Learning to live for something bigger | TheUnion.com

Learning to live for something bigger

By Michelle Rindels

Staff Writer

Anthony Rabak always wanted to be a doctor.

Perhaps it’s because the rare childhood leukemia, brain tumors and multiple sclerosis that have plagued him during his 41 years gave him a strange fondness for the profession.

Like most other plans the Alta Sierra resident has had for his life, that too was foiled.

The pages of Rabak’s 2009 self-published book, “Just Tell Me When You’re Gonna Stick Me,” are filled with sagas of MRIs and radiation, disappointment and anger as he deals with a seemingly nonstop series of medical horrors.

“When I stopped and realized what I’d gone through in my life, I thought, ‘How could anybody go through all that?'” he said recently.

But while he has spent his life as the proverbial underdog, and has to use canes to get around these days, his perspective on his travails is humorous, human and indefatigably hopeful.

“When the devil tries to knock us down with opposition, we have a unique opportunity to give the situation over to God and allow him to use it as a refining and fashioning time to improve us,” Rabak wrote. “What a privilege!”

‘An encouragement’

Rabak’s not the luckiest guy around.

His book includes funny vignettes about how he was barred from being an EMT for too many California stops on his driving record. Then, his closest confidant at Bible college started dating the girl he liked.

Frustration aside, he ends up finding a better job than EMT work – youth ministry – and ends up winning the heart of the cute blonde girl, Valerie, eventually marrying her.

They’ve been married for 16 years, and she was the one who prompted him to write his story.

“My whole reason for writing the book is to be an encouragement,” Rabak said.

Learning to trust

MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord; Rabak was diagnosed in 1999. After working in youth ministry in the early 1990s and then owning his own auto body shop, he found his worsening symptoms stopped him from a labor-intensive career.

He worried how the incurable disease would burden his wife. In a moment of depression, he once gave his wife permission to leave him.

“I told her that I had assumed all my medical hurdles were behind me,” he wrote, “and that if I knew that there was still more to come, I would not have done this to her by asking her to marry me.”

Spoiler alert: Valerie has been a faithful caretaker, even dropping her job during the most trying times of his illness.

“Life isn’t easy, but God never said it would be,” she wrote in her chapter of the book. “We have learned to make adjustments in our lives and live with our limitations, and we continue to trust the Lord knowing that His love for us is great.”

‘A plan’

The Rabaks credit family members, church members at Foothill Church in Grass Valley, and support groups for helping them through the medical tumult.

But they believe something else is at work.

“The whole premise of faith is you trust someone who’s bigger than yourself,” he said.

With MS, Rabak’s days are harder than for most people. He recently spent four months in a convalescent home, the youngest resident amid people in their 80s and 90s. He’s on disability, and it takes a long time just to get up, get dressed and start his day. Life goes slower.

He’s had times he was angry at God. But trial after trial, he’s learning the pains of his past haven’t been in vain.

“God has a plan and purpose for us,” Rabak said. “It’s for good and not for evil.”

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail mrindels@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4247.

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