It Took Cancer for the Story of Easter to Become More than Just a Story

Classic hymns like The Old Rugged Cross take me back to childhood memories of church, where the organ music echoed throughout the sanctuary and bounced off of the stained-glass windows.

I remember being in awe of the majesty and reverence of God back then, but years of hearing the story over and over and seeing the imperfections of religion had a deadening effect on my spirit. As I grew older, ambition and success replaced any subtle notion of God’s love.

Sure, I believed. But I wasn’t captivated anymore. And I certainly wasn’t willing to trade anything for a cross.

But that was before I was diagnosed with cancer.

Cancer and Success

For the past seven years, I have had the privilege to run an insurance agency in my hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. During that time, I have been blessed with great clients and have been fortunate to receive some of our company’s highest honors.

Recently, a client commented on the plaques and trophies that decorate my office. “Looks like you’ve been successful,” he said.

I politely thanked him and we continued with the business at hand.

When he left, I sat there in my office and stared at my wall. For many years, those plaques defined me. They were my highest aim. I indirectly masked my ambition in the nobility of helping others, but I was addicted to that definition of success.

In the summer of 2014, those definitions were shaken when I was diagnosed with a spreading malignant melanoma. I have written about my experience on multiple occasions, but recently I have come to understand that my diagnosis was the catalyst that radically shifted my perspective.

Even though we caught the cancer before it metastasized, it has had a lasting mental effect. At any moment, I’m afraid the cancer might come back. Equally as difficult are the stories of folks whose prognosis isn’t as favorable. This constant polarization between fear and unworthiness has been strenuous.

It took me about a year to really come to grips with what I was internalizing, but I’ve finally reached a point where deep truth is being brought forth from my wound.

While the doctor was able to extract all of the cancer cells in one surgery, God had to go much deeper. You see, addictions can’t be amputated or extracted, they have to be killed from the inside out.

Turning Down the Volume

Our addictions speak to us through a cheap radio that exists within our minds. It blasts a sea of static despite our efforts to turn the channel. Too often, we give in and listen to the noise.

I thought that success at work and the approval of others would validate my longings. Comparison became a cheap substitute for purpose.

Since my cancer diagnosis I’m learning to turn down the volume and listen to a different voice.

It’s not that I can’t be competitive or that I disagree with a metric system of success. They are incredibly important for productivity and I regularly teach people how to harness them. But the difference now is that I don’t find my value in those things alone.

And that brings me back to the words of a favorite hymn.

The Old Rugged Cross

It took me thirty-four years to understand what George Bennard was implying in his lyrics:

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.

Until my cancer diagnosis, I had one hand raised to the cross while the other hand clenched the trophies of life. Since then, I’ve learned what it means to lay everything down and cherish the cross.

For years, those lyrics were a platitude. Now, they’re a daily reminder to surrender—to be successful enough to lay down my trophies in exchange for a crown.

With another Easter approaching, the tendency is to glaze over and let the story pass us by. The noise of life is loud. But in Jesus, we have not only our Savior, but our example as well. He laid down the trophies of heaven for a crown of thorns here on earth. He traded the riches of glory for the poverty of flesh so that, through Him, we might be made rich in the sight of God.

So I will cherish the old rugged cross and hopefully find the strength to lay down my trophies in exchange for a crown.

It may seem different from the crown that the world promises, but it is far more rewarding.

It is eternal.


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About the Author

headshot-footerMatt Ham is an author and speaker guiding others toward rich living. Through his RICH Principles he helps folks redefine their pursuits, identifying real treasure and discovering true joy and contentment.

His self-published first book, Redefine Rich, is a collection of stories that led to his changed perspective. The book has sold multiple thousand copies and is currently being presented to publishers for national distribution.

You can order a limited hardback version of the book at

To inquire about speaking availability, visit

Matt also provides a coaching/mentorship series that can be found at

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2 Responses to It Took Cancer for the Story of Easter to Become More than Just a Story

  1. Rick Theule March 19, 2015 at 10:28 am #

    Thank you Matt. Thank you for listening to His call for you, and for be obedient to that call. You know I have similar thoughts and struggles when it comes to career and calling. Thanks for sorting through it and sharing with us all.

  2. Charles Johnston March 19, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

    What a awesome perspective Matt. As I am facing a different walk and learning to cling to the cross, words like these are etched into stone. Thanks for continueing to inspire.