I know we are all wishing right now that this post was coming from Bill Sweeney, but instead, I (Lauren, his eldest daughter) will share a little post in his honor. Last year, we were celebrating one last miraculous Christmas with Bill, enjoying his invaluable presence that was still with us. He told us a few weeks before (struggling to type with his eyes) that he knew his body and lungs were shutting down and that he was ready to “throw in the towel” and say goodbye to his ALS-depreciated body. “The jig is up,” he sarcastically typed to my mom. (He would always somehow find a way to make us laugh despite the heavy circumstances.) The past several years had been a long journey of near-death experiences and fighting to stay alive with the aid of my mother right beside him.
Every day of his 24-year journey of ALS, Bill would wake up believing Jesus would heal or at least that Jesus was calling him to suffer well with Him, believing for the impossible. This filled his soul with hope and his dying body with determination. He gave 2 Corinthians 4:16 so much context: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” He wasn’t fearful, however, of dying. It was quite the opposite. He taught me that this time on earth is not our home. Eternity is what we live for when we are finally with Jesus face to face.
Most of our December 2020 was spent enjoying quality time with him. Although a sad, solemn month, there was an overwhelming peace and rest over the house and our hearts. I learned during these last days with my dad that sometimes resting in the Lord is harder than rising up in faith and fighting. True rest is not a break from tension but resting through the trials. Our whole family had run a long-suffering race with this disease and now the Lord was asking us to lay down our swords and trust Him in a new way.
One morning I had been in my dad’s room sharing with him about the theme of “rest” that God was speaking to me through his Word. My three kids were playing in the other room. I walked in the office and found them writing random letters as “passwords” with paper and pens scattered around the room. I walked up to my barely-five year old daughter, who could not write actual words at the time, and on her paper she had written “REST” as her “password” not knowing she had formed an actual word. Ok, Lord, I hear you! Ha!
Life is constantly forcing us to take a deep breath and choose to surrender all control to God. He has to daily remind us of trust because He knows it does not come naturally, and we obviously want to run from all discomfort. The learning-to-rest game is a muscle that constantly has to be flexed, an art that is always in need of more nurturing and sculpting. There’s no mastered end-goal of this journey but rather a way of life—inhaling deeper breaths and exhaling contentment, releasing anxiety and control. This is analogous with natural childbirth. When I chose not to get an epidural during the delivery of my three babies, the main thing that I remember my midwife and others coaching me in was to relax during the pain. The more tense any muscle got in my body, the more pain I would feel. DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT IS TO RELAX IN EXTREME PAIN!? But He calls us to this rest every day and season despite the circumstances (even if we aren’t always successful).
He knows our whole life on earth has extreme “birth pains”, but it is not a waste. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of Glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Like this analogy, I believe Bill did learn this surrendering art so beautifully—letting go of self and receiving the Grace that empowered him to “fight the good fight of faith”.
This was my first Christmas without my dad—to hug, laugh with, give him a gift. Even with him having ALS for 24 years and unable to talk, walk or hug me back, his presence was always in the home. His presence was always still available for me to text/email or send funny videos of my kids with the confidence I would get a response. I know many of you can relate as you are also missing someone’s presence especially during these holidays.
I’ve realized that the most comforting thing about being with someone I love is not the topic of conversation or what we choose to do, but simply their presence. If we put so much value on one human in our life that we love so dearly, how much MORE substantial and real is The Presence of Jesus that will never leave us!? I believe God created our hearts with this presence-craving deep within us because He actually has that same hunger in Him for ours. God craved to share His presence with us so much He chose to send his only son as a weak baby to a dark earth to then be the ultimate sacrifice for us by receiving the most painful, humiliating death by crucifixion.
Presence releases rest, and rest releases Presence.
“In repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength.”
My family and in-laws had a skiing trip planned for Colorado after Christmas, and because dad was feeling a bit better and was deeply determined for us to still go on our trip, we continued our plans. As we ascended the mountains of Colorado, Daddy also was beginning his ascent to heaven, and around midnight on December 30th, he finally received his full healing! I caught the next flight out of a small airport with ironically the acronym code “ALS”. I had a one-way ticket leaving ALS, never to return!
I believe we are all on this ascent of learning rest, enjoying His Presence, and letting go of self to take hold of His strength in our weakness! Thank you for all your prayers, support, love tears and laughs throughout this journey. I could write so much more about the power of love and prayer from each one of YOU through all of this! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from our family to yours!
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?
Technological Advancements “For Such A Time As This”
The world has changed so much since I was diagnosed with ALS way back in 1996. Sitting here in my bedroom paralyzed for the last twenty years, I’ve mostly been an observer of these changes. In the opinion of this observer, some changes have been good, others have been bad.
I’m fascinated by the evolution of the Internet and Smartphone technology. In 1996, my cellphone was big, bulky, and only able to make calls. There was no such thing as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and Amazon was a little start-up selling books. Only one percent of the world’s population had Internet access. Today, the overwhelming majority of the world has Internet access, and there are more than 3.5 billion Smartphones in use.
I don’t think we can classify the Internet and smartphones as good or bad. They are merely tools. It’s what we do with them that becomes good or bad.
This COVID-19 pandemic introduced us to Social Distancing. As someone who’s been grounded to my room for the last two decades, I’m an old pro when it comes to social distancing. I am very thankful for this tool known as the World Wide Web. Even before starting this blog eight years ago, I was communicating with people all over the world.
I began connecting with people overseas ten years ago when I became an Online Missionary with Global Media Outreach. GMO was founded by a former Apple executive named Walt Wilson. With Steve Jobs, Walt was on the team that developed the Macintosh computers. The ministry shares the Good News through ads on social media in over 200 countries. To do this, they’re using over a hundred different domains in 50+ languages. They also use SEO (Search Engine Optimization), so one of their sites comes up first when people search using words like “God,” “Jesus,” “Bible,” or “Christianity.”
When someone clicks one of the ads or opens one of the sites, they are presented with the Good News. Afterward, they’re asked if they’d like to want to commit to follow Christ or learn more. If they click yes, they are connected to one of the thousands of Online Missionaries speaking their language. They might be connected to a paralyzed guy in Texas who can’t speak at all and is typing them with an eye-tracking computer. (If you want to see where GMO is making connections in real-time, click here).
Today, most of the GMO contacts are via cell phones, but when I started ten years ago, it was primarily computers. One of my first contacts was a woman in Sudan who walked three hours twice a week to use a computer at an Internet cafe. She was so eager to learn more and grateful for GMO and the easy to understand discipleship resources they provide.
Another contact was a young man in a Muslim country who committed to follow Christ after reading the Gospel message on a GMO site. His father and uncle were highly respected leaders in their town, and they were furious when he told them he was a Christian. His father threatened to stop paying for his college, thinking this would make him recant. When he refused, his father and uncle threatened to kill him. The last time I communicated with him, he was hiding out at the home of a moderate Muslim friend. He was already sharing the Gospel with his friend and with others.
Many of the people who haven’t heard the Gospel live in Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, and other countries that missionaries don’t have access to. GMO can provide them with discipleship materials and digital Bibles.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19).
People have asked me why some Christians feel the need to evangelize. The short answer is – because Jesus told us to. That should be enough, but it’s also because those who have believed the Good News want to tell others. Last week, a friend emailed us and told us that Kroger has toilet paper. We were happy to hear that news. Regardless of what we believe, most of us want to pass along good news. Forgiveness of sins and the offer of eternal life with Christ is the best news in the history of the world! How could we not tell others?
(Jesus said) “…this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14).
In Matthew 24, Jesus was telling His disciples the signs of the end times. It’s such an amazing prophecy when you put in the context of that time. He said “this gospel” thirty-five or forty years before Matthew wrote his Gospel. Jesus told this small group of disciples that the Good News would be proclaimed to the “whole world,” and to “all nations.” At the time he spoke those words, it’s estimated that the world’s population was around 300 million. Today there are 7 billion people on earth. With automobiles, planes, and especially the Internet, our generation is the first with the ability to fulfill this prophecy. And we will!
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, GMO was sharing the Gospel with an average of 350,000 a day. Since the pandemic began, they’ve been averaging 500,000. But they can handle two million per day. The only thing keeping GMO from reaching more people with the Good News is support to purchase more ads. If you can help with even a small gift to GMO, click here.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19).
Happy New Year!
I believe 2020 will be a great year.
Regular readers of my blog know that I’ve had ALS for twenty-three years. I’ve been on hospice for the last fifteen months, and in that time, I’ve had three close encounters with death. I don’t mean to make light of this, but I think you could say that I have one foot in the grave, and the other is on a banana peel. Knowing this, and reading that I’ve declared that 2020 is going to be a great year, you might be questioning the state of my mental health. I get it, but please hear me out.
I’ll admit that my mental health is not as good as it once was. I recently watched a movie for twenty minutes before realizing I’d seen it before. I don’t know if this is related to the ALS or just getting old. Regardless, I have total recall when it comes to the suffering that Mary and I have endured throughout this protracted trial. If the new year holds more suffering for me, bring it on! I am putting suffering on notice – you will not steal my peace, joy, and hope! If suffering results in my death this year, suffering still loses:
“For 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).
I’ve made plans and goals for the new year – I’m pressing on!
“Whatever things were gain to me (my health, career, my ability to breathe on my own, eat and speak, and walk…), those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:7-8).
I feel sorry for those who have all of their hopes invested in the things of this world. I hope and pray that my simple posts might draw them to Christ, and the Unshakable Hope that comes along with making a commitment to follow Him. That would be a great bonus for the time and effort I spend pecking out these posts on my eye-tracking computer. However, I feel called to encourage those going through difficult times. I think these are the people who can relate to my posts. I’m rededicating myself to this calling for 2020.
It’s kind of funny, but, in a sense, I feel that my body, which was perfectly healthy for the first thirty-six years of my life, has since been betraying me. I realize, of course, this isn’t the case, but I allow myself to believe this to motivate me. It’s payback time now – I’m going to punish this body by using every bit of the strength and energy left in it! The common sports metaphor for this is “leaving it all on the field.” I was on the swim team in high school, so in my case, it would be leaving it all in the pool. The Apostle Paul liked to use sports metaphors. In 1st Corinthians chapter 9, he compares the Christian life to running a race. Being very familiar with Greece, he was likely referring to the Olympics. He tells us to make our body “our slave” and “run in such a way that you may win.” Notice that in the following passage, Paul uses the phrase “press on” two times:
“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14).
I hope you’ll join me in “forgetting what lies behind” “press on” to what lies ahead.
Happy New Year!
Breathing And Other Luxuries
Most people don’t think of breathing as a luxury, after all, even the poorest among us can breathe. They wouldn’t be among us otherwise.
Luxury: a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort.
After almost twenty-three years with ALS, which greatly affects my ability to breathe, I believe the above definition of luxury perfectly fits being able to breathe in ease and comfort. But maybe only those who’ve had breathing problems view breathing as a luxury. I hope this simple post will give readers a new appreciation for the ability to just breathe. I think this is important because, if we learn not to take breathing for granted, we’ll begin to view material luxuries for what they really are – just stuff!
Regardless of location, status, race, religion, politics, or anything else that divides people, taking a breath is the first thing we do when entering this world and the last thing we’ll do when exiting this world.
Breathing is a great equalizer.
The ability to breathe was also the first gift that God gave to mankind:
“And the LORD God formed a man’s body from the dust of the ground and breathed into it the breath of life. And the man became a living person.” (Genesis 2:7).
Even though I don’t have the ability to use or the money to spend on the latest gadgets, I am fascinated by technology. I am literally surrounded by incredible machines that add to my quality of life. My wheelchair reclines and is very comfortable. It even has headlights and taillights for cruising around at night. This wheelchair cost as much as a new car. It was donated to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) after the original owner died from ALS. I am borrowing it from them.
In front of me, attached to the wheelchair with a bar, is my eye-tracking computer. This special computer enables me to communicate, type this post, and do so much more.
To the right of my wheelchair is a little pump mounted on an I.V. pole. This pump is connected to my feeding tube, and for twelve hours a day, its slowly pumping a lab concocted formula into my stomach.
Finally, to my left, is a ventilator that breathes for me through a little breathing mask that’s plugged into my nose.
Now that I think about it, I might be more machine than human.
Because ALS also weakens the muscles needed to breathe, I’ve been relying on a breathing machine when I sleep for the last twenty years. Increasingly over the last few years, I’ve also had to use this ventilator during the daytime. When fighting for every breath, it’s such a relief when Mary puts the breathing mask on me. I am finally able to relax. That’s a luxury.
A few weeks ago, I was watching a television show called “American Pickers.” This is a show about two men who travel America in a van looking for old items to buy and resell for a profit. In the episode I was watching, these two men were in Florida trying to buy old luxury cars from a wealthy man who lived in a mansion near the ocean.
This elderly man owned several once-beautiful and very expensive cars, but because he lived near the ocean, these cars were just rusting away in the salty air. When I was a boy, while playing with my Matchbox Cars, I dreamed about one day owning some of the very cars that this man was letting sit in his garage and rust away. That little boy in me and the adult me were in total agreement; they both had the same thought – WHAT A WASTE!
The “Pickers” made offers to buy some of the cars, but the man refused to let go of his rusting luxuries.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust 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)
In the years following my diagnoses with ALS, I’ve learned to place a higher value on my many blessings. Apart from the rare visits from that little boy inside of me, my definitions of treasures and luxuries are not the same as they once were.
Breathing is a great luxury.
No matter how bad things look to you, there is hope for a better tomorrow if you’re breathing today.
Thanks for dropping by my blog.