Discovering God's Purpose In Suffering
No Longer Mine
As you have probably noticed, I have been absent from the PraiseNet. I have
been seriously ill most of this year. It actually started around
Christmas last year. I experienced some bleeding so I went to
the doctor. I had my colon checked. The doctor said I had a real
bad case of hemorrhoids. They were so bad that the surgeon
recommended removing them. He prepared me for what was to come
but the outcome was quite different. I died on the table and
they brought me back to my worst nightmare. He told me that he
thought I had cancer. On March 2, 2006, he did a biopsy. It was
confirmed that I had rectal cancer. My whole world was turned
upside down. I was only 57 years old and thought I was
physically fit but I had cancer.
My initial response was, “Okay. I can handle this.” My doctor immediately went to work setting up chemotherapy and radiation therapy. On March 22, 2006, I was doing chemotherapy and radiation therapy. I was in hell! The chemotherapy was killing the good cells along with the bad cells. I was hooked up to a pump with chemo in it 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I had no energy and not much of an appetite. The radiation therapy was burning up my lower body. It took what little energy I had but it was only Monday through Friday so the weekend wasn’t so bad. I felt like Job. I didn’t have sores from my head to my feet but it felt like it. I didn’t have a wife who said, “Curse God and die!” either. I am blessed to have a very supportive wife in Christine.
The body I once knew wasn’t mine anymore. I never knew what was next. I would start the day feeling good, in fact feeling like I could do anything, but quickly had to retreat to the bed because I had no energy or strength. There were days that I felt dying would be a good thing. There were days that I wondered where was God in all of this.
I have been a committed Christian. I read the Word daily and pray a lot. I came to a point in my walk that I wondered if God really cared. I know that sounds strange for a preacher to say, but in the midst of the pain and being sick so much I just could not understand how a loving God would allow his child to go through all of this. I never really talked about it. My response was, God is good all the time and all the time He is good, but I really didn’t believe it because I was hurting and felt all alone. Please don’t judge me unless you have experienced what I have after all God is not through with me yet.
My treatments continued until the first week of May. I was shouting because I was through with the chemo and radiation. The next step was to see a surgeon who specializes in colorectal cancer. He told me that he would have to remove my rectum and give me a stoma. I was crushed because I expected to hear him say that he could remove the tumor and all would be well.
“Well, you better come on, now,” Christine said, “and come quick. It’s Henry.” It was the first phone call I’d
ever gotten from Christine Johnson, Henry’s no-nonsense wife. A
private and dedicated family woman, Christine doesn’t let a
whole lot of foolishness in under the gate, which is to say it
takes some patience and effort to make it inside her comfort
zone, where you will discover her enormous resources of
strength, humility, love and, oddly enough, humor. Christine is
one of the funniest women I’ve ever met, a fiendishly sardonic
wit she wields like a sawed-off shotgun at a bank heist. But
this day, she sounded both panicked and annoyed, a difficult
combination to master.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, becoming alarmed. “He says he’s got to go back to the hospital. He thinks he’s dying. I need help getting him to the doctor.”
Henry was already up on his feet by the time I arrived. He was sweating, in great pain, babbling a bit about how the Lord spoke to him. “If I stay here, I’ll die,” he kept saying. “I’ve got to get back to the hospital, if I stay here, I’ll die.”
By then, I’d known Henry for more than a few years. I’d never seen him quite so unraveled. I assumed it was the medication making him nuts. Medication often makes me nuts, and paranoia is a real component of the unsettling effects of strong meds. I told Christine the doctor wouldn’t have released him if he wasn’t okay, and she assumed the same thing, “But if Henry says let’s go, then let’s go.” While maintaining a veneer of calm, Christine chose to trust her husband, even in his doped-up state.
We waited at the doctor’s office for about an hour. I wasn’t concerned. I thought it was the meds. I thought Henry was just being paranoid. I hoped the doctor would adjust his medication to make him more comfortable and less nutty and send him home.
There’d never been a point in my life when I got it more wrong.
As it turned out, Henry had a bad infection. A bungled catheter insertion had torn his urethra and he’d been leaking urine into his wound cavity, which was becoming toxic. In other words, Henry was absolutely right—if he’d stayed at home, he’d have died.
I had surgery in June. The surgery was a success but required a
blood transfusion. I spent what seemed like eternity in ICU then
I was moved to the oncology ward. My new nightmare would begin
on this ward. I could not even wash on my own. I didn’t have
strength to walk. I was very helpless. In the midst of my
weakness, my urine flow stopped so I had to have a catheter. I
had a nurse who either didn’t know what she was doing or didn’t
care how she was doing it. The nurse tore my urethra putting the
catheter in. I was discharged with a torn urethra so urine was
leaking into the cavity left where my rectum was.
I was home for a few days but was rushed back to the hospital in early July. I felt like I was dying because of the infection that occurred. I had to be in surgery 11 times in the month of July because of this nurse’s mistake. I probably should hate her but it takes too much energy to hate so I forgave her.
In the final surgery the doctor had to move a stomach muscle to the cavity where my rectum once was. I am still trying to get used to all of this because the stomach muscle is still very active.
The result of all of the surgeries, pain, and medication was that I lost much of my life and memory. When I say I lost much of my life, I am saying that I could not pray or read the Word.
It was late. About nine-thirty or so, by the time Neil and I could get down
to the hospital. Henry was sleeping. Henry was always sleeping
those days. Neil and I stood by his bedside and prayed.
Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong. Why was this
man still there? Why wasn’t he walking? The Henry Johnson I
knew would have hated this, hated being helpless. Hated being
this dependent. He opened his eyes briefly, seeing us praying at
his bedside. He took our hands. Henry believed in prayer. Henry
loved to pray. Henry was too weak to pray for himself. Something
was really wrong.
“Please stop calling him ‘Mr. Johnson,’” I asked the charge nurse. “Nobody calls him that. They call him ‘Pastor.” They call him ‘Dr. Johnson.”” “Oh—is he a physician?” the clueless nurse asked me.
“You’re missing the point,” I said. “This place has stripped him of everything. His health, his hope, his dignity.” She still didn’t get it. “Every time you call him ‘Mr.,’ you invalidate the last two decades of his life. You remind him of everything he’s lost. If you want to help him, if you have any compassion for him, do him the simple dignity of addressing him properly.” I picked up his chart and crossed out ‘Mr.’, writing “Dr. Johnson” on the chart. It didn’t help. The nurses mean well but are often overwhelmed and moved around so often that I rarely saw the same nurse twice. And every new face walked in and called Henry ‘Mr. Johnson.’
I praise God for friends< who kept me in supply of tapes and CD’s. I
have to mention them because they were so wonderful. Pastor
Donnie Howell of Pine Creek Community Church, Pastor Jefferson
Martin, Jr. of Open Bible Baptist Church, and Sister Tina
Felder-Jordan kept me going with music, sermons, and literature
on tape and CD. If it had not been for them, I might have
totally lost it.
I still can’t recall some of the things that happened during this time. I do however remember how wonderful my teammates at work were. They supported me and my family in so many ways. I really felt their love. I am a social worker by trade working at The Resource Exchange in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I work with all women. They are great! I again must mention names. I work with Sue Ann, Victoria, Jeanne, Val, Lori, Margaret, Alicia, Stephanie, and Wanda. They continue to look out for me even though I am unable to work a full schedule.
I am blessed to have a wife who is so understanding and loving. Chris has walked this difficult path with me every step of the way. She has been my encourager. There were times that I wanted to die but she was my constant reminder that God isn’t through with me yet. My son, Tevin, has been great. He is only 12 but he has been so helpful. When I first got home, I could not sleep in the bed so I slept in a recliner. Tevin would sleep on the couch to be close to me and make sure I was alright. When I finally could sleep a few hours in the bed, he would sleep on the floor by our bed so he was close to me. I just love that child for who he is and what he has done.
I arrived on the surgical wing to find Henry’s bed empty. His room empty. A little panicked, I tried to find out what was going on. A nurse told me he’d gone downstairs—for bubble gum. His mouth was so dry, and Henry is so fastidious about his appearance, his grooming, certainly his breath, it was driving him nuts. He started chewing fruity gum a lot, and he’d run out. But he wanted to get it himself. He wanted to at least manage to do that small thing on his own.
The elevator opened and The Reverend Dr. Henry Johnson, a proud, strong, athletic, snap-you-like-a-twig brother, hobbled slowly down the hallway, his young son helping him manage his I.V. Sweat poured off his brow, as each step was pure agony. Physical agony, emotional agony at being seen like this—this helpless, this weak.
But he had his gum.
I don’t have any children. I suppose I don’t plan on having any, either. Still, when the
technicians fitted that lead apron on me, I wasn’t real happy
about it. Henry was getting a CAT scan and he wasn’t happy about
it. The IV in his arm wasn’t fitted properly, so the monitor
alarm would go off—loudly—which would require the nurse to come
in and re-set it. Thing was, the alarm went off often, and it
seemed, to me at least, that the nurses were taking too long
getting there to re-set it—and it would only go off again.
The radiology techs looked to be about nineteen years old. I mean it, it was Grey’s Anatomy down there, and I worried these guys might have flunked out of bio-chem. As the heavy lead vest snapped around me, I wanted to see their SAT scores. One of these kids looked at Henry’s IV, and I told him the alarm keeps going off because Henry’s veins are not in great shape and the IV won’t stay in.
The tech kind of rolled his eyes, muttering, “Nurses…” He wasn’t supposed to do it, but he fixed Henry’s IV. The alarm never went off again. Henry, debilitated and completely tired of all these tests, held my hand while they prepped him, and I waited with him as the two N Sync guys cranked up the juice.
My journey is not nearly over. I completed my second round of
chemotherapy in January 2007. I still don’t understand why it
has all happened to me but I am blessed to be here. I am blessed
to have wonderful friends like the Editor of PraiseNet, Pastor
Christopher Priest, our Associate Editor, Reverend Neil Brown,
The Reverend Joseph Moore, who visited me and took me to task
about feeling sorry for myself as well as praying for me.
Pastor Donny Howell and the Pine Creek Community Church Family helped me spiritually and financially. Pastor Jefferson Martin and the Open Bible Family helped me spiritually and financially as well as having sitters to pray over me and encourage me while I was in the hospital. These individuals and churches showed me God’s touch of love.
My three aunts were great too! My aunt Mary, Aunt Dot, Aunt Ivory, and Aunt Jean encouraged me as well as a host of cousins especially Kevin, Ann, and Shelton. I am also want to thank my pastor, The Reverend Clarence W. Davis and the Friendship church family, along with the church community in Colorado Springs.
On February 25th, 2007, the Reverend Dr. Henry F. Johnson assumed the pulpit as Pastor of the Greater Tri-Rock Missionary Baptist Church
in Colorado Springs. I think it fair to suggest the Pastor Johnson Greater Tri-Rock
got is twice the pastor, twice the man, who might have assumed
the pulpit of Friendship Baptist Church two years ago. The Bible
speaks of the trying of our faith [James 1:3], and how we shall
be refined in fire, like fine metal [Mal 3:2 -
But who may abide the day of his coming?
and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a
refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap:].
There are simply no easy answers as to why God allows good people to suffer grievous harm. It’s quite possible Henry’s story is not about Henry at all. This story could be, just as likely, Chapter One of the story of Pastor Tevin Johnson. Or Chapter Twelve of Pastor Christopher Priest, for that matter.
The truth is, our testimonies do not belong to us. They are not for us. They are for others to grow. To learn, to come to know Jesus Christ. Of the dozens of nurses Henry harassed with his prayers, who is to say how many will come to know the Lord?
In his pain, in his misery, in his own despair and at times hopelessness, Henry routinely shuffled down the hall to give an encouraging word to fellow pastors Leoatis Duren (who, sadly, went home to be with the Lord shortly thereafter) and John Felder (who is in recovery).
Looking for the pat answers, the quick answers, the neat wrap-up to a story, is human nature. But God’s nature reigns in a realm beyond our reasoning. That’s what that song means, “We’ll understand it better by and by.” The old folks have a genius way of pairing down complex concepts to something we can readily process: when the morning comes, when all the saints of God are gathered home, we’ll tell the story of how we’ve overcome, and we’ll understand it better.
Henry’s birthday is coming up, a birthday he wasn’t sure he’d actually see. A birthday he’ll not take for granted because of the miracle, the wonder of God’s grace. And his ministry, his pastorate, has finally arrived.
As I continue my journey,
I have learned that I can call on God even
though I don’t understand why I had to go through this all. He
has shown me that He has a 911 for me to call. It is found in
Psalms 91:1 which says He who dwells in
the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the
Almighty. (NIV) In Psalms 91, we find the benefits of
God’s protection. He becomes more than a shelter and a shadow.
God becomes our refuge and fortress. He becomes our place to
escape to as well as our stronghold.
I can’t think of a better place to be than in a place of escape with God being my stronghold. What about you? God will also become our covering with his wings of protection according to the psalmist. God will be our shield. I really love verse 7, it says “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you”. (NIV) Now, that is what I call protection.
I have my 911 in God. It’s not like any other. The line will never be busy. There won’t be any mix up with the address. There won’t be any traffic jams to slow down the response. God is an on-time God. He will be with us in our time of need.
I ask those of you who are Prayer Warriors to remember me daily in your prayers. I need strength to continue this journey. I need a physical touch to loosen up my body so I can function better. I need a mental touch to overcome all that I have been through. I need a spiritual touch so I can continue to preach the Good News. I want to thank you in advance for your prayers. God Bless you and keep you is my prayer!
Just Keeping It Real!
The Reverend Dr. Henry F. Johnson went home to be with the Lord on Wednesday, July 9, 2008. A rest well-earned, a faithful servant home at last.
Reverend Dr. Henry Johnson
Reverend Christopher J. Priest
4 March 2007
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