If you have been around the Exploring More podcasts or to any of our The Heart of a Warrior Encounter men’s events these past several years, you have crossed paths with our Special Ops Director, Scott Stankavage.
I’ve known Scott for 25 years and our friendship has seen births and funerals, celebrations and restoration, good times and hard times. Walking with God with oriented friends … few things are better. In July of 2013 Scott was diagnosed with a rare and terminal Leukemia. The doctors said, “Twenty four to thirty six months is the mortality rate; all we can do is try to get you as much time as possible.” That was almost 5 years ago.
Scott recently wrote a blog that I felt led to post and share as a guest on The Warrior's Heart. I trust it will be as meaningful to you as Scott is to me. The following is from Scott's blog:
A few months ago, I was invited to speak at a leadership breakfast hosted by CBMC, Christian Business Men's Connection, in a large ballroom near the Raleigh Durham airport. It was an honor and I accepted without hesitation.
A few weeks later I called and asked what time the event was being held, and they said 7 o clock. I replied, “Great, right after dinner?” They said, “No, right after breakfast.” Oh my. They must not have realized that the only productive thing that I have done these past five years before 9 o’clock in the morning with leukemia has been to wrangle my kiddos into the car to drive them to school by 8:30, and that often involves raised voices and bargaining ... far from inspirational. I was seriously worried I might not be the right guy for the job.
But I made it. I opened my remarks with a short prayer, “Lord, may everyone in attendance hear YOU through me this morning.”
My topic was Living with Purpose, which is something that a terminal illness will cause you to contemplate. I shared that Duke Medical Center has scheduled a “BMT” for the 24th of October, just a few weeks away. When the doctors originally told me and my wife of this new plan I asked, “Is that anything like a B.L.T? You know, the sandwich?” But nobody in the room laughed. A bone marrow transplant (BMT) isn’t really a joking matter.
Duke nurses had searched the ‘unrelated database of donors’ for a match the past month, but there was no perfect match among the millions of people who have signed up at www.bethematch.com for situations exactly like mine. (NOTE: so many have offered and asked how they could be tested for being a match for me, which has been humbling. I suggest to everyone they go to www.bethematch.com and investigate the process of having your blood drawn and the results entered into the national/international database. Going forward, if your HLA/DNA matches someone in need of a transplant, you will be contacted and given the opportunity to literally save a life. I hope many will sign up to give such a gift).
Thank God for my brother. It turns out that he is a 100% match for my DNA type, and he agreed to be my donor and go through potentially severe pain and discomfort for a few weeks so that doctors could infuse his marrow, while they simultaneously poison mine. Then, on what oncologists call ‘your new birthday,’ they harvest his marrow and put it into my body. After the transplant, we wait and pray that my body accepts his marrow and that it begins to destroy any left behind residual leukemia left behind as well as any that tries to grow anew.
As I continued to address the audience, I shared that looking back on my 56 years, I could see two distinct stages of purpose in my life. For the first 40 years, my purpose could be summed up as ME and MINE. I had tremendous success by worldly standards, some money, a little bit of fame and notoriety, a healthy family, lots of stuff... but something was still missing on the inside.
Then I shared a very important, recent story; the other night, after bedtime prayers, my 8-year-old son, Leo, asked me, “Daddy, are you going to die? Daddy, how long will we have with you? And daddy, what will happen to me when I die?” Oh boy.
Leo’s inquiries reminded me of a message I heard from Dr. Ravi Zacharias, a famous former Hindu now Christian apologist speaking to an Ivy league institution. He suggested that all of us in life are searching for the answers to four basic questions regarding our lives: O.P.M.D.
My 8-year-old son was basically asking those same questions. I wish he didn’t have to think about such matters, especially at 8 years old, but we don’t get to choose some of the things that happen to us in our lives.
The TV celebrity that introduced me had alluded to some of my football success, and so in my talk, I couldn’t hold myself back from telling at least one football story, even though my oldest daughters like to remind me that anyone 40 years old or younger weren't even born when I was playing football. They lovingly say, “Dad, honestly, nobody cares about your football career anymore.” They certainly keep me humble in a tender way. Fortunately for the story-teller in me, the crowd at CBMC that morning was a little older, so I made them laugh for a moment about what in 1984 USA TODAY labeled a ‘Bronco QB’s Baptism by Fire’ experience. It was about my rookie season, against the ’85 Bears, arguably the toughest defense in NFL history, when Dan Reeves put me in the game at quarterback when we were losing 27-0 in the third quarter. My initial reaction in that moment, including not being able to find my helmet was kinda funny. It was good for all of us to laugh together that morning.
I continued on about the good fortune to be teammates of John Elway, and with the LT, Lawrence Taylor, the greatest linebacker in football ever. Then I shared the ultimate: a voicemail where Michael Jordan recently answered a friend of mine, “Do I know Scotty? Of course I do! He was my quarterback! How is he doing?” I still have that voicemail on my phone to show people who don’t believe me! MJ REMEMBERS ME! For some reason, that really bumps my chest out. I felt like everyone could relate.
As I approached the end of my time, I shared how my life changed in my mid 40’s, and how it was through the friendship of another man—author, speaker, and counselor, Michael Thompson—and his sharing and teaching me of the intimate relationship available to us with God. You see, even though I was raised going to church religiously, up to that point in my life I had never been introduced to the personal written word and revelation from God for intimacy with us.
The real issue in my heart was that I had been carrying around a bucket of secrets; stuff I was ashamed of, stuff I did wrong in my life journey and therefore felt the need to hide from even those close to me. Issues like greed, jealousness, unforgiveness, profanity, anger, and revenge... those felt manageable, but the other heavier secrets like lust, infidelity, abortion, adultery, well, those were a huge burden to carry around. But the nagging issue in my soul was that I wasn’t sure I could ever be forgiven by God, the one who perfectly designed the entire universe and created me. A God who was holy, loving and just. That was a real problem deep in my heart, especially as I had contemplated my own version of Leo’s bedtime questions and the challenging O.P.M.D issues from Dr. Zacharias.
I closed by sharing that the last two decades or so of my life have been lived with a different purpose than ME and MINE. In my mid 40’s, living with life purpose became living for HE and HIS. I explained how that doesn’t mean just being ‘good and kind’ and doing charitable things. Living for HE and HIS is beyond that; it is to experience God’s love in a way that transformed me. I discovered God’s instructions and boundaries He offers for our protection, which he shares out of love. Looking back on my life, I remember when I did nice things for the less fortunate, tried to be kind and caring, but it was still really all about me, about my feelings of being a good person, my feelings of trying to accumulate good works to outweigh and offset my bucket of secrets. But those techniques of good and charitable works still didn’t answer the questions posed by Leo or Ravi regarding purpose or destiny and eternity.
These past 15 years, it has really surprised me how much is in the Bible, that collection of 66 books recorded from antiquity that I had never really read let alone studied. In time it became glaringly obvious how that ancient text is still relevant today, unchanged for thousands of years, applicable to every one of us, anywhere in the world, and for any age and any time throughout history.
Now, as an intellectual seeker from an early age, I had read all the Thich Nhat Hanh, Oprah, Chopra, Nietzsche and Kant, Tony Robbins, Stephen Covey and Wayne Dyer that I could get my hands on, including the mystic, the gnostic, Zen and Bhagavad-Gita not to mention the lost gospels of Mary Magdalene and Thomas. I had read every issue I could find of National Geographic and watched every documentary that was about Jesus on the Discovery and History channel, with all of the different claims and interpretations. But my own personally crafted theology couldn’t answer Leo or Ravi in a way that I could believe was eternally true and where the answers made sense both individually and when looked at all together. Despite all of the worldly success, recognition, and money I had obtained in the first part of my life, none of it brought me inner peace. Because it was never meant to.
So, in closing that morning, I asked the audience to come with me into the sterilized environment necessary for the BMT in their imagination, where everyone wears gowns and masks and gloves, where my children aren’t permitted in for 45-60 days, where I am told I will lay with chills and shakes, sweats and vomit and skeletal pain that is hard to describe. In that room, for all those days, there will be only one name on my lips and in my heart. Only one name that can help me through this season, no matter if my brother’s marrow bonds in my body and can effectively defeat the leukemia, or if it doesn’t and the Lord calls me home. I can assure you the name on my lips won’t be Elway, or LT or even MJ.
It will be Jesus and only Jesus, the Christ. Always and only Jesus.
The silence in the room that morning was heavy. So, I closed with a prayer. I used my own words, but to end I selected a prayer from antiquity. It was from the fourth of the 66 books in the Bible, written thousands of years ago and has been recorded and perfectly preserved for us. In the book of Numbers, chapter 6 starting with verse 24;
May the Lord bless you, and keep you, as only HE can,
May HE make His face shine upon you, and may He be gracious to you, May the Lord turn His face toward you and give you His peace.
And may you put HIS name on your lips so that HE will bless you abundantly all the days of your life.
Then, before I left the podium, I said “AMEN, Thank you for your attention and your time so early in the morning. God bless you.”
I sat down. When I returned to my seat, I bowed my head and noticed my hands shaking, holding my Bible and my notes. I said a short prayer that the Lord would be pleased and when I looked up, 500 people were standing and clapping. With tears and a full heart, I humbly pointed upward. Because that is what it is all about, that is my purpose now, and forever: HE and HIS.
Yes, and Amen.
- Scott Stankavage