Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pastor Billy Craig's new journey

01/16/08 Chatterbox Betty Kaiser Last November, many of us received the news that Pastor Billy Craig was in a coma, fighting for his life at Sacred Heart Hospital. It was sobering to envision this upbeat, vibrant man as desperately ill. “Life really does turn on a dime,” I thought. One moment all is well. The next moment (without warning), the bottom drops out of our universe. I vividly remember the day in 2004 when Pastor Billy bounced into the Sentinel office. He was brimming with energy and the picture of health. Newly appointed to serve as the leader of our local United Methodist Church, he was here to serve his God, the people of his congregation, and the entire town of Cottage Grove. A self-described “Ornery ole country vicar (who happens to be a Spirit filled, shouting Methodist),” he was in the prime of life when the bottom dropped out of his world. On that fateful day in November, he was working in his church office, when he collapsed as a series of brain seizures wracked his body. This previously vibrant 50-year old man (who earlier in the year had aced his mid-life physical) went down like a rock. He has no memory of the 911 call and the fast response by the Emergency Medical Team or the ambulance trip to Sacred Heart. He doesn’t remember those first desperate days after the seizures: the diagnosis of viral meningitis, his kidneys shutting down, the dialysis treatments, or even the pneumonia that put him on a respirator. Pastor Billy was comatose when tests discovered that his problem was greater than the meningitis. An MRI revealed a ping-pong size malignant tumor with three “fingers” called an Anaplastic Astrocytoma, deep in his brain. It is a very difficult tumor to treat. While Billy was comatose, hundreds of people rallied to support him, his wife Janie, their four children and seven grandchildren. Local clergy of all denominations gathered with others to pray for one of their own. Prayer vigils were held at the church. His loving congregation was in shock but not without hope. Everyone stepped up to the plate and offered whatever was needed. Anna Snauer even took charge of spoiling the Craig’s two King Charles Spaniels. Gregg Munroe, a retired Methodist pastor and military chaplain began helping to fill the pulpit and other responsibilities. Lay leader Sharon Snauer remembers praying on her knees in the church sanctuary and receiving the assurance that “No matter what happens, God is in control. He has already taken control of this tumor and his will (will) be done.” For days, all of the news was grim. Janie remembers being scared to death as she watched the man she loved go from one crisis to another. Not knowing the extent of the brain damage, the doctors warned her of possible dire consequences. She was advised that her husband might not be able to walk or talk; to chew or swallow. In fact, it was suggested that he might remain in a vegetative state. But, Janie says, God told her something different. He said, “Don’t worry, Janie, miracles happen every day.” And sure enough, right there in the hospital, miracles happened. One by one, his body overcame the life-threatening conditions. When Billy came out of the coma, he startled the doctor at his bedside by saying, “Thank you.” Then, he looked at his wife nearby and said, “You are the most beautiful person in the world. We are so blessed.” Three weeks after the seizures, diagnoses, brain biopsies, setbacks and rehabilitation (where he learned to walk and talk again), Pastor Billy came home. He was fully functional. It was decided that the best place to address his particular treatment options was the Cancer Center of Tulsa. It was there that he received the painful news that no one ever wants to hear. “I was told that I wasn’t going to recover and that was hard,” Billy said quietly. “But I’m not depending on the doctors, I’m depending on God.” Like so many before them, Pastor Billy and Janie now find themselves on a journey that they didn’t chose. They are, however, choosing to traverse this difficult path by looking up and not down. They are counting their blessings. “This is a journey that God has given,” they say. “We would not have chosen it but we will walk it with grace.” There are many ways to attack growing tumors. Together with his doctors, the Craigs have decided not to undergo further surgery. They have chosen the option to shrink the tumor chemically. Soon, a combination chemotherapy and radiation treatment will begin this process. Chemo will be given the night before radiation in a series lasting several weeks. The outcome has yet to be revealed. At this time Billy has no pain but tires easily. Together, he and Janie are trusting that God will bring a miracle of healing in the coming weeks. Always an active man, he is chafing a bit at the restrictions placed upon him. Now he is anxious to get on with his love of life and preaching. “I want that tumor completely removed by the hand of God,” Billy simply says. “Since he made this ornery ole country vicar and still has access to the original specs and production plans, I want to trust him with this. Please pray for my healing.” Note: You may read Pastor Billy’s online journal at: Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Her columns appear weekly in the Cottage Grove Sentinel newspaper.

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