Hosea’s church story
1. Can you describe your involvement in church pre-illness?
I come from a family with a long-standing church tradition. I didn’t, however, confess a true belief in Christ until I was thirty-five years old. It was at that time that I started to realize the personal quality that a relationship with Jesus carries.
Consequently, I was able to see for the first time that being active church life, both inside and outside of the church, was both a privilege and a duty. I had responsibility for trying to be the best citizen I could be in God’s Kingdom.
I jumped feet first into volunteering for several committees. I was also involved in youth outings designed to introduce young folks to experiences outside of the urban setting into which they were born. It was also important that my wife and I expose our children to Christ and church life. We made sure that weekly church attendance was normal for the entire family together.
From 1985 to 1999, I was very active in my local congregation, chairing the finance committee, teaching Sunday school, and volunteering for a number of other activities that kept me connected to the body of Christ.
2. What was the hardest thing about church in the early days of your illness?
As much as I hate to admit it, the hardest thing for me after my diagnosis had more to do with my relationship with Christ. For a short while, I did ask the question: “Why me, Lord? Have I not done all the right things?” Fortunately, that period of self-pity lasted for no more than a week!
For all of my adult life, I have been somewhat of health nut, running five miles per day from my early twenties through the latter parts of my forties. It was the latter part of my forties when my health started to wane. I was one of those folks who promised that I would continue to run well into old age.
I had to miss church occasionally due to cancer treatments, accepting things into my body such as chemotherapy, and submitting to procedures such as a stem cell transplant. Those were very difficult experiences.
By that point in my life, I had come to identify Sundays with attending church – or at least the structural edifice where I participated in corporate worship. I think my experience with cancer taught me a very important principle: that church is the assemblage of the members. The love and fellowship of the members of my congregation demonstrated for me that the church (spiritually speaking) is carried around daily with each believer.
3. How has your involvement at church changed since developing your “invisible” illness? Can you describe a typical church service?
I have been blessed to have not had very many of the last sixteen years of my involvement in church severely impacted by my disease. Within the first year of my treatments, I went into remission. However, I would have to say that my energy level was at low ebb for the first three to four years or so. This caused me to not be able to sit through an entire service without becoming a bit tired.
The cancer treatments did cause me to develop necrosis of the bone (dead bone tissue) in my right hip. This caused the ball joint to collapse into the socket, producing excruciating pain and the necessity for walking with a cane. Sitting through a church service really became a challenge at that point. Four years ago, I had hip replacement surgery, and now I’m very close to being as physically able as I was before the necrotic bone tissue developed.
I find myself being much more mindful of the blessings God sends my way, and that I need to share my experience with others. One good thing that has come out of my journey is to be able to share my story with someone who has received a Multiple Myeloma diagnosis. Two members of my church were recently diagnosed with this horrible disease. It brought joy to my heart to be able to give them some hope when they heard my story.
Oftentimes, even believers in Christ go through periods where their faith is challenged; contracting a serious illness is certainly one of those times. I’ve come to realize that God placed me in my congregation for a reason, and showing His glory through my experience has to be it.
4. How does your church deal with the issue of illness and grief? Has the culture at your church helped or hindered in your chronic illness journey?
My church congregation isn’t mega by any measurement, but it’s also not a small group either. We have about 1,700 members. With that number of folks, we’re blessed to have a number of ministries charged with providing support and comfort to members who are going through difficult times in their lives.
One really promising ministry that is developing in our church now is a chronic illness support group. I have been blessed with the responsibility of leading the development of this group. Our congregation has a significant number of people with illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, Fibromyalgia, heart disease, and more.
Our chronic illness support group has adopted the following principle: “Though we might be physically ill, God wants us to be spiritually healthy.” We take our inspiration from the Apostle Paul, who was told by the Lord that His grace is sufficient, even though he had a thorn in his side. Of course, this account comes from II Corinthians, Chapter 12.
My church recognizes the love Christ has for those who are chronically ill, and that He wants us to be actively involved in sharing the Gospel message. We all should play a role in actively carrying out the great commission; good spiritual health is crucial to do that effectively. The Bible presents numerous cases where Christ healing people with chronic illnesses or granting them the spiritual fortitude to carry forward, bringing glory to God.
5. What have been the most helpful things your church has done to help adjust to your new life after diagnosis?
I would have to say prayer is number one on the list. In addition to that, simply being there when I needed them and assuring me that I was still an important part of body of Christ.
Although I have had some trying times over the last sixteen years — two cases of pneumonia that resulted in hospitalization; hip replacement surgery; and six days in a coma due to Sepsis, just to name a few misfortunes — my church has always been there for me, demonstrating the love of Christ.
6. How have you dealt with your struggle to find your new normal at church? Do you have any tips for other people going through similar hardships?
This is another interesting question, since I can’t really say that I have ever felt “finding a new normal” to be necessary. My congregation, though large by some standards, has a warm, familial feel to it. There are many opportunities for each member to become involved in some form of ministerial activity. Even though I’ve experienced some physical challenges over the last sixteen years, I was always made to feel like I was a vital cog in the wheel of the body of Christ.
Sure, I’ve experienced a few periods of disappointment, when my body didn’t function up to par, but prayer and realizing that God loves me regardless of my physical condition have work well at moving me forward.
I tend to rely a lot on the promises God makes to me personally in the 23rd Psalm, verse four in particular,
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
This verse tells me plainly and in a very personal manner that God has not thrown me into death’s valley to set up residence. I’m going through it, all the way to the other side, and He’s with me all the way. Now, that’s some powerful encouragement!
Here are some of Hosea’s favourite links:
And here’s a link to Hosea’s blog, Old and Blessed. He writes with insight and wisdom on a range of issues.
Hosea, thank you for sharing your story! What a wonderful example your church is setting, with the chronic illness support group you’re helping to run. I pray that God will use your words to challenge and inspire many people.
Coming up next…
Soon Jackie will be telling her church story. Can’t wait to hear what she has to share!
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