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TGIF

I was thinking about Good Friday when I woke up early yesterday morning. I also thought about people using the phrase “Thank God It’s Friday” to celebrate the end of a work week and the start of the weekend.

Even though the progression of my ALS forced me to resign from my job over twenty-one years, I can still remember that TGIF feeling. Whether I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a Friday evening or landing at the airport after being gone all week on a business trip, it felt great to be done with the work week.

Then I thought about the darkest Friday of my life. After three days of grueling tests, which included cutting muscle samples out of my thigh without anesthetic and a spinal tap that left me with a debilitating headache for three days, I was exhausted. Mary and I sat at the foot of a hospital bed waiting for the head neurologist to give us the verdict. I remember it all so vividly, I heard footsteps, many footsteps, echoing off the walls of the hallway. Then, like a jury returning to a courtroom, the neurologist, flanked by a group of young interns, entered my hospital room. He told us the tests showed that I had ALS. He went on to say that I would continually get weaker, be confined to a wheelchair, lose my ability to speak and that I would die in three to five years.

That was not a Friday I was thanking God for.

Two thousand years ago, as the disciples were looking at Jesus on the cross, do you think they called that day “Good Friday?”

I don’t think so either.

I’m sure there was a lot of confusion and crying on that dark day. Maybe they were like Mary and I on the long drive home from the medical center that Friday evening; not even looking at one another for fear of dissolving into tears.

Like Mary and I, I’m sure they were thinking, “This isn’t the way it was supposed to be.”

To add insult to injury, as Jesus was hanging on the cross and, the disciples were surrounded by people that were mocking Him and celebrating His crucifixion:
“Hail, King of the Jews!”
“He saved others; He cannot save Himself.”
“…come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”

For the disciples, this day was anything but TGIF.

But Jesus knew differently.

“…for the joy set before Him (Jesus) endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2)

It was “for the joy set before Him” that Jesus was able to endure the insults, the flogging, the beatings, and being nailed to the cross.

It wasn’t until Sunday morning that the disciples understood that God’s plan was so much bigger and better than they could have ever imagined:

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

We can endure the cross we have to bear, no matter how heavy it might be, if we “fix our eyes on Jesus” and focus on “the joy set before us” – eternal life with the One who suffered and died for us.

This does not mean that we have to abandon our hopes and dreams for this life. Far from it. God wants to bless us in this life too. But, making a commitment to follow Christ is the only Unshakable Hope that God offers for this life and the next.

If you haven’t done so already, today is a great day to make this commitment.

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)

Originally posted April 2017

Life Goes On

“Life Goes On”

Whether we’re going through the worst of times or the best of times, history and our own experiences show us that life does go on. This is true, but I don’t recommend saying “life goes on” to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

“There is an appointed time for everything.
And there is a time for every event under heaven —
A time to give birth and a time to die…
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4)

I thought about the above passage last week when our daughter gave birth to a beautiful seven pound girl on Wednesday, then a close friend died of cancer on Friday – “A time to give birth and a time to die.”

Those who are grieving and those who are rejoicing have this in common – life goes on for both of them.

life goes on quote
It was a beautiful Friday afternoon in 1996 that the neurologist informed me that I had ALS and would likely be dead in three or four years (so much for predictions). I vividly remember driving home that day in stop-and-go traffic. I was exhausted after three long days of examinations so Mary was driving and I spent much of that long drive home staring out the window at the other drivers. I imagined that they were thinking about dinner or maybe they were making plans for the weekend ahead. In the midst of horrible news, when it seems that our life will never be the same, the world seems like such a cold and cruel place when you look around and realize that life goes on just as it always has.

Compared to life’s great highs and lows, day-to-day life can seem so trivial. When we experience the extreme highs and lows, we tell ourselves that we’ll never again settle for the trivial life. But our emotional or spiritual highs and lows gradually find their old balance, and we return to a mundane normalcy. I think this is the root cause of much of the addiction and depression we see around us; “life goes on” is difficult for many people to cope with.

What’s the answer?

Even for someone that’s been paralyzed by a horrible disease and can no longer eat or speak, “life goes on” can be a great message if you truly learn to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

I try not to focus on the personal and professional “highs” (or the financial gains) that I’ve missed out on over the last 19 years. Instead, I make a conscious effort to focus on the good things in my life, like our beautiful new granddaughter, and to share in the highs and lows of others. Living vicariously through others is not the life that I envisioned, but years ago I concluded that the only alternative was to throw a pity party and make myself and everyone around me miserable. I’ve been to several pity parties, and I didn’t like the company (me, myself and I) or the hangover of guilt.

Life is hard, but it’s much easier if we surround ourselves with people that won’t only rejoice with us in the good times but will also support us in the difficult times. I’m so thankful that Mary and I have family and friends like this.

For my daughter, her husband, their son and their beautiful baby girl, life goes on.

Lauren and Peyton 2
For the family of our friend that passed away last Friday, life goes on.

But the great news is that the friend we lost was a committed follower of Christ so life goes on for him also.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28)

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain…” (Revelation 21:4)

Life goes on!

Trials Can Make Us Stronger

makes us stronger
I never thought that I would be using a quote from the atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in one of my blog posts, but…

This quote came to my mind the other day and I began thinking about it and the man that wrote it. I spent most of February sick or recovering from the flu and other health issues. What little strength and energy I had before the illness has finally returned in the last few days. I’m definitely not physically stronger than I was before the illness. But I do feel spiritually stronger than I was before my battle with “that which did not kill me.”

As an atheist, Nietzsche only believed in the physical world so I can only assume that this quote was referring to trials making people (himself) physically and/or emotionally stronger. I wonder if he still believed those words while lying helpless and suffering from the effects of Syphilis for the last eleven years of his life.

As someone who has relied on caregivers for even longer than Nietzsche had to (ALS, not Syphilis), I empathize with the helpless, the suffering and their caregivers. But I feel great sympathy for those that do not place their hope and strength in Christ, regardless of the state of their health. I feel sympathy because, like Nietzsche, the “strength” and “hope” that they derive from physical/temporal pleasures do not provide genuine and lasting joy or peace. As King Solomon concluded, it’s “all vanity.”

I am convinced that the following is the only strength that can be gained from “that which does not kill us”:

“…we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed (strengthened) day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

There are so many great earthly pleasures and blessings, but not even the best of them deserve our hope. If Christ is our hope, the pleasures we enjoy on earth will be so much more enjoyable because we’ll have our priorities in order and we won’t have to rely on the physical/temporal things for happiness.

aim at heaven
“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Romans 8:24-25)

I Can’t Resist A Good Challenge!

Ice Bucket Challenge Donations Top $100 Million in 30 Days compared to $2.8 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 29).

Mary looked at me like I was crazy when I told her that I wanted her to dump a bucket of icy water over my head.
“You might gasp and breathe in water and choke,” she warned. But after a few days of prodding she finally agreed to play her roll in the Ice Bucket Challenge. I was hoping that the ice cold water being poured over my head would cause me to jump out of my chair and run, like my Australian friend, Phil, but (SPOILER ALERT) unfortunately that didn’t happen.

Seventeen years ago, almost a year after being diagnosed with this horrible disease known as ALS, I was asked by MDA to participate in the local portion of the Labor Day Telethon. As one of the reporters was asking for donations to help cure ALS, he said, “It’s too late for Bill…” I know that sounds harsh, but it took everything Mary and I had not to burst out laughing on live TV.

Medically speaking, that insensitive reporter was right. I think that’s what made his statement so funny; there’s no need to state the obvious, especially when the dying man is sitting three feet away. Those diagnosed with ALS live an average of 3 to 5 years (I’ve always wondered why they don’t split the difference and just say 4 years). I doubt that the reporter or any of the doctors that diagnosed me would have thought I’d be typing a blog post with an eye-tracking computer 18 years later.

That’s the whole point, nobody really knows what the future holds. We hope and pray for a cure for so many horrible diseases, especially those that have devastated our life or the the life of someone we love. We may not know what the future holds, but we should do our best to leave the world better than we now find it. Yes, dumping a bucket of icy water over your head and/or giving a small donation to the ALS Association, might seem insignificant and even silly in the grand scheme of things, but I’m convinced that these people are trying to shape a better future for those suffering with ALS.

Thank you so much!

Good Intentions

With all the bad going on in the world, I was thinking about how much better it would be if we acted on most of our good intentions. Not only would the recipients of the good actions be better off, but I’m convinced that the doers of those that act on their good intentions would experience a greater sense of joy, hope and overall contentment.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Jesus did say that the southbound road is really wide and the northbound road is extremely narrow (Matthew 7:13), but I don’t remember Him ever mentioning what the pavement was made of. I think legalistic religion would tell us that the road to hell is paved with evil actions (sin). The opposite extreme would tell us that this dark road is paved with legalistic bricks that have impossible-to-keep rules imprinted on them. Like most things, I believe that the truth is somewhere in between the extremes.

When I read the Bible, especially the New Testament, it becomes clear that God views our wrong actions (sins of commission) just as harshly as He does our failure to act on our good intentions (sins of omission). For example, in the Matthew’s gospel (25:31-46), Jesus paints a scary picture of what judgment day will be like:

“…for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they themselves also will answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ “Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

The frightening thing about the above passage is that these people who Jesus sent down the dark road, considered themselves to be Christians. If you read between the lines it becomes obvious that these people had developed a habit of not following the promptings of the Holy Spirit or their God-given conscience–they simply quit acting on their good intentions.

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“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of (good) works…” (Ephesians 2:8-9),

The Bible is clear that we are not saved by good deeds; we’re saved by grace through a commitment to follow Christ. But that commitment (if genuine) should bear fruit in the form of good works (James 2:18). It’s so easy for Christians to come to a place where we believe that we’re good because we’re not behaving badly. By definition this is self-righteousness. But we don’t overcome evil (in ourselves and in the world) just by not trying to do wrong; we overcome evil by doing good:

“Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:21 NLT)

When going through a serious trial, it’s tempting to think that we should somehow be exempt from having to do good works; we might think that we should only be the recipients of the good works of others during these difficult times. Don’t believe this, it will only lead to despair. Our good works might seem insignificant (compared to others) when life’s challenges limit our physical, emotional and/or financial abilities, but, as Christians, we’ll never become exempt from doing good works. This poverty-stricken widow set the perfect example for those going through a trial:

“And He (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)

Mary and I are so thankful for the family, friends and even people we didn’t know personally, that have helped us in so many ways throughout this almost 18 year battle with ALS (you know who you are). We don’t even want to think about how much worse this trial would have been had you not acted on your good intentions.

There are so many people in need, but maybe you feel, like I’ve felt at times, that you only have a penny’s worth of help, prayers, words of encouragement or even money to give. Think about the poor widow and just do what you can. I know that God will bless the person you help, and He’ll bless you for acting on your good intentions.