Grow

Husband. Cancer Survivor. Youth Pastor.

The three “identities” I’ve used to shape the blog subtitle.

I’ve spent considerable time writing about the middle two words:  Cancer Survivor.  I’m not ashamed or apologetic about that, either.  I’ll likely share more in the coming months as I process more and more.

This post is about the last two words.  I’ve worked in Youth Ministry for roughly 14 years.   I’ve had the great privilege to work with some fantastic people, and get to do some pretty incredible things.

Recently, I was asked to be a part of a larger team of Youth Pastors around the country (and world – Hey Canada!) to put together a year-long strategy that included teaching series, tips on parent communication, strategies for events, etc.  I was tasked with writing a 4-week series on making Spiritual Growth a habit (we called it “Make it a Habit”).

 

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Well, the time is now, and it’s in pre-order phase, set to release June 30.

It’s simply called Grow Youth Ministry Curriculum and Strategy, and it’s from Stuff You Can Use – a two-member team (Kenny & Elle Campbell) that love Youth Pastors and seek to resource them as best as they know how.

So, Youth Pastor friends – if you’ve been looking for a comprehensive strategy and curriculum, look no further than this!

 

 

 

 

 

Reflecting vs. Dwelling

A friend asked me recently, “How often do you think about your diagnosis/cancer journey?”

It’s been 3 years, today, since I was diagnosed.  How often do I think about it?  Often.

There two main reasons for that.  The first reason is quite practical. There are scars on my body from two surgeries that weren’t there before.

Practicality doesn’t necessarily mean mundane.  Reflecting on my scars can be an exercise in worship, because it’s a reminder that God brought me through some difficult times.  Elevation Worship wrote a song a few years ago that deeply affected me the first time I heard it.  Here are some of the lyrics:

Thank You for the scars I bear
They declare that You are my healer
How could I have seen your strength
If You never showed me my weakness?

I was able to see God’s strength in that season of my life because I was brought to weakness.  Seeing my scars allows me to remember that.

Beyond practicality, I reflect on that season of my life so that it’s not wasted.  I want that season to be one of many things God uses to shape and mold me into who He created me to be.  That won’t happen unless I reflect on it.

Reflecting and Remembering.

I think they’re essential ingredients to the Christian life.  All throughout the Old Testament we see the practice of remembering.  The Psalmist will remember the good deeds of the Lord and it will give him strength.  The Israelites will fail to remember God’s provision and it causes them gripe, complain and eventually turn away to false gods.

This is one of the reasons I journal.  It’s a built-in way for me to reflect and remember.  I recount the ways God has been faithful to me in the past, and that practice gives me strength to trust Him in the future.

Reflecting is different than dwelling.  Dwelling on something in the past isn’t always a good thing.  Reflecting on it sets the expectation that things will change because of it.

So today, 3 years after my diagnosis day, I reflect…expecting that my life, way of thinking and behavior is different because of what happened that day.

You can read more about my journey here, here…and here.

Why Not Me?

About one week before I was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer, I came across a Matt Chandler video that he recorded for his church when he was first finding out about his Brain Cancer.

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I was inspired by Matt’s resolve to love and serve Jesus in spite of this challenge he was facing, and I was inspired by his ability to see it as just another thing in life to trust God with and use to build his faith.

He talks about Hebrews 11, and how some great men of God shut the mouths of lions and fought injustice and did phenomenal things in their lifetime…but then some great men were killed and tortured for their faith; yet both were counted as ones who had great faith in God.

Then, he said something that would completely change my perspective on trials and challenges for a follower of Jesus:  He felt honored to be considered worthy to endure this trial (brain cancer), and be given a chance not only to praise God in the good times, but to praise God in the tough times.

I remember sitting in my bed, watching that video, thinking to myself, “I hope I would have the same response if something like that happened to me.”

Fast forward to the hospital bed I was in on May 8, right before my emergency surgery.  I truly believe it was Gods grace and strength that allowed me to lift my perspective, but I turned to my family and said, “ya know? Why not me?”  It’s hard to explain, but in that moment, I felt a sense of honor that God would trust me with this trial.  I had that video in mind that I had seen just the week before.

Theologically, I believe God was aware and allowing this to happen in my life.  And since He was allowing it, I had the choice to trust and praise Him through it, just like I’ve trusted and praised Him through all of the good times in my life.

Pause & Sidenote:  I realize this could sound super prideful…it even reads that way as I write it.  But I hope my heart’s intent comes through these words – nothing I did enabled me to have this response.  I believe God allowed me to see the bigger picture.  Did I have my doubts and down-days?  Absolutely.  Not every chemo day was all smiles and Bible verses.  It sucked, and it’s ok to be human, and weak, and honest about those days. 

That Chandler video shifted my perspective on life, how I read the Bible, and how I viewed trails and challenges in this life.  Why not me?  If trials are inevitable (and they are), then may they be yet another way to lift up the name of Jesus.

Also, if trials are inevitable, then why not allow Jesus-followers to experience them?  We can be the people to walk the tough road differently.  We can be the people of peace, grace, and kindness in the midst of a storm.  The world will be able to look upon Christians walking through trials and notice how different our response is to theirs.

I’m not confident I know all the reasons I had to walk through Testicular Cancer.  When I think about my life and where I was at the time, perhaps God wanted to show a youth group of Junior High students in Michigan what it looks like to be a Christian and still walk through really tough times.

If I could be part of God’s illustration in a broader teaching to the watching world…then, why not me?

A Season’s Song

During the first few weeks of me being diagnosed with Testicular Cancer, I was able to get to church a few times. As a Pastor, I’m often “putting on” church for others, so this was a time of refreshment, refocus, and much needed stillness for my mind.

My friend, Kristi, was leading worship this one particular weekend, and I couldn’t have been happier about it.  Her voice is angelic, and her worship-leading style is one that draws lifts high the name of Jesus rather than lifting high her talent.  She was teaching our church a new song…rather, a newer rendition of an old hymn, “It is well.”

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It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love worship music – in fact, it’s mostly all I listen to.  So I already knew the song she was teaching the church.  And I was excited to declare the truth embedded in its melody.

The entire song spoke to me.  Especially in the season I found myself in.  But a few lines in particular really touched my heart.

Far be it from me to not believe
Even when my eyes can’t see
And this mountain that’s in front of me
Will be thrown into the midst of the sea

My eyes couldn’t see what my future held.  Would cancer take me out?  Sure, testicular cancer has a high cure rate…but it’s still cancer.  There was still some uncertainty in my mind, no matter the percentage of success the Doctor gave me.

Would I accept all the blessings I had received from the Lord, and not accept this trial?  Far be it from me to not believe in the Lord just because a hardship had entered my life.  The text that Christians read and believe is full of trials and hardship.  The Apostle Paul went as far as to say that it’s when he is weak, that’s when he feels God’s strength in him.

Whether this mountain that was in front of me was going to be thrown into the sea by way of miraculous healing, healing through medical treatment, or ultimate healing in heaven – I didn’t know the answer to that.  I just knew the mountain would ultimately bow to our Almighty God.

So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name

This line of the song brought to memory the Bible stories of Jesus calming the storms.  There’s the one when Jesus is asleep during the storm and gets awoken by his buddies. He speaks a command and the lake calms down.

Then the other one when he’s walking on top of the water during a storm and calls Peter out to take a walk with him.  Peter does…for a minute.  The waves scare him and so he begins to fear, which leads to sinking.  Jesus catches him, asks him why he doubted, then calms the storm.

This man, Jesus, was in complete control of physical storms on the water.  And I believe He is in complete control of storms in our lives.  The waves and wind still know their Creator.  And they still obey Him.

I had this song on repeat.  It was my mind’s mantra.  And I was encouraged every time I heard it.  This storm I was in surely was a storm – no denying that.  And there were moments I doubted.  But the God I believe in was in control of this storm.  And this song was an especially beautiful reminder during this season.

The Day Everything Changed

I’m not one to overthink things or be dramatic, so the Doctor appointment I had scheduled didn’t seem too important to me.  It was the first time I was seeing a Urologist, and it was at the recommendation of my Primary Care Physician.  Two weeks of antibiotics didn’t work to get rid of the pain I was feeling…so here I was seeing a specialist.

I got settled in and waited for my name to be called.  “Adam Mashni.”  Well, here we go.  The Doctor and I make small talk, and we figure out that some of our relatives are actually married to each other!  Did that make us family?  I wasn’t sure.  Also, I found out he knows my Uncle, who also happens to be a Urologist. It’s fun connecting with people, especially for an extrovert like me.

The small talk was quickly over when he uttered the words, “This doesn’t feel good.”  He told me that he wanted to schedule an ultrasound and get some blood work done as soon as possible.  “Stat” was the word he used, which in everyday English means, HURRY!

After the tests were complete, I decided to head back to work.  I figured it would be a couple of days before anyone got back to me.  I arrive at my car, open the door, but before I could shut the door and start my car, my phone rings.  It was the receptionist. Turns out the Doctor wanted to see me ASAP.  So I walked back inside.

The Doctor invites me into his office.  Not a patient room.  His personal office.  As soon as that happened I knew it wasn’t going to be good news.  I’ve seen movies.  Nothing good is ever discussed in the personal office.  That’s when he told me.

“You’ve got Testicular Cancer.”

He began to explain the kind of Testicular Cancer he was pretty sure I had.  I honestly don’t remember much from that conversation.  Words like “non-seminoma” and others like it.  I had no clue what all of it meant.  He then proceeded to tell me he is recommending I come back that night for emergency surgery.  The mass/tumor needed to be removed immediately.

The next clearing in my foggy thought process occurred when the Doctor offered to call my Uncle.  “Yes!” I thought.  Any sort of familiar was welcomed.  I take out my cell phone to find his number…my cell phone battery was dead.  Ugh…always the worst timing.  The Doctor began rummaging through his papers on his desk, as well as his old text messages.  He had met my Uncle at a Urology Conference just a few months prior. He ends up finding it and dials the number.

So many thoughts in my head at this point.  What if he doesn’t answer?  What would I do?  Who would I need to call next?  My phone is dead!  Where would I get a second opinion?  Do I even need a second opinion?

“Hello?”  He answered.

My Doctor allowed me to talk to him a bit.  He then explained to my Uncle the nitty-gritty medical details.  My Uncle agreed – the tumor needed to come out that night.  It was settled.  I had my second opinion – from my Uncle, who was also a Urologist.  So we scheduled the surgery for 9:00pm on May 8, 2014.

Now all I had to do was call my fiancé, my parents, and anyone else that deserved to know the life-altering news I had just received.  But who to call first?  As best as I can remember, I called my parents first and let them know.  Then I called my friend Bill.  In that conversation I asked him if I should bug Meagan at work and let her know.  Umm. Duh.

Yep, my fiancé was the third phone call.  Sorry babe.

I went back to work, let my co-workers in on what was happening, and began to pack up my stuff.  I was scheduled to speak that night in our college ministry, but that clearly wasn’t happening – so we figured out who was going to cover for me.

After all of the rescheduling and covering of my responsibilities, I finally just sat in my office chair.  I can still think back to that spot.  We had one big office for our student ministry team with a bunch of cubicle desks – so if I spun my chair around, I could see everyone.  And that’s what I did.  It was a moment of stillness amid a day full of chaos.

I told my co-workers and friends that I was doing OK and it was probably nothing. The truth was I had no idea how I was feeling.  I look back now and realize that shock and fight-or-flight instincts took over and I did what I had to do to remain strong.

Fast forward a few hours.  We’re at the Hospital and sitting in the waiting room.  True to form, I’m making light of the situation and cracking jokes.  Meagan, and my Mom, were not amused.  I get called back for surgery prep, and it begins to feel real.  Then, all of a sudden, people begin to show up.

Bill came.  Then Justin.  Then Tim.  Then Jimmy.  Then extended family.  Before and after surgery, I was completely surrounded by my best friends and close family.  It will always be a memory of relationship for me.  I had people in my life that were willing to drop everything and head to the Hospital.

I’ll also remember the “only God” moments.  Oh yes. In the midst of a cancer diagnosis, I saw God’s fingerprints.  The connection to my Urologist.  The fact that he had met my Uncle only a few months prior – and STILL had his cell number readily available.  The fact that the tumor caused pain and I went in for a check.  (I would learn later that tumors normally don’t cause pain…they just grow).

May 8 will always be “cancer diagnosis” day for me…but it will also be so much more.  Friends. Family. Only God moments.  The journey was going to be a tough one, but with those three in my life, I was going to be just fine.

What I learned: Divine Direction

I’m a sermon junkie.  Many of my friends know this.  I’ll listen to most sermons I can get my hands on.  And over the years, I’ve grown to really love listening to certain pastors.  Craig Groeschel is one of those pastors.

Aside from preaching, he’s also an author.  I haven’t read all of his books, but the ones I’ve read have been very beneficial in changing the way I think.  His latest – Divine Direction – is no different.

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The book is framed around 7 decisions that will change your life.

  • Start
  • Stop
  • Stay
  • Go
  • Serve
  • Connect
  • Trust

Craig goes through each decision, what it means, and how it has the potential to change your story if you’ll let it.  Each chapter is full of stories, quotes, life-lessons, scripture and application.  Because I highly recommend you grab this book, it’d be counter-productive for me to give a detailed explanation for every chapter.

The one chapter (or decision) I will highlight, is the one about connecting.  Craig suggests that we are potentially one connection away from changing our world – if we would only reach out and connect with the right people.

He explains there are three types of friends with whom we can connect.  Those who make us want to be better humans just by being around them; Those who help us fight temptation when we are weak; and Those who will tell us the truth no matter what.

This chapter got me thinking about all of the incredible people in my life.  I’m blessed to have people I can turn to for encouragement & inspiration, strength in the midst of temptation, and the truth no matter how it makes me feel.

However, it has also caused me to think about the next connection I need to make.

Who might God be putting in my path? Who might God want me to connect with, so that I can be an encouragement to them?  My prayer is to have open eyes to see and an open heart to connect.

Redeeming Time

Meagan and I moved just over a year ago from Michigan to Illinois.  Because both of our families are still in Michigan, we’ve made several trips over the past year to see them.  As far as time goes, going to Michigan seems like a loss – we lose an hour going from Central to Eastern Standard Time.

Coming home to Illinois, however, feels great – we gain an hour!  It feels like we’re beating the system by traveling West and gaining back some of the time we’ve lost by traveling East.

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I don’t know about you, but even when I’m not traveling, there’s things I can spend my time on that feel like a loss.  There’s also things I spend my time on that feel like a gain. And with only a certain amount of limited time each day, my desire is to use each hour to its fullest extent.

Recently, I’ve begun using some blocks of time in a different way, and it’s helped me tremendously.  Enter:  Audible.  I’m sure many of you have heard of it.

It’s a website + app that enables you to listen to audiobooks.  For me, it’s been a source of professional development in places like the gym and my car.  It’s turned a 3.5 hour drive to Grand Rapids (where my sister lives), into “the time it takes to listen to one book.”  It’s turned a 30 minute run into a time for my brain to engage with compelling stories, high-level thinking, leadership principles and much more.

Just in the month of March, I’ve listened to two books. Divine Direction, by Craig Groeschel; and The Little Things by Andy Andrews.  Both have been fantastic reads, and I’ll likely do book reviews for both on the blog.

Audible has allowed me to redeem time.  It’s taken time I’ve previously not leaned into, and allowed me to use it for growth opportunities.

In your own life, are there blocks of time that you can redeem?  Is there something you can plug in (like Audible) that would transform that time into growth opportunities?

My challenge to you:  Take the next week and identify blocks of time that are just “there.” Then…choose one way to redeem it.