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Our Calamity: God’s Opportunity

Karen Pearson


inside-asi-winter-spring-2014_page_22_image_0002 We live in a culture where being busy is considered the norm and, if we’re honest, within a subculture where being crazy busy in the Master’s service is considered a virtue. But if we choose to live with chronic busy-ness, we risk losing sight of the One we’re working for. Until something causes us to stop. To be still. To reexamine our priorities and reassess our life purpose. Sometimes this opportunity comes cloaked as a calamity.

Just ask Terry Schwartz. He knows all about sudden stops, wild detours, and apparent calamity. He never anticipated hearing the words “You have 90 days to live” on the other end of the phone. Yet when a routine physical resulted in a biopsy, his Gleason score came back a 9. Apparently, men with prostate cancer typically don’t live long enough to reach 10.

Terry’s doctors were kind but frank. They told him to get his house in order as he hadn’t long to live. His knee-jerk response was, “I don’t have time for this. I have people counting on me!” Yet somewhere in the distance, he could hear a clock ticking, counting down the hours.

Terry had spent his life making the plan, working the plan, believing life was on course and under control. His control. He determined early on that, in order to get ahead, he would have to make it happen himself. And he did. He worked hard. Pursued the American dream and was the owner of multiple successful businesses with more than 150 employees on his payroll. But the phone call changed everything, and it didn’t matter that cancer was not in his life plan.

Establishing priorities suddenly became paramount. Things he’d once thought important no longer seemed so urgent. Other things took first place. Terry realized the people who matter most in life are the real source of joy. Everything else is just stuff. He says, “The day I was diagnosed with cancer, I committed to living the rest of my life doing only the things I was passionate about. That shifted and narrowed my focus. A lot of stuff just went away.”

Suddenly, it didn’t matter if he had 90 days or 90 years left to live. He resolved to spend all of the time he had left doing what God impressed him to do. The moment he realized he was dying became bittersweet, because it was the moment when he really began to live. “My cancer refocused me on the one priority that will never change for me. I am here to serve God. Every other priority revolves around Him.”

inside-asi-winter-spring-2014_page_23_image_0003One of those priorities is working as a Maranatha volunteer. This is not something new, however. Terry has been working with Maranatha for more than 40 years. His father, Marlyn Schwartz, got him hooked on missions as a young teen. To date, Terry has been on more than 150 mission trips, most of those as the construction superintendent. Interestingly, he’s noticed a difference between his prediagnosis and post-diagnosis trips. While he’s always been passionate about serving, he says he now sees God showing up more often, in unexpected ways, affirming him.inside-asi-winter-spring-2014_page_22_image_0003

On a personal note, Terry had struggled for years with a deep sense of disappointment in himself. He had wanted to be a doctor, but after those doors closed he became a carpenter and businessman. Although he was successful, he always felt he’d failed God, until an “ah-hah” moment when he realized that he was exactly where God wanted him to be, doing exactly what God had gifted him to do. As he looked back on the ways God had led him throughout his life, his past finally made perfect sense to him. Every wilderness experience, every dead end, and every misstep had equipped him uniquely to fulfill God’s purpose.

As he began to see God’s hand on his life, the mission trips with Maranatha took on an added joy. Now Terry’s passion has become affecting change in the lives of the volunteers. He wants to share with each person the truth of how blessed they are—that being a practical Christian means taking action and addressing the needs of others wherever they live. God expects nothing less from His children.

Recently, Terry fulfilled another priority: a life-long dream to write a book. Never Alone was released last year by Pacific Press.® In it, Terry shares his journey with cancer, and tells story after story of the miracles that show how God graciously draws near to anyone willing to be used by Him to love broken people all over the world.

Never Alone is not the book Terry originally envisioned writing, but as he considers the way God has led, he says, “I am sure there are millions of people who, like me, live life cautiously embracing Christ to hedge our bets, while navigating the minefield of life on our own. I pray my story will provide affirmation and shorten the wanderings of fellow Christians everywhere.”

How is Terry doing today?

Three-and-a-half years have passed since his diagnosis—each day a miracle, every moment a gift. Unfortunately, the cancer continues to spread. It is now in his spine and lower back.

“My prayers have changed over the years,” he says. “I no longer pray for healing. Instead, I find myself asking, ‘Lord, let me see you come.’ ”

To anyone facing a similar diagnosis, Terry says, “God still has a plan for your life. You can trust His leading. Just because you’ve received a diagnosis of cancer doesn’t mean God loves you any less.”

The truth is, we’re all dying; we just don’t think about it. Embracing change, trusting God’s leading through the change, provides new opportunities for growth. We tend to be so focused on treading water that we forget to learn new strokes. Somehow, in the winds of change, Terry found his true direction. His life has never been the same.u