Tag Archives: Hope

the C Word

My family will remember the date of July 27th rather well. We have gauged most of contemporary life as “pre” and “post” July 27th 2014. That day that we all sat around our humble kitchen table and heard our beloved, kind, compassionate mother utter the C Word. A word that you never expected to hear (because, in your mind it only happens to other people) an ugly, terrible word that injects fear into the hearts of loved ones. The more you love that person, the worse the word is.

“I have Cancer”

It’s like a terrible villain from a movie, an amorphous evil that has no shape or face but merely a dark, inky presence; as real as sin, as thick as tar. I’ve worked with teens my whole adult life and have heard every vulgar, explicit, profane word and their various creative incarnations yet no word is as filthy as this one.

You know that feeling you get when you see somebody fall and get hurt; that shot that goes through your body, that odd empathy that you (should) have for another human being? It’s the reason that people cringe at movies when a person is visibly, often times creatively injured and you wince at the act. In times of great visual agony the matching appendage on your own body may tingle as if you are being similarly afflicted by the world of pain they are living in.

When I heard the C Word it was as if my whole body was afflicted. As if my very soul was covered in malignant, fast reproducing cells seeking to ravage, consume and destroy. It felt as if tiny little spiders were ripping me apart from the inside.

I felt as if I was going to vomit, as if the world was spinning. I realize now why in old movies they ask the person on the other end of the phone line if they are sitting down when they receive terrible news.

Every time I have to say the word Cancer now it feels like I am cursing, like I’m using the big daddy of foul language, a noun that makes the F word look tame, feeble and silly in comparison.

You soon learn that there are other variations of, and additions to the C Word, like acne covered junior high boys trying to impress each other with their vast vulgarity. Tumor. Stage 3. Chemotherapy.

I remember my art teacher in High School trying to explain what it was like trying to battle a brain tumor in his younger years. I’ll never forget his odd description of Chemo “They kill you, and hope they kill the cancer at the same time.”

Fighting sickness with poison.

As I type these words my mother is receiving her first dose of Chemo. They are pumping poison into her blood stream to try and kill the remaining cancerous cells that have spread to ravage and destroy. She was so nervous last night when I talked to her; choking up at the mere mention, begging to talk about something happier like her grandchildren, or how my sermon went that morning. She asked “Can we just talk about something else?”

It would seem that everybody has a C-Word Story that they want to share with me. I am consistently amazed at the lack of tact and common social understanding that logical adults exhibit in many of these instances. I do not want to hear about your grandmother who was given a clear bill of health after her Chemotherapy only to find that they didn’t get it all, that it had spread and she died in agony a month later. That is not something to tell me and my family right now. We know what can happen. I know that you are struggling to deal with the loss of your loved one and you need to cathartically share with others to continue to work through your tragedy.   However we are in it; we know the danger yet we need to claw through the dirt toward that faint light, that glimmer of hope.

We pray. I don’t know what we would do if we couldn’t pray.

Can God heal my mother? Yes.

Will He?

I do not know.

We pray and huddle together for warmth as winter approaches.

David Powers and Nathan Edwardson Inspire Me

I am constantly telling my students that the goal of our lives as Christians ought to be one of arrows; always pointing to Jesus. We should strive to live in a manner that entices people to pursue the Son of God. Generally speaking, when I say these things I am thinking of ministering to non believers, however this weekend in Erie PA at the Breakaway retreat my horizons have been broadened.
I had the opportunity to spend time with Nathan Edwardson of the Stirring Church in California and David Powers of Worship and The Word Ministries in Colorado. They were our speaker and worship leader for the 430 person district retreat I was directing.

I left that weekend enticed.

Every moment that I spent with Nathan and David, separately or together was kind, loving and inviting. Both of these men love Jesus and are brimming over with the Holy Spirit. Just being in their presence was an authentic blessing.

I have been saved since I was 4. I already love Jesus, yet after spending time with these mighty men of God I know that I want to get to know him even more.

David has such an openness to the Spirit; his sense and perception bear true depth. When he leads worship it is selfless, noble and authentic. You almost wonder if you are watching King David playing his harp before the Lord (simply for the Lord and nobody else). When he looks at you and smiles it almost feels as if Jesus is smiling upon you.

Nathan has the intensity of a warrior poet; weaving words like bladed truth, comforting, afflicting and advancing. I’d follow this man into battle. He has bold words on the stage that fall like grenades and kind, deep words that he shares away from the stage that delve into your identity, never being forgotten.

I learned this weekend that we are called to minister to everybody around us. When people walk away from an encounter with us they should feel that they were spending time with Jesus.

Our love must be infectious, sincere and overflowing.

These two men give me hope; they inspire and entice me to love Jesus more.


Today the Suncrest Family Mourns Emily Hilliard

Emily Hilliard

I get hundreds of texts, messages and alerts each day on my phone.

Last Friday, while I was driving a car packed to the brim with youth staff, headed to a weekend Youth Ministry conference in Columbus Ohio, my phone buzzed.  I waited until we stopped for lunch to check the messages.

As I scrolled through the updates about NFL Free Agency, Emails about T-shirts and Facebook notifications about trivial matters I saw the worst text a youth pastor can get.

“Emily Hilliard died last night in a car accident.”

I run a small summer camp in Western PA called Suncrest.  I’ve done everything out there.  Counseled, spoke, directed, cleaned toilets, mowed the grass on a tractor twice my age and most recently sat on the board as the President.  I’ve been out there since 1995 in some capacity or another.  I have seen over a thousand kids come through that camp in that span of time.  I do my best to remember all of them but it is very difficult.

When I found out it was Emily who died I was wrecked.

Emily was a great girl who had come to camp for many years.  She was one that I distinctly remembered.  She was a sweet, kind presence, always positive and compassionate.  She was so enthusiastic about camp. She loved my stupid T-shirts and would hang out with her friends at the Hardiewear booth for hours listening to my crazy stories with a smile from ear to ear.

She was a senior in college this year; 22 years old.  She was driving and hit black ice.

As a pastor I am constantly surrounded by death.  I preached the funeral of my father in law, and both of his parents. I have buried friends, loved ones and complete strangers.

I kept my composure as I walked into the viewing today.  I told myself that I could do it; that death is inevitable for us all and ultimately Emily knew Jesus.

There were so many people there (as there usually are when the deceased is young). There was so much time to think as I waited in line.  I gazed at pictures of Emily, barely realizing that she was gone.

As I made it to the casket I looked at her mother who I did not know and said “I’m David Hardie, I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Instantly her inquisitive countenance turned to one of excitement as she said “David Hardie! Emily loved you!  She loved that camp. She loved Hardiewear and she was always wearing your shirts.  She showed me pictures of your baby on Facebook, you look just like your profile picture.  Thank you for everything that you did for her and those kids over the years.  It’s because of that camp that we know where she is today.”

I bit back the tears.  I eked out a few kind words to family, hugged a few former campers and ran to my car.

I lost it.  I wept bitterly; heaving and wheezing as if I was trying to get some infection out of my inner self.  I couldn’t catch my breath.  It would have been ugly for another person to behold.

I called my mom on the way home.  When I walked in the door I grabbed my sons and held them as I cried.  I’m sure that they were confused but they took it well.  Malachi, my 3 month old even smiled at me.

Death is hard for us pastors.  People look to me with questions and so often I can’t give specific ones.  I do give truth and comfort, but I don’t know why Emily had to die at 22 years of age with so much life left to live.

However,  I do know that all of those late night planning sessions, the endless hours getting the camp ready, the battles with bees, snakes and spiders, the heat, the stress and the like were all worth it because Emily was impacted.  Standing by her casket I received a deep clarity about the value of ministry and the depth of the love of Christ.

We will honor Emily by creating a scholarship in her memory that will allow kids who might not have the money to go to camp. They will hear about Jesus and hopefully someday they can meet Emily in Eternity.

We will miss Emily Hilliard.  Today the Suncrest Family mourns one of our own.

This is a video that Emily Created as a Camp Promo in 2010.