald House with his parents and little brother.

I have vivid memories of that day. It was the first time that I had come face to face with cancer-stricken children, seeing the bald heads and swollen faces that resulted from chemotherapy and steroid treatments. I saw the worry and exhaustion in their parents’ faces. My most meaningful memory of the day, however, comes from a conversation that Carson had with his dad. 

Adam had been talking with Carson about the need to be brave during his treatments; he would endure much that would make adults afraid, and Carson was barely four years old. As we sat down for dinner in the RMH kitchen and dining room, my nephew asked my brother a question that I will never forget.

“Dad, can you still be brave and cry just a little bit?”

What?! This from a child who had not even begun Kindergarten?! Many adults don’t even consider such weighty matters! I don’t remember exactly what Adam said because, truthfully, it took me a minute or two to compose myself. After I got myself back together, I sought to offer Carson the best advice that I had.

“You sure can, buddy. Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not afraid; it means that you do what you have to do even though you’re afraid.”

Carson accepted all of this. With the faith of a child, he trusted what his father told him and did what he had to do. More than once over the coming years, I saw Carson being brave in situations that would have sent many adults running for cover. 

My nephew displayed a faith and trust in his father that even the prophet of God did not display in 1 Kings 19. Elijah had just confronted the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. God had answered in a breathtaking way, and the false god’s prophets had been executed. Was Elijah’s confidence boosted? Did he continue to stand faithfully and firmly for the Lord? He did not.

The key to understanding Elijah’s response is found in 19:3, “Then Elijah became afraid.” Elijah became afraid, and he let that fear cripple him. God had used Elijah in a great way, showing Himself to be true, but a pronouncement from a wicked woman had made him fear in a way that undermined even God’s work in his life. We can learn much from Elijah’s crippling fear.

First, we learn that fear will distort our circumstances. As he fled, Elijah prayed that he would die (19:4). That makes sense, right?! I’m afraid that I might die, so just kill me! Elijah illogically focused on his circumstances rather than on God, and proclaimed that he had had enough. Elijah also demonstrated a distorted view of his circumstances when he told the Lord that only he was left to stand for the Lord. God corrected this misconception and sent Elijah back to Israel, ensuring him that He still had 7,000 people there who had not sold out to Baal. 

Elijah’s journey also teaches us a lesson about the ways in which God will speak to us. Many times we are like the sinful Pharisees demanding a sign. We might demonstrate a lack of faith like that of Gideon, asking repeatedly that God send a “fleece” to help us trust Him (Judges 6:36-40). 

Oftentimes, we desire a dramatic answer, some event that gets our attention. God sometimes speaks in that way. That is not, however, always the case. In fact, when God spoke to Elijah, there was damaging wind; there was an earthquake; there was a fire….and God was in none of them. He certainly could have spoken to Elijah through any of those, but He did not.

How did God speak to Elijah? He spoke to him in what is described as a still, small voice (19:12-13). Elijah had wandered from God’s path; he had feared for his life rather than trusting God. God could have “whipped him into shape” in any number of ways, but He spoke in a way that only Elijah could hear.

God is still speaking to His people, and he does so in any number of ways. He might speak to you dramatically, and He might speak to you in a way that only you can understand.

I’ll never forget Carson accepting what Adam told him simply because he trusted his father. Our Heavenly Father is speaking to us.

Are we listening?

Do you find these lessons helpful? Want to read more insights from Adam Dooley? Preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels today by clicking here.

Why We Hate to Wait

By Hope When Life Unravels No Comments

I paced the floor of our second-floor hospital room. By this point, the collages that adorned the hallways were chiseled into my memory. The now familiar red-framed windows seemed more like prison bars preventing our escape than portals providing God’s gift of sunlight. It had been several months since Carson had been admitted to the hospital, but a fever above 100.4 and low blood counts left him vulnerable to septic shock. In all likelihood, his symptoms were the result of a virus, but the possibility of an infection requires extra precautions when you’re fighting childhood cancer.

It happened more than once.

This particular occasion was not only unplanned, but it also left me scurrying to adjust my schedule and responsibilities back home. Because we were in Memphis for Carson’s weekly chemotherapy, I expected a routine turnaround that would have us home in less than 36 hours. When he spiked a fever during our stay, however, our overnight trip became a weeklong stay.

Carson was putting a puzzle together on the tray from which he ate his meals in bed. The muffle of a ballgame on television played in the background, but I was oblivious to my surroundings. Anxious to get home as soon as possible, I was thankful when our nurse opened the door to our room. My enthusiasm was short lived. She soon explained that Carson’s immunity level wasn’t rising, and we would need to stay in Memphis for a bit longer. In a fit of exasperation, I mumbled to myself, “How much longer will we have to wait!”

Why is waiting so hard?

Perhaps I’ve met someone along the way who enjoys waiting, but I don’t recall it. Being in limbo tests our sanity and prolonged delays can even cause us to doubt the Lord. No explanation is exhaustive because our motivations are often complicated. I do believe, however, that three realizations are often at the root of our impatience when life doesn’t go as planned.

Waiting shatters the myth that we are in control. Juggling schedules, meeting deadlines, and monitoring results gives us the impression that are at the helm of our universe. Do you have a goal? Just work harder. Do you have a problem? Do something about it. Choose your destiny. Seize the day. Claim your reality. Mantras like these resonate with us precisely because we yearn to be in charge and are willing to play along. But deep down, we know it is all a lie. Nothing interrupts our fantasy like a prolonged sense of helplessness.

Waiting often unleashes our deepest fears. Where are You, God? What are You doing, God? Why won’t You answer me, God? Questions like these seldom accost us when everything unfolds according to schedule. At the first sign that God is not at our beck and call, though, we are quick to question His wisdom and doubt His concern. Periods of vulnerability leave us unwanted time to think, and the silence uncomfortably shouts over the peace God bestows. Anxieties that are normally held in check sometimes wreak havoc on us while we wait.

Waiting reveals our true priorities. Most people would be insulted if you accused them of being slaves to their work. Neither are we anxious to admit that we are puppets guided by the hand of public perception and opinion. Nor do we fancy ourselves as materialistic or self-centered. Unfortunately, seasons of waiting often tell a different story. Though interruptions force us to peel away all that is unnecessary in our lives, our unwillingness to do so may reveal that we value the wrong things. When the world goes on while our hands are tied, we realize just how much we idolize the accolades and possessions we pretend not to seek. Despite our affirmations that God is trustworthy and that sanctification is priority, childish outbursts and temper tantrums uncover our true agenda.

Each of these insecurities haunted me repeatedly throughout our three years at St. Jude, and especially during the aforementioned hospital stay. Thankfully, neither I, nor you, are alone in our struggle to wait on the Lord. During a painful time of testing, King David once called out to the Lord with desperation in Psalm 4:

Answer me when I call, O God! (v1)
Be gracious to me! (v1)
Hear my prayer! (v1)

Then, with supernatural clarity, David realized that his wait would be worth it.

Tremble and do not sin. (v4)
Meditate in your heart . . . and be still. (v4)
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness. (v4)
Trust in the Lord. (v4)

Slowly, I am learning that the benefits of waiting on the Lord far exceed the inconveniences. With a loss of control, comes the peace of resting in our Savior (Psalm 26:3-4). The discomfort of facing our fears and enduring difficulties unleashes the strength of God in our lives (2 Cor. 12:9). Exposing misplaced priorities opens the door for renewed commitment to the Lord (Psalm 32:5).

God continues to use the crucible of uncertainty in my life. I am confident He will do the same for you. He is eager to renew our strength, if only we are willing to wait upon Him (Isaiah 40:31).

Do you find these lessons helpful? Want to read more insights from Adam Dooley? Preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels today by clicking here.

The Generosity God Seeks

By Hope When Life Unravels No Comments

Her words stopped me in my tracks. 

“I need to verify your insurance information, Mr. Dooley, but you will never receive a bill from the hospital,” she stated casually. I should have known; after all, I see the same commercials that you see from time to time. Yet, I am embarrassed to admit that previously I failed to pay attention. At this point, I knew little about childhood cancer and even less about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. What was second nature to the woman in registration was news to me.

“How is that possible?” I asked. 

“Because of generous donors around the world,” she explained, “our patients never receive a bill from the hospital. There will be no charge for whatever your insurance fails to pay.”

No charge?

“No charge. You take care of your son and let us take care of the rest.”

And take care of it they did. Every flight we took to Memphis (over 100). Every mile we drove. Every meal we ate while there. Every room we stayed in overnight. Every vial of chemo Carson received. Every MRI, CT scan, and clinic visit. No expense was spared, and no expense was laid at our feet.

No charge. No strings attached.

When it was all over, we estimated that St. Jude spent nearly 2 million dollars to help our son get well. Words cannot describe the deep gratitude our family feels for the abundant, unrestricted generosity of the world’s premier research hospital leading the fight against childhood cancer. To this day, it takes my breath away.

Frankly, the whole experience gave me a completely new outlook on living a generous life. No secular organization should model the sacrificial giving God seeks more than the church of the Lord Jesus. As a pastor, I not only want to model sacrificial giving for my people, but I also want to teach them to prioritize the Lord’s work.

I realize that discussions on money and giving are often taboo despite the fact that significant portions of Scripture are devoted to these subjects. While the lies of the prosperity gospel leave many wishing to avoid the issue altogether, faithful pastors seeking to preach the whole counsel of God recognize the undeniable connection between our view of wealth and our spiritual maturity. Simply put, wherever we put our treasure, our heart will necessarily follow (Matt. 6:21).  

Despite our best efforts to ignore it, most Christians instinctively understand that either God or money will rise to prominence in our lives, leaving no room for both to capture our allegiance (Matt. 6:24). The biblical antidote for worshipping at the altar of the almighty dollar is generous giving to God’s kingdom work (Matt. 6:19-20). So, instead of asking if we should give, allow me to make some observations about how we should give, particularly to our local church. Five patterns emerge as we consider the kind of generosity that pleases God.

Our giving should be sacrificial. While describing the giving of the Macedonians to the ministry of the church, Paul says they gave despite their great affliction and poverty (2 Cor. 8:2) in a way that was according to their ability and beyond their ability (2 Cor. 8:3). Sharing resources that we will never miss falls short of the sacrifice God desires in our giving.

Our giving should be intentional. Not only does Paul challenge the Corinthian believers to participate in the offering for the Jerusalem church, he also tells them to plan ahead and set aside their gift well before its collection (2 Cor. 9:5). Setting aside funds each week is the best strategy because it increases our capacity to give beyond what single moments allow (1 Cor. 16:1). Being intentional pushes the kingdom’s agenda to the forefront of our budget by protecting us from reactionary giving out of our leftovers.

Our giving should be cheerful. Lest anyone think that generosity is defined by certain dollar amounts, Paul also highlights the heart and attitude that should accompany our offerings. Giving only when coerced or forced creates a religious hypocrisy that resembles a whitewashed tomb rather than a transformed heart.  God desires cheerful anticipation as we give out of devoted resolve to build eternal treasure (2 Cor. 9:7).

Our giving should be proportional. Much like a swinging pendulum, the proportional nature of giving is obvious in two distinct ways. First, what we give away should be proportional to what God has given us. Second, what God gives us is often proportional to what we are willing to give away. Do you want to be generous? Give as God as given to you. Do you want to be more generous?  God can (and will) give you everything you need to be as generous as He wants you to be (2 Cor. 9:8-11).

Our giving should be worshipful. Not only does supporting God’s kingdom work lead those who benefit to worship God, but it also points us back to the One who gave more than any material possession we might part with. Giving reminds us of the “indescribable gift” of God’s Son (2 Cor. 9:15). Though Jesus was rich, He became poor so that we might become wealthy because of His poverty (2 Cor. 8:9). Sustained generosity not only makes us more like Jesus, it also helps us to appreciate the depth and breadth of His great sacrifice for us.

Do you find these lessons helpful? Want to read more insights from Adam Dooley? Preorder your copy of Hope When Life Unravels today by clicking here.