Ken Mansfield is what one might call an icon in the music industry. His illustrious career brought him in contact with living legends, most notably, the Beatles. A born-again Christian, Ken has shared many of his stories in books. His latest, Stumbling on Open Ground, captures his painful journey with cancer with riveting detail and frank realism that makes the icon accessible and brings the God he loves and trusts within reach of the rest of us.
“If racing against mere men makes you tired, how will you race against horses? If you stumble and fall on open ground, what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan?” Jeremiah 12:5 (NLT)
The circumstances of Ken Mansfield’s early life did not overtly point towards a life of fame, glamour and celebrity. Son of a lumberjack, he grew up on an Indian Reservation in Northern Idaho. When his time came to join the service, he did so with dreams of a salary and a fast car. As luck would have it, he was placed in the Navy’s medical corps.
“I was around very educated people,” shares Ken. “I went to college and got a bachelor of science degree. Folk music was popular then. A few guys in my fraternity started a band with me. We were playing for beer and pizza and then got discovered. In that process, I met some people in the business who asked if I would ever think about working for a record company.”
The answer turned out to be yes. Soon, Ken was working for Capital Records and one of the first bands under him just so happened to be the Beatles.
“When I worked with the Beatles, because they were so famous, most everyone they worked with was some 60 year old suit. I was the young guy they knew over here. We were kind of intrigued by each other. They talked funny and dressed really cool. America was the whole ball of wax. Soon, I got a second job as their personal liaison. If Paul wanted to do something in America or John saw a pair of sunglasses in a magazine he wanted, they called me.
“God basically never came up,” Ken continues. “We didn’t really need God at that time. To shorten a long story, one day it all fell apart. I went broke, lost everything…God loved me so much He took me to my knees and put somebody in my life who witnessed to me.”
That somebody has now been Ken’s bride for 26 years. Hand in hand, Ken discovered a whole new life with the woman he loved and the God he was getting to know more and more each day.
And then, the first cancer came. The year was 1996.
“I had been sick for about two years and we couldn’t figure out what was wrong,” Ken shares. “I kept being misdiagnosed and was just getting sicker and sicker.
One doctor who had nothing to do with cancer found the clue that showed I had bone marrow cancer, a very rare, incurable cancer. A lot of oncologists weren’t that familiar with it. I was told that I had one to three years. I went home that night and we cried and went to bed. I woke up the next morning and felt incredible. It was like God had said, ‘Ok, you’ve gotten some news. You do believe in me and you don’t ever have to question.’ That’s the peace that passes all understanding.”
Despite feeling like “a ticking time bomb,” Ken was able to somehow trust and rest in the knowledge that God would either walk him through this or bring him home. Either way, Ken knew God would be glorified. There was comfort in that. And then round two hit.
“In the midst of this, because of my immune system I came down with the second cancer. I saw Farrah Fawcett die with this,” Ken shares. “It was just brutal. Seven months of 200 hours or so of chemo and heavy radiation.”
It was throughout the arduous treatment process that Ken truly began dealing with, talking about and coming to terms with his own mortality.
“The point of this book is not cancer. There’s really a lot of flailing around,” he says. “Something like this invades your whole life. It affects your family, your friends, your marriage, finances…the smoke goes to the whole house. But it’s ok. You just trust God and His promises. That’s why I use Jeremiah as my opening. You have a father that never lies. You can’t stumble. He’ll see you through.”
As Ken wrestled internally with the effects of the cancer and treatment ravaging him externally, Ken began to see that the trial, brutal as it was, was not intended to be painful—it was really a blessing.
“The trial was so extreme,” Ken shares. “I had been in so much pain at one time. I thought that at least God would just back off the pain. And it got worse. It was so extreme because He trusted me with it.
“I have trouble with the mechanics of God,” Ken continues. “Looking at Job, it ended up well. He’s given us a pattern. When you go through a trial like this, you give up a lot of bad habits. You don’t have time! You’re fighting a single battle and having a dialogue with God. He narrows your frame of reference. The other thing I learned was that God doesn’t have to explain his every move. You can go through a trial and have a dialogue with God. That’s called prayer. That’s what He wants. But over time, the one thing that kept coming back in the midst of doubt was that either I believe or I don’t. That’s what faith is. We don’t have to understand. It doesn’t matter if we have trouble believing. You just have to believe and you can’t get mad at the only one who can help you. When I think about abandoning my faith, I think back to the disciples who said, ‘And where else would I go?’”
When it comes down to it, those who have dealt with cancer will find a cohort in Ken. Those who have ever doubted will find an understanding ear. Those who have ever been keenly aware of their own mortality and fragility will find a companion. Ken sums it best with, “Comprehension is not a requirement of my salvation. Faith is.”