Pressing On

Happy New Year!

Yeah, I know I’m late, but I have an excuse.

I spent the last ten days battling a respiratory infection. For someone who lives with only thirty percent of his lungs functioning on a good day, pneumonia and respiratory infections are, putting it lightly, really bad. So, I don’t care what the date on the calendar is, I’m declaring that today is the first day of my year. Those of you who have already broken your New Year resolutions might want to join me in this do-over.

It may be a weird coincidence, but two years ago I spent the first week of the year in the hospital battling a respiratory infection. If you want excitement on New Year’s Eve, just go sit in the ER at a nearby hospital.

As many of you know, I almost lost a battle with pneumonia three months ago. During that battle, I was put on hospice. Being on hospice is great because I no longer have to go to the hospital. So, even though I was just as sick as I was on New Year’s Eve two years ago, I was able to stay in my quiet bedroom.

It might not make sense to an able-bodied person, but even a guy that lives trapped in a completely useless body makes plans for the coming year. On January 1st, I had plans to hit the ground running, figuratively speaking, obviously. But once again I spent the first week of the year sitting on the sidelines. It’s so frustrating to begin the year playing catch up, but I must press on!

“…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

The context of the above passage is interesting and so powerful. The Apostle Paul is comparing his former life as a highly-respected Pharisee and scholar, to his debasement (in the eyes of the world) as a Christian who spent much of his time in prison. In fact, the first chapter of this book tells us that Paul wrote this while he was “in chains.” It’s so ironic that, before becoming a follower of Christ, Paul would hunt down and imprison Christians, and even oversee their execution, but now he was the one imprisoned for, in his words, “the cause of Christ.”

Suppose that Paul would have sat there in that dark dungeon dwelling on his former life:

  • He would look at the rags he was wearing and remember the fine robes he used to wear.
  • He would look at the mystery slop in the bowl in front of him and think about the delicious foods he used to enjoy.
  • He would look at the hard floor he was sleeping on and think about the comfortable bed that he used to sleep soundly on.
  • He would look around the cell at the dark walls and remember the feel of the sun on his face and the beauty of flowering plants as he used to stroll through the gardens of Jerusalem.

I understand the temptation of thinking about how things used to be before ALS imprisoned me in my own body:

  • I had a good job that I enjoyed and was earning a good income.
  • Mary and I had an active social life and enjoyed fellowship with many close friends.
  • I enjoyed being an active father of our two beautiful little daughters.
  • I was active in church and enjoyed teaching Sunday school.
  • I was able to eat delicious food with my mouth, no feeding tube needed.
  • I was able to speak with my own voice, no Text-to-Speech robot voice needed.
  • I was able to breathe without the assistance of a breathing machine.
  • I was able to operate the remote control for the TV!

Okay, the last bullet point is kind of shallow, but you get the idea. The point I am trying to make is that the life of following Christ is always looking forward. We learn lessons from the past, but we can’t live there in our minds.

Isn’t that living in denial?

It’s not living in denial if Christ and a hope of heaven is your reality. My life’s work is now to spread the message of this reality to others. Even if I were completely healed today, I would continue with this work because it’s what I was called to do. I just didn’t realize it when I was able-bodied.

ALS has taken away so much, but being imprisoned in my body has turned me into the man that God intended me to be. Apart from ALS, I don’t know if I would have ever found that man. It shouldn’t take a horrible trial for us to discover the person that God designed us to be.

In the same chapter as the passage I posted above, Paul calls everything he’s lost as “rubbish:”

“I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:8)

Hold tightly to lessons learned from your past, and the joyful memories you have. But, let go of guilt, regrets and “baggage” from your past.

Press on with me this year!

The Perfect Gift

Mary and our daughters, Lauren and Leah, have told me for years that I am “the most difficult person to buy Christmas gifts for.” The reason for this is because, in a sense, I am like the man who has everything – I need very little, materially, anyways.

Twenty-two years ago, before ALS invaded my body, I was easy to buy gifts for. If Mary and the girls couldn’t think of anything else, anything creative, that is, they’d just get me a necktie, golf balls, or maybe a some of my favorite snacks. But now that ALS has taken away my ability to work, golf and eat, the old default gifts are no longer an option.

Even before ALS changed our lives, and our finances, Mary and I never spent a lot of money buying each other Christmas gifts. She found a 50% off sale on men’s clothing earlier this month and bought me a nice shirt and two pairs of pants. She gave me the gifts last week, and I’ve already worn the pants. You might be thinking that she should have waited until Christmas morning to give me the gifts. I don’t know for sure, but she’ll probably have another gift or two for me to open on Christmas morning. Maybe she’ll get me exciting gifts like new socks and slippers. I might have a few gifts for her to open Christmas morning, too. But, with ALS, there’s no better time than the present when it comes to giving presents.

As the regular followers of my blog know, pneumonia almost took me out a few months ago. This was just the latest of my many close encounters with death. I am learning to live like every day might be my last day in my rapidly decaying body.

Isn’t this the way that all followers of Christ should live, regardless of the state of our health?

“How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14)

Even if we live to be a hundred, that is just a drop in the ocean when compared to eternity. The greatest gift that God could have given man is the gift of eternal life. This incredible gift comes through Jesus Christ, whose birth Christians celebrate every December 25th.

The Bible tells us that Mary, Jesus’s mother, was a virgin and that an angel told her that she was going to be the mother of the Savior of the world. A virgin becoming pregnant? Mary was wondering about this, too:

“Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)
Answer:
“The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

According to the Bible, our sin nature is passed from one generation to another through the father (Romans 5:12). This means that for Jesus to be the “Savior of the world,” He had to be born without a sin nature; only God Himself was qualified to be the Father of Jesus.

Here is the great part of this – Jesus was born sinless and lived a sinless life so that He could place His sinless nature in anyone who asks Him to do so.

Jesus had to be born of a virgin so the prostitute could be born again!

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23)

Jesus is the perfect one-size-fits-all gift. If you haven’t yet accepted this free gift from God, I hope and pray that you will. There’s no better time than today.

I apologize for being pushy about this, but those who live like today might be their last day on earth, tend to be direct about matters of eternity. This might be your last day on earth, too.

“God says,
At just the right time, I heard you.
On the day of salvation, I helped you.”
Indeed, God is ready to help you right now.
Today is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Are you a Christian?

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our many blessings. Mary and I have so much to be thankful for. You might be thinking, “but you have ALS, you can’t eat turkey, dressing, and mashed potatoes with gravy. You can’t even eat pumpkin pie with a good cup of coffee for dessert…” Yeah, I think the same thing every year, it’s a real bummer sitting there watching family and friends eat Thanksgiving dinner while the “food” pump next to my wheelchair delivers formula into my feeding tube.

More frustrating than not being able to eat is not being able to speak when family and friends are gathered around our tble. I try to chime in using my computer’s Text-to-Speech app, but it takes me so long to type my thoughts that usually the group has changed subjects two or three times by the time I finish typing a sentence or two. Before ALS robbed me of my voice, when I was taking part in the table’s conversations, I never noticed how quickly even a small group changes subjects.

“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

The above verse doesn’t tell followers of Christ to be thankful for our difficult circumstances; God doesn’t call us to live in a state of denial. However, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can remain thankful in the midst of even the most difficult circumstances.

I am a more thankful person today than I was twenty-two years ago before being diagnosed with this dreadful disease. Way back in 1996, I was able to work, walk, speak, eat, and do all the other things that “normal people” do (I really miss being able to operate the television remote control). Like others living the so-called American dream, I took so many blessings for granted.

“If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” (1 Timothy 6:8).

We have a home, clothing and, even though it’s not the food I’d like, this manufactured formula has sustained me for the last twelve years that I’ve been unable to eat by mouth. But, Mary and I have so much more than “food and covering.” We have air conditioning for the hot Texas summers, a heater for the cold Texas winters; we even have a water heater for hot showers. These are just a few of the many blessings I took for granted before ALS. Now, I thank God every day for so many blessings, including my wheelchair, my faux food, and my breathing machine. I am especially thankful for this eye-tracking computer that allows me to communicate and form relationships with followers of this blog.

More than the luxuries that God has given us, we’re so thankful for the family and friends He’s surrounded us with – including the friends I’ve connected with over the last six years that I’ve been posting on this blog.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1)

If you are going through one life’s many difficulties, even if you don’t feel like doing so, try thanking God and those in your life that are trying to help you. Give it a whirl, I know first-hand that it will change your outlook for the better.

In my post from November 2nd titled, “Do ‘All Things’ Really Work For Good,” I wrote about Mary losing her job. She’s had this job working from home for twenty-nine years. At the suggestion of a few friends, my brother set up a Go Fund Me Account for us. I included a link to the account on my last post (“The Depth Of My Pride”). And, WOW, the response from family and friends, and so many of my fellow bloggers, my blogging family, was overwhelming!

The Go Fund Me Account has been such a blessing to us. Mary has worked that full-time job from home the whole time I’ve had ALS. As I’ve become more dependent on her, especially after my having pneumonia in September, it became like she was working two full-time jobs. All day long she was running back and forth between her office and our bedroom. It was becoming more and more stressful on her.

Through the GFM account, God blessed us through all of you that gave. We are so thankful to God and to those of you who gave to GFM. We are also very grateful for those of you who have been praying for us. We know that prayer works and is so powerful. In fact, we are convinced that it was prayer that led to the GFM account.

However, as much as a blessing your gifts and prayers have been to us, nothing compares to the greatest gift that God has given to man. This is what we’re most thankful for this Thanksgiving day, and every day of the year:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

God is good!

The Depth Of My Pride

As the followers of my blog know, I’ve had ALS for twenty-two years, I’m completely paralyzed and unable to speak. I use an eye-tracking computer to communicate and I am totally reliant on Mary to take care of me.


Chipping away at my pride

I remember when I first started having to rely on others to help me with simple tasks. Even though my body was beginning to fail me and I sounded like a drunk when I spoke, I fought so hard to keep working after being diagnosed. Not just because we needed my income, but also because I just couldn’t imagine not working.

With my job as a Regional Sales Manager, I usually traveled two or three days per week, and usually left for the airport at five in the morning. I remember attending a convention and having to ask a coworker to button my shirt and put on my clip-on tie (I had already given up on adult ties).
On another trip I swung my overnight bag up on the conveyor belt going through security and lost what little balance I had and fell to the floor. Everyone in line just stared at me, until finally a frail elderly security guard helped me up. For most people, this incident would be close to the top of their “Life’s most embarrassing moments” list. For me, after twenty-two years with ALS, it doesn’t even qualify for the top 25. The incident did mark the end of my career, though.

One would think that a person who is completely helpless would have had every last drop of pride wrung out of him. Think again.

Following my last post about Mary being Laid-off from the job she’s had for the last twenty-nine years, and her income being more than double the amount of my monthly disability check… Several readers suggested setting up a Go Fund Me Account. “I’m not going to stand on a virtual street corner with a Go Fund Me placard asking for donations,” I thought.

If even the lame and mute still retain their pride, is anyone truly humble?

Well, my brother did start a Go Fund Me Account for us and one of our daughters is helping him manage it.

I cringed when my brother, daughter, and several followers of my blog suggested that I put a link on my blog to the Go Fund Me Account. This step was even more difficult for me.

I’ve been thinking and praying about this for the last two days. I would never want to give the appearance that I was trying to capitalize on the friendships, so many good friendships, that I’ve built through this Unshakable Hope blog over the last six years.

God reminded me that over the course of this long difficult trial, financially and otherwise, He has blessed us over and over through the hands of others, and that this Go Fund Me Account is an opportunity for Him to bless us again.
(My brother set the fundraising goal without consulting me; I would have set the goal at a million dollars :-))

If you’d like to give, please click HERE. (Thank you so much, my friends).

(Please) “…don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Do “All Things” Really Work For Good?

Before I begin this post, I feel like I owe the readers of my last post an apology.
When I started this Unshakable Hope blog over six years ago, I set some guidelines for myself. One of these guidelines was replying to every comment made. I figure, if people took the time to read and comment on a post, I at least owed them a “Thank You.” Besides, I enjoy interacting with my readers; my friends.

I didn’t reply to even one comment. Mary and I read every comment on our own, and then she read them out loud to me. Thank you so much for your encouraging comments and for your prayers – both of these help us to persevere.

As I mentioned in the perseverance post on my birthday, Friday, October 5th, I planned on posting it on September 23rd, but I woke up that Monday morning with what I’d discover was pneumonia. I was transferred to hospice, and I think most people, including Mary, felt that it might be my last few days in this lame body. But, I recovered and actually felt pretty good the weekend of my birthday. The hospice nurse told me that the pneumonia was gone.

However, the following week, I came down with another unrelated infection, which meant ten more days of powerful antibiotics. I think it’s because I am fed a liquid diet through a tube in my stomach, but it takes everything I have to keep the antibiotics down after Mary pours them in. Thankfully, I did keep them down and, thank God, I recovered from that nasty infection too.

Mary and I were happy to wave goodbye to October. I am typing this on November 1st, a brand new month. As if on cue, the first real cold front of fall swept through Texas last night and put an end to the hot, humid weather of October and replaced it with beautiful crisp sunny weather. If I was still able to golf…

The day of this posting is November 2nd. Mary and I were married on November 2nd, 1985; today is our 33rd wedding anniversary. I think she’s a keeper.

I know, what was I thinking wearing a white tux? I think a white tuxedo was a Texas thing in the 1980s. Regardless, Mary wanted me to wear a white tux, and people in love agree to things they otherwise wouldn’t even consider. I was raised in the Chicago suburbs, not far from where the movie, “Home Alone” was filmed. A quote from that movie came to my mind when Mary emailed me this picture to use in my post and I cringed when I saw the white tux; (in Chicagoland) “You can get beat up for wearing something like I that.”

I was diagnosed with ALS within days of our 11th wedding anniversary. As I said, this is our 33rd anniversary. So, I’ve had ALS for two-thirds of our married life. Would Mary and I have had those smiles on our faces if we knew what our futures held? Obviously, that’s the reason God doesn’t reveal our futures to us. Like manna only lasting twenty-four hours when the Jews were trusting God to sustain them in the wilderness, the Christian life is a “one day at a time” life.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Really?

YES! This verse is true – for every follower of Christ. Unless you only think of prosperity in the financial context. If this and other passages about prosperity just referred to finances, our brothers and sisters in the third world and even the apostles missed God. Through our darkest times, including when ALS ended my career, and I had to wait seven months for my first disability check. With mounting medical and credit card bills, we were afraid to answer the phone out of fear that it was another collection agency with their heartless threats. It was then that we learned to rely entirely on God. He worked miracles on our behalf. This chapter of our lives will be a chapter in the book I am writing.

We learned about true prosperity the hard way. Having God’s Spirit dwelling inside of us, and the joy, peace, hope, and contentment that comes through the Spirit of Christ. Having a God, a family, and friends who love us unconditionally; This is true prosperity.

Way back then, Mary had a job working from home for a medical transcription business. It didn’t pay a lot, but it was enough for us to keep our two beautiful daughters, then four and seven, in a Christian school and allowed Mary to be at home with the girls. I was the primary breadwinner, so it was difficult when I was forced to resign from my job. But, through hard work and her intelligence, Mary grew in her career and has worked for the same business for the last twenty-nine year’s.

I’m typing this line at 9:12 at night, I am trying to finish so I can post it in the morning. Well, about five hours ago, when I was in the midst of typing this post, Mary came in and told me that she was Laid-off from the company she’s been employed with for almost three decades. Her being Laid-off wasn’t unexpected, the business was bought out three years ago and has undergone many changes. We were thankful that they kept her after the buyout, but we suspected this day was coming.

Are we wringing our hands and pacing the floor after hearing this news this afternoon? No way! Besides the fact that I can’t wring my hands or pace the floor, even though Mary is, or was, the primary breadwinner, we’re not the least bit worried. Why? Because, as I said, we have learned to rely on God. He is our source, not a business and not a disability check.

Since having pneumonia in September and battling the horrible infection in October, I have been needing Mary much more than I did before these two latest trials. As I’ve mentioned before, Mary’s eighty-six-year-old mother has lived with us since Mary’s stepdad passed away over five years ago. She’s always been amazingly independent, and she’s been such a big help around the house, doing all laundry and helping clean the house. She’s been such a blessing to us.

Well, last month, she passed out and took a bad fall hitting her head and injuring her lower back. The ambulance rushed her to the hospital, but after two days of testing, the doctors could not find the reason she fainted. Even though she was I was barely able to walk, the hospital sent her home. In addition to being my full-time caregiver, Mary is now her mom’s full-time caregiver. Working a stressful job and taking care of her mom and me, and also doing the laundry and cleaning that her mom used to do, was taking a heavy toll on Mary. Something had to give – God decided it was Mary’s job.

Back in June, Mary and I were looking for ways to cut expenses so she could work another less stressful and maybe even a part-time job from home. We were talking about selling our house and finding a less expensive place to live. The problem with moving is that we have a perfect set up in this home; we have a large bedroom and bathroom with a roll-in shower for me. And, we have a guest room with its own bathroom. It’s been a perfect set up for Mary’s mom and Mary and me.

I felt that God didn’t want us even to discuss making a change for the rest of this year. It’s been tough on Mary because she thinks out loud. She’ll say I something like “there’s a new neighborhood being built nearby…” I give her a dirty look, and she stops in mid-sentence, remembering our agreement.

Back in June, God gave me a well-known verse for us to cling tightly to through the rest of this year. The verse is Romans 8:28:
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Does this really mean “all things,” even pneumonia and losing your job? YES!

Somehow, if we give it to Him, God will take all of our sin, shame, disobedience, and the many difficult trials we go through. He then mixes in a big bowl, stirs in a generous amount of grace, mercy and the forgiveness that Christ offers us; then He paints for us a beautiful mosaic titled, “All Things.”

God is good!
God is faithful!