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Malignant Brain Tumor

I found my way to God through serving others. I found my vocation through serving others. My name is Peter Thompson, and for nine years I have been the Director of the Pepperdine Volunteer Center. The evening following the 30th Anniversary of Step Forward Day, Pepperdine's annual tradition of service and one of my biggest work days of the year, I went into the emergency room with what I thought was a really bad migraine headache. I woke up the next day in the Neuro-Intensive Care Unit at the Los Angeles Medical Center being told that I had a brain tumor the size of a baseball in my head. This was 13 months ago, and it has been a journey that has taught me about prayer, redemption, and this Pepperdine community. The journey has also included my favorite band, The Avett Brothers.

I have learned about the physical manifestation of prayer from my Pepperdine community. I live, work, and worship essentially in the same place. This community held me and my family when we physically could not hold ourselves. Most powerful to me was how they taught me about the reality of prayer. Prayer is more than words and silent meditation. Prayer is full of power, truth, and healing. So many prayer warriors emerged in my corner this year. I have many stories of the power of prayer in person, through text, email, Facebook and Instagram, during the days, weeks and months following my surgery, recovery, chemo, and radiation. I felt the power of prayer physically manifested. This was exemplified when a friend asked if she could pray for me before she left after a short visit during my disability leave. She prayed over me and included the story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man; the dramatic story of devoted friends lowering their paralyzed friend through a hole in the roof where Jesus was preaching. It is worth reading again:

2 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, "Son, your sins are forgiven. But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." So he said to the man, 11 "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"
Mark 2:1-12 New International Version (NIV)

As she shared these words through prayer, it was like I was being physically and spiritually lowered toward Jesus in this same way. I could feel myself being brought to God, somehow both lowered and lifted before Jesus, before God.

That is prayer, and that is the power of this Pepperdine community in prayer. A prayer can take you through the crowded confusing pain and uncertainty and directly to Jesus. As we ask for intervention for ourselves and for others, we are asking God's forgiveness, not because sin caused the affliction but because the only answer to life is God's love and forgiveness...not all pain, impairments, sicknesses are going to be cured here on Earth...however we cannot lose sight that all things are being redeemed by God.

This summer I went on a redemption road trip with great friends, marking a year since I felt symptoms that ultimately led to the removal of the aggressive malignant brain tumor in my right frontal lobe. This tour was prompted by our shared love of the music of The Avett Brothers. This redemption tour's first stop was seeing them in concert at the sacred venue of Red Rocks outside of Denver, CO.

My love of The Avett Brothers music was solidified shortly after my surgery and was deepened because of the great documentary about these two brothers on HBO called May it Last. You learn that the daughter of their bassist, Bob Crawford, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. These are the three words on the screen introducing you to Hallie and the same three words in the subject line of the email that I sent connecting me directly to this band. In the documentary, the way each member of the band describes supporting Bob and his family is true kinship and mirrors what I experienced from my community. It prompted me to reach out to the band to let them know how much their music was speaking to me, giving me life, and a little bit about my situation. I expected nothing in return, yet to my surprise I developed an email correspondence with Scott Avett, leading me and my wife to the start of a meaningful friendship as we personally met Scott before the show at Red Rocks.

Thompson and Avett Brothers
I have been shown over and over this year that God is redemption. God flips the narrative. God took a death device, a weapon of torture - the cross, and made it a symbol of freedom, love, salvation, and redemption, with Christ's death and resurrection. For me, as I have been diagnosed with a Glioblastoma, brain cancer, I have ironically never felt healthier, more alive, and more free. Physically, my sight was restored, which has baffled my doctors. Before the tumor, I needed glasses but I now have 20/20 vision. Equally meaningful was seeing The Avett Brothers for a second time in concert at The Greek in Los Angeles a month after Red Rocks. During the show Scott saw me from the stage, and mid song (Ain't No Man), yelled, "I know that dude!" The thrill of that moment followed by catching a signed setlist Scott threw to me in the crowd was truly life giving.

I live in a world where there are daily life-giving moments with my family, neighbors, and students. The prognosis I received a year ago does not account for who I am, and brain cancer will not define me. Because of the love I've received from God and my community, I have more love and service to share than ever before.

Thompson Family
"Who can cause me pain or raise my fear 'cause I got only love to share. If you are looking for truth I'm proof you'll find it there." – Scott Avett, Ain't No Man

If you would like to hear Peter share his testimony at Pepperdine Wednesday chapel, you can watch it here.


Peter Thompson Peter is currently the Director of the Pepperdine Volunteer Center. Prior to joining the Pepperdine Volunteer Center, he and his wife worked in Ukraine as Peace Corps Volunteers. Currently, he lives on campus in Malibu, CA, with his wife, Katy, son Liam (8), daughter Adelaide (5), and son Zion (2).