I know we are all wishing right now that this post was coming from Bill Sweeney, but instead, I (Lauren, his eldest daughter) will share a little post in his honor. Last year, we were celebrating one last miraculous Christmas with Bill, enjoying his invaluable presence that was still with us. He told us a few weeks before (struggling to type with his eyes) that he knew his body and lungs were shutting down and that he was ready to “throw in the towel” and say goodbye to his ALS-depreciated body. “The jig is up,” he sarcastically typed to my mom. (He would always somehow find a way to make us laugh despite the heavy circumstances.) The past several years had been a long journey of near-death experiences and fighting to stay alive with the aid of my mother right beside him.
Every day of his 24-year journey of ALS, Bill would wake up believing Jesus would heal or at least that Jesus was calling him to suffer well with Him, believing for the impossible. This filled his soul with hope and his dying body with determination. He gave 2 Corinthians 4:16 so much context: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” He wasn’t fearful, however, of dying. It was quite the opposite. He taught me that this time on earth is not our home. Eternity is what we live for when we are finally with Jesus face to face.
Most of our December 2020 was spent enjoying quality time with him. Although a sad, solemn month, there was an overwhelming peace and rest over the house and our hearts. I learned during these last days with my dad that sometimes resting in the Lord is harder than rising up in faith and fighting. True rest is not a break from tension but resting through the trials. Our whole family had run a long-suffering race with this disease and now the Lord was asking us to lay down our swords and trust Him in a new way.
One morning I had been in my dad’s room sharing with him about the theme of “rest” that God was speaking to me through his Word. My three kids were playing in the other room. I walked in the office and found them writing random letters as “passwords” with paper and pens scattered around the room. I walked up to my barely-five year old daughter, who could not write actual words at the time, and on her paper she had written “REST” as her “password” not knowing she had formed an actual word. Ok, Lord, I hear you! Ha!
Life is constantly forcing us to take a deep breath and choose to surrender all control to God. He has to daily remind us of trust because He knows it does not come naturally, and we obviously want to run from all discomfort. The learning-to-rest game is a muscle that constantly has to be flexed, an art that is always in need of more nurturing and sculpting. There’s no mastered end-goal of this journey but rather a way of life—inhaling deeper breaths and exhaling contentment, releasing anxiety and control. This is analogous with natural childbirth. When I chose not to get an epidural during the delivery of my three babies, the main thing that I remember my midwife and others coaching me in was to relax during the pain. The more tense any muscle got in my body, the more pain I would feel. DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT IS TO RELAX IN EXTREME PAIN!? But He calls us to this rest every day and season despite the circumstances (even if we aren’t always successful).
He knows our whole life on earth has extreme “birth pains”, but it is not a waste. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of Glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Like this analogy, I believe Bill did learn this surrendering art so beautifully—letting go of self and receiving the Grace that empowered him to “fight the good fight of faith”.
This was my first Christmas without my dad—to hug, laugh with, give him a gift. Even with him having ALS for 24 years and unable to talk, walk or hug me back, his presence was always in the home. His presence was always still available for me to text/email or send funny videos of my kids with the confidence I would get a response. I know many of you can relate as you are also missing someone’s presence especially during these holidays.
I’ve realized that the most comforting thing about being with someone I love is not the topic of conversation or what we choose to do, but simply their presence. If we put so much value on one human in our life that we love so dearly, how much MORE substantial and real is The Presence of Jesus that will never leave us!? I believe God created our hearts with this presence-craving deep within us because He actually has that same hunger in Him for ours. God craved to share His presence with us so much He chose to send his only son as a weak baby to a dark earth to then be the ultimate sacrifice for us by receiving the most painful, humiliating death by crucifixion.
Presence releases rest, and rest releases Presence.
“In repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength.”
My family and in-laws had a skiing trip planned for Colorado after Christmas, and because dad was feeling a bit better and was deeply determined for us to still go on our trip, we continued our plans. As we ascended the mountains of Colorado, Daddy also was beginning his ascent to heaven, and around midnight on December 30th, he finally received his full healing! I caught the next flight out of a small airport with ironically the acronym code “ALS”. I had a one-way ticket leaving ALS, never to return!
I believe we are all on this ascent of learning rest, enjoying His Presence, and letting go of self to take hold of His strength in our weakness! Thank you for all your prayers, support, love tears and laughs throughout this journey. I could write so much more about the power of love and prayer from each one of YOU through all of this! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from our family to yours!
A month before Bill went to heaven, he sent me an email. The top line read:
“If I go home:
Don’t think for a minute that God failed us! You know how faithful God has been.”
He continued with a list of things that I needed to take care of (his book, his funeral, etc.), but all I could see and hear were his words above. These words have replayed over and over in my mind since running across this email. God knew I needed to read these words as I navigated through the grieving process. He knew I would question His sovereignty and that I needed to remember His faithfulness throughout the past 24 years. He made provision in all areas of our life as we walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Bill WAS a miracle! The doctors gave him a 3-5-year death sentence, but God added 20 more years to his life!
Did God fail us? No, He didn’t fail us. Is God still faithful? Yes, He is.
Because of the loving devotion of the LORD, we are not consumed, for His mercies never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:22-23)
The day after Bill went home, I sat in my living room alone for the first time in years, not knowing what to do with myself. The silence in our home that night was so loud as I sat there staring out the window. I couldn’t believe that Bill was gone. I asked God to talk to me. I closed my eyes and waited. I saw myself pushing Bill over the finish line in his wheelchair. I am left standing there as I watched him slowly disappear. With tears running down my face, I realized that I had been running Bill’s race beside him for 24 years. It was our race together. We were a team. A team that included Jesus as the cord that held us together to move forward for His glory. That marathon was finished.
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
I’m not sure what my race without Bill beside me looks like, but I do know that I want to finish strong as Bill did. I always told Bill he reminded me of Paul. Metaphorically, Bill was imprisoned inside his body for 24 years. They both used their time in prison to encourage others. They kept the faith and didn’t give up no matter how tough life got.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
Bill allowed God’s grace to carry him so he could be an example to all of us that God’s grace is sufficient. Now, I must let God’s grace hold me as I figure out the race without Bill beside me.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
I have cried more in the past five months than I have in my entire life. I don’t think I allowed myself to grieve during his illness like I should have, so now I mourn the loss of his absence and all the other losses that ALS took from him and our family. God is healing my heart each day as I put my trust in Him. He said he’d never leave us. He said he’d direct our path. So, I wait on Him.
Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord! (Psalms 27:14)
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
Has God failed us? No, He hasn’t. Is God still faithful? Yes, He is.
My prayer is that Bill’s words will help someone else as much as they did me.
“Don’t think for a minute that God failed us (you)! You know how faithful God has been.”
Thank you for all the beautiful and encouraging words, prayers and virtual hugs. We feel so loved and comforted and will treasure each one of these sentiments for days to come. Each comment, text and tribute has been a source of joy that has brought me to tears over and over again.
The funeral can be re-played at a later time and will be posted here as soon as it is uploaded. Thank you for being together with us in spirit.
With a grateful heart,
Dearest faithful followers of Unshakable Hope,
It’s with a heavy heart that I inform you that Bill has finished the race that was set before him. He has fought the good fight of faith, and is now receiving his reward.
The heavy heart is only because of the hole that will be left in my heart, and the hearts of everyone that was lucky enough to share life with him.
I’m happy that he is where he has longed to be. Shortly before passing, he told us that he was excited to go home. We are grateful he is now in his eternal home praising God with a body that’s totally healed of the disease that has so ravished his body.
Thank you to all who read his blog, posted encouraging comments, prayed (some did this daily), supported us financially, and loved us.
I can’t put into words the gratitude in my heart.
Mary and family