An Apology

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“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve.” (1 Peter 5:2)

As a pastor for 18 years, I wanted desperately to be a faithful shepherd of God’s flock. I studied hard to teach and preach. I visited members and prospects. My goal was to be available for every funeral, wedding, or baptism. When necessary, I skipped days off and rearranged vacations. For the average pastor, none of those pursuits is particularly noble. They simply come with the territory for those who are privileged to hear and answer God’s call.

Yet, I feel the need to apologize. I need to apologize to every cancer patient to whom I ever ministered. I had no idea of the roller coaster of emotions, the difficulty of waiting for test results or the next treatment plan. I made my visits, held your hand, tried to speak words of encouragement, and prayed for you. But I didn’t have a clue. I couldn’t comprehend the uncertainty that almost always surrounded you. I somehow missed the unique impact of the journey through the valley of cancer. Please forgive me.

Even now, I can’t claim to really understand. My wife has cancer, not me. But, according to Ephesians 5, the two are one. While that truth is more spiritual than physical, I do feel her diagnosis more than I felt the diagnoses of those who called me “Pastor.” Yet, for the most part, I’m still clueless.

Michelle and I thought a clean report on her lymph nodes would mean our journey in the world of pink ribbons would be short lived. We were wrong. A flip of the coin summarizes the situation. A fast growing, large tumor, though surgically removed and seemingly contained, is just as likely as not to result in an incurable cancer in the bones, brain, or lungs. “An aggressive cancer necessitates aggressive treatment,” we were told by one doctor. Others agreed. So here we go.

As Michelle braces for five months of intensive chemotherapy, I am asking God to sustain her (Psalm 3:5). I am praying I can be the pastor in our home she needs and the husband at her side she deserves. Neither of us feels ready for this. But those who have gone before us are an encouragement. All who pray for us are a blessing. Above everything, God’s promises are dearer to us than ever before.

“Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip.” (Psalm 66:8-9)

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37 Comments

  1. Eddie Clay
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Chitwood,
    Thank you for sharing your apology. All of us who serve churches relate to your letter. I commit to pray for you and your family through these difficult days.
    Eddie Clay
    Lifeway state representative
    Kentucky

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Eddie! And thank you for serving the Lord’s churches.

  2. Ramona McCubbins
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    My thoughts and prayers are with you both. I do know what you are going through. I was diagonsed with breast cancer when I was 35 years old. I went through 6 weeks of radiation and 12 rounds of chemo. But I made it through with God, husband and family by my side. That was 17 years ago and I am still cancer free. May God give you strengh and comfort. My encourging verse was Phillipians 4:13.

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      Ramona, Michelle has said several times already, “I love to hear how many years ago it was that someone went through breast cancer!” How reassuring to both of us to see so many who are surviving and thriving after treatments. Thank you!

  3. Posted September 4, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Paul and Michelle,
    I hate to hear this news, but John-David and I are here with you guys every step of the way! We love you and pray ceaselessly for you all. Please know that we are here for you for anything you need.
    Love,
    Brittany (and John-David)

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      We are grateful for your friendship and support! Look forward to seeing you soon.

  4. Steve Hall
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Brother Paul – We are continuing to pray with you, Michelle, and your family as you make this journey. May God sustain you every step of the way.
    In Christ, Steve Hall

    • Posted September 4, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Steve! We sense His presence and are grateful for your prayers.

  5. Paige Robinson
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure you don’t want to be lauded for your sentiments, but your humility is amazing and refreshing. I look at people like John Piper, Charles Stanley and Anne Graham Lotz and think “what did they have to go through to get like that?”….Guess you and Michelle are going through it…. God Bless- Paige Robinson

    #presentsuffering/eternalweight

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Paige. Michelle made a comment early on that floored me. She said, “I’m thankful God has remembered me and is choosing to use me in this way.” We’re trying to hold the line on that way of thinking but when we do, it is a strong testimony of God’s grace!

  6. Susan Tappan
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Ohh… I had heard the good news and so hate to hear this news. So sorry she has to go through this and certainly, you all have to go through this. Know that our prayers are with your whole family. Love y’all!

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

      Susan, we love you guys too! Hope John is recovering well. Thank you for your prayers and friendship.

  7. Jewell Cress
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Bro. Paul,
    It’s truly difficult to watch someone you love go through something you have no control over. The only thing you can do is just be there for her, and of course prayer. But look who I’m telling about prayer. I just wanted you to know that I do understand how you feel and just wanted you to know we are praying for you guys. If you ever need someone to just talk to I am here. Love you guys. Thanks for being with us. Jewell

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      As a family who has walked this trail before us and further than us, your words and lives are an encouragement to us. Thank you for the cards. The Cresses are good people!

  8. Stacy Crawford
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for being so candid and transparent during this most difficult journey. Having been my mom’s “chemo buddy”, I can empathize with you over the roller coaster ride you’re taking. I am sorry to hear that there is more treatment ahead, but I am confident that it will work to heal Michelle completely, and I am just as confident that you will be exactly what she needs during this season of your lives. We’ll be continuing to pray for strength, comfort, peace and healing. Love you all!

  9. Brenda Smothers
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Bro. Paul, it has been 7 years this past May since you stood at my hospital bed and prayed for me and Roger for my healing from breast cancer and now it will be 7 years in Oct., since I have been cancer free.
    I now pray for Michelle and you as you face the months ahead with treatments she needs and pray for strenght for each day she faces and comfort I know you will give to her, and for the day she will be cancer free. We know the greatest comfort and strength comes from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
    We Love you both,
    Roger and Brenda Smothers

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

      Brenda, you are another one of those extra bright spots for us right now as a survivor and thriver! We love and appreciate you and Roger.

  10. Susan & Phil Sexton
    Posted September 4, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    Our hearts are so heavy for you and this path you are being sent on. We will be praying for you all.

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Susan & Phil. Your prayers are being answered as we know God is sustaining us. Keep them coming!

  11. David C. Banks
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    It certainly is more real when you or a spouse goes through such a devastating illness. The other thing you will come to realize is that as a cancer patient and, as I am, a survivor, God will use you in unique ways because you can witness to those just experiencing what you have already gone through. At the time someone is feeling the fears and doubts of a diagnosis, they will listen to someoone who has already been there more so than to someone who symphathizes with them without the personal experience. It is wonderful how God uses our past experiences to help those with current needs!

    I will also pray for a complete remission.

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

      David, I know what you mean! I talked with a lady yesterday who works at a service center and had received the same diagnosis as Michelle. The two of them are getting connected already.

  12. Scott Bidwell
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Paul,
    You have been continually on our hearts and in our prayers. Our entire mission team here at Baptist Haiti Mission is consistently lifting you up before the Lord at our 4 weekly meetings and at Monica’s womens’ Bible Study as well. She and I lift you up to the Lord continually. We love you all. – Scott

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

      Scott & Monica, hope you guys are getting settled in and doing well. Thank you for praying and having your team join in. International support is wonderful! We are proud of you.

  13. Rhonda Shawler
    Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Dear Dr. Paul,
    I do not feel that you need to apologize. I clearly remember when you were my “Knight in Shining Armor”.
    It was in January 2009. I had emergency surgery. I was trying not to let anyone know. However, you were at Nortons visiting another patient, and we ran into each other. I have not been around a more genuine and sincere person than you are, in quite sometime. You made me promise to call you at any time when I needed something. You even gave me your personal phone numbers. My surgery happened on Jan.15 2009. That was the same day that Capt. Sullenberger saved the jet plane by gliding it into the Hudson River in New York. No fatalities! He was a hero! Pastor Paul you are definitely one of my heros! You could not have done enough for me to help me through 5 weeks in the hospital and even escorted me home in all of that ice and snow! I remember telling you then that you reminded of the characters in Chariots of Fire. That definitely rings true for today. I am sorry for the news about Michelle. I know that the Lord does not put more on us than we can bear. I know one of the verses you shared with me was Prov.3:5-6. That has become one of my verses to live by. My thoughts and prayers are definitely being sent to all of you. PLEASE, PLEASE, if there is anything I can do for you and your family, please let me know.
    With a grateful heart,
    Rhonda Shawler

    • Posted September 6, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Rhonda, you are so kind! Thank you for your encouragement and for your prayers. Michelle and I are blessed to know that you will be pleading her case before the Father. I hope you are doing well.

  14. Rhonda Shawler
    Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Dear Dr. Paul,
    My prayers and thoughts are being sent to all of you! If there is anything I can do, PLEASE let me know.
    Rhonda Shawler
    Mark 12:30-31

  15. B
    Posted September 7, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Praying.

  16. Bryan Grigg
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Chitwood,
    What you said about not really knowing how the person feels when you visit and pray for them in the hospital, I can really resonate with that. I don’t know what they or you are feeling and going through. All I could think about with the reorganizing that is going on in the KBC during your first year as our president and now your beloved wife going through cancer, that God must have some major truths He wants to teach you through all this. Take comfort in the words of the Apostle Paul,

    2 Corinthians 12:8-10 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

    1 Peter 1:6-8 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,

    Jeremiah 32:17 17 ‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.
    Jeremiah 32:26-27 26 ¶ The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: 27 “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?

    Love you brother!
    Look to Christ, keep going don’t quit, rest in His righteous loving full of mercy sovereign arms.

    Bryan

    • Posted September 9, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Bryan.Encouraged by your words and by God’s word.

  17. Posted September 9, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Paul and Michelle, for sharing your journey. I am grateful that our Lord understands the unique pain of what just what it means to be human – in every way. Know that Keith, Graham, and I are praying for full remission. You already know that you are not going into battle alone! During times when circumstances seem overwhelming to my finite mind I take a dose of 2 Kings 6:15-17. May He open your eyes to the army He has put in place for you.
    Our love to both of you,
    Scarlet Henderson

  18. Deena
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Paul, having known you your whole life, and Michelle most of hers, I have known about some of the challenges you two have faced alone, and those you have faced together since your marriage. I have seen both of you take the challenges on with trust and faith in God and in each other, only to come through them successfully. You both have been an inspiration to me many times. I love you like a son, and Michelle like a daughter, friend, and a kindred spirit. Prayers…urgent and fervant have gone up for her from my heart. I trust in our God to sustain and heal her and bring restoration to every part of her being. He’s good that way. He loves you so much. He loves Michelle so much. I love you all. And I am praying.

    • Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for your kind words and ongoing prayers. Indeed, He is good in every way! We love you too.

  19. Dena Hutchens
    Posted September 21, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    May you feel an OVERWELMING peace because of the many prayers being prayed over your family. You guys are so strong, but soon to be stronger. May God bless Michelle with many more healthy years.

    Sending smiles and hugs to you all!
    Dena Hutchens