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An interview with Dr. Jen Jensen by President Randall A. Bach

Part two below

In August of 2017 President Randall A. Bach interviewed Dr. Jen Jensen about her family’s journey.

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 11.15.54 AMDr. Jennifer Jensen and her husband, Mike, worked hard to achieve their life goals. By the year 2013, they had both attained the careers of their dreams and had three beautiful, talented daughters. Jennifer owned her own chiropractic clinic, the Worldwide Wellness Center, in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Mike was a gifted college vocal instructor and worship leader. Unfortunately their world turned upside down when Mike was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

Randall: Your husband, Mike, has been very gifted musically. He was happy making an impact on young people in his job as a vocal instructor and ministry as a worship leader. And then something happened.

Jennifer: Mike is an amazing worship leader, singer, and songwriter and has such a heart for God. He was a vocal music instructor at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, for many years and served as a worship director at a large church in Cedar Falls. He came in very edgy with a huge heart for God. He also led a team of students in music ministry at Wartburg. Every year they would go on tour for music ministry.

In October of 2012 Mike had a seizure. We didn’t know why it happened so we kind of let it go. It was a Saturday in the middle of the night. The next morning he got up and went to church and led worship for three services as always.

Mike loves to worship.

Mike loves to worship.

The following February Mike had a second seizure severe enough that it dislocated his shoulder, so we went to see a neurologist. All the tests were normal, so we scheduled an MRI for two weeks out after his return from a ministry tour with Wartburg students. When he returned and had the MRI, they found a brain tumor.

Randall: Tell us about his condition and how this has affected him.

Jennifer: Mike had brain surgery in May 2013 to remove the tumor. The medical team had warned us that it would come back again, but they thought it would appear in the same location so they could treat it by scooping the tumor out again and placing chemotherapy wafers in the brain.

Mike was so strong and so unchanged for the rest of 2013 and in 2014. At first he continued to work. Part of our promise to each other was “whatever happens, let’s keep the kids’ schedules normal.” We didn’t want them to stop doing anything that was important to them, so we continued going to competitions, recitals, dances, and concerts. Everything stayed the same; we just also did Mike’s treatment. The whole time Mike kept saying, “God is good and I’m going to be just fine. Don’t look at what’s online; don’t look at statistics because this is my journey and this is how I’m going to come out with this, and we’re going to be fine.”

Mike (in front) on set with childhood friend and bandmate Ryan Durista and actor Randy Coleman, who plays Mike in the movie.

Mike (in front) on set with childhood friend and bandmate Ryan Durista and actor Randy Coleman, who plays Mike in the movie.

In 2015 that all changed. When we went in for a regular six-month checkpoint MRI in February, the neurosurgeon found a recurrence of the tumor in an inoperable location. That was a surprise to the entire medical team. The intense radiation and treatment caused extensive damage resulting in changes to Mike’s abilities and speech.

Randall: You’ve been in the process of discovering a new normal, haven’t you?

Jennifer: Yes, absolutely. Each day we don’t know what to expect. One day he may have fairly good memory. One day he may not know he’s home. He’s really been more affected in the last six to eight months. With chemotherapy one’s memory, concentration, speech, and balance are all affected. As far as prognosis, his tumor has been unchanged for the past two years. We are so grateful for that because it is an aggressive tumor.

I would like to share some of his journal with you so you can hear his thoughts. This is the first page of his journal from March of 2013.

I’m on the end of week two knowing that I have a brain tumor. What a crazy roller coaster of emotions. The first couple of days were seriously the worst days of my life. I didn’t think I was strong enough to make it and I thought I would snap. Realizing I have to develop peace with the journey I realized I had forgotten two important things: I need God and I need to be strong for my girls.

Randall: Sometimes people talk about painful valleys and that it’s in those places you see God and understand things differently than before. Has that happened to you?

Jennifer: It has, but we are still so in it. We are so deep in treatment. We are so hopeful that there is healing still to come. People have said things like “my cancer battle was the most beautiful time in my life.” Those comments have been almost abrasive to me. I’m so thankful they had a beautiful journey, but for us, I don’t see beauty in cancer. I’ve seen cancer take such a beautiful mind, and I don’t see the beauty in it and I’ll share that with people. One close friend of ours said, “Jen, I know you don’t see the beauty in what is happening, but everybody around you sees beauty in how you and Mike are handling this.”

So that’s the beauty, I guess. There is no beauty in illness; however, you do see God in a different way. The only way to stay sane through something so tragic and terrifying like this is to compartmentalize. For example last night when I was on an ice cream date with my youngest daughter, I was “right there,” and I see the beauty in that moment. When she’s scared I’ll see her drop to her knees and pray and I see beauty in that. I see my kids who can’t go to Dad and say, “Dad, what do you think about this?” (because his speech is affected), and they’ll ask God for guidance. I see beauty there. I see it transforming our children … people around us, myself included. Before Mike and I had a work-hard, play-hard attitude. We would work really hard and look forward to our next vacation, which may have been six months to a year away. Now we look forward to the simple beauties.

Randall: I agree with those other people. Your testimony is a testament to the presence of God in your life, so while you’re “zoned in,” people around you are recognizing God is with you. You obviously draw strength from Mike’s journal. Are there any passages of Scripture that have become meaningful?

Jennifer: Mike and I both share the same Scripture, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He has worn it on a band on his wrist since the day he was diagnosed.

Its significance has to do with the timing of his diagnosis. On March 21 after Mike had the MRI, I dropped him off back at work. It was business as usual. I had to go to work too, so I said, “I will see you later back at the house.” On my way to work my phone rang. I looked at the clock and thought, I shouldn’t even take this call; I have to be at work in 14 minutes, so I knew the time of the call was 3:16. I did take the call, only to hear a nurse’s voice saying, “We found something. You need to be here tomorrow morning at 8:30.”

It was one of those moments where you have to pull the car over, and I said, “What did you find?”

She said, “I can’t tell you that, but you need to be here tomorrow at 8:30 and meet with a surgeon to see if your husband is going to have brain surgery or if he’s just going to start chemotherapy.”

Thirty seconds before that Mike and I had been thinking, “This is so silly; we have work to do.”

Mike compared the moment to a roller coaster ride, that moment when you feel the earth drop out from underneath you. Maybe the time, 3:16, was God’s way of saying “I also love you. I so love you.”

Randall: How do you deal with the overwhelming challenges that are now part of your daily life?

Jennifer: Mike and I joke, “How did we fast forward through the best part of our lives?” How did we work so hard through school to put ourselves in the position where we have the careers of our dreams and then not be able to enjoy that time where we can just focus on our children and on our jobs because at age 39 Mike was diagnosed with brain cancer? All of a sudden we are in a cancer fight. We’re going to doctors’ appointments, and here four years later Mike is needing significant care. We say, “How did we suddenly turn 95 years old?” You work to watch your children succeed. We have a daughter in college, one in high school, and a nine-year-old. This is part of their battle as well. So we’re doing all the things normal forty-year-old parents should do, and we’re also doing a cancer battle which is a full-time job on its own.

I continue to work in my clinic and that has continued to grow. Whatever I am doing I give everything I have in the moment whether I am with my children or at work or with my husband or meeting with doctors. I also research to find the best treatments. We are so blessed to have two retired moms. On Mondays and Tuesdays my mom comes and gives full-time care to Mike and on Wednesdays and Thursdays his mother comes. Without them I’m not sure what our lives would look like. They’ve given their time and their care. Of course there’s no better care than what your mom can give.

Randall: You are part of the Waverly Open Bible Church in Waverly, Iowa, pastored by Matt Miller. Have they come alongside as well?

Jennifer: Absolutely. Mike’s biggest challenge right now is that he doesn’t understand why he can’t go to work. His heart is still in a place of leading worship. It’s all he’s ever done and he is so good at it. He still has a story to share, so I have to be his voice now. He still has so much love for God and he can still help people in so many ways, but we are trying to figure out how because he isn’t in front of 500 people worshiping. He isn’t impacting students’ lives. Even with our children, it’s hard for him to have a deep, meaningful conversation other than silent prayer. My deepest prayer was “How can I help Mike still accomplish his life goal?”

That’s where Open Bible was just beautiful. We were needing a local church home. My middle child, who had been active in their youth ministry, told us, “You’ve got to come to Open Bible. You will love it there. Dad will love the music. It’s contemporary worship.”

We were unsure but we went. Pastor Matt Miller was so loving and welcoming to us in a completely new way. Mike had always been “up there” and now he was in a pew next to me, so we were trying to figure where we fit into a church. So for Mike, Matt said, “Do you want to play? Do you want to sing? You can do that here. Do you need a chair to sit down? We are not a performance-based church; we are a worship-based church. We don’t care if you’re going to forget the next line. You worship the Lord how you know to worship. We welcome you.”

That was such a beautiful relief for us because Mike had always been on top of his game and musically he hasn’t been for about a year. And they didn’t care. It was so beautiful.

Diana Johnson, Hayden Wyatt (who plays Jennifer), Naomi Jensen, Jennifer Jensen, Director Brian Ide, Alexandria Jensen, and Michael Jensen at the red carpet premier in Beverly Hills.

Diana Johnson, Hayden Wyatt (who plays Jennifer), Naomi Jensen, Jennifer Jensen, Director Brian Ide, Alexandria Jensen, and Michael Jensen at the red carpet premier in Beverly Hills.

Randall: You mentioned a movie. What’s happening with the movie?

The movie poster for This Day Forward.

The movie poster for This Day Forward.

Jennifer: The movie has certainly been the work of God. It’s beyond anything I could have imagined, beyond anything the human hand could construct. A friend of ours, Brian Ide, a Wartburg graduate who has been making movies for about 16 years as a director/producer, contacted me last fall and said, “We want to tell your story.” It was supported by his church in Beverly Hills as part of their mission work.

It’s a faith-based movie, filmed in Waverly in our home. The working title is When Faith and Fear Collide. [It is now called This Day Forward.] We gave creative license to be able to develop a story based on the title’s themes: Why do bad things happen to good people and what are you going to do when that happens?

Randall: Some people are just now entering their “freefall” experience. What would you like to share with them?

Jennifer: There is going to be tragedy whether it’s a diagnosis, a loss of a job, or loss of a relationship. There is darkness in the world. How do we get up the next morning? What are you going to do? What are you going to lean on?

For me, my husband was my rock. The hardest part for me was seeing him fearful because in 21 years of marriage I don’t think I’ve ever seen him scared. All of a sudden I have to be his rock. Where does my strength come from? It comes from knowing that you can raise your frequency and you can have the Holy Spirit in you, through you, and surrounding you to take you to a place of strength. You have to purposely get yourself there, whether from prayer or song or reading. You have to pull from whatever your strength is, from that song or that Bible verse, or a talk with a friend. You have to pull from your strength, even if it is for five minutes.

This is not a cancer story or a tumor story; those have already been written. The goal is to have everyone who sees the movie say, “That’s my story. This is a thought-provoking theme that I am going to take from that. This is how I’m going to change my life so I can be a stronger person to help anyone around me who needs help.”

Randall: You know you are not alone, don’t you?

Jennifer: There is nothing I do alone. I am so grateful. When I pray, I don’t ask for things. I figure the Lord knows what I need more than I do. I pray the Lord will work through me to help someone that needs help. There is nothing beautiful about loss. My children and I have been mourning the loss of a person who is still around. We pray that changes, so we pray for healing. But we didn’t want the movie to be another Christian movie where if you pray more or read your Bible more everything will turn out fine, because we’re not fine. That’s not the case for a lot of people. Tragedy happens. What are you going to do with it? I know there is a plan. It might not be my plan, but there’s a plan.

Part Two

About The Author

Message
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Since 1920, Message of the Open Bible has been a medium to celebrate all the wonderful things God is doing through His people in Open Bible Churches – from personal testimonies, to news-related stories, to inspirational articles by quality authors.