By Les McMahan and Jim Boscaljon, co-directors of Alliance Men’s Ministries
Beginning in May 2015, the workouts just didn’t feel the same. The body looked the same, the habits of going on long bike rides, lifting weights, and staying active were the same. However, something was different. The strength was not there.
In November 2015, a walk around the block changed the course of life for Don and Karen. After tripping, wrenching his foot, blacking out, hitting his head on the pavement, and waking up to a stranger leaning over him, Don began a medical journey which he nor his wife had foreseen or anticipated. Months of medical tests and doctor appointments led to the diagnosis that Don had ALS. A diagnosis for which there is no medical cure. Don wasn’t sure what Karen would do or what he would do for that matter. Don held tightly to his faith and to Karen’s commitment when she said she would care for him because he would do the same for her.
While interviewing Don, I realized that he had some hidden nuggets of wisdom that we all should seek to understand. The first is that we must be anchored in what we believe. Don said no one is ever ready for this kind of news and it can really shake you. If there was nothing secure to lean on, devastating news like this can crush you, a fact that was drilled home to Don in the ALS support group he once attended. There he saw first-hand the grief borne by those who did not have a living hope.
The second nugget of wisdom Don shared was in the form of a question. How do I honor God through this? Three to five years from the time of diagnosis is the normal life expectancy for someone with ALS. Don mentioned that he and God have had many heart-to-heart conversations about God’s plan (the parts Don does not like, as well as, the parts of how to honor God). As the title of the article suggests, Don wants to finish well. He has his public persona, his family persona, and his Karen persona (she knows him well). He wants God honored no matter which persona someone sees. Perfection – no; God honoring – yes. Don said that through this he has been forced to go back to the basics. It is about loving God and loving one another. He routinely asks himself the following questions:
Am I being patient with Karen and others when I’m frustrated especially when they unintentionally mishandle me?
Am I loving and encouraging to my family, even to my grandson who doesn’t quite know how to process my wheelchair and condition?
Am I open to the Holy Spirit’s prompting? Such as when the medical assistant read a pastor’s funeral scripture option to me and it sparked a spiritual
conversation that led her to attend church on a regular basis?
Don said to be attentive to the Holy Spirit and don’t dismiss His still small voice.
The third nugget that Don shared was a charge for all of us. Taking risk for fellowship! Don indicated that he has been in many situations where people talk over him as if he isn’t there or ignore him totally. They aren’t trying to be hurtful, but they aren’t sure what to say or do about a wheelchair bound man. He said, take a risk by saying hello to someone, recognize their personhood even if you don’t become best of friends. Don readily admits his family has been wonderful in their response. He said there is something different about God’s family. He urges everyone to get to know God’s people before a crisis because fellowship is better than friendship. Don said that fellowship with those Christian friends has grown into some of the most treasured relationships after the diagnosis. They read of heaven together. They share meals together. They give his wife, Karen, a bit of respite when she is weary (her friends give her support and encouragement as well). They help with things around the house when family is unavailable. Fellowship is greater than friendship, so take the initiative and be intentional to develop treasured relationships.
At the time of this interview, the ALS has progressed to a difficult stage for Don and Karen. He functions in his powered wheelchair by a joy stick, but even that is getting more difficult. He needs assistance for every area of care in his life (for which Karen provides the bulk) - eating, cleaning up, getting ready, and sometimes, even breathing. Don and Karen were such an encouragement to me. When I was seeking to understand, Don’s wisdom about being anchored, honoring God and taking risks for fellowship were nuggets I should seek to understand to be able to finish well. How about you?