Blog by Sarah Hummel
Dave and I met on Memorial Day 1997. It was the opening day of the pool season at the apartment complex where Dave lived in Virginia Beach, I was the lifeguard. We spent a lot of time together that summer. I worked at the pool full time, and Dave worked from home as a music composer/producer. We would sit and talk for hours and realized we both had a lot in common. We knew we were in love by the end of the summer.
Dave and I dated just under three years. We had both grown up in church as children and saw value in church, but we didn’t feel that church was relevant in people’s lives today. We thought church was segregated, church was boring, and you didn’t need to go to church to have a relationship with God. But still, we were drawn to stay connected to church. If we had time and felt up to it, we would visit a church on a Sunday on occasion.
We were married on April 8, 2000. I wanted a home and children right away, but I could see Dave’s career was not appearing to settle down anytime soon. He was always getting calls to work in studios in Virginia Beach, LA, or NY. He was talented and had such a love for making music. I knew that we should follow his dream to see where it led. We got a royalty check for $5,000 in the mail and decided we should move to LA.
We arrived in LA knowing only a few people. Dave was offered a publishing deal with Sony Music and started writing with artists right away. We were invited to a church within the first few weeks, Oasis Christian Center with Philip and Holly Wagner, and Dave felt strongly that we now needed to belong to a church. He said to me, “We go to church now.” I was surprised because I didn’t feel the urgency to belong to a church. Dave kept saying that he felt called to belong to a church and attend regularly, but he never felt right about any church we had visited. Oasis was everything he was looking for, it was culturally diverse, the messages were relevant to our lives today, the music was fun and new, the people were welcoming and excited you were there… We jumped in with both feet and knew it was home.
We had been in LA for less than 6 months when I was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma. We know now that God brought us to LA to be diagnosed and treated at UCLA Oncology and we were discipled by Oasis LA. They saved my life. It’s quite possible that I would have died if we hadn’t moved to Los Angeles. I remember we attended the Oasis version of “The Journey” classes and in one of the final weeks we told the pastor over the class that I was diagnosed with cancer. He started crying immediately. We were so surprised at his compassion. He told us that the church would be there for us and walk through it with us. He told us that he wasn’t crying because he was afraid, he was crying because he knew this would be a long journey, but he would be there for the whole thing – and they were.
From September 12, 2001 to March 2002, I did aggressive cancer treatment. I was on difficult chemo and was in and out of the hospital for pain management and treatment for a decreased immune system regularly. It was an awful time in our lives. We were scared and I was in a lot of pain. We grew closer together as a couple and we grew closer to God and our church. After a severe reaction to one of the drugs I was put on a ventilation machine in ICU for 5 days, the doctors decided to stop all treatment. The cancer was undetectable and my body couldn’t handle the maintenance chemo they wanted me to do. Instead they decided to watch me carefully.
In September 2002, I knew something wasn’t right. I was feeling low energy again. I went to the doctor for a checkup, knowing they were going to find cancer again. Sure enough, it was back. How could we possibly go through this all again?? The first time, we walked into it with this mantra “Big Bats Swinging”. We weren’t feeling so confident this time. We were exhausted and, quite literally, traumatized. We met with one of the pastors at Oasis, he told us to move closer to the church and they were going to walk through this with us, day by day.
I started treatment right away, and this time we had daily support from the church. Dozens and dozens of church members, many who were literal strangers to us, had signed up for daily shifts to take me to appointments, pick up things for us, clean our house, bring us meals, sit and talk with me, etc. And people loved signing up for it. Dave and I had decided that our home would be really fun – even with the sickness we faced. We chose to laugh a lot. We chose to keep conversation light. We chose to minister to the people coming to spend time with us – see how we could encourage them. This is the time that God called both of us to ministry AND the time where we learned church is your family when you allow it to be.
Sitting on my couch one Sunday afternoon, God spoke to me clearly that He was going to heal me that day. I called one of our pastors at home and asked if there was some special healing service at church that night. He confirmed there was. I told him, “Great – I’ll be there because God is going to heal me tonight!” It was March 2003, and God did heal me miraculously that night. I’ve never done a single cancer treatment since.
Dave and I jumped right into church life at that point. We felt ownership of our church and knew that we were doing life with our church family. Dave and I both joined the creative arts team and served with passion wherever we were needed. We also led and were members of community groups. It’s in this time that we made some of our closest friends – friends we still have to this day.
One day, in a community group meeting in the November 2005, I felt God speak to me that we should be open to being called back to live in Virginia Beach. I told Dave and he wasn’t too happy with the idea. We absolutely loved Los Angeles. We loved our church. We loved our jobs. We had incredible friends. It didn’t make sense that we would move. I explained that I didn’t have a sense of timing or reason, I just knew we had to be open to the idea. We dropped the conversation. A month later, my brother was tragically killed in action serving the United States Army in Fallujah, Iraq. He had a young wife and two kids (ages 3 and 5 months). We knew God was calling us and our 5 month old David back to Virginia to be a support system to them.
We all lived together for 3 years. It was a difficult season of walking through tremendous heartbreak and loss. It was wonderful to be with our family but we were all hurting in our own ways and dealing with our own emotion of the great loss. There was a lot of questioning God and wondering how we could ever feel faith again. Thankfully, we connected in to Wave Church right away and joined the creative arts team. We knew the importance of church family and taking ownership of your church. We thrived in community groups as well as serving teams on teams. Our sister-in-law even found an amazing new husband in Wave Church.
So much more has happened in our lives since then, we adopted a teenager, struggled with our middle son’s severe learning challenges, we’ve lost a parent and taken in a parent. Life’s struggles are an opportunity to grow if you allow God into the center of your lives. Here are some of the things we have learned to do to keep our marriage and family strong during challenging times…
1. Regular dates and lots of conversations – it was important to keep our marriage the priority
2. Intentional time with God
3. Strong involvement in church – no backing out – we served, we attended community group, we met regularly with certain friends and leaders to keep them informed – we tithed – we led community groups – we stayed fully plugged in.
4. Memorized scripture
5. Intentional time with our kids, getting to know who they were and how to engage them individually
In the midst of life’s difficulties, Dave and I keep saying to each other, “We are so blessed”. Our children are thriving in the house of God and are making great choices. Our marriage is strong. We have the most incredible friends. We get to serve God’s house and do ministry life together full time. We are full of vision and faith for our future!
I pray our story helps add strength to your story AMEN!
* Sarah Hummel is currently the Academic Dean at Wave Leadership College. She also helped introduce the Shine Girl program into many schools in Virginia Beach through her time on team at Wave City Care. Sarah has spoken at Wave Sisters previously on her health journey, as well as family life. Here are the links to listen to her previous messages