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I Wasn’t Supposed To Grow Old!

Over the last twenty-four years that I’ve had ALS, Mary and I have learned to take one day at a time. But this day, October 5th, is noteworthy because it happens to be my 60th birthday!  

I was diagnosed just weeks after my 36th birthday. The prognosis was that I’d be dead before turning forty. My 40th birthday was a big deal. My 50th birthday was a bigger deal. But now I am 60!

“Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34).

Like the manna in the wilderness, God’s grace is only sufficient for today. 

Taking this trial one day at a time, with God’s grace and the prayers and help of family and friends, we’ve been able to cope for over 8700 days. If you’re going through a difficult time right now, focus on today, and God will give you new strength tomorrow morning. 

“The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

The picture below was taken in 1996, a month and a half after I was diagnosed. 

That Christmas was bittersweet. We packed up our minivan and drove to Wisconsin and then Chicago to spend Christmas with my family. While staying with my sister’s family in Wisconsin, I took the first of probably a thousand painful falls. 

I woke up before everyone else that Christmas morning and tried to sneak downstairs to get my video camera set up. Apparently, my legs were not fully awake and gave out at the top of the stairs. I rode my tailbone down the stairs and woke up everyone in the house. My tailbone hurt for months. I followed that with a few falls on icy driveways. Physically speaking, it went downhill from there. But, spiritually, I began to grow in faith. 

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18).

Does the above verse include getting ALS at thirty-six, losing your career, becoming paralyzed, unable to eat, helpless and voiceless? A million times, YES! 

As the Bible says, our lives are like a vapor that appears for a little while and then disappears. It’s eternity that matters. The more we focus on eternity, the smaller our problems seem. 

“We do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed 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).

As you’ll see in the picture below, sixty years of life and twenty-four years with ALS has caused a lot of decay on my outer man:-)

I often wonder how anyone could have hope, joy, and peace, relying on the temporal things and the decaying “outer man”? More than that, why would anyone want to do this when Jesus suffered, died, and rose from the dead to offer you unshakable hope? 

This is what I’m asking God for my 60th birthday gift – that just one person would read this post and make a commitment to follow Christ as I did thirty-seven years ago. 

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

“Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live for ever, and this must be either true or false. Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever.” – C.S. Lewis 

My siblings and their families planned to come down to celebrate my 60th birthday, but the pandemic put an end to their plans. I still had a wonderful birthday celebration with Mary’s mom, our girls, son-in-law, and grandkids. 

To the family and friends who have already sent me birthday wishes and gifts – Thank You! Your messages are humbling. If wealth is measured by the love of family and friends, I am the wealthiest man on earth. 

How Is It That You Have No Faith?

I don’t understand why, but many of us enjoy seeing others become frightened. Some of the funniest videos I’ve seen are of grown men getting scared and screaming like little girls.

It may be fun to see others get scared, but living in fear is nothing to laugh about.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been an Online Missionary for Global Media Outreach for ten years. Last week, I received the following message from a woman overseas:
Comment/Question: “Please pray for me. I’m going through anxiety, fear of the unknown.”

Research shows that fear is triggered by a loss of control or feeling powerless. With the pandemic, social unrest, and the economic meltdown, the world is seemingly spinning out of control. There are many living in fear because they feel a loss of control and a sense of powerlessness. Since the start of the pandemic, sales of anti-anxiety drugs have risen by 34%. This is on top of the increase of those self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.

Thankfully, I didn’t resort to drugs or alcohol, but I remember the fear and anxiety that Mary and I battled when I was diagnosed with ALS so many years ago. Like many today, our whole world was turned upside down. Voices of fear echoed in our minds throughout many sleepless nights. Fear fights hard to destroy our faith and steal our joy, peace, and hope.

When going through difficult times, surrendering to our fears is the greatest temptation we’ll face. If we are followers of Christ, by definition, He is in control, and we are never powerless! That said, we still have our part to play in this war against fear.

I don’t mean to sound like a braggart, but, physically speaking, I don’t know of anyone who is as powerless or has less control than me. But, regardless of our physical condition, most of us will eventually battle those voices of fear and anxiety. Here are a few things I’ve learned about fear and anxiety that might help you fight.

Faith and fear are polar opposites: “And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? How is it that you have no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

To strengthen our faith, we need to surround ourselves with faith-filled people and God’s word: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17).

Fear is a spirit, but it doesn’t come from God: “God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7).

The goal of this spirit of fear is to enslave us in a dark pit of depression: “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

“God is love,” and fear is punishment:
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18).

God will fight with us: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?” (Psalm 27:1).

God will strengthen and uphold us: “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).

When battling anxiety, pray and recount the things you’re thankful for: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Fear is a relentless enemy, the battle might be a protracted one, but you will be delivered: “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, And delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4).

I’ve never counted, but I read somewhere that there are 365 verses telling us not to give in to fear. If there is a “don’t fear” verse for every day of the year, I’m thinking it’s a message God wants us to get.

It’s the things of this world, the visible, the temporary, the “shakable” things that cause us fear and anxiety. Our job, our home, our health, the economy, and so much more. For the follower of Christ, the things of this world are just things. It’s at times like this that we see that things are not deserving of our hopes. The road to unshakable hope is a very shaky one, but you’ll have Jesus with you to hold you up. This narrow road leads to a Kingdom which cannot be shaken! (Hebrews 12:27-28).

If you have not committed to following Christ, what are you waiting for?

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27).

Nothing Can Break The Chain!

My first blog post was eight years ago this week. My goal in starting this blog was to encourage and strengthen the hope of those going through difficult times. My goal remains the same. But, when I began this blog, it never occurred to me that I would be encouraged and have my hope strengthened by reading other blogs and the comments on my posts. I’ve never met any of my fellow bloggers, but many of you have become good friends, friends for life. (“Friends for life” is probably not much of a commitment for a guy on hospice :-). Seriously, I am thankful for your friendships.

The world has changed so much over the last eight years. In many ways, it’s gone from bad to worse.

The world is being shaken, but my hope in Christ remains unshakable.

Even amid trials, God still blesses His children. By far, the greatest blessing Mary and I have received since I started this blog is becoming grandparents. Our oldest daughter and our son-in-law have three adorable kids. Even though I’m not able to talk to them or play with them or even hug them, I am so thankful that God allowed me to stick around to experience becoming a grandfather.

Our oldest grandchild is a handsome and intelligent six-year-old boy named Jude. He is also a deep thinker. A few weeks ago, my daughter asked Jude to draw a picture describing his relationship with God. Below is the picture he drew:

It’s difficult for my old eyes to see, but there’s a chain securing Jude to God. I love the caption he wrote under the picture, “Nothing can break the chain.” He said the little picture in the upper left corner is “a mean bee that can’t get me because I’m protected.” When the pandemic began, my daughter and son-in-law helped Jude and his four-year-old sister Peyton memorize Psalm 91. On a recent backyard (social distancing) visit, they recited it for Mary and me. We think Psalm 91 is where he got the “protected” idea.

“Pops” is so proud of his three grandkids!

 

“Nothing can break the chain” is an excellent summary of one of my favorite passages in the Bible:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39).

Jesus is the “unbreakable chain” that connects us to God!

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6).

What would your picture look like if you were to draw a picture of your relationship with God?

I’m More There Than Here

I have been sick for the last ten days or so. It was likely another upper respiratory infection or possibly pneumonia. It’s probably not COVID-19 because Mary’s had the house on lockdown since early March to protect her mom and me. She guards our home like it’s Fort Knox. She’s tough. Our daughter was in town last month and asked to stay with us, and Mary told her no. Mary said to her, “you haven’t been practicing social distancing or wearing a mask.” Thankfully, Mary did allow the repairman in last week when our air conditioner broke down.

Regardless of what I had, hospice isn’t in the business of diagnosing. Hospice is in the business of making the dying comfortable, and it’s a job that a lot of caring people do very well. They did write me a prescription for antibiotics, however. We are thankful for hospice.

I am feeling better. Thank you to all of you who pray for me.

I usually don’t watch a lot of television when I am feeling/breathing okay. I’m on my computer most days for ten or twelve hours. But whatever I had was making it so difficult to breathe sitting upright. I laid down and watched way too much news. Watching too much news leads to depression. I knew this, but I’m a glutton for punishment. Seeing footage of George Floyd having his life snuffed out, and the riots that followed was depressing. I love people, but I hate so much in this world. I want heaven so much more than this cruel world. I didn’t pray to die like I did last Thanksgiving when I was so sick, but I was tempted.

In my soul and spirit, I’m more there than here.

“Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.” ― C.S. Lewis.

Have you ever prayed for the return of Jesus? If you’ve prayed the Lord’s Prayer, you’re praying for heaven to invade earth:

“Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven …”
(Matthew 6:9-10).

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I got the name of my blog from Hebrews 12:27:

“…all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain.” (Hebrews 12:27).

It was almost twenty-four years ago that ALS shook our family. It was as if God turned us upside down and shook us until almost everything we were trusting in fell out. Everything but Jesus that is. He is the only Unshakable Hope we have.

The world is being shaken right now. The only constant is change, and most of these changes are not for the better. There will be so many “new normals” that the world we knew will be unrecognizable.

We can’t blame God for all of this suffering and turmoil. He does allow the horrible things we see to happen, but He allows it for good. In order to understand this, we have to see it from God’s eternal point of view. Heaven and hell are real, and we will all spend eternity in one or the other. Many of us put trust and hope in the things of this world, temporary things. With some of us, the only way we will turn to Christ is to be shown that these temporary things are not worthy of our trust and hope. This is the context for the Unshakable Hope verse: “…all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain.” (Hebrews 12:27).

In chapter sixteen of the book of Revelation, the Apostle John was horrified by something he saw in the vision. He saw plagues and people with painful sores, such horrible suffering. What shocked John was these suffering people still refused to turn to Christ and be forgiven for their sins. Instead, they “blasphemed the name of God.”

How can I say that “God is good” when there is so much suffering and injustice in the world? Because He is not the “god of this world.” Satan is the god of this present world. He “has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

One of the ways that the “god of this world” has “blinded the minds of the unbelieving” is by waving a bunch of shiny things in front of their eyes.

“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 hope I will see you there.

What Are You Afraid Of?

The public is panicking over this Coronavirus. Sporting events have been canceled, churches are vacant, and grocery shelves are all but empty. Many people in America are in fear of contracting this virus, so they’re hunkering down at home.

Having overcome the fear of death, contracting the virus is way down on the list of my concerns. However, I can relate to the fear of going out in public.

My name is Bill, and I am agoraphobic.

Agoraphobia: Extreme or irrational fear of entering open or crowded places, of leaving one’s own home, or of being in places from which escape is difficult.

“Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26).

In other posts, I’ve told you that I call our bedroom “the cave.” The eye-tracking computer I use works best in dimly lit rooms, so I keep the lights off. The blinds on the door to the back patio are open, but that’s usually the only light in the room. It’s a climate-controlled and otherwise comfortable cave, but it’s still a cave. I am very thankful for creature comforts. As of this month, I’ve spent twenty years in this cave.

“We can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear…'” (Hebrews 13:6).

I once thought agoraphobia was something people claimed to have because they wanted to stay home and binge-watch Netflix. Not really, but I just couldn’t imagine why an able-bodied person would have a fear of public spaces. I do understand, all too well, the fear of public spaces for the physically and mentally disabled, especially those with autism like my nephew. I get sensory overload.

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1).

The last twenty years in my cave staring at a computer screen for twelve hours a day has taken a toll on my eyes. My vision has become increasingly blurry over the last few years. I knew that I needed to go to the eye doctor, but that meant public spaces. And not just any public space. The eye doctor we’ve gone to for years now works at the Walmart Vision Center. His former practice was in a small strip center with a handicap parking space fifteen feet from the door. That was okay, but a busy Walmart is a scary place for someone with agoraphobia.

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.” (Psalm 56:3-4).

It’s so ironic that I’ve developed a fear of public spaces because at the time I was diagnosed with ALS twenty-three years ago, I was a Regional Sales Manager in the grocery business. I spent many of my days visiting grocery stores, including Walmart stores, throughout Texas, and the other five states in my region.

“I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4).

My last trip to a public space was two years ago when I had to have surgery to remove a growth on the lower eyelid of my left eye. Ouch! The surgeon had what he removed tested, and it turned out to be basil cell carcinoma. I had to go back for him to remove more. Now I have a similar bump on the lower eyelid of my right eye. My trips in public are so exciting.

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence.” (Psalm 42:5).

My fear of public spaces is not just a product of my imagination. I have had some horrible things happen when we’ve ventured out in the past. I’ve mentioned some of these in other posts. Like the time our van’s wheelchair lift decided to break when I was three feet off the ground – in the pouring rain! I am thankful for the first responders that rescued me at that time and a few other times. We had the wheelchair lift repaired and it works great, but I’m still a little nervous about using it.

After a year of Mary prodding me, I finally relented and agreed to see the eye doctor (no pun intended). I still cringed when she told me that she made an appointment. In the days leading up to the appointment, I became nervous just thinking about going. Because I’m so high maintenance, Sharlene, the part-time caregiver I’ve had for almost thirteen years, went with us to the appointment last Friday.

Everything went fine. None of the things I feared materialized. Isn’t that the way it is with most of our fears?

Fear is such a powerful force. It’s a bully that robs us of sleep and puts stress on virtually every other aspect of our lives – if we permit it to do so.

We can’t allow fear to control our lives. If we want to replace fear with hope, we have to be careful, especially in these dark days, of what we see and hear. The news and zombie apocalypse shows will not give you hope. Instead:

“Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned from me and heard from me and saw me doing, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9).

We must also surround ourselves with hope-filled people. Mary and I have had our hope strengthened, and our fears diminished by hopeful followers of Christ, including our blogging friends.

We are living in difficult times. If you’re looking for hope, Unshakable Hope, apart from Christ, I don’t have any advice for you. If you are not a follower of Christ, I am hoping and praying that you will commit to following Him today.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7).