In April of 2015, while Family Church Worship was knee-deep into the creative process for our first Christmas album, my wife and I received some bad news. I was told that I had thyroid cancer and that I would need surgery to remove my entire thyroid. You see, when I was eight years old I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and then relapsed when I was twelve. The large quantities of radiation and chemotherapy during those five years damaged my thyroid, resulting in a cancerous tumor almost fifteen years later.
It was a difficult time for us. Christine and I had only been married two years. Telling her that I had cancer—for the third time—was one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. Yes, I had trusted God through cancer twice before, but I had never faced this crossroad with her. Christine has always admired me for my tenacity, yet I found myself trying to muster up the strength to encourage her in the midst of chaos.
My faith was further tested when I went for my consultation with my surgeon. He told me that this surgery, as safe as it is, would likely alter my vocal ability forever.
I immediately realized the next challenge God had for me. Could I accept that He was (and is) my strength, and that my gifts are not my own? Was I ready to hand over to Him the instrument I use to lead His people in worship? It wasn’t that I doubted the surgeon or God’s hand over the surgery. It was that I knew God was asking me to be willing to give up my voice if He chose to take it away from me. I wrestled daily with the thought that I was potentially counting down the days until I sang my last note as a worship pastor.
A few weeks later I went to Christian Ramos and told him everything I feared. I didn’t think I would be able to sing on the album. Even if my voice recovered, it might not happen fast enough for our recording timeline. I suggested that he not depend on using my voice for the album. I remember so vividly the empathy on his face as I spoke with him. He looked at me and told me with confidence that he believed God would be faithful to bring me through this as a testament to His mercy. He said that the arrangement of The First Noel that Tyler Williams, Dave Cornett, and I had worked on was mine to sing and that I needed to have this surgery, take time away to rest, and come back strong in order to sing this song.
Before I knew it, surgery day arrived. After a few days in the hospital, my wife and I headed home, and the road to recovery began. The first week or so it felt like someone had a constant chokehold on my neck. I desperately wanted to test my vocal abilities, but I had been told to wait two weeks before I tried to sing.
My first attempt to sing led me quickly to realize that a) I could sing lower more easily than before and b) it was going to take a great deal of work to regain my pitch and range, if it ever were to return. Out of necessity, I began daily vocal exercises and made sure to take extra time to warm up before singing.
It didn’t come quickly or easily, but God began restoring the majority of my range, and I was able to schedule a recording date. The entire team was such an encouragement to me during that recording. Even when I had to re-track some mistakes and sing parts over again, the guys just kept telling me how wonderful it was to see me singing again. Amazingly, they chose The First Noel as the opening track of the album.
Both this Christmas and this album encapsulate the gift of life that God has given to me. I pray that as we listen to these songs for many years to come we are increasingly reminded of the sovereign, mighty plan of God. May we lift our voices in praise as He continues to lead us through seasons of brokenness, all the while bringing us to new understanding of His mercy to save a lost and dying world through Jesus Christ His Son.
“Rejoice in suffering, knowing that suffering brings about perseverance, perseverance brings about proven character, and character produces hope.” – Romans 5:3-4.
Daniel Martin is the Worship Pastor at Family Church West