Hang In There!

The Saturday before Easter Mary took me on a long trip. We went to visit our older daughter and our son-in-law, and our three adorable grandchildren. Their home is around seventy miles away from our house.

I know that seventy miles from home doesn’t seem like a long trip to most of you, but anything further than our mailbox is outside of this hermit’s comfort zone. I was somewhat hesitant about getting in the van after our last trip to look at a new neighborhood that is being built nearby didn’t turn out so well.

Unlike the newer smooth-driving minivans with wheelchair ramps, we have a big not-so-smooth-driving Ford van with a hydraulic wheelchair lift. My wheelchair weighs about three hundred and fifty pounds, and I weigh about a hundred and sixty-five pounds. So the lift has to raise and lower over five hundred pounds. Using the controls, Mary lowers the lift so my wheelchair can back onto it. She then raises me to the level of the van where I can then back in. Our van and the wheelchair lift are twenty-one years old, but both work well. Usually.

It was difficult for me to look around the new neighborhood because, like every other muscle in my body, my neck muscles are extremely weak, so with every turn of the van, my head swung back and forth. To people following us, I probably looked like a life-sized bobblehead figure. But, other than having a neck ache when we returned home from our brief excursion, everything went fine. Mary just had to get me out of the van and get me back into the house. If it were only that easy.

After raising the lift halfway, I saw a panicked look on her face. “The lift is stuck!” After she pushed the up and down buttons over and over, I concluded the obvious – I’d be spending the rest of my life stuck in the van. We taught our girls never to call 911 unless it was a real emergency. This situation wasn’t like a heart attack or a car accident, but I knew that Mary and her eighty-six-year-old mother were not going to lift me and my wheelchair out of the van. Mary called 911 and explained the situation, telling them not to hurry, but…

Within minutes I heard sirens in the distance, and they were getting louder and louder. As I sat there hoping that God would somehow keep our neighbors from hearing the sirens and seeing the flashing lights, a big firetruck parked in the street and an ambulance pulled in the driveway. Just ten minutes after Mary made that “no need hurry” call to 911, six men and a woman were standing in front of me scratching their heads.

I have an old manual wheelchair in our garage, and they were able to lift me out of my wheelchair and plop me in that wheelchair. They were then able to lift my heavy wheelchair out of the van and transfer me back. We are so thankful for first responders, I just wish they didn’t have to use sirens and flashing lights. I don’t know for sure, but I think some of my neighbors might have gotten a glimpse of me for the first time. Mary got the lift repaired the following day, and it works great now.

This was actually the second time we had to call 911 because of this wheelchair lift malfunctioning. The first time was a scary situation. About five years before this incident, on our wedding anniversary, Mary and I decided we would pretend that we were a normal couple and go to see a movie. Everything went fine until we exited the theater and saw the pouring rain. Thankfully, our van was parked only about a hundred feet from the doors of the theater. Handicap parking is great. I turned the speed of my wheelchair all the way up, and we made a mad dash to the van. Mary quickly opened the doors to the van and grabbed an umbrella to hold over us as she operated the lift. She’s the best!

Within two minutes I was on the lift being raised up to the level of the van where I would quickly back in, and we’d be out of the rain and on our way home. It didn’t quite work out that way. We heard a popping noise when she was raising me up. “That can’t be good,” I thought.

The lift went all the way up to the level of the van, but there was a two-inch gap between the lift and the floor of the van. This has never happened before, the lift is usually flush with the floor of the van. But, my wheelchair is great, I can roll over high thresholds and other minor obstacles like toys that our grandchildren have left lying around. I figured that getting over a two-inch gap would be no problem.

However, I failed to realize that the lift and the wheels of my wheelchair being wet would make jumping this gap really difficult. I still had the speed of my wheelchair on its highest setting, but couldn’t get over the gap and into the van. I tried again and again. I would inch my way to the front of the lift then quickly pull the joystick back. But when the small back wheels hit the gap, the big wheels would start spinning.

I kept trying. The rain increased. Umbrellas don’t work very well when the wind is blowing. We were soaked. “A few more tries and we’ll go back into the theater’s lobby and wait for the rain to stop,” I told myself. I tried again, and the strangest thing happened, something I couldn’t even imagine. Apparently, the engineers who designed this wheelchair lift didn’t envision this happening either.

When I pulled back on the joystick, the small back wheels got stuck in the gap, and the big wheels began spinning just as in previous times. But, instead of the wheelchair going over the gap and into the van, the floor of the lift shot out from under me, sailing over the parking space next to us and landing against a curb. The boy inside of me thought, “THAT WAS AWESOME!” Then, that pesky rational voice in my head quickly took over, wondering: “If the floor of the wheelchair lift just went skidding across the parking lot, what was holding my wheelchair and me three feet up in the air?”

I glanced over at Mary who looked like she was in shock: “Bill, don’t move.” She obviously forgot that I was paralyzed. Trying to remain calm, she explained that only the outside edges of the tires of my wheelchair were resting on the narrow angle iron that used to support the floor of the lift. If my wheels had not been perfectly centered on the lift, the wheelchair and its occupant would have fallen to one side or the other. It turns out that the only thing holding the floor of the lift to the narrow supports was a strip of double-sided tape.

After examining my precarious state, Mary determined that she could not lower the lift because the small back wheels were stuck in the gap and lowering the lift would dump me out onto the parking lot and the three hundred and the fifty-pound wheelchair would likely land on top of me. She called 911, and some big firemen showed up, crawled over the back seat, and pulled me into the van.

I am so thankful for things like wheelchairs, wheelchair lifts, and especially for this computer that allows someone like me to communicate and type blog posts. But I’ve learned the hard way not to put faith in technology or any man-made things.

Was God holding me and my wheelchair up when the floor of the lift shot out from under me?

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

It was so strange to be sitting in my wheelchair three feet up in the air with seemingly nothing under me. But, because the outside edges of the two big tires were resting on the narrow angle iron, there is a natural explanation for my wheelchair being suspended in midair. Therefore, I can’t claim that it was a miracle that the wheelchair didn’t fall when the floor shot out from under me.

However, Mary and I believe that this was a miracle because God has been “holding us up” throughout the twenty-two years of my having ALS. Just when we need assistance, He sends family or friends or, in this case, firemen, to help us.

We know that the life of faith can often feel like we’re suspended in midair. There are times that followers of Christ can feel like God has left us hanging. This is where our faith, trust, and hope in Christ are tested and strengthened.

Hang in there. God has not forgotten you.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

About Bill Sweeney

In 1996, Bill was diagnosed with ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) and the doctors told him he had 3-5 years to live. He is now completely paralyzed and unable to speak, but by God’s grace, he’s still alive and through his blog shares a message of hope in Christ - Unshakable Hope!

Posted on May 10, 2019, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 115 Comments.

  1. Thank you for sharing this! Miracles come to us in so many ways…surely, as I read this, I saw a miracle unfolding. God is always with us, and He never leaves our side. We are not always aware of how close He stays to us through every peril life throws at us. I think of the people that God sends into our lives as our ‘earth angels’…be it our friends, our beloveds, firemen, whatever! And this is what we are called to be in this world…a reflection of God’s great love and light. Here, you do that with your blog…infuse light into the lives of others.

    • Thank you, Linda. Mary and I have had many “earth angels” assist us over the years.
      “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

  2. Linda L Christianson

    An exciting day. A few years back our church, Red Oak Grove Lutheran near Austin, Minnesota had two Guest speakers. One from Lyle Minnesota who has spent , from age 15, to present in a wheel chair due to a diving accident. Myself, who has spent 70 years living with the after effects of Polio. Getting his wheel chair into the elevator and up to the main part of the church was easy. The hard part was getting him to the church on time. He had a flat tire on the way to his speaking engagement and it took longer that you would what to get help and repair service. An older van that perhaps just needed new tires. Any way. I spoke first as he wasn’t there sharing my story hoping to be inspiring to that listening. He showed up just I was finishing. Timing could not have been better. Wee now explained what had happened and he shared his story. We traded books so I read his life story and he read mine. Amazing the similarities. Both grew up on a farm. Both had five children in the family. Both each had a sibling that had passed away. On and on. Amazing. A great day was held at our church that day. Then time to go home and he got caught in the elevator. The only thing we could do was call the fire department also. We explained that it was not a real emergency but just needed help getting him out of the elevator. The fire chief works as an electrician so I just thought the best source to call. Only took a few minutes to hear sirens and and a full crew all dressed for a big fire. The day made a nice story for the local paper on the front page the next week. I can’t imagine and it gives me strength to hear stories like this.I get so frustrated and try had to always be patient but sometimes I just get angry in my situation of working so slow and taking so long to do everything. The thing is I can do anything anyone else can, it just takes me 4 times longer. So my 4 P words just have to stay in place. Prayer, Patience, Prioritize, and Persistence. Some days it is so hard to keep them in place. God Bless you and Mary for your living as God planned and not complaining about it.

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Linda.
      I am thankful for the ADA bill that Congress passed so many years ago, but disabled people will still face obstacles. First responders are a blessing when we get stranded 🙂 I’m glad that everything worked out okay. Keep focusing on your four P’s and I will, too.

  3. Thank you Mr. Sweeney for writing such an encouraging post!
    God bless you!

  4. Wow! what incredible stories. And as always, I’m encouraged by your closing remarks – we’ve had some “suspended” situations in our lives this year! God is so good and faithful, and it’s so helpful when we share our testimonies of that! Thanks, Bill.

    • Thank you, Laura. I’m sorry that you’ve had some difficulties this year. I hope and pray that these situations are quickly resolved according to Romans 8:28.

  5. I am so very inspired, encouraged, and blessed, visiting your site today! There is much of the beauty of Jesus evident in your spirit and writing, my brother. May He strengthen you with new might every day in your inner man as you faithfully walk forward in Him! I am thankful for your powerful ministry in Him. (And love that quote by Einstein! It’s perfect!)

  6. So glad God is adding adventure to your life! And what a beautiful fellowship of believers here to share it with. Thank you Bill for uplifting our hearts, sending ❤ to you and Mary.

  7. Thanks for your likes of my posts, and for following my blog. I will be starting a series of posts that come from the Gospel of John, that will have dedicated verses of scripture for each video passage. There are forty-nine such articles and videos that will begin next week. For me, I see the person of Christ in John’s Gospel; I see more of the actions of Christ in the other gospels. Please let me invite you to stay with me in each of my ongoing projects: Israel, The End Times, and now, The Life Of Christ.I am deeply humbled by your kindness.

  8. Wow, what an adventure! Good reminders, too, Bill. I’m in a place where I’m kind of hanging there with my wheels delicately balanced on the narrow props without a floor to speak of… but I know God has His hand in it and on me!

    Keep hanging in there. 😉

  9. Your attitude and spiritual-practical application never fail to inspire, Bill.

  10. As I read your accounts of harrowing wheelchair and van experiences, I felt the fear and frustration That i have felt in similar (although definitely not as threatening) situations. We have a beautiful 2014 Honda Odyssey with rollout ramp that has malfunctioned on several occasions. The first time was when we arrived home, at night, after spending an all day marathon purchase experience at a place two hours away. Regardless of age, the vans are not failproof and can cause anyone second thoughts (or panic!) about venturing out, but especially those of us who need them. We have called “lift assist” just once (so far, and for an indoor need), but requested no sirens and they complied. I wish you and Mary didn’t have to deal with these things in addition to the challenges of everyday life; but thank you for sharing the stories and God’s provisions in the midst of them.

    • You are so right, none of these vans are fail proof. I didn’t know you can ask them not to use sirens. Can I also ask them to all pile in a car and leave the firetruck and ambulance behind? 🙂
      I’m glad you have a smooth-riding Honda van. I am trying not to covet your van 🙂 actually, we are thankful for “Bertha,” overall, she’s been a good van for many years – so much better than “Bubba,” our first van.

  11. Dear Bill, we are blessed again by your witness of our Lord’s presence and grace. Praying for continued blessings for you, Mary, and your family.

  12. Thanks for your like of my post, “Israel 13 – Shabbat – The True Light;” you are very kind.

  13. Wow! So glad you survived! Sounds like the firefighters from the first account were excited. [chuckle]

  14. Dear Bill and Mary,
    I laughed out loud reading the part about the floor under the wheelchair shooting out! Thank you for that, is41:10 has been a life verse for me.
    And I loved the Einstein quote,
    Sending prayers and love always.
    Nancy

  15. Thank you! Another amazing testimony of how you and your family are held so very close and intimately to His heart.

  16. Hi Bill! You are an amazing storyteller! Praise God for His help! I hope you and Mary had a wonderful Mother’s Day! Praising God for you!

    • Thank you, Mandy. We KNOW that God was with us that day, just like He is every day. Mary and her mom, who lives with us, had a great Mother’s day.

  17. Thank you so much for choosing to follow my blog. Without that I might not have seen yours. It and the ending verse were just what I needed.

  18. Linda gerhardt

    Thank you lord,for Bill and He has shined your light on everything,giving thanks.Blessings to a teachers,teacher.Linda gerhardt ,smile

  19. As so often w/ posts of yours, this one brought tears to my eyes, Bill. Thank you for sharing the “everyday” trials you and Mary endure. They are stunning — and humbling — to the rest of us. Surely, God has you in His care. Your faith is a constant inspiration. <3

    • Thank you, Anna. I was hoping for readers to be able to laugh about it with us 🙂 At the time, we never thought that we’d be able to laugh about it.

  20. Bill, I love your sense of humor. Those things are never funny in the moment, but when we get to look back, they provide, by God’s grace, a place for smiles. I remember giving Corey a t-shirt when he came out of ICU and off the ventilator it said, “I feel like I got hit by a truck!” I had it signed by all the nurses …That was one of the worst day in our family … but we were able to find smiles later … Thanks for helping us to “hang in there” … much love from here 🙂

    • We can (eventually) find the humor in the things that turned out okay. I certainly didn’t think I’d be able to laugh about this. In hindsight, I wish Mary would have taken a picture, but she threw her purse in the van when she grabbed the umbrella. That was a good idea to get Corey the t-shirt 🙂 I am so glad that situation turned out okay. Prayer works.

  21. Karen Gebbie

    Thank you again for another encouraging story. Clearly the Lord is keeping you here because your work is not yet done. May He continue to give you grace and sustenance ( and for your wife) in the future. Kare

    • So true, Karen, there are times that I feel like I am hanging by a thread, but God still has work for me to do. He definitely gives us grace and sustains us. Thank you for your comments.

  22. You are both an inspiration and a living testimony to the power, love and faithfulness of our God and Father. Prayers and blessings to you both. ♥️

  23. We’re out here listening, and you are helping us by constantly pointing to the truth. Well done, and thank you.

  24. Wow. Bill and Mary, you guys are unreal. And aside from the wonderful testimony of God meeting your needs, as I scrolled through the post, I considered the amount of time this one must have taken you to put together, which again is something else. Thank you so much for sharing, always lifting you and your family up daily in my prayers. God’s continued grace and blessings to you and yours.

  25. Kelly Moore Sharpe

    Amazing words from an Amazing Man with sn Amazing Wife and Amazing Children!! And of course, what a Testimony to our Amazing God!!

  26. You are both an inspiration. Great post and for your wonderful sense of humor. You are blessed to have each other.

  27. Amen. I think every heartbeat is a miracle for those who believe. We do not live in the past or future, we live in the now, with our God. Thank you for the encouragement.:)

  28. Bill, Goodness! My heart was beating double time reading this one. Poor Mary. Well, scary for you, too.
    As usual, you made my heart smile. And you used on of my favorite verses (Isaiah 41:10). I like to imagine the Lord holding my hand through this crazy life.
    Blessings to you, Mary, and the rest of your family.

    • Thank you, Beckie. My heart was beating triple time when I was up there. Isaiah 41:10 is one of the verses that brings me peace in this crazy world.

  29. I so look forward to your posts! They are so inspiring. Your wife is very inspiring too!!! I love that I can also always count on you to give me a good chuckle! Thanks for your transparency.

  30. Lynda Kay Verity

    I really enjoyed your wheelchair escapades. No doubt God was with you through all of that. Yes, a sense of humor goes a long way. I recently experienced a horrific event. My husband, Verl, had a brainstem stroke and I am now his caregiver, nurse, wife and breadwinner. I look back on a lot of your and Mary’s wisdom for inspiration on caring for him. Prayer and faith are top of the list. I could not do this with the help of family and friends also. Continued prayers for you and Mary and for your inspiring blogs.!!

    • Thank you for your encouraging comments, Lynda. I’m so sorry about Verl. Mary and I will keep you in our prayers. Being a caregiver is a full-time job for sure. We’ve had some challenges since Mary lost her job, but I am so glad to have her full-time. I hope you find a way to make it work without you having to be the breadwinner.

  31. I love this encouraging post so much, I posted a link to it on my blog. I also put the Einstein quote on a picture I took at California’s Venice Beach a few years ago and posted it with the link.

    Thank you for this. I love love love reading your blog.

  32. Dmsaye@hotmail.com

    I just love still hearing your humor that has always been such a part of your personality
    still strong and shining through. You still make me laugh and your honesty and transparency in yours and Mary’s journey is always a blessing and encouragement to me!! Love you guys so much and I promise you, every time the Lord allows your beautiful faces to pass through my thoughts… there are always prayers utter and blessings asked for you from our Father!! Xoxo Danette

    • Thank you for your kind words, Danette – God has given you a gift for encouraging others. Mary has been cleaning closets… Last week she was going through a box of old cards and there were several from you 22 years ago when I was diagnosed. Thank you!

  33. I know it takes a lot of effort for you to write a post. Thank you for sharing these 2 vignettes of NOTHING being outside of God’s power. By God’s grace I continue to pray for you for you to be strengthened by his word according to his glory-filled might so you can continue to live by faith and not by sight, with endurance and patience in each circumstance that God gives you. I know you thank Him for your Mary.

  34. Oh my goodness…what would we do without the local EMTs. Our situation isn’t anything like as serious as yours but with out our locals I’m not sure what would happen. My Dad (96) has knees that just give way and he ends up on the floor. Sometimes I can help but most of the time not .As long as the assistence is available I can’t risk getting hurt myself trying to get him up. Mother knows to just call 911 and then call me and let me know what is going on. If Gardian calls I know she is the one on the floor.

    • Yes – We are both so thankful for our local EMTs, I don’t know what we would have done without them. Don’t try to pick your dad up, just give him a pillow while he waits for help 🙂 (I’ve been there) Thank you for your comments.

  35. This was amazing. Thanks so much for sharing. You and your wife are both inspirations. Hang in there yourself! God isn’t just working miracles in your life. He’s working miracles in the lives of those who are blessed by your posts as well. <3

  36. Bill, thank you, along with all others, for using your gifts so well, acknowledging God in every part of your life. I too look forward to the read, every time I see “unshakablehope” in my inbox. And I know those are true words coming from you and Mary.

    Thankful for the chuckles also, even though living through the situation was not funny, as Mary could actually see it. But when Mary said, “Bill, don’t move”, and your thought was, “obviously she forgot I was paralyzed”, as I sat in a coffee shop reading that, I burst out with a chuckle out loud. So thank you.

    Bill, you and Mary are amazing, in Jesus Strength. I know you say it is Christ who gets you through all things, and that is the truth. But the decision was Mary’s and your’s to live, serving Jesus Christ in every way you are still able, and to give God the Glory.

    Thanks to each of you again, Mary and Bill, you are terrific examples.
    God’s Blessings be on each of you.

    George

  37. Your posts are so encouraging and engaging to read. Thank you for sharing valuable life lessons. It must be a lot of work to write so much with your eyes, but I surely appreciate that you do. Isaiah 41:10 is one of my favorites – I turn to it frequently!

    • Thank you for your encouraging comments, Kim. Yes, it is a lot of work for me to write, but what else do I have to do? 🙂 I enjoy writing and communicating with my friends, like you.

  38. YOU are a great man. This is an incredible post. THAT WAS AWESOME! If anyone out there has the power to make this “go viral” and if that is okay with you, Bill, then please get to work. This post is better than a thousand Sunday sermons. It appears the Lord wanted the flashing lights and sirens! (“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”) Praise Him for help showing up always.

    Thank you Bill and Mary, for your faithful walk and strength and your wonderful and powerful witness. The Lord is GOOD!

  39. You surely have challenges.. to say the very least Bill. I love the scripture you used… and I will claim God’s word as written…. Diane

  40. jacquelinegwallace

    I always look forward to reading your posts when they show up in my inbox. God has given you many gifts, Bill, and I thank him that you are using them to serve him among all of us readers! I thank God for Mary and the part she plays in serving God as she serves you! May the Lord “shower” his blessings on you both!

    • Thank you for your encouraging words, Jacqueline. God has been faithful to us throughout this long and difficult trial. Mary does serve me and the Lord well.

  41. I so love your posts. You made me laugh while reinforcing a valuable lesson. Like you, I will continue to hang in there. B Blessed!

  42. Blessings, Bill and Mary! Wonderful story. One I truly needed to hear today.

  43. Once again you have proven we have a God that cares not just about our big events but even the smaller ones. For you and that wheelchair, I would say that’s a big event. Thank you, as always, for sharing how awesome our Lord is.

  44. Thanks so much. I needed to hear this

  45. Love that Albert Einstein quote. You and Mary certainly live it out with gratitude, and these two instances with your van are perfect examples. Praise God he never leaves us hanging but always supplies our need (Philippians 4:19)!

  46. Thank you 🙏

  47. I get almost giddy when I see there is another post from you, and today you gave me a much needed belly laugh. Thank you, Bill, for your ministry. This week I’ve felt a little like I was suspended in midair, and very thankful that God Himself was holding me up. My “problems” are minuscule next to you and almost everyone else in the world, yet God still holds on when the floor shoots out from under me, too. God bless you, dear one. I’m praying for you and Mary!

  48. Wow! That is amazing — something like the chances of a coin landing on an edge and staying upright. And as usual your post is a real encouragement.

  49. That is a very encouraging word Bill! Sometimes it does feel like God has forgotten us, but I am so glad for the truth that He will never leave us nor forsake us. God bless you and your family!

    • That’s right, Ryan – That promise from God has carried me through some dark places.
      “For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never forsake you.” That is why we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will not be afraid…” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

  50. Great, and exciting, post, Bill. You are certainly evidence of God’s miraculous doings during our time here on Earth. Richest blessings to you and your family!

  51. Awesome post, Bill! And I love that you’ve not lost your sense of humor through the twenty-two years of ALS. But being held in the hands of the Almighty God is the most amazing place to be. Our circumstances don’t define us–and you continue to live out that reality every day. Thank you for being so willing to share so vulnerably and authentically through the discomfort and pain. Your life is a living testimony to a powerful and loving God. You and Mary are an amazing team!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: