It’s amazing how much life can change in one year. It was a year ago this week that I received a phone call that has forever changed my life. It was a Wednesday night, already dark, and I came home to an empty house while Mary was at work. As I walked through the door, my phone suddenly belted out the “Chariots of Fire” theme song I had selected as my ring tone. I glanced at an unknown number, but the 919 area code hinted at a local number. “Is this Jason Norton?” the voice asked.
“Yes it is,” I replied.
“Jason, this is Dr. Moleman (don’t want to mention his real name). Sorry it’s late. I was just calling to let you know that we just got back the results to the mole I removed last week and it came back as Melanoma.”
After those uttered words, everything seemed to freeze in time, as my jaw dropped, and a sound resembling a dog whistle filled my ears. Everything that was said from that point on is simply a blur. Something about going to UNC cancer center and meeting with a highly recommended Surgical Oncologist named Dr. Amos.
Thoughts ran as quickly as Superman flies. “Cancer center? I have cancer? What? This is crazy! What do I do? This can’t be happening! Who do I call? I don’t want to call anybody. This is a dream. No, this is reality! How serious is this? I don’t want to die. I really don’t want to die right now.” These are just a few of a thousand thoughts that entered my head as I paced relentlessly around our house. Gasping for air, I attempted to catch my breath. I aggressively rubbed my forehead with my hand, staring directly into our wooden floors in disbelief. This was the closest I had ever felt to death.
Placing myself at the top of our steps and staring out into the dark night, I picked up my phone and dialed. Being handicapped by my emotional thoughts, the first person I called was my pregnant wife, who was at work. The only words that really came to my lips were, “I have cancer” and “I don’t know.” I truly didn’t know how to respond to the emotional questions that followed. As a prideful man I held my emotions in check, but as I hung up the phone, the dam exploded and the tears were finally unleashed. I was scared. Simply put, more scared than every before.
Stephens, Rimbey, and Mark who are close friends that I consider brothers, dropped everything to rush to my side for support. I could barely speak words because of the outpouring of snot and tears. The only thing I could think to say was, “You 3 have to promise, if something happens to me, promise me you’ll take care of my wife and my daughter.” I’ve never uttered those kind of words again, but that was the thought that ran aimlessly through my head over and over and over. Prayers, hugs, tears, support, and friendship are the words that come to my mind as I reflect on that night. I’m forever thankful for those 3 guys rushing to my side when I needed them the most. It’s amazing how great God is during our times of trouble!
In the days, weeks, and months following, we received support from hundreds of people in countless ways. I vividly remember many moments where emotions were high. The time I remember the most was walking into Reese’s nursery for the first time. Lying on the floor were countless gifts for Reese, and out of the corner of my eye I spotted a book entitled, “The New Father.” My eyes were glued stuck on those words, as I stood frozen. Fatherhood. My heart ached with many unknowns, but thinking about fatherhood caused more pain and more fear than anything.
A year later, I’m sitting behind a computer, breathing, smiling, and singing Christmas tunes with my daughter who I’ve been able to enjoy for 5 months. Priceless moments fill our lives each and every day, and no one will have to ever tell us twice to cherish them. Watching her roll across our living room floor for the first time until suddenly bumping her head into the coffee table, was a proud moment. She turned her head to make sure I had seen what just happened, slowly curled and stuck out her bottom lip, and let out a blood curdling scream. Running to her aid, scooping her up, and holding her close to my chest comforting her, was a moment I didn’t know that I would ever experience.
I loved feeding my daughter carrots, peas, bananas, and sweet potatoes with a spoon and watching her bitter faces as she tastes food for the first time.
Changing a diaper that is a literal explosion. An explosion that creeps up her back to her neck, gets in between fingers and toes and behind ears, and somehow, by an act of God, reaches her hair. A diaper that curls the nose hairs into shapes. Forget curl, the nose hairs evaporate! A diaper event that when finally changed, requires a whole load of laundry by itself (my clothes included).
Nuzzling my nose and mouth just underneath her ribs and making crazy animal sounds, causes her to belt out heart stopping giggles and screams for the whole house to enjoy. Horrible singing, goofy sounds, and crazy facial expressions cause Kodak smiles. Placing my face so I’m nose to nose with her, she stares intently and gently guides her fingers on both hands to grab at my lips and blow raspberries with her spit.
Holding her above my head making airplane sounds she suddenly spits up on daddy’s face and then ignorantly smiles. Spit up appears everywhere and all the time. Walking around our house barefoot, you’re bound to eventually discover it on the bottom of your foot.
After spending 5 minutes in the bath, her tub is only half full of water because she’s already kicked the other half out. She’s aggressive, has massive legs, and I’m thinking she’s probably going to be a sick nasty soccer player! Mia Hamm? Her fussy time is at night before her last feeding, but as soon as we take her upstairs, place her on our bed and undress her, she immediately becomes chipper because she’s quickly learned that a nice warm bath is coming. What else could possibly put any human being in a better mood than a nice warm bath? Reese is a quick learner.
She’s quickly becoming very busy…and squirmy. I listened to her wake up and scream off and on the other night, trying to avoid going in to pick her up, shush her, and pat her on the butt. I walked through her door in the morning and found her turned 180 and in the opposite side of the crib in which I left her. Her head was crammed in the back corner of the crib, face down, with butt stuck high in the air. When did my daughter learn how to reposition herself that drastically?
This morning I woke up, showered, dressed, and walked down the stairs to start my day. As I peered around the bottom steps and into the living room, Reese’s eyes caught mine and she welcomed my morning with a precious smile. It’s like she knew I was coming. Gives me goosebumps thinking about it!
“Looks like daddy dressed her,” doesn’t apply to me. When daddy dresses, it’s a good day. He’s got style. I know she can’t say it yet, but she’s certainly thinking it!
This powerful verse in James says it all.
James 4:13-17- Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
Life is short. I’ve learned that. This verse has loudly resounded in my heart and mind. It’s a daily challenge and reminder. I don’t have time to just waste. And so with swollen lymphedema hands and arms, and a few scars short of Jack Bauer status, I can joyfully say that the hardest year of my life has easily been the best year of my life because it’s was all part of the Lord’s complete, flawless, and masterful plan. Freeze and capture every moment of your life. The time that we have been given on earth is not ours to waste.