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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)

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

What Are You Talking About?

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 Perfect Gift

Mary and our daughters, Lauren and Leah, have told me for years that I am “the most difficult person to buy Christmas gifts for.” The reason for this is because, in a sense, I am like the man who has everything – I need very little, materially, anyways.

Twenty-two years ago, before ALS invaded my body, I was easy to buy gifts for. If Mary and the girls couldn’t think of anything else, anything creative, that is, they’d just get me a necktie, golf balls, or maybe a some of my favorite snacks. But now that ALS has taken away my ability to work, golf and eat, the old default gifts are no longer an option.

Even before ALS changed our lives, and our finances, Mary and I never spent a lot of money buying each other Christmas gifts. She found a 50% off sale on men’s clothing earlier this month and bought me a nice shirt and two pairs of pants. She gave me the gifts last week, and I’ve already worn the pants. You might be thinking that she should have waited until Christmas morning to give me the gifts. I don’t know for sure, but she’ll probably have another gift or two for me to open on Christmas morning. Maybe she’ll get me exciting gifts like new socks and slippers. I might have a few gifts for her to open Christmas morning, too. But, with ALS, there’s no better time than the present when it comes to giving presents.

As the regular followers of my blog know, pneumonia almost took me out a few months ago. This was just the latest of my many close encounters with death. I am learning to live like every day might be my last day in my rapidly decaying body.

Isn’t this the way that all followers of Christ should live, regardless of the state of our health?

“How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14)

Even if we live to be a hundred, that is just a drop in the ocean when compared to eternity. The greatest gift that God could have given man is the gift of eternal life. This incredible gift comes through Jesus Christ, whose birth Christians celebrate every December 25th.

The Bible tells us that Mary, Jesus’s mother, was a virgin and that an angel told her that she was going to be the mother of the Savior of the world. A virgin becoming pregnant? Mary was wondering about this, too:

“Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)
Answer:
“The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

According to the Bible, our sin nature is passed from one generation to another through the father (Romans 5:12). This means that for Jesus to be the “Savior of the world,” He had to be born without a sin nature; only God Himself was qualified to be the Father of Jesus.

Here is the great part of this – Jesus was born sinless and lived a sinless life so that He could place His sinless nature in anyone who asks Him to do so.

Jesus had to be born of a virgin so the prostitute could be born again!

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23)

Jesus is the perfect one-size-fits-all gift. If you haven’t yet accepted this free gift from God, I hope and pray that you will. There’s no better time than today.

I apologize for being pushy about this, but those who live like today might be their last day on earth, tend to be direct about matters of eternity. This might be your last day on earth, too.

“God says,
At just the right time, I heard you.
On the day of salvation, I helped you.”
Indeed, God is ready to help you right now.
Today is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)

“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)

Are you a Christian?

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Just Imagine

I saw the movie, “I Can Only Imagine” the other night. It’s a great biographical story about salvation and forgiveness. Writing movie reviews is not my thing, but I highly recommend this movie.

After seeing the movie, I began thinking about the title of the song and the movie, “I Can Only Imagine. Bart Millard, the man who wrote the song and the one that the movie is about, was imagining his dad in heaven as he was writing the song.

I started thinking about the imagination, especially when it comes to heaven and eternity.

What is the imagination?

(It’s) “the ability to form a mental image of something that is not perceived through the five senses. It is the ability of the mind to build mental scenes…”

The imaginary realm is not just the stuff of kids; for good or for evil, our imagination is a powerful force. For Christians, the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2) also refocuses our imagination and we begin to see God’s vision for man and the whole of His creation.

Being wheelchair-bound, hooked up to a pump that feeds me, and not being able to speak for the last 20+ years, I use my imagination much more than I did before ALS invaded my life. Even my vacations are imaginary, lived out vicariously through family and friends, or through Rick Steves on PBS.

Before making a commitment to follow Christ at the age of twenty-three, the rare times I even thought about heaven, the picture in my mind was bleak. Back then, I wasn’t sure that I even believed in heaven. But, to the extent that my spiritually confused mind could imagine a heaven, I pictured it as an ethereal place where disembodied spirits were floating around aimlessly.

Can I sign you up? No thanks.


After making a commitment to follow Christ, I, like all Christians (I hope), began reading the Bible regularly and a much different picture of heaven, the true picture of heaven, was formed in my reborn imagination.

Just imagine this exciting place – a very real place:

Disembodied spirits floating around aimlessly? No way!

Don’t believe most of what well-meaning people tell you at the funeral of a loved one; God did not “need another angel. But, Jesus tells us that we will “be like the angels.” And, we’ll be (physically) like Jesus Himself after He was resurrected from the dead (Matthew 22:30 & 1 John 3:2).

What were the bodies of the angels like when they visited earth? And, what was Jesus’s body like when He appeared to more than five hundred people after His resurrection?

If you said they looked like men, you’re right.

The Bible tells us that we wouldn’t know the difference between men and angels even if they were our house guests (Hebrews 13:2). (I suspect that I’ve been married to an angel for 32 years).

Just imagine a body that defies the laws of physics. A body that can appear and disappear in a blink of the eye, but a body that can eat real food and drink wine (Luke 24:36-43 & Mark 14:25). I’ll have to take it slow because I haven’t had wine or any drink containing alcohol in over thirty-two years – a champagne toast on our wedding day.

Just imagine a heaven on earth. A lot of people, even many Christians, don’t realize that the permanent heaven will be on a “new earth. (Isaiah 65:17, 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1).

Just imagine no more sickness, no more cancer, ALS or any other stinkin’ disease. No more heartbreaking St. Jude and Shriners commercials! No more need for feeding tubes and wheelchairs! (Isaiah 35:5-6 & Revelation 21).

“I saw a new heaven (earth’s atmosphere) and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away…And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and 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; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.” (Revelation 21)

After reading this, you might be asking, Bill, if you really believe this, why don’t you stop using your breathing machine and remove your feeding tube and move on to this beautiful heaven you’re talking about?

It’s a fair and logical question.

Believe me, there have been days, really bad days, days when pneumonia left me gasping for air. Days when my whole body was aching from the flu. Many days when I’ve wanted to die, even prayed to die, but…

I recovered…

And, I remembered that God still has a mission for me here. Like all followers of Christ, my mission is The Great Commission; persuading others, maybe even you, to join me in heaven for eternity.

Can I sign you up?

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).