Walt often greeted me with, “Hey, Dan, I have an opportunity for you.” This was how many of our conversations began. Over time I learned to laugh and beat him to the punch. “So Walt, what opportunity do you have for me today?”
Walt was one of those happy, easy-going guys who had the gift to see the positive in every situation. Even the worst of times was an “opportunity” for someone to learn something new, to grow, to rise above expectations and do great things. Walt lived as if every “opportunity” was a moment for us to remain faithful, do our best, and then watch as God showed up to redeem and transform a difficult situation.
I was a young man when I worked with Walt, and I learned a lot. Above all, I learned that even the most difficult of situations is “an opportunity” to see God at work.
In May of 2016, a man dressed in a white coat stood at the foot of my hospital bed and told me I had Stage IV colon cancer. At that moment, my wife Nancy and I began a journey not of our choosing. Nancy and I have moved from grieving a devastating diagnosis to learning to see opportunity in the midst of a difficult situation. We have witnessed the reality of disappointments transformed into opportunities for good. It is possible to be joyful in the midst of adversity.
If I were granted the opportunity to make it all go away, to wake up from this horrible dream, I would take it. The cloud hanging over my life is not a pleasant one. Weekly trips to the oncologist for chemotherapy treatments, MRI and CT scans, labs and such are getting old. Yet in the midst of it all, there are opportunities to gain much more than I have lost.
Just the other day I asked Nancy if my personality had changed. I knew the answer. I just wanted to see if it was obvious to those closest to me. She confirmed what I felt to be the truth: I am a gentler, calmer, more peaceful person than I was before. The “type A” push and drive to get things done and succeed has been tempered with a dose of reality about the shortness of life. When I look at life, I have the ability to see that which is truly important.
Lunch with Nancy has become more of a daily reality. We slow down, stop for a few minutes and share time away from the office. It sounds simple, but it is significant. In the past there was too much to do, so much to accomplish.
My calendar is less full. This change is, in part, because I am not able to push and move at the pace I once called normal. This reality provides me with moments to be still and listen for God’s leading and directing. This has always been an important part of who I am, but cancer has provided me an “opportunity” to do it even more.
I laugh more. Each moment has a special quality to it. Confession: there were times in life I was so focused on what could be that I missed what was. Looking to the future and planning on how to make things become a reality often robs us of the chance to be with people in the moment.
I find I am living in the present much more than I was before. Not only am I in the present, but I also find it enjoyable and life-affirming. I am still planning, preparing, and working to move into the future. However, my plans are tempered with an ability to be at peace with what is. There are other changes. Some are subtle, others I see very clearly. Cancer was a “setback.” It was also an “opportunity.” I pray God continues to give me the strength to see the opportunities for myself and others as I travel this journey.
Coffee and Conversation
Imagine for a moment you and I had the opportunity to sit down for a cup of coffee. As we got to know each other, I would eventually ask something along these lines: “How do you experience God at work in your life?”
If you are like many people I talk with, you might struggle to answer. Pastor types will often begin by talking about what they are doing or reading. That is not what I am asking. What I want to hear about is how you are being with God. I long to hear how you are encountering God in the midst of your everyday life. As you think of your life, what opportunities currently exist for you to bring your cares and worries to Abba Father, trusting Him to transform and redeem a difficult situation into something lifegiving?
Easter is a season of transformation, renewal, hope, and opportunity. A Roman cross was transformed from an instrument of death to a symbol of hope and life. The tomb, a place of mourning, became a symbol of life and rebirth. Is there something in your life where you can invite God to transform what may currently be a difficult situation into something lifegiving? Go ahead, seize the opportunity, give us something to really talk about when we finally have a chance to sit down for coffee.
About the author
Daniel Nicewonger is a graduate of Messiah College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Daniel has served as pastor for American Baptist churches in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, and currently serves as the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Kennett Square, PA. Daniel is married to his wife of 28 years, Nancy. They have two adult children, Joseph and Rayann.