When we suffer or disaster strikes, our first question might be, “Why is God letting this happen to me?” Today, Matthew and Deanne Ward join us to discuss Matthew’s battle with cancer, the journey of faith and grief they went through, and how their family grew together in this difficult time.
Gary Wilkerson: Hey, it's good to be with you here. My name is Gary Wilkerson. This is Gary Wilkerson podcast. I'm here with Matt and Deanne Ward. Thank you, guys, for coming in and spending some time with us today.
Matthew Ward: You bet ya.
Gary: Tell us how you guys met.
Matt: Oh my gosh. Oh, I know it?
I was there. I was at the whole thing. There was a rock band. They're still together, the Rez band, Resurrection band out of Chicago. They wanted to come into Tyler, Texas near where we lived at the time, in East Texas. They wanted to come and to do a concert. They didn't want to bring all their gear down. They wanted to borrow 2nd Chapter’s stuff, the band I was in. We said sure. I just went down with the engineer that we had and just helped him set stuff up and make sure they didn't blow stuff up. Well, she came to the auditorium in Tyler, Texas, the Caldwell Auditorium. She came in with some friends. She was going through Youth with a Mission at that point. I saw this girl with these big blue eyes, and I went, "Hmm." Anyway, so I tried to get her to sit next to me and she would have none of it. She says, "I don't know you." I go like, "How can I get to know you if you don't sit next to me?" Wise guy.
Gary: Did you know anything about him or who he was?
Deanne Ward: No, I found out after.
Gary: Did you know of his band? The 2nd Chapter?
Deanne: I did know 2nd Chapter of Acts, but I didn't-- I mean, it was just this guy with long blond hair. That was like, "Hey, sit here," and tapped me on the shoulder, bugging me all night.
Gary: You haven't stopped stop since, really?
Matt: I've been bugging her for 36 years.
Deanne: Yes, 36 years today.
Matt: It's our anniversary today.
Gary: Congratulations. Thank you for taking extra special time. On a day like this.
Matt: We should get an extra big piece of cake when this is over.
Gary: That's right, we can have my water.
Matt: Here's my water and your water.
Gary: All right. That's how you first met was rejection. That stamped the beginning of your relationship.
Matt: It was like-- I knew the game was on at that point. It's like, "I've got to win her over. She's too pretty to let go." I bugged her at the concert. I told her I was a distance cyclist. I told her how far away I live from the base. She's like, "Oh, he's never going to ride that far out." Anyway, but she said if you ever do ride out, I'll buy an ice cream. I said, "Okay, it's a deal." Anyway, one thing led to another, life got in the way of stuff and 2nd Chapter went on the road. We toured, blah, blah, blah. That was a couple of months. By the time I actually got to the base where she was and a friend of hers told me that she had moved back. She was from Rockford, Illinois, and she had moved back from East Texas where the base is back to Rockford, so I missed her. I started going to church out there at the base there. One Sunday, a year, a year and a half later, whatever it was, I'm looking across the auditorium and I see this girl. I'm like, I walk up to her and I go, "Hi." She goes, "Hi." I go, "You owe me an ice cream." She's like, "Very good."
Gary: You remembered asking him?
Gary: Then you got married. Did you get married in Texas?
Deanne: We did at Agape Force. Outside.
Matt: Out in their big field back there.
Gary: That's where we met, in East Texas there. How long was it after you guys got married that you found out that Matt had cancer?
Deanne: Oh, man.
Matt: 11 years.
Deanne: 11 years into it?
Gary: Okay. You've been married for a while. Things were going pretty good in your first 10 years of marriage. You guys were travelling, having fun?
Deanne: No, because there was also another significant thing that happened between us getting married and his cancer was the group concluded. He signs and he's in the studio on his 13th birthday. Everything he's ever known and only known comes to a halt.
Gary: 10 years after you've been married?
Matt: Well, in 1988.
Deanne: No. Five years. We're married and five years into that, everything that he's ever done, known to do is over.
Matt: Just ended. I went through depression. That's all I knew. It's like now what do I do?
Deanne: And he's not old. He's still in his 20's. I'm in my 20's and when the group concluded, we had a record company, a publishing company, a distribution company. We had employees so it was a big decision to walk from that. What we walked from was they'd gotten Album of the Year; they'd gotten that award. We just really felt like God wanted us to slow down. You've been doing this for 20 years. That God wanted us to slow down and focus on our family, but that's a scary, scary thing to do when it's the most successful year you've had and God says--
Matt: Yes. The year we quit was our best financial year. I'm like, "Lord, are you sure?"
Deanne: God says, "Are you willing to lay this down and walk? Are you willing to walk?" We're like, "Yeah."
Gary: Was everybody in agreement to that?
Deanne: Yes, but as a couple, I'll just speak to us as a couple. For us as a couple, we said, "Let's split up for a few minutes and come back. What are the three non-negotiables moving forward?" Because now we're on our own. We're not part of a tribe. We're like, "Okay, what do we do?" We basically came back with the same list of things that were non-negotiable were us as a couple, our kids, I forget the third one, but it was family.
Matt: Hotdogs on Sunday.
Deanne: That was it, baby. That's it. Hotdogs on Sunday. We just realized that now we're becoming, what are we going to be called to do? We had no idea because it was always part of this other thing and he said, "You know what, I've been on the road for 20 years. We've got two little kids." So, we consciously made a decision to stay home until the girls were going to be in school. He was doing commercials for Doritos and RC Cola and National Rental Car. He produced other projects for other people but that kept us home. We weren't touring 100 days a year and six weeks in Europe. We had a home base, we had a house, Hideaway Lake.
That was great. When Maddie got ready, our youngest, to go to kindergarten, we're thinking, "Okay, now we'll start back up. You need to do a solo project. We'll pick back up. We're rested. We're healed. We have relationships. We have a community here. We have a local church here. We're ready to go for phase two," so to speak. That's when he was diagnosed with cancer.
Matt: It's like ready to go. Not.
Gary: You just had reestablished yourself. You have three daughters at this time. You have three girls and you're a happy young family and doing pretty well, I guess. You're financially set. What did you feel when he came home? Do you remember the day Matt had told you he had cancer?
Matt: Well, actually she came home and told me I had cancer.
Gary: Okay. Got that. That's unusual.
Matt: Well, because she got the call from the doctor. I didn't.
Deanne: Got to love East Texas on some parts. Lindale State Bank, you're in forever. Doctors, you are friends for life. The surgeon who had actually done Matthew's surgery was friends with Matthew's cardiologist and that cardiologist said, "If it's bad news, will you please tell me? I want to be the one to tell the Wards. They’re friends." Doctor Kummerfeld, I don't know if you ever knew. I got a call and he says, "Deanne, do you have a minute to talk?" I said, "I do." Matt was out fishing or bicycling or something. He told me what was going on and that we probably-- It was three types of cancer and what was removed, and they suggested that we go to MD Anderson.
I'm thinking, "Okay, we'll go to MD Anderson in a few months," and they're like, "No, like soon." He just said, "Okay, do you want me to call back and talk to Matt? Do you want him to call me? Do you want to tell him?" I said, "No, I'll tell him." I hung up the phone and I went, "Okay, how do I tell him this?" I watch enough Doctor Phil. You don't tell somebody significant news somewhere that matters. I'm like, "Okay, not the kitchen. He likes to cook. Not the blah, blah, blah."
I'll get to that later, but I went in and I put on to his stereo, they'd done a hymn project called It is well.
Matt: Yes. Oh, the song's called It is well?
Deanne: Yes. I just made a decision that I wasn't going to leave that seat until I could say that. I had to get to that point for what he was going to have to go through. I knew he was going to have to do chemo. MD Anderson was the number four cancer hospital in the world at that point. His protocol was-- Wow, I haven't talked about this for a while. There's a protocol on high risk, low risk. The type of cancers that he had, MD Anderson had him on the high-risk list and he was top 20. When he does something, he does it all in. You know if he's- [laughs]. So, even on that.
Matt: [crosstalk] "We're going to try these three chemos for you because you're higher risk. We're going to do this, this, this." You know, all the programs I went through, I was at the far end of stuff which-
Deanne: And he had a 53% chance of survival. I've got three kids, nine and under. I've got to still tell him, so I'm like, "I've got to get it together."
Gary: Yes, 50/50 that's a high-
Deanne: It is.
Gary: -huge high risk.
Deanne: It is and he's in his 30's.
Gary: Yes, so you're thinking maybe even though you settled it is well with my soul [crosstalk]
Deanne: For that season, I'm going to settle to get through this.
Gary: What's well this could be it is well that he could get healed or it's well that I could lose him.
Deanne: Yes. Whatever it is, I have to trust God. Period.
Gary: Yes, no matter what.
Deanne: And Keith Green had died in his 30s on the runway between our properties. I was thinking, "Okay am I going to-- Here go Melody and I raising our kids by ourselves without a spouse." He came home and I heard the garage door, so I walked out into the garage. He said, "As soon as I saw you in the garage I knew." Because he goes, "I know you love me, but you're never waiting in the garage." [laughs]
Matt: Yes. "What are you doing out here?" Bad news.
Deanne: I was the one that told him and then we just made plans to head to MD Anderson and start the process.
Matt: I remember my kids—they were young, and they're like, "Daddy, are you going to die?” I didn't know at that point if it had spread. I just knew that what they took out of me was cancerous. I didn't know what the prognosis was yet. I just said, "Well, you know, maybe." "Oh, okay." They went and played on the trampoline. They just wanted an answer. Kids are weird.
Deanne: I had people that gave me a lot of flack because the girls said, "Is Dad going to die?" I said, "He could." They're like, "Why our dad? He's a good person." I said— Well, I'll backtrack. When Matt found out he had cancer and people said, "Are you angry or upset?" The first thing that came out of his mouth is, "Why not me? Why would I be exempt from anything that— I'm living in a fallen, broken world. People get sick. Life happens. Crises come and go. Why would I be exempt from that?"
I think that helped him mentally, and I also told the girls, I said, "He could die, but he could die in a car. He could die hit by—" There's all kinds of things. This is what I told the girls from day one. "Dad will die when God says, 'It's time.' How God says, when God says. That's all I can tell you girls."
People were so upset. They're like, "They're young! You can't do that." I said, "If God chooses to take him and the remaining parent is here, I can't be somebody who lied to them. They have to know that I'm going to tell the truth, even if it's not easy.” Like he said, kids are very, very resilient. They did better than we did. They wanted an answer and I didn't have one, so I said-
Gary: You knew how resilient kids were because you'd lost both your parents. When you ask the question, "Why not me?" I mean, just being blunt with you but honestly, I think I would say, "Why not me? Because I've already suffered enough." I was orphaned at 12 years-
Matt: Or why me? Why me I've already suffered enough. I said why not me.
Gary: Yes, I would say why me. Thank you for correcting me there.
Matt: That's what I do best, Gary.
Gary: Making me kind of get straightened out in my life. Yes, I think a lot of us would say, "Why? That's enough. I can't handle anything more." That's usually where the 'why' question comes in. If you can handle it, you don't ask it. When it seems to break that threshold of this biblical promise of-- I shouldn’t be doing air quotes when I say biblical promise.
Because we take it the wrong way that he's not going to give you more than you can bear. It seems like, wow. It seems like there's always more than we can bear so we don't understand-- Either we don't understand how much we can bear or we don't understand how much grace there is that seems like we're not being able to bear it, but I think I'd be asking why. That's cool that you didn't, I think that probably bought some security to your little girls.
Matt: Well, I did get to a point with some other things which I'm sure we will touch on here in a minute where I did say, "Why?"
Matt: Oh, you bet I did.
Gary: I mean, that's really what— Our conversation here today, for me, the strength behind what I wanted to communicate—and I knew this was you guys' story—was how God could show you guys such favor and grace and prosperity and blessing and use you to impact the world; and yet, at the same time, you guys have to bear up under such horrible pain and sorrow and suffering.
It's a powerful message because I think we're in an age and a culture now where we're no longer buying the line of "If you just confess, it's going to be fine. Because you're a Christian, you're not going to suffer." I think we're past that now, and I think we need to hear stories like yours that say, "Through it all, I've learned to trust in God." That's your story.
Deanne: When he had cancer, there was a verse that I kept. It says, "Many are the afflictions." That's where we stop at, “but He delivers them from them all.” So, I had to go, "Okay, I don't know when, and I don't know how, but I'm going to have to trust that we do come out the other side." You don't remember a whole lot of scriptures when you're going through that because stress does different things to you.
Matt: "Jesus wept." I remember that one.
Deanne: [laughs] There are a few things that you just latch onto. Currently, for this whole year's just been to take all thoughts captive. If we don't, we can go down the bunny hole and we can ask why. We can go, "God, I don't trust you." I don't think that God has any issues going, you know what? I did get to a point at one point, not after cancer but at some point, I just said, "If this is the best you've got for me after 35 years of full-time ministry, visiting 50 countries, working with widows and orphans. If this is my reward, I've served the wrong person. I'm out."
It didn't last long, but I just had to go ahead and say that. I'd watched him suffer, I'd watched our kids suffer, I'd watch friends suffer. I just went, "Price is too high." If this is what full-time ministry looks like, the price is too high because everybody that I care about is-- I don't want to say under attack, they were just walking through hard seasons.
Gary: I love the fact that you're so honest like that. It speaks so much. We were talking about earlier Matt when you were young and saw God as the-- Oh no, you were mentioning that. I don’t know who it was.
Matt: One of you is-
Gary: -God being sort of like angry and distant, going to strike you, and stuff like that. You could say that, and He doesn't do that. He's a good, good Father and He wants you to speak to Him about our pain and our suffering. I think so many Christians hide it. They say, "I could never tell God I'm angry at him because then He would strike me dead or He would give me cancer."
When you say that, it shows what kind of image of God you have. You don't have an image of a good, good Father. You have an image of a Zeus with lightning bolts ready to shoot at you and stuff. So, the fact that you'd say that [crosstalk]
Deanne: Well, I knew He already knew I felt that way. I'm not keeping anything from God, he knows. [chuckles]
Matt: The Lord doesn't suffer from an inferiority complex. We're not going to shock Him with anything we could possibly come out there and say.
Deanne: For me, for saying that, I felt like my relationship with God can grow deeper because He could say, "Well, let's process through that."
Gary: Yes. He loves to do that, doesn't He?
Gary: To walk you through it. To get you to believe these scriptures that we quote so flippantly sometimes or songs we sing.
Matt: All things work together for good.
Gary: Yes, you can say it flippantly but if you process it through the pain and suffering then you come out going, "I think I, not fully but I think I understand that a lot more in-depth."
When he had cancer, there was a verse that I kept. It says, "Many are the afflictions." That's where we stop at, “but He delivers them from them all.” So, I had to go, "Okay, I don't know when, and I don't know how, but I'm going to have to trust that we do come out the other side." – Deanne Ward
When Matt found out he had cancer and people said, "Are you angry or upset?" The first thing that came out of his mouth is, "Why not me? Why would I be exempt from anything that— I'm living in a fallen, broken world. People get sick. Life happens. Crises come and go. Why would I be exempt from that?" – Deanne Ward
He's a good, good Father and He wants you to speak to Him about our pain and our suffering. I think so many Christians hide it. They say, "I could never tell God I'm angry at him because then He would strike me dead or He would give me cancer." When you say that, it shows what kind of image of God you have. You don't have an image of a good, good Father. You have an image of a Zeus with lightning bolts ready to shoot at you. – Gary Wilkerson
Resources Mentioned in the Podcast
Matthew Ward was one of the voices that helped create the sound of contemporary Christian music. He started as part of the 70s group, 2nd Chapter of Acts, which is credited with changing the sound of Christian music. Matthew is a singer, songwriter, and producer. He has released 9 solo albums, and 15 albums as part of the 2nd Chapter of Acts. He has recorded or performed with more than 50 contemporary Christian artists. As well as singing a duet with pop-diva Donna Summer and background vocals on other songs including the No. 1 hit She Works Hard for the Money.
Deanne Ward is CEO of Ward Consulting and has worked for more than 30 years in collaborative partnerships with non-profits. She has served on a number of boards, including Caring Hands, Friendship International, Mission Outfitter, and Kids Crossing. Deanne’s passion is to impact the lives of others for the cause of Christ. She has traveled to more than 50 countries with this purpose. She has worked with various churches, ministries, and non-profits, establishing and cultivating leadership teams. Some include, Colorado Springs Mission, David C. Cook, World Challenge, Habitat for Humanity, Family Talk, Navigators, and New Life Church. Deanne currently resides in Colorado Springs with her singer/songwriter husband, Matthew Ward.
Gary Wilkerson is the President of World Challenge, an international mission organization that was founded by his father, David Wilkerson. He is also the Founding Pastor of The Springs Church, which he launched in 2009 with a handful of people. He has traveled nationally and internationally at conferences and conducted mission ventures such as church planting, starting orphanages, clinics, feeding programs among the poorest of the poor and the most unreached people of the earth. Gary and his wife Kelly have four children and live in Colorado Springs, CO.