Today I was reminded once again that I don’t just work at an institution of higher education. I work at a place of deep faith and community, and I am thankful!
On Monday, March 23, I received a call from my college roommate and dear friend, Kirk Workman (’98). Kirk had just left a doctor appointment in the Dallas metroplex in which he learned he had brain cancer with the possibility of the cancer being present in other areas of the body as well. As you can imagine, the news was devastating, especially for his wife, Dana, and their three young children.
On Wednesday of that week, I was in a meeting with Chancellor Burks when I learned he would be traveling on the Harding plane with a few others to Austin, Texas, for a meeting that Friday. Now, I learned a long time ago that it never hurts to ask for a favor if you can accept that you might be told no, so I asked Dr. Burks if he thought the plane could stop in Dallas on its way to Austin and drop Dean Chad Joice and me off there so that we could be with Kirk at his follow-up visit on Friday. At first it looked like that wasn’t a possibility, but thanks to the help of a number of people, we were able to fly to Dallas that Friday.
The following was Kirk’s Facebook post that Friday: “So, it’s true. Sitting in freshman orientation 21 years ago at Harding University, they said, ‘Look around this room; it’s filled with the people that will be your lifelong friends; they’ll be standing with you at weddings, etc…’ It meant so much for me to see my brothers Andrew Baker and Chad Joice. We met up with Lathan Watts for lunch. I needed these guys today, and without me knowing they were coming, they showed up early this morning to wait with me for my tests and spend the day with me.”
Since our time in Dallas, things have not moved in the direction we had all hoped. I have shared with my classes all along about Kirk, Dana, and their children, asking them to join me in praying for a miracle. On Monday, April 13, this part of a message was posted by Kirk on his Carebridge page: “They also did a CT scan Friday afternoon focusing on the orbits (eye sockets) to develop a definitive plan for the treatment of the tumors there. The eyes and their surrounding structures are delicate, and they are trying to preserve as much function as possible with the ultimate goal of eradicating the cancer. I am wearing an eye patch daily now due primarily to double vision. My right eye is the one most affected with tumors, and it can be painful for my eyes to constantly be adjusting to find the same image. I’m hopeful that after we’ve treated the tumors, I’ll be able to find eye correction to help. The kids have all joined me today by going to get their own eye patches at Party City.”
After reading that update and dropping my children off at school, I stopped by Walgreens to buy an eye patch to wear that day in support of Kirk. I wore it to class and, through tears, read Kirk’s full Carebridge post to my freshman class. Later Monday night, I received a message from one of the students asking how many people were in the class. Because another student had purchased chicken biscuits for the entire class the week before, I thought this student might be going for chocolate chip cookies or something like that and didn’t think much about it.
Instead, to my surprise I walked into class on Tuesday, April 14, to see every single student wearing an eye patch that read, “You Are Not Alone.” After calling every possible place in Searcy, two students in the class had made a special trip to Little Rock to buy patches. I have had the great honor of teaching at Harding for 15 years, and I have never had an experience like that in a classroom. The men and women in the room were no longer merely students, they were friends willing to walk faithfully alongside my friend as he battles for his life. If you look in the dictionary for the word “dad,” I think you will find Kirk Workman’s picture. But you if you looked under “faithful witness,” you would find it there as well.
As the end to his Carebridge post shows: “I honestly can’t be happier about our life. I still wouldn’t trade with anyone. It is easy for us to see how God has prepared me and Dana for this specific journey since before we knew one another. While optimistic, we’re starting to see reality creeping in, and we believe we’re as ready as we can be. For that, we’re thankful.”
I ask that you join us in #kwprayingforamiracle and let the Workman family know #youarenotalone. Many are praying, and please keep those prayers coming. If you would be willing to help financially, you can go to http://www.gofundme.com/rxzxrw.
I am grateful not only to work at a place of higher education but to be a part of an amazing community of faith!
Andrew Baker, director of the Mitchell Center