Losing my ability to work and earn a living was terrible. Becoming paralyzed and wheelchair-bound was horrible. Losing my ability to eat was a tough pill to swallow, literally. But losing my ability to speak is by far the most difficult aspect of this cruel disease called ALS.
I haven’t been able to speak with my God-given voice for almost twenty years so it might seem strange that I am writing about the power of the spoken word. As one who can only speak through my computer’s Text-to-Speech program, I have become more and more observant of the words of others. For good or for bad, the words we speak are powerful.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (Proverbs 18:21)
Studies claim that men speak around seven thousand words a day and women speak a whopping twenty thousand words – in just one day. Mary is my caregiver so I might be treading on dangerous ground here, but, from what I’ve observed over the thirty-three years of marriage, I tend to believe these studies are accurate.
I remember so well when I began to lose my ability to speak. Even though I hadn’t had a drink in twelve years, my voice started to sound like I was drunk. In fact, a police officer pulled me over at 9:30 in the morning and, after speaking with him, he asked if I had been drinking. Because all of the muscles needed to speak became weaker and weaker as the day wore on, by three in the afternoon, I sounded like a really tired drunk. Knowing this, I began to make important phone calls and meet people as early in the day as possible. I also started to choose my words very carefully; I didn’t have the luxury of idle chatter. It was then, two decades ago, that I began to value the ability to speak. Like working, walking, and eating, talking was just one more thing that I took for granted before ALS invaded my life.
“There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)
An incredible fact: To create speech, around a hundred different muscles in the chest, neck, jaw, tongue, and lips must work together. Every word or short phrase that is physically spoken is followed by its own unique arrangement of muscle movements. The information necessary for producing a phrase is saved in the speech area of the brain. – Reference.com
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29)
Imagine what a great world it would be if we only spoke “what is helpful for building others up” and to “benefit those who listen.”
Maybe women do talk more than men, but I wonder what men and women would say, and who we’d speak to, if our ability to speak were limited to just three thousand words a day. At first, there would likely be a lot of quiet dinner tables, but over time I think people would learn to measure their words. I would hope that most of us would learn to save our words for important things, not for gossip and backbiting. I have seen close relationships, even family relationships, ruined by words. And, so many people have been scarred for life from verbal abuse. Maybe we should learn to live as if our speech was limited.
“Everyone must be quick to hear and slow to speak…” (James 1:19)
We might think it’s unfair, but non-Christians judge followers of Christ by the way we speak and the words we use. For example, if you ever want to prove that you are not a follower of Christ, start cursing. This tactic worked great for Peter:
“A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.” Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:73-75)
The Bible has so much to say about the importance of words. In fact, Jesus said that the words we speak define who we are, and how we’ll ultimately be judged:
“…the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. “The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good, and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:34-37)
The best use of your ability to speak is making a commitment to follow Christ, just as I did thirty-six years ago. It’s so easy, and you’ll never regret it:
“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10)
The title of this blog might seem like an oxymoron, but I hope to convince you otherwise.
I have come close to death several times even before ALS entered my life 21 years ago. With each brush with death, the more I am able to identify with death and eternity and live my life accordingly.
You might think that viewing my life as having one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel would be a depressing way to live, but I’ve discovered just the opposite; it’s a very liberating way to live, at least, from a Christian point of view. I think it’s also the viewpoint that Christ intended us to have.
In the days leading up to Christmas every year, Mary and I always watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the 1951 version (the best version) of “A Christmas Carol.” After watching these movies this last Christmas, I was thinking about why I love these two holiday classics. I concluded that it was because, in each of these movies, the central character learns about what’s really important in life after seeing themselves as dead.
Virtually every morning when I wake up, I remind myself that this might be my last day on earth. I am a long way from perfecting this, but I try to let this reality govern every aspect of my life. Before ALS, even though I was a Christian and was supposed to be “eternally minded,” I’m ashamed to admit that I did not always allow my own mortality to influence my daily life. Even back then in 1996 when I was diagnosed, before smartphones, Facebook and so many other distractions and time-wasters, it was so easy to lose focus on the realities of life.
The Apostle Paul said, “I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31). It was miraculous that Paul lived to be an old man. He had come close to death so many times. Even after suffering through numerous trials and brushes with death, Paul lived his life with joy, peace, hope, contentment and so many other spiritual and emotional strengths we all long for. Yet, he seemed to go through a daily exercise of visualizing himself nailed to a cross:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).
Many well-meaning Christians have empathized with me by saying things like “ALS is a heavy cross (for you) to bear…” I’m thankful for everyone who empathizes with my having to go through this horrible trial that has cost me my career, my health and so much more. But this trial is not “my cross to bear.” I took up my cross the 35 years ago when I made a commitment to follow Christ.
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits his own soul?” (Luke 9:23-25)
In today’s narcissistic “selfie” culture, “Denying yourself” is a tough message to sell. Christianity, true Christianity, has always been a counter-cultural belief system. But in a society where just about anything goes, those who make a commitment to follow Christ, to live like they’re dead, are today’s ultimate rebels.
Buying into this living like you’re dead life will cost you everything you’re holding onto, but the benefits are joy, peace and unshakable hope; hope that will carry you through trials, temptation, and tribulation.
“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2-3)
Thanks for taking the time to read,
picture credit: https://jaytharding.com/
Even though I cannot eat (by mouth) anymore, I still love the Thanksgiving Holiday. (I no longer have to worry about that gluttony thing).
Over my 21 year journey with this horrible disease called ALS, I’ve become a more grateful person. I also seem to notice ingratitude in myself and in others more than I did before ALS entered my life.
Through my observations, I’ve concluded that ungratefulness and unhappiness go hand-in-hand. Think about it, have you ever known a happy ingrate? Yeah, neither have I.
“The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.” – Henry Ward Beecher
The Bible doesn’t tell us to be happy, which leads me to believe that not even God could teach happiness. However, the Bible repeatedly tells us to be thankful:
“...let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:15-17)
I know some people believe that happiness is a choice, but I’m not one of those people. As the above passage shows, we can be intentional about being thankful, and if we succeed in this area, I am convinced that true and lasting joy will follow.
This Thanksgiving Holiday, I will renew my commitment to be more thankful to God for His many blessings and to the family and friends that He’s used to bless us.
I’m especially thankful this Thanksgiving because I’ll get to meet our beautiful new granddaughter, Claire Elizabeth.
Since 1863, when, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie
Wouldn’t it be great to inherit millions of dollars from a distant relative that you’ve never even met?
Unfortunately, this rarely happens, but I did get an email from Nigeria…
When I was fifteen years old, a great uncle, who I was named after, passed away and left me a gold-plated pocket watch with his/my name engraved on the back and a thousand dollars. I had never met this man, but he instantly became my favorite uncle. I was determined to be responsible with my newfound fortune so I opened a savings account and deposited the check. A few months later I turned 16, got my drivers license, and crashed into a tree in my sister’s car. I had to say goodbye to my great inheritance.
I thought a lot about material wealth while watching horrible images on TV of hurricane’s Harvey and Irma destroying homes and businesses in Texas, Florida, and other states. And, as I’m typing this blog post, I’m glancing at the TV and seeing more horrible images caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and a powerful earthquake in Mexico City. It’s heartbreaking.
We live in Southeast Texas, and we’ve seen the destructive power of these storms. So many people we know were flooded out of their homes from Hurricane Harvey. Thankfully, we were not among them.
A week after Hurricane Harvey destroyed so many homes and businesses in our area, my visiting nurse, Rebecca, came to our home. She visits me every month to confirm that I am still alive. Rebecca is a Christian and a single mother of three young boys. She told us that she and her boys had to flee their rental home as the floodwaters began to creep in. There was no time to move furniture and other valued possessions upstairs. The muddy water quickly engulfed the whole first floor, ruining everything it swallowed up.
Nine years ago, Hurricane Ike swept through Southeast Texas. Even though we live 80+ miles from the coast, we still had hurricane-strength winds at our home. The strong winds left our area without electricity and, because we have a water well, without running water, for seven days. We and most of our neighbors have generators because we’re prone to natural disasters and occasional power outages. My friend, and then next-door neighbor, Les, set up a little window air conditioner in our bedroom and kept our generator running 24/7.
Mary and I were sound asleep in our cool bedroom, while poor Les was yelling for us to call 911; their house was on fire! By the time we made it outside, their beautiful home was fully engulfed in flames; there was little the firefighters could do. We later learned that the cause of the fire was a faulty extension cord running from his generator to a fan in his home. Something so small, took so much. Thankfully, Les’s wife and kids were staying with relatives so everyone, except the family dog, escaped the flames.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust (earthquakes, floods and fire) destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Where is your heart today?
Jesus gave the Apostle Paul, the disciples, and all followers of Christ our marching orders:
“…open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” (Acts 26:18)
Jesus wants all people to trust and hope in the inheritance that He suffered, died, and was resurrected to secure for everyone who “calls on His name.” This is the Great Inheritance, it’s an eternal inheritance.
We are living in uncertain times, our wealth, and, as I learned 21 years ago, our health, and even our very lives, can be taken from us In a moment.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you…” (1 Peter 1:3-5)
The Bible tells us that everything we see can, and will, be shaken. Only by putting our faith in Christ will we have Unshakable Hope.
Can you imagine going a whole month without seeing yourself in a mirror?
If you’re a follower of my blog, you know that I’ve had ALS for almost 21 years, and that I’m totally paralyzed and home-bound. In addition to an excellent nurse visiting me once a month to confirm that I’m still alive, a very nice lady also comes to our home once a month to cut my hair. She came the other day to cut my hair so Mary maneuvered my wheelchair into the bathroom in front of the dreaded mirror (mirrors don’t lie). “Who is that guy with gray hair and big bags under his eyes?” I asked myself.
You see, unless I ask Mary or my caregiver to place me in front of the mirror, which, for obvious reasons, I rarely do, haircut time is the only time I have to face this 56 year old man in a wheelchair (a really disturbing experience).
In some ways, my journey with ALS almost seems like a bad dream, a really long bad dream, even more so when I don’t see myself in the mirror for long periods of time.
Except for the constant reminders of the wheelchair I’m sitting on and the eye-tracking (Look Ma, no hands) computer I’m using, I could close my eyes and almost imagine that I am still the healthy 36 year old man that I was before being diagnosed with this stinkin’ disease.
“…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)
Can you imagine someone picking out the clothes you wear every day – for 20 years? On occasion, when we’re having company, Mary will bring out three shirts and ask me which one I’d like to wear. But, other than those rare occasions, Mary or Sharlene, my caregiver and good friend for the last ten years, pick out the clothes I’m going to wear without any input from me.
As I was writing this post, I thought about an old black & white movie I’ve seen, titled “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” It’s about a narcissistic man, Dorian Gray, that, while examining his just-completed portrait, basically makes a pact with the devil that his physical appearance would remain just as it is in the portrait.
Over the period of several years, all of his friends age naturally, but Dorian‘s appearance remains the same as it was the day that he collaborated with evil. However, his now-hidden portrait reflects his soul, and this portrait becomes more hideous with every evil act he commits.
If there was such a thing as a mirror that reflected our soul, what would your reflection look like? (I have probably asked myself this question a thousand times since making a commitment to follow Christ some 35 years ago).
When looking into a mirror, we can see our physical imperfections, but for those who call themselves Christians, the Bible is the mirror of our soul. If we’re open to making changes to our spiritual imperfections (if we have “eyes to see and ears to hear”) the Bible will transform us.
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”(James1:22-25)
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Are you being transformed by the Mirror of your Soul?
If not, I hope and pray you’ll begin doing so today.