Larry Evans

I was fortunate to grow up in a large, loving, close-knit loving family in North Richland Hills, Texas. I had two brothers who are now deceased and four sisters who are still with me. I was involved in the Baptist Church throughout my childhood – whether it was RAs, summer camps, or Bible drills, I was there. A love for country and a penchant for personal sacrifice and service were instilled within me from as early as I can recall. Both of my grandfathers fought in World War I, my father fought in World War II and just about every one of my uncles fought in either World War II or the Korean War. I had a lot of pride about the contributions of my family and it gave me a drive to always want to be the best at everything I pursued.

As soon as I graduated high school at 18, I honored the call of duty and joined the Army at the height of the Vietnam conflict in 1969. Upon completion of basic training I was promptly sent to North Vietnam on the DMZ with the 101st Airborne division. I served there for 13 months, and the naiveté of my youth meant that I wasn’t afraid of anything. I became known for being ready and able to do things that other people thought best left undone, and that brashness ended up earning me a bronze star. The Bronze Star is awarded for “heroic achievement,” but the way I see it, I was just doing my job. I just volunteered for a risky mission that others were not willing to perform. I was working a high level security position when a tenured sergeant told me that the enemy had our troops pinned down on DMZ. There was no way to get supplies to them by air so supplies had to be trucked in, but the only way in was driving through a landmine field. It had been swept, but there was no guarantee that we had located every mine along the way. I agreed to the task, and we drove through that landmine field at night, and we made it and got those guys what they needed.

After my tour was complete and I headed back stateside, I returned to a country that wasn’t very approving of the mission we were working over there.  Although I was proud of my uniform, I was afraid to wear it because people would spit on me, hurl insults and I never knew what would happen to me in a crowd. I am so grateful that perspectives have changed today and that returning war veterans, for the most part, receive the respect and honor they deserve. I spent many more years in the Army after my tour in Vietnam ended, including three and a half years in Germany and then two and a half years in Fort Bragg, North Carolina before I left the service. I was in Germany when I started to experience symptoms of PTSD, or shell shock as they called it then, but I didn’t even recognize it for what it was for many more years. There just wasn’t any attention given to it back then, and it was considered just something you should be able to deal with and get over if you were any sort of a man. That was the mindset and we were expected to just stuff it down deep inside.

Upon returning to civilian life, I ended up carrying on the family trade of carpentry and construction. It wasn’t something I was passionate about at first, and I even told my father that I wasn’t going to do this job for the rest of my life. He laughed at me as if to say, “we’ll see what you do” – up until the day I got sick I remained in the construction industry. I had progressed from where I started, framing the bones of the house, to putting the finishing touches on a home, like painting and texturing and wall coverings. It was challenging and I loved contributing to the part of the home the owners would enjoy. I was at the top of my field when I was forced to give up all I’d worked for because of my illness.

I met my Brenda through a friend. We were out at a restaurant-bar and our eyes met and that was it.  There’s no better way to describe it – there was just an instant connection. I was still young and stupid, so I tried fighting it as best I could, but I surrendered pretty quickly because I was just smitten. She was just the love of my life. To say that we didn’t have our struggles would be a lie, but we overcame those and stuck together through it all. God put us together for a reason – He knew that we would take care of one another. We would learn the hard way the value of that vow, “in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” About eight years into our marriage, Brenda was diagnosed with lung cancer. When they found it, they told us she had six months to live. That tough lady fought and battled with lung cancer for nine more years until the disease ultimately took her from me. For over half of our 17-year marriage she was sick and to see her struggle like that, for so long, was devastating. I just desperately wanted to take her pain away but I was helpless to do so. February 25, 1998 was the last time I’d see her this side of heaven.

I had already lost a brother and my dad who had committed suicide, and the loss of Brenda just compounded the pain that I already felt about losing them. I was just going through the motions in life, trying to be strong but feeling really numb inside. In 2001, I lost my mother to a sudden, massive heart attack. She was in good health and had never been sick in a serious way, so it was a complete shock and I had no time to emotionally prepare for the blow. The loss of my mother was the final nail in my coffin – they could have just covered me up right there. I had lost too much and I buried the idea of ever being close to someone again. The pain was inevitable and I wasn’t going to get hurt anymore. I was at my threshold for heartbreak and had to function in a shut-down preservation mode. I didn’t have the energy or passion for working for myself anymore, so I closed my business and just started working for someone else to make ends meet. I would literally go to work and go home, and I would just bypass the living room and go straight to my bed and turn on the TV. I became a professional recluse and I was very good at it.

I met Clayton Smith when I went to work for him in 2002. My very first day on the job he insisted that I ride with him to our job site, and instead of welcoming me aboard or talking about official employee stuff, he said, “Let me tell you about this program I’m involved with.” For the next three and a half years, he kept mentioning it and taking me around Pathways people all the time, and then we did work on the Weekend/Walk facilitators’ homes so I had a pretty strong introduction to the training through engaging with them. I just stubbornly held to a position of, “God takes care of what I need and I don’t need anything but Him.” Clayton knew that it was actually God trying to open a door to freedom for me, so he never quit pursuing me, but he also respected my boundaries. In 2006, after nearly four years of spending time with all these people from Pathways who seemed genuinely happy, I finally believed that they weren’t all putting on a show for me and that this program seemed to be the real deal. I finally had reached my capacity for warehousing pain. I had blocked all relationships that could ever fill me with joy, and had never processed the grief that all of the significant losses had heaped on me – nothing was left of me but the broken parts. I had always been the one to keep my family connected and hold them together, and I had always been available to my family when they needed me, but I couldn’t be strong anymore. I had to do something different.

I definitely saw something different happening in the room when I first entered Pathways with Class 233 in April 2006, but I had no idea how to access that power in myself. I was so shut down that I wasn’t confident I had the ability to get to the other side, to this hopeful place the facilitators spoke so passionately about. By the time we played the Mother/Father game, I dropped my skepticism and I was bought in. I knew there was something there for me. I was hardheaded and I didn’t even get a solid What Do You Want on Sunday because of my resistance to yield to the process, but I left with some hope and was confident I would find what I was looking for at the Walk. The Walk definitely left me with battle scars, because I was still trying to do things my way – it’s the only way I’d ever engaged with the world, so I didn’t know anything different. The Junkyard is where everything changed for me – I was able to release my pain in a way that cleansed me. But it was the Child in the Forest game that finally melted my hardened heart for good and is probably the reason I’m where I’m at today. I put that little guy on my shoulder every time I struggle in life, and he and I conquer our fears together. This training, and that room, redeemed me. It redeemed my soul and my heart. I was able to feel again and I was able to cry, admit that I was hurting and that I needed support. I was able to laugh and enjoy the company of others without being haunted by the thought of possibly losing them. In between my Walk and P1, I attended a training Pathways used to offer called Relationship Ready, which was a weekend-long class designed for single people about exploring your fears, habits and strategies when it comes to relationships. It was the first time in a long time that I invested any energy into caring about how I connect with others.

Right after I finished P1, I found out that my older brother had cancer and they gave him the prognosis of six months to a year to live. I decided at that time to pull out of finishing the training in order to be with him. Instead of running away from intimacy, I ran toward a connection with him and I wasn’t going to waste any time making sure he knew how much I loved him. I did attend Step Beyond in December of 2006 and my brother passed away just two months later. I’ll never regret following my heart in that decision to delay my training, but I am very grateful that I made it through at least P1 before another tragedy hit in my life. I was able to really give all of myself to my brother in those last few months together, and then mourn his loss and process grief in a healthy way for the first time in my life.

It took me three more years to come back to finish the training, repeating P1 and then attending P2 and P3 and graduating with class 267. I truly believe things happen for a reason and that I was right where I was supposed to be – the members of that class had the medicine I needed in that moment in time. But I want to encourage others to do everything they can to stay the course, because when you lose your momentum in your training journey, it becomes really easy to come up with excuses not to finish what you started. For me, I could hide behind the narrative that I stayed really connected with some members of my 233 class and I was surrounded by other Pathwaynians who held me accountable, so I rationalized that I was “living my training.” I did truly get a lot of real-world “training’ in those three years, but it could never replace the value of actually going back and getting the rest of the pieces to the puzzle and completing the picture. It was in my Life Plan to TA and give back to this organization and I’m so blessed to have fulfilled that dream. I currently serve regularly as a TA or Team Captain in the Weekend and Walk, as much as I am able.

I found the real Larry in Pathways – a man with a heart, a man with passion. I rediscovered the tenacity and compassion that I had lost… that I had given away years ago. I don’t let my head get in the way too many times. If my heart tells me to do something, I do it, regardless of what that looks like. I didn’t realize how much I was letting other people decide my path for me – my sense of obligation and duty was covering up my real desires. I’ve chosen to walk the path that feels right to me now, and that path that leads to my real passion, which is people. I am driven to help as many people as I can to find their personal freedom and redemption.

I’ve had back problems all my life, so when I started experiencing some back pain while I was Team Captain of the Weekend in February 2015, I didn’t think much of it and I just pushed through the discomfort. It persisted through the 10-day training break, but I was able to function so I proceeded to show up to serve as Team Captain in the Walk. After finishing up on Thursday of the Walk, my back pain had become intolerable. Friday morning I woke up and literally could not get out of bed – mind you, I’m the Team Captain of the Walk and it is Contract Friday. This is a crucial day for me to participate but I literally couldn’t move. I was able to rejoin the team for Saturday and Sunday since those days didn’t require as much physical exertion, but when I got home on Sunday night it started to become intense and severe again. In my stubbornness I was reluctant to see a doctor and I spent 40 whole days in bed, with ice packs and heating pads, thinking I just had to nurse this injury into submission.

When the pain had completely taken over my body and I became completely immobile, I finally went to the emergency room. There they diagnosed me with a compression fracture of the vertebrae and sent me home with a ton of pain medications, which I’d never had to take before in my life. I called the VA and they told me to come in for an MRI. As soon as I had gotten home and settled from that VA appointment, they called me and implored me to come back the next morning. They admitted me and on April 2, 2015 they told me I have Multiple Myeloma – the type of cancer that is caused by exposure to Agent Orange, which I suffered in Vietnam. It’s a blood cancer where your blood produces too much protein and those proteins bond together and form tumors which attack your bones. They told me that I hadn’t been able to walk because a tumor was putting pressure on my vertebrae, that my spine was like a piece of glass, and that they were hesitant to perform anything invasive in fear that they might paralyze me for life. Because it’s a blood cancer, it spreads to your body anywhere that blood goes – I had tumors in three places on my skull, my back, rib cage, pelvis, and hips. It was all over me. With surgical removal not an option for this type of cancer, we resorted to steroid therapy and radiation of the tumor on my spine that was preventing me from walking. Once they got me walking again we started stem cell transplants to battle the blood issue. I was fighting the disease hard, but I loved the Pathways organization so much that I convinced my doctors to let me leave the hospital so I could attend the May P-Party. I knew that the medicine I REALLY needed wasn’t in the VA hospital – it was in a hotel banquet room surrounded by my people. And honestly, I didn’t know if it was the last one I’d ever be alive to attend so there was no way I would miss it.

The doctors didn’t pull any punches with me and I knew exactly what I was facing. My position was that as long as I had quality of life, I would continue treatments but if I was going to have no quality of life then I was through. I didn’t want to be rotting away in a hospital bed in pain and deteriorating – I wanted to live and be out in the world serving others. The doctors responded that they couldn’t ensure that quality of life would be the case for me – I responded by telling them, “I’m going to show you what I can do and the good Lord above said He’s got this, so you just watch what we do.” So far that approach has been working. I have surrendered my diagnosis to God and now He’s the captain of this ship – it’s not my burden to carry. I just sit back and watch His glory abound through the journey and I am amazed by what He’s done for me. There have been many ups and downs, but He keeps bringing me through. People ask me if I’m afraid of dying. My honest truth about that is that death has no sting. I’m not scared of dying – I’m scared of NOT LIVING. Not living in my heart, not being able to serve, not being with my community. A life without connection and purpose is what is terrifying to me, now that I know what it’s like to truly be alive on the inside.

There have been beautiful gifts and blessings born from this diagnosis in my life, many times in the form of lessons. I’ve learned that sometimes bad things happen to good people because they are in a unique position to be a lighthouse of God’s grace and mercy when He shows off and does the miraculous. One of the things people say to someone who is struggling when they’re uncomfortable or don’t know how to comfort them is that “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Well, that’s not really an accurate picture of how God operates, in my opinion. God WILL allow you to confront more than you can handle so that you have no choice but to surrender your inadequacies to Him and allow Him to lead you through the valley. He’s never left me alone in this battle and it’s only through Him that I’ve made it through. I give Him the complete credit for my victories. He’s given me a powerful perspective to not ever throw a pity party. Some people would ask themselves, “Why me?” Well, I truly feel like, “Why not me?” Maybe I’ve been chosen to traverse this challenge because my story and my testament of faith is going to inspire other cancer patients or survivors or caregivers to live this one life powerfully and with fervor. It took me a while to see that God is actually using my situation to bless and inspire other people, because the way I see it, I’m not doing anything special. From my perspective, why wouldn’t anyone faced with death NOT fight with everything they have in order to live? I guess the simplest answer to that is that not everyone has the strength or desire to fight – sometimes people give up because they feel like that’s all they have the power to control. They can’t control their disease, but they can control the amount of influence it has over them. Sometimes giving up is their ultimate way of feeling like they have a choice over what’s happening to them. I just couldn’t do that – I have too much life left to live. When people tell me that my positive attitude and my faith are inspirational, I just give glory to God that he’s using me in positive ways.

I love my blood family to death and no one could ever replace that, but the outpouring of love, prayers and support I’ve received from my adopted family in the Pathways community is truly the greatest gift. See, this adopted Pathways family isn’t obligated to care for me like my relatives are – they choose to give me their energy and their time and their love. That kind of bond is unheard of in today’s society and it’s a real testament to the power of this training. People in this community that don’t even know me care about me and pray for me and cheer for me. That just doesn’t happen today. That’s how you know that the Pathways training is mighty and real and paradigm-shifting. The world isn’t going to change for us, but we can certainly change the world. I’m so grateful that I have this community to lean on when things get tough. They say I’m their strength, but in all honesty, they are MY strength.

Currently the doctors won’t describe my cancer as in remission, but they will confidently call it “in regression.” I was scheduled to undergo a new treatment last month, but they took the procedure off my care schedule because my pre-op bloodwork showed normal protein levels in my blood. They are still scratching their heads trying to figure out why, because medically there is no explanation why my numbers would be normal. They even ran the test twice to make sure they weren’t mistaken. But I know that my God is just showing off because I’ve still got work to do down here. If He decides to give me a total healing, then I’ll gladly receive it, but if my cancer starts acting up again, we’ll do something about it and I’m going to keep trusting Him to get me through it.

I want to encourage everyone to take full advantage of the time you’ve been gifted on this Earth. Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow is not promised – you have today. Only today. If you have something on your heart to share with someone you love, don’t wait until tomorrow to reach out, or you may not have the opportunity. If you want to do something, dream. If you’re going to dream, dream high. Keep searching until you find something or someone you’re passionate about and then invest in that passion with your whole heart. If today was your last day, make it one worth living.