Living Through Years of Plenty, Years of Lack

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Preston Hipp stands by a cross he salvaged from St. Philips Church

by Preston Hipp

In Genesis 41, Pharaoh has a dream about seven sleek and fat cows grazing among the reeds. Then seven ugly and gaunt cows came out of the Nile River and ate the seven sleek and fat cows. God gave the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream to a young Hebrew prisoner named Joseph. The seven sleek and fat cows represented seven years of bumper crops. The seven ugly and gaunt cows represented seven years of draught and failed crops.

My life has been a variation of Pharaoh’s dream. As a real estate developer, 2000 to 2007 Face shot smilingwere “sleek and fat” years for me. I enjoyed great health and financial success. I was in my forties during this period. I loved to work out, was in fantastic condition, and rarely got sick. I never went to a doctor but planned on getting a physical when I turned 50 on May 23, 2009. The development business I ran with my brother, Charley Hipp, was doing exceptionally well. I was happily married to Laura Wichmann Hipp and really enjoying life with our three daughters, Olivia, Delia, and Victoria.

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Preston, Laura, Olivia, Victoria, and Delia Hipp with Laura’s mother, Marianne Wichmann

THE GAUNT COWS GOBBLE UP THE FAT COWS

In the third quarter of 2008, the real estate bubble popped, taking the banking industry with it. My vocation was thrown upside down in the explosion. On September 8, 2008, I found out I had an aggressive prostate cancer. Several body scans showed the cancer had already migrated out of my prostate gland — or was close enough to the edge — to rule out surgery.

I went through radiation in the winter of 2009. During this period, my brother came down with leukemia. In the 1990s, Charley had survived large T-cell lymphoma, so he was familiar with the challenges of cancer. Once again, Charley went through the chemotherapy process fighting like a tiger but with a loving spirit that was an inspiration to everyone around him. Initially, we were hopeful: Charley won a hard-fought victory over the leukemia using own his bone marrow harvested and frozen since 1993. Sadly, the victory was short lived. The leukemia came back at the end of 2009. Charley’s determination to conquer his cancer was legionary. Unfortunately, he died of a heart aneurism on February 10, 2010 at age 63.

Shortly after that, my PSA numbers started going up again, indicating my prostate cancer was still active.  Prostate cancer needs testosterone to grow like a fire needs oxygen to burn. Removing the testosterone does not kill the cancer but slows its growth dramatically. In the summer of 2012, I received my first hormone shot. Hot flashes were a side effect. I laugh that I have great empathy for all my female friends going through menopause as well search-1as for pregnant women with compressed bladders. One of the creeds of prostate cancer patients is never pass a bathroom. Perhaps worst of all, because the shot blocks my body’s ability to produce testosterone, I have lost a great deal of muscle mass. I feel withered, as if I have aged 12 years in the last two.

 

THE LONELIEST PLACE IN THE WORLD

Despite my devotion to Christ, I have been wrestling with the “ugly and gaunt” years. Why me? Had I offended God in some unknown way? Was there some hidden lesson to learn before God would remove the curses? Would I ever return to the land of plenty?

Loneliness stalks me. While I am extremely blessed with a loving wife, extended family, life-long friends, and a wonderful church community, there are some roads you are forced to walk alone. Sometimes a crowded room is the loneliest place in the world.

My best therapist is my Springer Spaniel, Chester. He is my constant companion and never DSC_0334says a word. His ministry is one of presence and not advice. Advice usually sounds hollow in a solitary valley anyway.

Trials and hardships are exceptionally good at getting you closer to God. You think you are close to God in times of plenty, but there is always an element of independence and self-satisfaction. This affliction of pride is so subtle you usually miss it, but it can really obstruct your relationship with God. Ironically, it takes a severe trial to grasp in your gut what the Bible means by finding joy in hardship.

Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.  James 1:12

Faith is clinging to the belief in God’s unshakable goodness while walking the dark and difficult path. Trust me: there is still plenty of frustration, anxiety and panic in my life. My fears are like the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone. They are not constant, but they are predictable. I have an uncanny ability to wake up at 3 in the morning.  This drove me crazy until I realized God was waking me up to spend some uncluttered time with him. Now I wake up and say, “Oh, hi God, anyone you want me to pray for tonight?” Or I spend time thanking God for my life’s blessings. You never conquer your fears but with God’s help, you can weaken their grip on you tremendously.

 “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of the rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”  Titus 3:4-5

The “washing” often feels like God is using a hammer and chisel to carve off the unwanted parts of me. God is carving me out of a block of wood that has been imprisoning me. Viewed from this lens, suffering becomes less of an enemy and almost a friend. The process is very scary and hurts, but you start to lose your fear because you understand the trial has a purpose in your life from a loving God. The more you see of God, the more of him you want to see. “Stuff” loses its appeal compared to knowing God. Surrendering your will and fully turning to God creates a depth to the relationship that is far more satisfying than anything this world can offer.

GOD WHISPERS 

You become more open to hearing God.

DSC_0335For example: recently I was on my way to an early morning Bible study led by my nephew Matt Pridgen. I am typically very observant of the road in front of me, but halfway up the Cooper River Bridge, a blob appeared out of nowhere thirty feet ahead in the pre-dawn darkness. There was no way to avoid it, so under the car it went. Clunk. The object had more heft than I had hoped. It hit hard and got stuck under my Ford Escape. When I looked out my window, I saw sparks coming from under the SUV.

Apparently I had run over a piece of scrap sheet metal going 60 miles per hour. No one wants to stop and block traffic on that congested bridge, but clearly I could not drag this crushed metal thing any farther. I was really in a jam when blue lights pierced the darkness; the car immediately behind me was a City of Charleston Police cruiser. We both made for the far right lane and stopped. After getting out, I lay down on the concrete bridge deck to assess the damage. The sheet metal was jammed under my suspension, and it wouldn’t budge when I pushed, pulled, and vigorously worked to free it. The policeman and I finally wrestled the object out after 15 minutes of exhaustive effort under my car. He wanted to leave it on side in the hiker/biker lane and be done with it. “No,” I said, surprising him. “I want to take it to Bible study to show them why I am late.”

I thanked the officer profusely for his help and went to get in my car. As my hand grabbed the door handle, out of the corner of my eye I caught the bright orange full moon setting over the western horizon. God spoke to me, saying, “Preston, I placed the piece of sheet metal on the bridge in front of your car. The policeman represents the help I will send you. You will have to struggle intensely but I will give you the victory. Do not lose hope.” I did not hear the voice with my ears but it was very clear in my head.

 PRAYING WITH THE WAITRESS

The Bible study was wonderfully uplifting and afterwards, Matt and I went to breakfast. Matt is the most on-fire Christian I know, and he always asks the server if there is something we can pray about for her. Often this exchange is awkward because the server is not expecting this question and he or she is focused on the task of bringing our food. This time was different. The waitress, who appeared to be about 25 years old, had lost a teaching job. She was waitressing to make ends meet until another job was available. She shared this story freely, and Matt started praying for her. She immediately started joyfully weeping; a burden was lifted from her life and replaced with the peace that passes all understanding.

searchLater that night, I was crossing the Cooper River Bridge again when I saw the alluring full moon rising in the east. I chuckled to myself, remembering my earlier struggle and God’s reassuring promise.

The next morning I still had that mangled sheet metal in the rear of my car. Impulsively, I decided to nail the unsightly scrap to one of the trees in the yard at my office. Another one of my nephews and I work in a converted ranch house, so we have plenty of space and autonomy over the grounds. I usually keep a box of 16-penny nails in my storage building, but this time I could only find one ridiculously large nail about the size of a pencil. As I pierced the sheet metal with the thick nail, the symbolism hit me like a ton of bricks. Jesus loved me enough to be nailed to a cross and to die for my sins.

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Every day I make a point of saying a prayer with my hand on that sheet metal. One of my prayers is for this season of “ugly and gaunt cows” to end, but if it does not, at least I know God is with me. Unlike many cases of prostate cancer, mine is expected to shorten my life. Eventually, the effectiveness of the shots will wane, allowing the cancer to wake up and spread. I try not to think about it, but when I report for my scheduled check ups, I am forced to consider this menace lurking within me.

Despite this, if I died today, I would not feel cheated. I have enjoyed more blessings in 54 years than many people receive in 80 years.

Looking again at Pharaoh’s dream, we see God using the prophecy of famine to deliver Joseph from prison and exalt him to the second-highest position in Egypt. As the story ends, Joseph stands in splendor before his long-lost Hebrew brothers, the same guys who had betrayed him and sold him into slavery when he was young. Here the former slave and prisoner forgives his brothers, famously declaring that God produced good out of their evil intentions. Romans 8:28 offers this same profound hope, promising that God works all things together for good for those who love him.

I pray some part of my rambling is an encouragement to you. Don’t give up if you feel like you are not getting it. Just keep asking God to reveal Himself to you in a fresh way. That is what He wants, so He won’t let you down. Enjoy the journey.

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37 thoughts on Living Through Years of Plenty, Years of Lack

  1. Thank you Preston; too late to say it in person, but thank you. I’m just a friend of one of your friends. You have left behind real hope for me and many more of us. -R

  2. Boy! I need to reread this writing of my husband more often! Especially needful is when I’m on the elevator descending, not knowing how deep the bottom is. And people think we are strong! Ha!

  3. Dear Preston,

    It’s late on a Saturday night, or rather early Sunday morning, and somehow I was lead to your website. I am distressed to hear of your challenges. When I lived in Charleston I always thought of you and Laura as the most loving and charming of people.

    Let’s go back a good many years, shall we? I remember you portraying Gabriel in the Christmas celebration at St Philips. Do you remember? You looked quite the part, I can tell you! I’ve always remembered it. At first there were some giggles from your friends, but I found it both appropriate and inspiring. My prayer is that the bearer of good news will be with you.

    I remain in faith offering prayers for your good health and that of your family.

    Alexa Wilde

    • Alexa, I am glad my story blessed you.
      God has seen me through many ups
      and downs since then. He is good and faithful.
      I remember being the Angel Gabriel very well, including the good-natured ribbing I took for it. I pray God’s blessings in your life. Preston

  4. Your faith is an inspiration, Preston.
    Love to you and your family, Susan Maguire

  5. Preston, I continue to lift you and Laura in prayer. How precious you are in God’s eyes and mine. You will never know what a blessing you have been in my life. I love you and your entire family.

  6. Thank you, Preston, for sharing ths, your journey, and your faith. I will share it with Taylor and Cooper. We will continue to keep you in our prayers. God’s Peace.

    Cindy

  7. Thank you so much for sharing. I could picture your experience on the bridge vividly and will look for that beautiful moon as I drive over it as a reminder of God’s presence, faith and perseverance. Blessings Preston, blessings! Kerri

  8. Preston-I can tell you with full conviction that I was divinely led to your blog. I did not know you were enduring this health crisis so just know that I will keep you and your family close in prayer. God, in his mighty grace, used you as a vessel to speak to my heart just at the moment when I needed a word. About 2 weeks ago, our 24 year old son, Tommy, was operated on for testicular cancer, and as the tumor was small, the surgeon was encouraged. However, through additional testing (blood markers and ct scan), it was determined that his cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and lungs and he is now having to have a brain MRI. Also, unfortunately, I had just faced a cancer trial with my sister (who lives down the street from us) whose husband recently died of pancreatic cancer. Tommy will have to endure 12 weeks of intense chemo with a good prognosis considering the metastasis. I, immediately, went into fear and doubt mode, the antithesis of our faith. However, on coming upon your blog, I was reminded that faith is developed through perseverance, and that we can not always remain in the land of plenty where we tend to stagnate and become complacent and worldly. I see that you are using your situation to bear witness to the fact that you can still smile through the pain; that you can find joy in the ashes. Two things that have resonated loud in my soul are that God is a God of second chances; and the verse Hebrews 11:1 -“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” I am trying to view this life event through a spiritual lens, that it will have a better outcome than what it first appears. Tommy is a believer but he has not immersed himself into his faith. A few months ago before all of this, a casual friend asked to pray with me and she prayed that someone would come into my childrens’ lives to mentor them. I believe Tommy will grow closer to the Lord through this ordeal and that survivors’ stories are already strongly affecting him now. We will never be the same. I am praying that the Lord help me to have strength and not falter; to have dignity that you so clearly display and hold on to and remember Romans 8:28. It isn’t easy but it is what we are called to do. I want to thank you for your transparency and witness. Time is truly irrelevant as this is just our temporary home. Sitting on a bench at Waterfront Park the other day with my son, I felt a closeness we had never had before and felt like a lifetime was lived in one singular moment. .. In Christ, Adelaide

    • Adelaide, Thank you for your kind words. I am very sorry to hear about Tommy. We need all the encouragement we can get! I am blessed to know my story helps strengthen you for your difficult journey. I will pray for you and pray our paths will cross soon. With love in Christ, Preston

  9. You are such a precious person Preston. I enjoyed reading your words. Both you and Laura are powerful witnesses on this journey we are all sharing. Love in Christ, Joan Hitt Algar

  10. This blog was recommended by a fellow member of Church Creek Presbyterian. When I saw your photo I thought “I know that guy!” I have worked with your wife on past occasions with tour groups. Thank you for your testimony to God’s goodness in the lean cow years. Your story was a blessing to me.

  11. Dear Preston, every time I see you at Hollings, I shout out a prayer, ” O God, not this sweet and holy man!” But He alone knows the number of our days and His purposes are higher and more wondrous than anyone can imagine. May He continue to enfold you in the deep recesses of His heart reserved only for those faithful ones given a cup of such suffering. Bless you, dear brother. This revealing of your soul’s journey has strengthened my own resolve to love and serve Jesus no matter what.
    Susan Keller

  12. There are times when we all face painful struggles and wonder why God has set us on a difficult journey. We need the comfort and encouragement of our loving Heavenly Father and of one another. The ultimate answer to life’s questions lies in Jesus Christ, not in simply acknowledging him, but in living under his grace. This is what Preston is modeling for us, every day, every step along the way. His love for his wife and children, his love for his family and friends, his love for his church, his love for his dog, and most of all, his love and absolute trust in God, speak volumes about his integrity and character. Preston, yours is truly a life well spent, and we salute you.

  13. Dear Preston, Thank you for sharing. And thank you for your obedience to the Lord no matter the circumstance just like Joseph. I have often thought about the fact that Joseph never tried to escape and run back home. He let the Lord set out his path and wherever God put him, God caused him to prosper, even in the jail-and God used him-because Joseph let God use him. That is you Preston, you are at peace, trusting your Father that He has you where he wants you. But I am praying and trusting also that just like Joseph and Job, the best is yet to come for you. Brother, may your next “season” be filled with blessings beyond your imagination.

  14. Thank you, Preston. I copied down your last paragraph and taped it to the mirror on my desk. I needed the encouragement. Have been in a “hole” lately. We pray for you every night.
    God bless,
    Terry

  15. Preston my friend you are a faithful witness for me and to so many;i am thankful for this
    every day. I love ya.

  16. Preston
    You are solid, I feel like you are a hovering angel.
    Likewise, re: Chester. My Roscoe gave me 5 years of an unequal connection.

  17. Thanks Preston God’s love strength and grace radiate from you and bless us all.

  18. Your musings were a blessing to me. They reminded me of a comment that I got from Pete McCoy who is fighting pancreatic cancer. His comment was don’t waste you cancer by not being faithful and using it as a witness tool. Praise God!!!!

  19. Wow! You are truly are WARRIOR for Christ! Your words are an amazing testimonial of your faithfulness. May God continue to shower you with grace and light! Xoxo Becky

  20. Great stuff Preston. It was yesterday you graced me with your cheerful presence. Thank you for sharing some of your walk with God! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Today is Williams 13th birthday and I am sending him your link. I hope he has the patience to read through it.

  21. Preston – thank you for sharing that. You made me laugh and brought tears to my eyes. Years ago you sent me such kind and encouraging words when you saw an article about the work I was doing with MUSC Children’s Hospital. I still have that note. I was so proud that you thought that I was doing a good thing (although I was just doing what I enjoyed)! Keep up the good fight. God is definitely with you and you are sharing his Grace by including us in your journey. You are in my prayers.

    Linda Novello Hydrick

  22. Preston, thank you for sharing your story of God’s faithfulness and giving Him the glory. I also appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable so we know how to pray. In Christ, Amy

  23. Preston, You talked about the ministry of presence. You have been Christ’s presence to me, from a distance, in tender and unassuming ways. Thank you for being the fragrant aroma of Christ to me and others. I am grateful for you, Laura and your family. Lovingly, as your sister in Christ, Martha (Vetter)

  24. Preston, what a treasure your thoughts are. I’m undone knowing what you are going through; I am encouraged by the way you are going through it. I greatly appreciate knowing more about what you are enduring – physically, spiritually and emotionally. I love how you apply scripture to reshape your own attitude and how you have used scripture to reshape mine so many times. Much love.

  25. Preston: Thank you for sharing your years of plenty and years of lack. What a beautiful testimony. God has used you in a mighty way and continues to do so. Hebrews 12:1, God’s peace, comfort, joy, wisdom and love to you and your family. Laurie

  26. What a wonderful and wonderfully written story. This week, I have been meditating on Romans 8:28,
    “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. ” God has truly blessed my life greatly by knowing Preston Hipp and I thank God for his witness.
    ~Martha

  27. Preston–thank you for sharing your story. I can relate to much of what you said and now I know better how to pray for you. We can have that confidence and trust amidst our circumstances! Jeremiah 17:7,8 Love and peace to you, Tracy

  28. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. I am convinced God is pleased with your faith. Your story is a powerful example of living in victory in suffering. I will continue to keep you, your family and Chester in my prayers. In Christ, Marnie

  29. Thank you, sweet and faithful brother in Jesus. Your life and words are light and life to many. Beloved in the LORD, receive each moment of every day His smile of favor and love! Thankful to be your sister, Suzy

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