I was visiting my good friend who pastored a church in Montgomery, Alabama. He must have thought I was crazy when I asked him to take me to the town of Enterprise.
He said, “Vernon, that’s a two-hour drive from Montgomery, and there’s nothing there!” I told him I really needed to go.
When we pulled into that little town, population just over 22,000, there it was – right in the middle of Main Street – a statue of a boll weevil.
Enterprise, Alabama is a town where cotton used to be king. In fact, cotton was the only crop grown there. The town depended on it – until tragedy struck.
One year, there was an attack of boll weevils that wiped out the entire cotton crop. The town was devastated. They didn’t know what they were going to do.
But instead of living in defeat, one farmer went out and planted a peanut crop. Another farmer followed, and then another, until all the farmers did the same thing – they all planted peanuts.
That year, the town had a bumper crop. They made more money selling peanuts than they had ever made with cotton.
The townspeople had seen the benefit in their ordeal. They accepted the fact that seemingly devastating circumstances can actually change our lives for good. And they erected a monument to their crisis.
I liked that idea so much, that I did the same thing. I decided to erect a monument to the biggest crisis I had faced in my life: cancer. I knew immediately what that monument would be – something to represent an irreplaceable benefit that came of my own crisis.
Years before, as a young high school student growing up in a pastor’s home, I rebelled – against God, against my parents’ authority and against the rules of strict Christianity that didn’t make any sense to me.
My walk with God became non-existent. I ran from God. My dad and I argued and fought on a regular basis. It wasn’t a pretty sight!
One day, with $25 in my pocket and one small suitcase, I stood in the front yard of our home, clenched my fist, shook it in my dad’s face and said, “I don’t care if I ever see you again.”
As a 19-year-old college student, I left home. Through the years, I came back to God, but my relationship with my father was still strained. We would spend the perfunctory times of Christmas and Thanksgiving together, but there was no deep relationship … not until I had cancer.
One day, I realized that I was the cause of our fractured relationship. I remember going to my dad and saying “Do you remember that day in the front yard?”
“Yes,” he said.
Looking him in the eye, I went on. “For that day and every day just like it, I want you to know I was so wrong. I know I hurt you deeply and I’m asking you to please forgive me.”
My dad did something that I never recall him doing before – he embraced me. He began to weep uncontrollably and kept saying over and over, “I love you.”
The night before my first surgery for cancer, my father, who lived five hours away, drove through the night to be with me during that operation. He made the trip 17 more times and was by my side during every single surgery.
A few days after my first operation, he sent me a tear-stained, handwritten letter that I treasure. I had it matted and framed, and it hangs in my office where I can see it every day.
This letter is my monument to cancer. It’s better than a statue of a boll weevil any day!
If nothing but a deeper relationship with my dad had come of my battle with cancer, I would have been grateful. It was a gift that may have never happened if it were not for this crisis.