Life is like an unplanned journey. You start traveling on a path from the time you are born until the time you die. I compare it to Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” following the yellow brick road, yet obstacles along the way deterred her final destination.
Did you ever play “Blind Man’;;;s Bluff” when you were a child? Your goal was to tag another person by running around without your eyesight. Care had to be taken so you wouldn’;;;t trip or run into any inanimate objects.
When I married Rev. Raymond Sewell in 1986, I began a journey into the unknown. We spent our lives in the ministry, not knowing where life would take us. We only knew that our marriage was “till death do you part”. Our journey took many detours. There were times when we were youth pastors that we shared fun and happy moments with those we loved: roller skating, concerts, Six Flags, parades, school events, and summer camp. Everyone rejoiced at the birth of my two babies in 1988 and 2000. We shared our happy moments with family and friends along the journey.
There were also detours to overcome: Difficult people to deal with, financial and job stress, my long painful journey from near death, moving from one place to another, and three miscarriages. Then, in July of 2005, came the final obstacle, one we couldn’;;;t conquer, no matter how much prayer and support we received from those who loved us. It’;;;s name was Pancreatic Cancer.
It was my daughter’;;;s Spring Break, and I loaded up Bethany and my 4-year-old son Timothy in the van to go visit grandma and grandpa. Ray had been having pain for several weeks, but every test they did came back negative. It was thought it was due to stress, lack of sleep, or nervousness since he was having a lot of problems arise at the church we were pastoring. The doctors put him on sleep medication and mild pain killers, but the pain continued to get worse. Since I didn’t see any immediate danger, me and the kids went on our Spring Break trip. If I had known how serious it was, I would not have gone.
When I returned a week later, Ray’s pain was almost unbearable. He would sit up on the sofa all night with his knees drawn up to his chest. I made some phone calls and the family physician decided to do one more test, a gallbladder ultrasound. The results showed that his gallbladder was completely occluded. He was put in the hospital right away for gallbladder removal. We thought that once he healed from the surgery, everything would be okay.
While Ray was still recuperating in the hospital, the surgeon came to our hospital room with disturbing news. While operating, he had found a small, suspicious growth near the common bile duct. He had removed a portion of it and sent it to the lab for analysis. When the results came back, it was malignant. The surgeon said that if it was contained to that one area, they could remove it and he would be okay. If it had spread, we were to be referred to an oncologist at the LSU Cancer Center in Shreveport. A PET scan was scheduled to see the extent of the cancer.
It was a few weeks before we got the results. The cancer was at Stage 4 and had spread to most of his body. Blood work was done, and Ray was scheduled for chemotherapy twice a week. He was also put on a relatively new cancer tablet that cost over 3,000.00 for a one-month supply. Ray was put on Ensure drinks because of his quick rate of losing weight. When the cancer progressed to the point that he couldn’t swallow, a feeding tube was inserted into his stomach and my daughter and I took turns “feeding” him through the tube. A chemotherapy catheter was also inserted into his chest.
Meanwhile, we continued to pray for healing and for God to provide finances since we didn’t have health insurance. The bills were piling up and this added to my stress I was already feeling about Ray’s condition. This is where a bright light of sunshine came our way.
The church we were pastoring adored their pastor. They not only fervently prayed for his healing, but they also felt like they needed to help us take care of the finances. Fundraisers were held and the money came pouring in. A city-wide singing was held, along with a silent auction. Our song leader and her friends reached out to the churches in the community, inviting them to come together at our church and sing. They would sing, have a dinner, and hold a silent auction. On the night it was scheduled, our church was packed with people from all over town wanting to help. Meanwhile, we are constantly receiving cards in the mail with money in them. So much money was raised that I went to the bank and opened a separate Medical account set up to pay off medical bills. God provided in a miraculous way.
Several of Ray’s pastor friends came to visit and pray for him. There was an outpouring of love and support. However, Ray’s cancer continued to spread and Home Health started coming in to help me take care of Ray. Despite all of our efforts and all of the prayers, Rev. Raymond Sewell went to be with the Lord on July 13, 2005, one week before our 19th wedding anniversary. He died at home with his family and close friends around his bedside. The week before he died, he leaned against the pulpit and preached his last sermon. His strength and determination inspired everyone at church that morning. I submitted his obituary in the local paper; I asked that in lieu of flowers, people donate to missions which was very important to Ray. Instead, cards continued to come in with money enclosed to take care of me and the kids. I was touched and overwhelmed at the love and concern everyone showed my family. By the end of the summer, the money sent to us and the money from Ray’s life insurance policy was enough to pay off all the bills and funeral expenses.
Sometimes, in the midst of tragedy, we feel alone and overwhelmed. However, God has a plan for our lives and shows us in special ways that He cares about us. Me and my children were fortunate to have the care and support of family and friends. Without them, I don’t know if I could have survived the ordeal. It took their prayers and support to remind me to keep my faith in God.
The journey Raymond and I took started with a bright outlook and ended in an unexpected and painful way. Throughout the journey, I was always inspired by his faithfulness to God, to his church, and to his family.
I don’t understand why my husband wasn’t healed. I do know that He “fought a good fight and kept the faith”. In doing so, he inspired his family to carry on without him and learn to live our lives with our faith in God intact. He left his children the greatest gift a father could leave his children: a legacy of strength, grace, and reliance on God’s providence. This is evident in my children’s lives even today. My daughter is married to a Christian man she met in Bible college and they are working as student ministers in a large church, preparing themselves for the mission field. My son is in Junior High and actively involved in church activities. He has just recently realized how much he is like his dad, in both looks and behavior.
As me and my family continue our journey without Rev. Raymond Sewell, we continue to honor his memory and live out this journey in a way that would please not only Ray, but our Heavenly Father. There will still be ups and downs, but with prayer we continue the journey until we also see our heavenly Father and those that have gone before us. Cancer can destroy the body, but not the soul. We were blessed to have learned that from a faithful husband and father.