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/
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.
I’ve joked for many years that I feel like a caveman. Unfortunately, ALS has turned me into somewhat of a recluse; the weaker I get, the more reclusive I’ve become.
As most of you know, I cannot speak or move. I use an eye-tracking computer to type and “speak.” Light affects the camera tracking my eye movements so I keep it dark in my bedroom, where I spend 95% of my time.
Allow me to paint you a brief picture of this scene: I’m in our large bedroom reclining in my wheelchair. I’m tethered to my breathing machine and a little pump that slowly releases manufactured sustenance into my feeding tube. We have blackout curtains that are usually closed and the only light coming in is from the open blinds of the door leading out to the back patio.
You can see why I’ve nicknamed our bedroom “the cave.”
Most days I’m sitting here on my computer for ten to twelve hours. Technology is an incredible blessing for someone like me. I read the Bible, Kindle books and blog posts. I listen to audio books, sermons and music. I scroll through Facebook, type emails and reply to comments on my blog. And, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, for about the last seven years I’ve been volunteering as an Online Missionary with Global Media Outreach. Daily I communicate with people from all over the world – all from my little cave.
It feels so good to be unhooked from my machines and just sit in the yard for a few hours, especially when my grand-kids are over like this past weekend.
I don’t mean this to sound like “it’s all good.” ALS stinks! Trials are so difficult even for the strongest of Jesus’s disciples. Even if you are not physically isolated as I am, trials, and the depression that often accompanies that trial, can make you feel as if you’re living alone in a dark cave.
Before he became the King of Israel, David had a death sentence hanging over his head. David’s predecessor, King Saul, and a large group of his most skillful warriors were searching for David in order to kill him. David wrote some of the Psalms during this time, including the following Psalm which he wrote while hiding out in a darkened cave:
“I cry aloud with my voice to the LORD; I make supplication with my voice to the LORD. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, You knew my path. In the way where I walk They have hidden a trap for me. Look to the right and see; For there is no one who regards me; There is no escape for me; No one cares for my soul. I cried out to You, O LORD; I said, “You are my refuge, My portion in the land of the living. “Give heed to my cry, For I am brought very low; Deliver me from my persecutors, For they are too strong for me. “Bring my soul out of prison, So that I may give thanks to Your name; The righteous will surround me, For You will deal bountifully with me.”
The Cave of Adullam, where David wrote the above Psalm. Taken by Ferrell Jenkins
I know the circumstances are different, but it’s so easy to relate to the anguish that David was feeling in the midst of his trials. Sometimes it can actually feel as if the trial is some kind of demonic warrior trying to thwart God’s plan for our life, much like Saul trying to kill David so he wouldn’t become king.
We see this pattern repeated throughout the New Testament; beginning with Satan trying to use temptation, suffering, and finally Jesus’s death in his vain attempt to derail God’s plan for us and our eternity with Christ. This pattern continued with the trials, temptations and ultimately with the martyrdom of all of the Apostles and millions of disciples in every nation on earth over the last two thousand years.
Why did they have to suffer and be martyred?
They dared to obey the final commandment of Jesus; The Great Commission:
“…All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Regardless of what we’re going through, we should do our best to carry The Great Commission.
I was thinking about this when my friend Heidi asked Mary and me if we would consider being interviewed on a national Christian radio show. Remember, I can’t speak at all and Mary gets nervous just speaking in front of a small group. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention it was live radio.
After a few days of discussing this, Mary and I agreed to do the show. We both concluded that it was worth the risk of making fools out of ourselves if we could encourage even one person that’s going through a trial or maybe give hope to a discouraged caregiver.
If any of you would like to hear our interview with Chris Fabry on Moody Radio click HERE.
Thank you for reading.
I was thinking about Good Friday when I woke up early yesterday morning. Then I 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 I haven’t worked in over 19 years, I remember that feeling of being so glad a work week was over as 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.
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 any anesthetic and a spinal tap that left me with a debilitating headache for three days, the neurologist, flanked by a group of interns, told to Mary and I 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.
Do you think when the disciples were staring up at Jesus dying on the cross they called that day “Good Friday?”
Yeah, 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, Jesus and the disciples were surrounded by people that were mocking and celebrating His crucifixion.
For the disciples, this day was anything but TGIF.
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 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 (like Jesus) 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.
Today is a great day to make this commitment or to renew your commitment.
I almost made it through a whole year without being hospitalized or having any additional health problems. Almost. Then, with just a few days left in 2016, I caught a cold. The “common cold” is not much more than an annoyance for otherwise healthy people, but for someone like me with weakened breathing muscles and only 30% of my lungs functioning, the common cold is much more than an annoyance.
On the morning of the last day of the year, I was having an extremely difficult time breathing even wearing my breathing mask. In addition to that, I couldn’t keep anything down. I was a mess, more than usual. Mary and I both assumed it was pneumonia again so she called 911 and within minutes we were in an ambulance en route to the hospital. ALS has brought us one adventure after another over the last 20 years.
We waited in a small emergency room for twelve hours while waiting for a room to open so I could be admitted. It was during this time that I began thinking about the will to live. I was thinking, “if I didn’t have a sense that God still had a purpose for even a broken down mess like me or if I was an atheist or adhered to some other fatalistic worldview, I would have wanted a doctor to give me a shot that would have ended this suffering. It was as if my opposition to euthanasia was being tested.
Apart from the fact that the Bible teaches that life, including our own life, isn’t ours to take, it’s a very logical question; a question I’ve pondered at length over the last 20 years.
It’s a question that really confuses atheists.
Years ago I was watching a Barbara Walters special on heaven. She interviewed representatives of many different faiths to get their take on the after life. For some reason her last interview was with an atheist. I remember so vividly the closing sentence of this atheist: (If we believed in a heaven) “we’d all be killing ourselves now.”
But the reverse puzzles me: if atheists believe that this short life is all that there is, why do studies on assisted suicide show that atheists are the most likely to choose that option when facing a terminal illness?
Last year, Mary and I watched a movie titled “Me Before You.” It was a fictional “love story” about a wealthy self-centered 33 year old playboy in England that becomes a quadriplegic after a tragic accident. He’s obviously depressed and becomes a recluse in his parents mansion. He begins researching assisted suicide and finds a beautiful facility in Switzerland that provides “death with dignity” for wealthy people from all over the world (unfortunately, this facility really exists).
I’m obviously not a movie reviewer so let me wrap this summary up: his pretty young caregiver convinces him to travel to many exotic locations and they fall in love, but he still goes through with his plan to end their travels at the Switzerland death clinic. Not a very happy ending.
While watching this “love story,” my mind began to wander. I began thinking about a woman I admire so much. Fifty years ago, this woman was a beautiful and carefree 17 year old swimming with friends in the Chesapeake Bay. She dove into shallow water and hit bottom. This tragic accident resulted in her becoming a quadriplegic, virtually the exact same injury as the man depicted in the movie. Like him, she became depressed, reclusive and also had suicidal thoughts, but…
Joni Eareckson Tada had made a commitment to follow Christ three years earlier while attending a Christian summer camp. It was a renewal of this commitment and the support of family and friends that gave her life new purpose. For 50 years she’s been serving others all over the world while confined to a wheelchair. She shares the Gospel on TV and radio, hosts summer camps for mentally and physically disabled youth and, a ministry that is so needed, she provides wheelchairs to the disabled in third-world countries, like the boy below in Haiti. Her ministry has given away over 150,000 wheelchairs so far.
It’s really amazing what God can do with broken (humbled) vessels, regardless of our physical state. This year, give God permission to use you – this is the ultimate expression of His gift of a freewill. We are Christ’s hands to help a hurting world.
And, as the Apostle Paul wrote, when we’re done fulfilling God’s purpose for us in this life, it gets so much better:
“For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)