I started immunotherapy on January 17. The previous blog gave all the details on that. No side effects so far. Next infusion on February 7. Please pray for God’s hand in the process. Rather than write a lot this time, I want to share with you a medical update from my older brother John. He has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis also known as ALS and Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Read on for his words of hope and challenge.
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
(Hebrews 9:27, 28 NASB)
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. (Psalms 139:16 NASB)
I’ve been thinking about life and death recently, but not because ALS is always fatal. Rather, there have been two recent deaths that have affected me. The first one happened about two months ago. This man was 64, just a year younger than I am. We got to know each other because our sons were in school together. He was a runner and apparently, judging from his activities, a well-conditioned guy. On November 19th, however, he completed his pre-ordained “number of days.” I was shocked at his sudden departure.
The second death was a shock too. At a warehouse store, where we’ve shopped for years, worked two young men who were twins. They were identical; I couldn’t tell them apart. We’d see them every visit, working in different parts of the store. Two days before Christmas Susie and Davy were at the store, and near the entrance was a table with a little memorial on it. There they saw a photograph of one of the two young men, and an obituary. He had died just two days before of an aneurysm. He too had lived out his days. He was only 34 years old.
The point of all this is that, no matter how long our life, life is short.We tend to live as if we’ll live forever, even if we know that’s untrue. There’s something beyond this life. That’s why we need to prepare for eternity. The Bible is God’s answer to the question, “What will become of me when I die, and how should I live in the meantime?” If you need help with that question, open up the Bible to the Gospel of John, then pray, “Lord, speak to me,” and read it. Then talk with a pastor about what you’ve read or with a Christian friend that you trust. You won’t regret it.
I continue my slow decline with ALS. The most notable thing to me is that my energy gets used up so quickly. One-finger typing even wears me out. From the little that I know, I think this is a combination of effects from muscle loss and breathing decline. My hands are very weak now too, and it’s difficult to reach with my “good arm” (left).
On another front, we continue to battle “head lean,” with weekly help from a massage therapist.
Interestingly, even as I decline in other areas my appetite is up. By God’s amazing grace I’m still able to chew, swallow, and talk, which are wonderful blessings.
Some people ask me how I maintain a good attitude in this condition. Like anyone else I have good days and bad days, but overall I’m a happy guy. Here’s what works for me:
1) Surrender to Jesus Christ and commit each day to Him. That means meeting with Him each day in His word, confessing sin, and then determining to walk with Him, in faith and holiness. It’s not easy, and I fail a lot, but God is gracious and full of mercy.
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10 NASB).
2) Memorize scripture. Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. (Psalms 119:11 NASB). I use index cards to record the scriptures that speak to me. Here are a few that I use, almost daily: Psalm 23, Psalm 46, Psalm 131, Proverbs 3:5-6, Isaiah 41:10, John 3:16, 1 Thess. 5:16-18.
3) Not everyone has this, but a good family is almost indispensable. How can we develop a good family? Men, we’re to lead our families, not just earn a good living. That includes the spiritual dimension, for we’ve been appointed the priests of our households.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up…” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7 NASB)
When our children were young we had family devotions around the supper table; we used Proverbs because there are 31 chapters and it was easy to divide up the book, doing one chapter per day.
What if your children are older, and not so easily influenced by the Scriptures? Pray for them. Pray without ceasing; (1 Thessalonians 5:17 NASB). Walk in holiness before them. A missionary who had raised five children once told me, “More is caught than taught.” If we don’t live out what we say we believe, our children will see through it.
4) Don’t give in to self–pity. The Bible teaches, and experience confirms, that life is full of trouble. It’s the norm for a sin-plagued world, and it’s the lab in which most life lessons are learned. God is on the throne, and He has a purpose for everything that comes our way. Get a copy of a little book called Behind a Frowning Providence, by John Murray, a Scottish pastor, and you’ll find he has a lot of holy wisdom about dealing with difficulty. If you have trouble finding one, let me know; I keep several on hand to share with people.
Instead of self-pity, think about good things, read, pray, help others, and be as active as you can. With the help of my son I sell some online, which is something I’ve been doing for about 15 years now. I find that to be enjoyable, and it provides me with a sense of accomplishment. “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8,9 NASB).
5) “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB). Bing Crosby, in the 1942 film Holiday Inn, sang an Irving Berlin tune with a lot of truth in it:
🎼 I’ve got plenty to be thankful for
I haven’t got a great big yacht
To sail from shore to shore
Still I’ve got plenty to be thankful for
🎤 I’ve got plenty to be thankful for
No private car, no caviar
No carpet on my floor
Still I’ve got plenty to be thankful for
🎼 I’ve got eyes to see with
Ears to hear with
Arms to hug with
Lips to kiss with
Someone to adore
🎤 How could anybody ask for more?
My needs are small, I buy them all
At the five and ten cent store
Oh, I’ve got plenty to be thankful for 🎶
And so do I.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
Patience. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22, 23 NASB). I didn’t realize how impatient I was. It’s taken awhile, but I seem to be more patient than before.
Related to patience is waiting. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord. (Psalms 27:14 NASB). We’re prone to expect immediate answers to prayer, but God has His own schedule. I look back and realize how many times the answer was separated from the initial request, sometimes by years. In my condition waiting is a necessity, both for prayer and for daily needs. It’s best learned early.
Related to both these disciplines is perseverance. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:7 & 8 NASB). Just as in prayer we need to ask and keep on asking, so in daily life we must try, try again. This is especially important for those of us who are disabled. Winston Churchill said, “Never give in, never give in, never give in.” I do battle with ALS every day. When my right hand gave out, I switched to my left. Now that my left fingers are clenched, I use my knuckles.
Same song, next verse. I’m thankful for the Lord and His word, for my wonderful family, for medical professionals, for my massage therapist, for caregivers, for you at church that pray for us and bring meals, for our pastor that brings the word and other friends for a Bible study every two weeks, for friends that visit, for modern conveniences that make life more enjoyable, and so much more.