Grace For The Battle

NOTE: The following is chapter one from Grace for the Battle. To purchase your own copy, please click on the link on the right rail.


In April 2014, I was diagnosed with stage 3, Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC), which is kidney cancer. Then later, was diagnosed with stage 4. I knelt beside my wife, who was laying in bed, and we cried and prayed and prayed and cried. Next, I gathered my sons, Cody, Jared, and Andrew together and told them the news. We cried together and I tried to answer as many questions as possible to the best of my ability.

This is my story.

Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?

Matthew 8:23-27

On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!

Mark 4:34-41

Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.” And they launched out. But as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy. And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm. But He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!

Luke 8:22-25

Those who go down to the sea in ships, Who do business on great waters, They see the works of the Lord, And His wonders in the deep. For He commands and raises the stormy wind, Which lifts up the waves of the sea. They mount up to the heavens, They go down again to the depths; Their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, And are at their wits’ end. Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, And He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, So that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; So He guides them to their desired haven.

Psalm 107:23-30

Rough Seas Ahead

A rising Storm.

There were rough seas ahead. Mark and Luke say that Jesus told the disciples that they would make it to the other side. Even though the seas would be tumultuous, they would survive and, in fact, thrive.

As the storm arose outside of the boat, an even bigger one raged inside the boat; a storm of fear and confusion. I am sure when they saw the clouds, felt the wind, and the first drop of rain, it wasn’t a concern for them. They were in the boat. They could look to the stern and see the blanket-covered figure of the Savior getting some much-needed sleep. They knew that as long as they could see Jesus, everything would be okay.

The wind became fierce and waves started crashing violently against the boat, turning the small vessel this way and that. The first wave to break over the bow must have terrified them as the boards began to creak and bend. Still, they looked to Jesus.

In my mind, I see Matthew and Simon, the Zealot, holding on tighter with each toss and turn. Matthew was a tax collector, and Simon, a radical insurgent. From their profession, I gather that they were unaccustomed to the ways of the sea. The only ones on the boat who remained calm were Peter, James, John, and perhaps, Andrew. They had a fishing business and knew what to do in situations like this. They weren’t frightened until the wind tore at the sails and the little boat almost capsized. The other disciples’ feigned calm turned to terror when Peter’s normal hubris was now replaced with a look of fear. My God! We’re going to drown! they must have thought. Hope was gone. Jesus was in the boat, but He was sleeping, and doing nothing.

Didn’t Jesus care about their lives? That the disciples’ eventually woke the soundly sleeping Savior showed they believed He could save them. But why didn’t He already know that they needed rescue? Perhaps they thought Jesus would survive because He was the Messiah and Messiahs don’t die. They likely concluded that Jesus didn’t care about them and was only concerned about slipping in some shuteye.

It is a terrible feeling. Knowing that the Savior is just feet away and not believing that He cares enough to save you. Thoughts like these can lead to depression and doubt. Does God love me? If Yes, then why won’t He do something? If No, then I am doomed. Maybe God loves me, but I did something—some sort of horrible sin—and therefore, this storm has arisen and is the means of my undoing. Is it possible? Anything is … in my own head.

The disciples were in the boat being tossed to and fro. Can you see them? They could see the waves overwhelm them and hear death calling out to them from the sea. They begin to view/regard/consider Jesus as a less potent Savior: Their thoughts move from a potent to an impotent Savior: Is it possible that Jesus can’t save? When will He wake up and save us? If He is powerless over the storm, then, at the very least, He needs to wake up and panic like the rest of us!

There is another story in the scripture that comes to mind when we think of a boat filled with sailors, a strong storm at sea, and a sleeping prophet. It is the story of Jonah. Instead of doing what God called him to do, Jonah ran away to the sea. From the port in Joppa, he boarded a ship that was headed to the farthest reaches of civilization. A storm arose on the sea. The men were frantic, looking for any way to save themselves, even becoming instantly religious and praying to any god that would listen. As they prayed, they realized that someone was missing. It was Jonah. They searched the ship and found him below deck … sleeping.

Jesus, like Jonah, was asleep. I am sure the disciples recalled this story. They may have thought that at the very least, Jesus should wake up and pray. Perhaps they thought a moment about throwing Him over. It is amazing how quickly we throw Him out of the boat when we are in trouble! Jesus once said that He and Jonah were similar. As Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:39-41). Jonah’s “sacrifice” allowing the sailors to throw him overboard brought peace and calm to the seas. Jesus’ true sacrifice on the cross brought peace and calm to a world of sinners. But that is where the comparison ends. Jonah was only a prophet; Jesus, the Savior.

The disciples ran to their sleeping friend in the back of the boat to shake him out of slumber.

Doing business with God

Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, they see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep (Psalm 107:23–24).

Those who do business see the works of the Lord. In the ancient world, the sea represented a dangerous place where there was a good chance that if you went out, you would not come back. In fact, it was where the prophet said God hides our sins—He will again have compassion on us and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).

The sea did not symbolize a place of pleasure where people went for fun or relaxation. They were serious sailors doing serious business. It was these sailors of whom the Psalmist is speaking. They were on a mission. Usually, it had to do with trade, exploration for gold, or as ambassadors, like Solomon’s sailors (1 Kings 10:22) or those who were in the employ of kings Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:48) and Ahaziah (2 Chronicles 20:35-37). They were the ones who saw the works of the LORD.

The works of the Lord are the storms that would arise on the sea. It is one thing to be in a storm on land where there are places to shelter: a nice cave, somewhere underground or even a well-built structure. But to be on the sea represented unthinkable dangers. There was nowhere to run as ships would rise and then run down the back side of large swells. It was a marvel of the ancient world that they could survive such punishment. In fact, seeing this “act of God”—His awesome destructive power—would terrify them.

Sailors are as superstitious as baseball players. Seeing the hand of God, they would figure out what they could do to appease His anger and calm the sea.

My Story

In April 2014, I was diagnosed with stage 3, Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC), which is kidney cancer. I had been experiencing fevers since January 14, and I was fatigued. Originally, we had thought it was some sort of parasite I picked up while on a missions trip to Cambodia in 2013. But after some tests, doctors determined that I had a 7-cm tumor on my kidney and possibly in the vena cava, a main artery to the lower part of the body; they were going to determine if it was operable. My doctor called me later to confirm the diagnosis of cancer. My wife, Monica, and I held hands. I knelt beside the bed, and we cried and prayed and prayed and cried. Next, I gathered my sons, Cody, Jared, and Andrew together and told them the news. We cried together and I tried to answer as many questions as possible to the best of my ability.

I had my first operation in Dallas on July 1, 2014. Doctors determined that the tumor had not entered into the vena cava (although tumor thrombus, or blood clots, were present), nor had the cancer spread anywhere else in the body. I was on the mend, and everything looked great.

Ordinary Day

I had no idea of the journey that I would face after going back to normal life. A storm like none other was about to rise in my life that would shake me to the core.

After eight weeks, I went back to work. I started feeling fatigued again. In fact, at one point, I fell asleep at my desk at work. Eventually, the fevers returned and my left leg started getting numb like it was falling asleep. We weren’t really sure what it was but wanted to check it out. My primary care physician referred me to my oncologist, who set up a bone scan on October 24th to see if the cancer was active again. The night before the scan, as I was changing and lifting up my right leg, my left leg gave out, and I fell on my back. It was one of the most excruciating feelings of pain I had experienced to that point. I tried to lay and rest a bit to see if it would go away. It didn’t. My wife Monica wanted me to go to the hospital, but I wouldn’t go. I don’t know what it is about men, but we like to writhe in pain for a while before actually doing something about it. Eventually, the pain overwhelmed me and, after a while, we went to the ER.

The Emergency Room, now called the Emergency Department, was what you would expect. A white tiled floor and fluorescent lights in the ceiling brought a certain coldness to the place. There was a carpeted part of the room to the left of the front desk filled with chairs and about 10 people who were sick, injured, or otherwise in need of emergency medical attention. My wife helped me through the automatic sliding doors and into a wheelchair. I went up to the desk while she parked the car. I was still in a lot of pain when the nurse asked the nature of my visit.

I told them I was a cancer patient and had fallen, and thought I had injured my back from the fall. After a bit, I was given a CT scan and we were led to another, more private, waiting room. I remember laying on a stretcher, Monica in a seat a few feet from me when the ER physician entered the room with the results. The doctor said, “Mr. Marquez, you don’t have a back problem, your cancer has returned.” He said that there was a 6-cm tumor in my spine that had grown back in about three months. After he left to begin paperwork to have me admitted to the hospital, I looked over at Monica and said, “I wonder if I’ll be here for Christmas?” We both cried.

I now had stage 4, metastatic RCC. I was placed in a room overnight and then the next morning was told I would be going to a hospital by ambulance. I remember being put into the back of the ambulance and getting strapped in and the paramedic looking toward the driver and asking if he was okay to drive. He was just at the end of an all-night shift. I remember him saying that all he needed was his tunes! Well, let’s just say we “drove by Braille” for two and a half hours until we reached CHI St. Vincents Infirmary in Little Rock, AR. The first surgery was in July, and now, in October, I figured the cancer was so aggressive it would be unstoppable.

Faith is Necessary

For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea. They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble (Psalm 107:25–26).

The disciples’ boat began to fill with water, and they were concerned that they would be killed as the boat sunk. I felt the same way. Cancer, like the water in that boat, was filling my spine, muscles, and nerves.

St. Vincent’s Infirmary in Little Rock, Arkansas was the first in-state a hospital that could handle my kind of problem with a bed available. It was a great blessing that I went there. I was placed in a room in the NSICU and met Dr. Stephen Shafizadeh, my neurosurgeon. He discussed different options with me and said that he would get a team of doctors together to come up with a plan in the next few days. Later, he told me that he was looking for a surgeon who would get him to my spine so he could remove the cancer from my body.

We looked at the medical records and found that the general surgeon—who eventually took the job—explained to me that the risk for this kind of surgery was high. He expected me to die in surgery. My general surgeon stated: “The risk and complications were discussed with him (Steve) in detail, including postoperative bleeding, infection, and numerous other possible complications regarding this ‘big undertaking.’ ‘Consent to surgery stated ‘decline of condition and death.’”

I was put into physical rehabilitation for a few days to get strong enough for the upcoming surgeries. I would have three:

The first was on November 7, 2014, to embolize the tumor to keep me from bleeding to death. It took 5.5 hours.

The second was on November 10, 2014, going through the left flank, working on the front, removing tumor from my spine, nerves, and psoas muscle. Dr. Shafizadeh scraped the cancer off the nerves as one of his partners, Dr. Raja, held them. They also removed two of my vertebrae, L-2, and L-3, and placed a cage in their place. During the surgery, they had to collapse my lung in order to reach the area affected by cancer. It took 7.5 hours.

The third surgery was on November 18, 2014, placing metal rods and screws on my spine from T-10 to my pelvis. All three surgeries were within 11 days. The surgeries were so long that another pastor told me that he expected Monica would post on Facebook that “Steve had gone home to be with the Lord.” It took 10 hours.

To put it into perspective, that is twenty-three hours of surgery in eleven days!

Is God Asleep?

They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses
(Psalm 107:27–28).

The disciples went to Jesus, whom they still found asleep, and woke Him. He got up, rebuked the wind and the raging sea and there was an immediate calm. It is not clear if Jesus rebuked the wind and the sea first, or if he asked about their faith first.

Why does this stand out to me? Because it is different every time. Sometimes God asks us to trust him BEFORE He changes our circumstances. Other times, He asks us why we couldn’t trust Him AFTER He changes our circumstances. For me, it was definitely BEFORE. I needed to trust Him before my circumstances would change.

When I came out of surgery, I experienced an incredible amount of darkness, the likes of which I had never before experienced. The Lord had never left me, but it was as if He said, “This is what you would be like without me without My light.” I hated the feeling. It was terrifying. Usually, you experience difficulties like this as a believer and expect to go through it singing and praising the Lord the whole time. But I didn’t. I was extremely fearful. I had never thought of myself as a fearful person, but I was terrified. I sought the Lord, but nothing seemed to help except Monica’s presence in the room.

You never get sleep in the hospital. I don’t know what it is about nurses, but they always seem to want to wake you up at 4 am. Because of my collapsed lung, they had to do daily X-Rays of my lungs to make sure they were filling properly. I also had to do breathing exercises. The X-rRay machine must have come from the children’s area because it was shaped like a giraffe, with spots all over; it had a large base, its body, and a neck with a head, which pointed at me to take the X-Ray. It looked just like a giraffe! They would wheel it in, then would have to put a film board behind me in the bed, which straightened my back and caused me an enormous amount of pain. Sadly, I fought the nurses, which made me strain my muscles even more and caused additional pain. Every morning I would wake up and ask the nurse, “Do they have to bring the giraffe in today?” She would look at me kind of puzzled, then at Monica, who would say, “Oh, he’s talking about the X-Ray machine.” The nurses would laugh!

There is much more, but after my time in the NSICU and the floor of the hospital I was released to a physical therapy hospital in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I remember the day I was released. I said, “Praise the Lord!” The assisting neurosurgeon, who happened to be doing rounds that morning, responded, “Oh, yes, praise the Lord. I told your wife, ‘It was not us who did this surgery, it was too complex. There was an angel in the room that did it.’” They were amazed at how well I was doing.

The Wind and Sea Rebuked

Jesus asked his disciples why their faith was so small. When they heard Jesus and saw the calm sea, they were amazed! They knew Him as a great teacher and even the King of the Jews, the Messiah, but they did not realize the authority He had over nature.

I started getting better. The winds were dying down and slowly, I was realizing the miracle that God had done in me.

I was at the rehabilitation hospital for almost a week, beginning in a wheelchair, unable to walk steadily, then moving to a walker. I was released to six months of outpatient physical therapy. I remember at one of my appointments Dr. Shafizadeh asked me to walk around the room a bit. I went for the door of the exam room to walk in the hallway, but he didn’t want me to overexert myself. I walked a bit in the room and then he opened the door and wanted me to walk in the hallway. He was absolutely amazed and wanted to video my walking with his phone. When we returned to the room, he put his hand to his forehead perplexed.

He excitedly exclaimed, “You have to understand, when a person presents with what you had, where you had it, the successful outcome of this kind of surgery is that you are either a paraplegic or a quadriplegic.”

Power Over the Storms

He calms the storm, So that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven (Psalm 107:29–30).

There was only one being that could have that kind of control: God Himself.

In the medical record, Dr. Shafizadeh wrote: “There was significant blood loss … Some muscle mass of psoas muscle was removed with the cancer mass.”

He said, “I have seen the muscle where the cancer was with my own eyes. You should not be walking.” He went on to say that he believed that this had to be God who did this; there is no other explanation.


Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men! Let them exalt Him also in the assembly of the people, and praise Him in the company of the elders

(Psalm 107:31–32).

Only God could have done the work inside of me. I live because He wants me to live, and I will go to be with Him when what He wants me to accomplish is done. One day, I hope to say something similar to what Paul said to Timothy:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:6–8).

Strength Through the Storms

But not yet…

In Matthew 14:22-33, the disciples are out in the middle of the sea rowing against the wind and another storm. One, I might add, that was brought on by the Lord. This time, Jesus was not with them. In the middle of the night, Jesus walked near the boat intending to walk past them. When they saw Him, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

Jesus told them not to fear and that it was Him walking on the sea. Peter asked Jesus if he could walk out on the stormy sea with Him and then got out of the boat and walked to Jesus! We all know the story. Peter began to sink when he took his eyes off of Jesus. I think he gets a bad rap here. Who of the other guys had enough faith to get out of the boat onto the sea? There are only two people who ever walked on water in the Bible—Peter and Jesus.

Once Peter sank, he cried out for Jesus, who saves him.

In this story and in the story with Peter, Jesus said something similar: “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” and in chapter 14, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” In the first, I think Jesus is rebuking them. They should have trusted Him. In the second, I get the impression that Jesus is not rebuking Peter, but like a coach, He is encouraging, “Peter, you were doing great! You almost had it! It was awesome! Hold on a little longer next time.”

Jesus would say that to us as well.

The closer we get to Jesus, the bigger the storms get. But also, the stronger our faith gets. At first, we may be hiding in the boat, scared of the storm, crying out for Jesus. But as we grow, we look to Jesus, and, crawling out of the boat, we walk to Him on the water.

That is where I want to be. That is intimacy. Walking with Jesus is walking with Jesus, whatever the surface under our feet and storm raging above.