The three Morgan siblings sat with the youth group in the balcony. They leaned close together for a brief discussion as soon as the announcement from the pulpit concluded. After a moment they came to a unanimous decision. The oldest, 17 year-old Hailey, stated with great authority to her younger brothers, Saige, 13, and Mason, 11, “It’s decided then. We all agree who we will nominate for Share the Joy.” At the end of the worship service the three teens dropped their completed nomination cards in the donation boxes and then met up with their parents and youngest sibling, eight-year-old Brenna
Maise Morgan, father of Hailey, Saige, Mason and Brenna, was born December 1974 in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. He was saved at six years of age and baptized the following year at Grace Baptist Church where he and his family regularly attended. Before he could say anything more, his wife, Jenn Morgan, interjected, “I too was born in Ft Lauderdale and attended the same church and school, grades K through 12, as Maise. Recently we pulled out a yearbook and we found my first grade picture then a couple pages over we found his third grade picture. My testimony is also similar to Maise’s because I was saved at age five and I was baptized on Mother’s Day when I was eight years old.”
It is not surprising to discover that Maise and Jenn are high school sweethearts who later married in 1999 at Grace Baptist. They remained in Ft. Lauderdale for work as well as attended that same church until they moved to Pearland, Texas in September 2010 for Maise’s job. They joined Sagemont Church in January 2011. Maise recalled that it was Sagemont’s Children’s Ministry that drew him because it reminded him of their church growing up. Jenn patted his leg and said, “Maise, it was also because when we first walked into Sagemont, people greeted us and were friendly. It was that welcome factor that made us feel at home, like we were back at Grace Baptist.” After transferring their church membership, Maise and Jenn settled their four children in AdventureLand and then immediately joined the Foundations iCONNECT class where they made deep friendships that continue today.
Life for the Morgans changed November 16, 2017.
Maise reached over and held his wife’s hand. “I experienced some symptoms for a few months but I found out the week before Thanksgiving that I was diagnosed with colon cancer. I remember that vividly because that was the last time that I ate a Thanksgiving meal at my office party before I changed my diet due to the cancer.”
After receiving the devastating news, Maise and Jenn left the doctor’s office and stopped at Sagemont Church to pick up Saige. Maise recalled, “Jenn and I came into the empty auditorium and walked to the altar at the front. We got on our knees and gave it all to God. I remember praying, ‘God, this is the diagnosis and we give it to you. Please take care of our family”.
The next days were spent in personal prayer as well as notifying family and friends to specifically pray for Maise’s health. One of those phone calls Jenn made was to Mary Ann Hutchison, a friend from Foundations, who immediately shared the Morgan’s prayer needs with the rest of the class. The following day, another iCONNECT class member, Ben Homan, contacted Jenn wanting to help because at the time, he worked in the scheduling department at MD Anderson. Normally, it takes a long time to get surgeon appointments and surgeries scheduled at the leading cancer hospital, but with Ben’s help, just four days later, Maise and Jenn met with their new oncologist who immediately began ordering tests. A few days later they received the disheartening news that the scans of his lymph nodes near his colon were lit up with cancer cells. At that time it was determined that Maise’s colon cancer was stage 3.
On December 12, less than a month after the original diagnosis, Maise and Jenn met for a first consult with a world renowned surgeon. Thanks to Ben, Maise was the first patient of the day. When the surgeon’s Physician’s Assistant met them, she confirmed that Maise would need surgery to remove the cancer from his colon. Usually, the surgeon did not have openings for three to four months so she was surprised to discover that minutes before the Morgans arrived there was a cancellation. Jenn immediately spoke up and said, “We will take it!”
From Maise’s initial diagnosis to surgery date it was less than one month, which is unheard of in the medical field. He explained, “We were so blessed to get into see the surgeon so fast and get scheduled for surgery just two weeks later. I had wanted to have surgery before the end of the year for insurance purposes, but everyone said it most likely wouldn’t happen that fast. Since it did move so fast, I also didn’t have to have any chemo or radiation. I know it was God.”
A few days after explaining from the pulpit what the Christmas season “Share the Joy” initiative was at all the worship services, Wes Holloman, Sagemont Church’s Associate Pastor/iCONNECT, looked up from his desk as Tammy Fort, iCONNECT Ministry Assistant, approached and handed him three Share the Joy nominations. He recalled that with a big smile she pointed at the cards and said, “Wes, you have got to read these. The Joy Squad wants to bless this family.”
He read the first one written by Mason Morgan who nominated Jennifer Morgan (My Mom). “She would love a night that she does not need to cook.” The second was from Saige Morgan who wrote: “My Dad has cancer and my Mom has been scared and stressed out lately. I am the second out of four children and she does a lot for us and I want to do something for her in this stressful time.” Finally, he read the third nomination from Hailey Morgan who wrote: “My sweet, strong and courageous mother has been fighting for him (my dad) every step of the way. My mom is so strong and is always there whenever someone else needs her. Now she needs people to love on, comfort and gather around her.”
Sagemont’s Share the Joy program was originally the “brainchild” of Sagemont’s Worship and Praise Team because they wanted to do something special for the Christmas Eve services. Wes and Tammy decided to do more than just the large three Share the Joy gifts to be presented on Christmas Eve. Wes chuckled as he explained, “Share the Joy was a blast because we were able to encourage people in their time of difficulties. This past Christmas, so many were overwhelmed with so much, and I think that Share the Joy came at a perfect time.”
They assembled a group of Sagemont members and called them the Joy Squad. Wes smiled, “We had the best team in the world. The Joy Squad was fun but they also worked hard to make things happen. A lot of it was the personality of the Joy Squad members who would go out and jump up and down and get people excited about what was going on.”
Sagemont’s Joy Squad
Ann Benney•Susanna Blanchard•Marsha Brown
Olivia Daugherty•Ky Guel•Shady Henry
Madison LaRue•Martin Long•Jonathan Nuncio
Carlos Sandoval•Pete Smith•Luke Wilbanks
At the end of the 45 days, there were over 100 nominations turned in to the Joy Squad. They were able to meet the needs of 40 Share the Joy nominations with their budget as well as donations. Most of the Share the Joy gifts were small and the Share the Joy moments did not occur on stage, but the Joy Squad team members made sure each one was special. Wes shared a few examples and then laughed as he explained that everyone who got a Share the Joy gift was surprised. “We had to do some finagling and a ‘creative spin on the truth’ to make sure that they would be at the right place at the right time especially if the Share the Joy Moment occurred during church services.” What also made it meaningful was that those who nominated someone got to be a part of the Share the Joy presentation.
Handing the cards back to Tammy, Wes nodded his agreement and gave permission for the Joy Squad to start making plans to bless the Morgan family including getting their Foundations iCONNECT directors, Hudson and LeAnn Hanks in on the surprise. One phone call later, Hudson and LeAnn became the surrogate nominators because the Morgan children were so young and the Joy Squad wanted to surprise the kids as well.
LeAnn was not surprised to get the call from Wes because the Foundations iCONNECT class had already laid hands on Maise and Jenn and prayed for God’s intervention in Maise’s health the Sunday following his initial diagnosis. As a result of Share the Joy, LeAnn coordinated a meal calendar, which provided the Morgans meals several times a week for six weeks. LeAnn added, “There were members in our class that also helped make sure that their four kids were where they needed to be as well as financial gifts given to help while Maise was off of work. Several visited Maise and Jenn during their time in the hospital. It was a wonderful demonstration of generosity from so many!”
Hudson and LeAnn along with Foundations’ teacher, David Hutchison, and his wife, Mary Ann, worked with Wes to creatively come up with a plan to make sure that the entire Morgan family was present for a group prayer before the first service the week prior to his surgery. LeAnn explained, “It was a sweet time of prayer as we trusted the outcome of Maise’s surgery to the Lord! It was a fun surprise to pull off!”
Jenn teared up as she recalled the Share the Joy Moment. “We all walked up on stage together but I didn’t realize it was for me. The kids were so excited that they had nominated me. I cried and said, ‘Oh, my gosh! Are you kidding me!’. The Share the Joy Moment was incredible but also humbling to receive it. It was such a blessing because it filled such a huge need.” She chuckled, shared a smile with Maise and then added, “We have the sweetest, most thoughtful kids.”
After finding out her husband’s diagnosis, Jenn spent hours and hours online learning about colon cancer including the fact that it is the second deadliest cancer. She explained, “When Maise was diagnosed with cancer, I was the one who was a wreck. I would go to bed at night and wake up feeling like I couldn’t breathe.” Her voice broke as she continued, “I was taking pictures of him constantly… Growing up together and being together for so long…” She took a moment and then cleared her throat before she stated, “I would pray: ‘God, if this whole cancer journey means that I lose him and You are trying to teach me to just rely on You, then please help me to find peace…but Lord, I am not good with that. Let Your will be done, but not that will. Please. Please. Please!’”
Maise put his arm around Jenn’s shoulder as she wiped tears from her eyes and then turned and shared, “When I found out I had stage three cancer I was very calm. When it was happening, as a Christian, I thought: ‘Well, what is the worst thing that could happen? I would wake up in Heaven.’ Of course, it would have been a different role if she was the one diagnosed. I would have been destroyed by that. I know that it was way tougher on Jenn than it was on me.”
Not only did Share the Joy provide them with meals for six weeks but also an evening at Top Golf, a gift card at Rudy’s Barbecue as well as a VISA for $100. The very next day the first meal arrived at their house. As a direct result of their Share the Joy moment, church members began contacting Jenn that they, too, were going to bring dinners and gift cards to help. Wes added, “The outpouring by letting the church family know of the Morgans’ need was incredible. That was the beauty of Share the Joy. It was truly the hands and feet of Jesus to see how many Sagemont members were wanting to help them.”
One unexpected blessing came when Maise went to AdventureLand to pick up their youngest child, “I had walked upstairs to get Brenna and a gentleman approached me, shook my hand and said, ‘I’ll be praying for you.’ Then he handed me money. The next day that $30 was the exact amount to pay for my prescription.” Another iCONNECT class, Soul Support, contacted Hudson wanting to donate meals, but the meal calendar sign up was full so instead they took a love offering and gave the Morgans a VISA and HEB gift card to help with expenses.
Just a few days after Share the Joy, on December 13, Maise lay on the operating table as the surgeon removed a foot of his sigmoid colon as well as 43 lymph nodes. They were told that the surgery went well, but reminded them that if just one of the lymph nodes shows just one cancer cell then Maise would have to receive both chemo and radiation treatments. Immediately Jenn updated the prayer chain where she asked everyone to pray that zero cancer cells were in the lymph nodes being tested.
Jenn remained in the hospital with him for three days while her dad and his aunt came to stay and help at home. Jenn laughed, “I was so glad that they didn’t have the burden of feeding my four kids everyday. Even after Maise came home there were knocks at our door with people providing meals. You have no idea what a huge blessing it was. Everyone took care of us while I took care of Maise.”
On December 22, a week after surgery, Maise and Jenn sat holding hands waiting for the results of the pathology of the lymph nodes as well as the first post-op checkup. Jenn recalled, “Talk about being anxious! When the sweet PA walked in with the paper in her hand and she asked, ‘How are you guys?’ I just wanted to say, ‘Just tell us now!’ Her next sentence was, ‘I have never seen a better pathology report. I could have called you yesterday but I wanted to see you in person.’”
They learned that the cancer was much bigger than what they originally thought and as a result it should have done much more damage. It should have reached through Maise’s intestinal wall and sunk its wolverine claws into other parts of the area causing many satellite tumors to grow around the area but his did not. The PA shook her head and pointed at the report she still held in her hand and told the Morgans that the doctor had never seen such good margins. The surgery removed 43 lymph nodes but amazingly not a single one had any cancer cells! Jenn’s smile lit up her face as she stated, “Beyond a shadow of a doubt we know that it was a direct result from all the people praying for Maise.” Tears welled up in her eyes as she squeezed Maise’s hand, “It was just the best day because it meant I got to keep him longer.”
Maise grinned and said, “I immediately remembered that it was Saige’s 14th birthday and I thought, ’Oh good, now I get to celebrate many more birthdays with him!’ It also occurred to me that I had just turned 43 years old five days before my surgery, and the doctor removed exactly 43 lymph nodes! To me it was like God was clearly reminding me that He was intimately involved in every little detail.” His smiled faded as he added seriously, “Unfortunately, I’m not completely out of the woods yet. We are praying that everything continues to look good and no chemo or radiation is needed in the future.”
Despite the miracle that Maise was in remission, he then had to face the large debt accrued since November. Soon after Maise returned home to recuperate from the surgery, the entire Morgan family became sick with the flu. Maise shook his head at the memory, “I had used up all my vacation time and we were well into burning four weeks of no pay plus a pile of medical bills that began coming in. We had the Share the Joy meals so we knew we were being well fed but it was still overwhelming.”
It was then that they received a check from Sagemont Church’s Helping Hands Ministry. Jenn explained, “The check from Helping Hands literally covered the pay that we were missing from Maise’s unpaid days of work and covered ALL his medical bills so we could start at zero. Talk about a HUGE blessing!
Maise smiled as he added, “That’s God! Obviously it’s been a huge example and testimony for our kids because they are seeing bills being paid that didn’t come from us. They are seeing meals coming in from friends and church members we don’t even know. They have seen every single blessing along this journey, especially the power of prayer.”
LeAnn summed up best when she wrote, “I think the Share the Joy campaign ended up being a Share the Joy season for their whole family. They were overwhelmed with gratitude with all that they had been given—humble in that people from Sagemont Church, many who they didn’t know, would help them, and also praising God that He truly does take care of every need. But in all of this—they were faithful to God. Their Christmas card had a note from Maise that not only encouraged regular health checkups, but also a spiritual checkup—Maise made sure that everyone knew who he served with his life, and he wanted others to know who Jesus was, too, and be willing to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.”
This past Christmas season, Share the Joy touched the lives of those receiving as well as giving to meet needs both great and small.
It was just another way that Sagemont Church members could be Living Proof of a Loving God to a Watching World.