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When cancer struck my pastor (part 12): The Hollowness of Cancer

This is a re-posting from my blog back in 2014:

Our pastor Tom Craig did not show up at church today.

For the first time since he was diagnosed with cancer, Tom was not a part of our Sunday service.

Assistant pastor Bobby McCoy informed us that Tom sent word to him of his inability to attend in a simple three-word sentence:

“Feeling weak today.”

And it made the room feel … well, empty.


The new aggressive chemotherapy is increasingly harsh on our senior pastor. Once again, we see its effects. Tom attended a fundraiser in his honor at Chik Fil A on Thursday, sporting causal clothes, including a t-shirt. I was out of town, unable to attend, but I was able to see a picture of him on Facebook. His neck is gaunt and his arms appear bony. Those who attended said he was extremely tired.

Yeah, the service felt empty, because we miss Tom. We miss his wife Kim.

Both of them are showing amazing courage throughout this time, and it has not gone unnoticed. Our congregation has been carrying on in their absence, but always with an ear and eye towards the Craig homestead, ready to help and ready to learn.

As we went to prayer in the Sunday morning service, I was aware of the small loneliness we each felt.

Tom and Kim aren’t here. Surely they’ll show up…

Pancreatic cancer is horrible. Its effects are slow and deliberate, testing the mettle of the strongest soul. Even those of us who are not physically attached to the disease can be intimidated by it. That’s where Tom’s testimony is most powerful. Tom’s testimony is amazing, and his messages of assurance in Christ are incredibly impactful to us. Every time he has made contact with us, he has talked about his love for us and for his Lord. Tom’s faith has been unwavering; his view of Heaven has been clear. In an age of overly-emotional celebrity Christians and uber-hip churches that scream for attention, I find Tom’s quiet and steady demeanor a deeply welcoming respite.

He shows Jesus. Isn’t that the ideal testimony of any Christian?

And let me say something about his wife Kim.

God bless her mightily. She is a rock.

We cannot even imagine the deep sorrow she carries in seeing her life’s partner succumb to this monstrosity. The pain of watching one’s husband in a day-by-day battle with cancer would be enough to bring down the strongest of wives. Many people do not realize the torturous toll that cancer takes on the loved ones who are daily witnesses to this horror. Yet I have seen Kim through the weeks, continuing to minister others while staying by Tom’s side and seeing to his needs. If ever I saw the open display of the words of Isaiah 30:15 “…in quietness and confidence shall be your strength,” Kim Craig is the living example.

So with two strong leaders missing from our worship service, how can we get the joy? The calmness?

God quietly and gently slipped us the answer…

After the prayer, I noticed something. The room didn’t seem so empty any more. The hollowness was gone.

In the reality of the joyful mysteries of the Christian faith, it was apparent that Tom and Kim were not absent. They were there with us, in our worship of God. Just as Jesus is present in the service – Matthew 18:20 “where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them” – we also knew that Tom and Kim were praying for us and loving us. They were there in the spirit, if not in the flesh.

Assistant pastor Bobby McCoy preached and gave an offhand comment that brought laughter from the congregation. It gently surprised me.

We laughed!

A relaxed, genuine laugh.

It had been a while since we’d done that. Later on we laughed again.

Our trust in God has been strengthened through this long trial, and it burst forth yesterday like a flower in spring. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

We relaxed a bit. We joked a bit. Last night we had a gathering after the service. Cakes, pies, coffee, and some more laughter. Ah, it’s good.

This Saturday we’ll have some more enjoyment. We’re having a fundraiser for Tom and Kim in the form of a marathon bike-ride involving folks from our church and from past churches under Tom’s ministry. Rob, Brian and a host of other men will be riding up to seventy miles to raise money for Tom’s hospital bills. Mike will be running twenty-six miles. The grills will be out and so will a bounce house. Folks will be enjoying each other’s friendships as well as the Tennessee sunshine. After the ride, we’ll conclude with a celebration of Tom and Kim’s ministry with testimonies by the many who have been impacted by their lives and love for God.

It’ll be fun.

Our joy is being restored.

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