ALS, ASL, Hope and Testimony

Years ago, when I lived in Detroit, serving as a missionary for my Church, I met a family who were some of the best examples of being positive in the midst of adversity. Their examples have been, in the years since, some that I have worked hard to emulate. I’ve often failed in that attempt, but… I’d be surprised if they didn’t fail in that attempt sometimes, too.

The father of the family, I’ll call him Bill (it wasn’t bill, but neither can I remember his name, nor would I share it if I could… because  this story is about my experience with them, rather than their experiences directly.) – Bill was a very successful martial arts instructor in Detroit. Very few martial artists get to do more than make an hobby out of their sport. Fewer still actually get paid for that sport. And even fewer still earn enough in that pay to be able all of their bills, and still fewer earn a good living. He was one of the rare few who could. He’d made a lifetime career out of training others in the martial arts, and in some particular forms that were uniquely his; he had customers seek him out from throughout the world to learn from him. He had comfortably provided for his family for many years, doing what he loved; training and performing and competing in the martial arts.

This was all before I met him.

And then he got Lou Gehrig’s. His was a particularly aggressive form of ALS. If my memory is being honest, the way that Bill described it to me was something along the lines of “I’m lucky because, as bad as it is, Lou Gehrig’s Disease only last’s for a couple of years! I can expect to be fully free of the disease in 3 to 5 years!” I was entirely ignorant of the disorder, and for someone who had been such a physically powerful man, the wheelchair laden man who’s arms were bound tightly to his chest by muscle spasms belied his history. “That’s wonderful!” I said…. only to get the sly look of an obviously intelligent man with mischief in his eyes….. he knew that I was ignorant of his disorder… “The only down side,” he continued, “Is that it’s fatal in every case so far….” Most healthy, 20 year old boys don’t know how to respond to that. I was no exception. I stuttered the obligatory “I’m so sorry!” as his wife playfully chided him for teasing the missionaries.

For those who, like I was, are ignorant of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it’s formally known as ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). It is an aggressive disease, which for most people (Bill being one of them) has no known cause, and no known cure. It is fatal in every known instance. Most people die within 3-5 years of diagnosis, but some live as long as 10 years (or more). It attacks the brain, the nerves, people’s speech (making it very difficult to understand them) and the muscles, causing everything to become progressively weaker until the lungs and heart no longer have the strength to do their job, and the person finally succumbs and dies.

The years since I met Bill have been met with a substantial increase in public awareness of this disease, and a substantial increase in research and understanding of it. Doctors and scientists say of ALS that little is known… and that’s after all of the major advancements we’ve made. When I met Bill, next to nothing was known.

And so here I was, meeting a physically diminished man, who had several days of scruff on his face, because he could no longer shave, and it was hard for his wife to shave him every day, on top of her other responsibilities like bathing, feeding, and helping with bodily functions… She had left her professional career to take care of him full time, and they’d just left their home, which was a beautifully restored house from Detroit’s Golden Motown Era (seriously, do some googling…. the architecture from that time frame is amazing…. simply stunning!) in order to move into a small place  with no stairs where he could maneuver in his motorized wheelchair. The previous 3 or so years had been nothing but broken lives and turmoil, all with the known and foreseeable undesirable end.

And yet, here Bill and his beautiful wife were not only content, but happily joking and teasing those around them. They weren’t just accepting of their circumstances, but thriving in them.

In our Church, once a month we forgo sermons or prepared talks to allow the congregation to share with each other our testimonies of faith and be strengthened by others’.

Just before I completed my mission, and came home to Idaho, we had one of these meetings. Bill rolled his wheelchair to the front of the chapel, and (painfully) stood from it. As he reached the podium, he put his mouth near the microphone (he was getting hard to hear, as his voice’s strength was going too.) He began by telling everyone that he wanted to take every chance he could to proclaim his faith, because he was starting to get too weak to continue to come to church, and he knew that he wasn’t going to live much longer.

Setting this premise for the congregation, who had all grown to love and cherish this amazing man, he continued.

“I know that it’s hard to understand my speech, so I’d like to share my testimony to you in Sign Language.”

He clumsily stepped back from the podium and raised his painfully wrenched arms and hands to shoulder level, the task clearly wore him out, and he had to lean back to do it. Everyone in the congregation felt embarrassed for Bill because we could see what he obviously couldn’t: there was no way he was going to do any signing.

Stepping back to the podium, arms still raised, he awkwardly looked from one hand, and then to the other, as if realizing for the first time that they weren’t working the way that they should.

“Dang it.”

And the congregation, uncharacteristically for our Church, burst out laughing through our tears on his behalf.

Of course Bill knew that he couldn’t sign. And that was the point. He knew that he’d just darkened the mood of the room, and he solved it at his own expense.

He then went on to bare a beautiful testimony of faith, redemption, and of hope.

The reason that Bill and his wife could have such positive attitudes surrounding his rapid decline in health and his impending death, was that they had been married together, not just until death parted them, but for time and all eternity. They had faith that the promise of the Savior for resurrection, perfection, and wholeness would all be fulfilled. They believed the Savior’s promise that they would get to be together with Him. This life, after all, is just a trial period. And that trial might be ending for him, but there was more to come.

I left within the next couple of weeks. I don’t think that I ever saw Bill again. I don’t imagine that he lived much longer… though I’d be happy to be wrong.

But their example has lived on in me.

And so has his faith.

Hopefully it can make your day a little better today, too.

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Advent, the Nativity, and Forgetting Christ

In homes and congregations throughout the world, the month leading up to Christmas is spent preparing for the Nativity – this period is known as Advent. In our family, we often set up our Christmas tree the day after thanksgiving (though it was the middle of December this year), followed by a Christmas party with our congregation in the beginning of December. The rest of the month, like many of us, is often spent worrying about presents, stressing about bills, and trying to bake delectables for those we care about. I won’t waste your time saying what more eloquent people have said before me; I’ll let it suffice that I worry that the most important part of the season is lost to most of us.

So forgive my ramblings as I share some thoughts (not just my own).

For centuries the chosen people had waited for the Messiah, the one who would save them and make them free. Some looked for a political savior, others for a teacher and others yet for a redeemer. And the signs were given that the time for the Messiah was at hand. Some thought the Maccabees would fill the role. Others looked onward, all waited for the Advent of the chosen one of God. With the oppression of Rome, the plea for a redeemer grew ever stronger.

Sometime in the summer between the years 6 and 2 BC, a young woman was visited by an angel, telling her that she had been chosen by God to carry His son and bring him into the world.  I can’t imagine the elation and terror she must have experienced. We aren’t told how, but the Spirit of God descended on Mary, and she became pregnant with the very Son of the Living Father. Mary, did you know?

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In the following months, we know, that the young woman married her betrothed, Joseph. We know little of the man, but that he was good, just and faithful is clear.  And some time in the spring of the next year, the expectant couple traveled to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to be taxed and counted. The small town would have been bustling and though she was nearing labor, Mary and Joseph were refused room in the boarding houses. One could infer that it was due to their poverty that they were turned away, but irrespective of the reason, Joseph prepared room in a stable for his wife to bring her Son into the world. I can imagine the feelings of helplessness he experienced, because the helplessness that all husbands feel during childbirth hasn’t changed over the long centuries between Joseph and me.

We don’t know how long she labored, but sometime in the early days of our month of April, Mary gave birth to her first son, and, swaddling him, laid him in a manger meant for feeding sheep.

Despite the songs, the Judean landscape has few plains, but is full of hills and valleys. It was in these hills around Bethlehem that shepherds grazed their sheep and watched them through the night. download

It was to these simple people that the first angelic announcement of the arrival of the Messiah came. The angels told them that He would bring peace on earth to men of good will. Many songs have been, and will yet be, written about this visit.

Without doubt, the shepherds left their flocks, following the angelic direction, entered the town to find the baby with His mother and Joseph. Having worshiped the Messiah, they left to spread the word of His birth.

Sometime before or during the holy birth, a new star appeared in the sky. Astrologers and astronomers have spent 2 millennial seaking an explanation, but there can be no doubt that it was recognized as both a miracle and a sign, at least to some, and perhaps only in the east, from whence came the wise men. The narrative gives us little clues to their identities, or even their numbers, but tradition tells us that there were three wise men, and names them: Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar. images These wise men came in the months or years following the Messiah’s humble birth in the stables of Bethlehem.

That Mary made the sacrifices of purification using doves, rather than a lamb, shows the family’s continued poverty.  But when the wise men arrived, and found the Holy Child,they gifted the Holy Child the kingly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After the angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt to protect his ward, I imagine those gifts paid the way.

The wise men, warned in a dream of the wicked intentions of the murderous Herod, returned to their own lands by alternate routes, and are lost to history. Enraged, Herod butchered all of the male children under the age of two, rightly earning his reputation that will carry through history. Joseph’s faithful adherence to the prompting a of the angels protected his wife and her son.

Thus the first Christmas story is completed. The Son grew to a man, astonishing even the elders of the synagog with his wisdom and understanding. Only 33 short years after his birth, around His 34th birthday, the Savior of Mankind would labor in Gethsemane. Ironically, the symbol of the scapegoat was lost on the Jewish elite, and they gave Him up to be crucified among thieves, fulfilling His earthly mission. It was His resurrection that broke the bonds of sin and death, and his prophesied return that will fill all the forms of Messiah that Children of Israel sought.

We, like the shepherds, are commanded to spread the good news of Jesus the Messiah to all the world.  And as Advent comes to a close, and we celebrate the Nativity, I will be seeking to remember Jesus, and to spread His joy to those in need. I hope you’ve felt that joy as you’ve read my insufficient story, and listened to the beautiful music I’ve linked.

And from my family to you, merry Christmas. May the hope of the Messiah carry you through the new year. May we remember Him in our actions. May we embrace the Advent, celebrate the Nativity, and never forget the Christ.

If You Can Do Anything

They were getting worse.

Staring at the broken furniture next to him, he wondered how long this one would last. The blood was already smeared on the floor from his son’s head, but he knew he had to wait until this was finished before he could try to patch the wound.

The shaking and moaning was frightening his wife and other children, he knew, but what could he do about it? Last time he tried to hold the boy down, he’d nearly broken his arm.

So he waited. And he hoped that he wasn’t disturbing his neighbors again. The shouts and tears were hard enough without everyone else involved. The questions tomorrow would be embarrassing for him, but his wife would cry herself to sleep with hidden shame tonight.

And he was still shaking. Oh, God! How long would this one last?


Each one of us is burdened with hidden shames, hidden pains, and hidden worries. Some of them are brought on by our own sins, by our own weaknesses. Others are beyond our control.

I have often tried, fruitlessly, to hide my pains, my sorrows, my brokenness  from those around me. My kids think the pain is normal, my wife, bless her, has endured more than any woman should have to. And I try to hide it from my friends and family, playing off my falls as if I’m being silly, and just need to sit down. I try to hide the panic attacks, and play them off as mild distractions. My kids know better, they’ve come to watch the grown man huddled in the corner, weeping like a child, with only mild interest, knowing that the best they can do is wait it out. I try to pretend that my pain is just “discomfort.” My 8 year old has come to gently ask “do you want me to get your cane, or your medicine?” And my 4 year old, “are you happy now, dad?” while worry wells up in his eyes.

What are your hidden pains? What do you fear the world will see?


He heard them before he saw them. His son was walking with him, no sign of the previous night’s fit but the healing cut on his head. These men always drew a crowd now. He knew why: they had made a lot of friends, and probably more enemies.

When the drew close enough, he meant to shout out to them, to offer payment for them to help, of even beg if he must. He didn’t have any pride left, what was it to beg?

But when they came near, his son looked dead. Here he stood, as calm as a summer breeze, but his eyes were gone. This wasn’t his son anymore. He knew this look. It was too soon! They weren’t inside, everyone would see! There would be no secrets remaining! “Please, wait,” he  thought to himself. “Please, not here!” And then his son fell.

The shouts of startled fear and derision parted the crowd like Moses and the Red Sea. As the foam fell from his son’s lips, the throng surrounded him: there was no escape now!


Sooner or later, all things come to light. Every secret, every shame, will be known as if it was shouted from the rooftops. Are you prepared for that moment? Most of us aren’t. For years, I’ve tried to behave normally, but it only takes one breakdown in public for everyone to look at you differently, to doubt you, to doubt the reality that you’ve come to accept.


Now he found himself surrounded by the judgmental sea of people, drowning in his shame. His son, oblivious to the stares of those around, continued to convulse. Tears in his eyes, the broken man begged the men: “please, can’t you see what it does to him? Drive out the devil that is doing this to my son! I know you can, I’ve seen you heal others!”

Confidently, the men approached his thrashing son. As they did, the attack began to subside. It was almost as if whatever demon had seized him for so many years, was preparing to leave! What joy! What hope! His son would be whole again!

As they placed their hands on him, their enemies in the crowd started to shout: he couldn’t hear what the healers were saying over the shouts, but he had no doubt in his mind that they would heal him.

For a moment, it looked like they had! The foam stopped dribbling from his mouth, and his body relaxed: and then as the angry men around him began to quiet, the boy started shaking harder then ever! His nose began to bleed, and his bowels released.

In terror, the devastated father ran to his son, trying to stop the terrible trembling that looked like they would kill his son. He ignored the jeering of the crowd, both to him, and to the healers. It took what felt like an eternity,  but the attack finally stopped. His son was unconscious, and trembling now, he cradled the head of his oldest son, weeping tears of despair onto his son’s neck.


Healing can be hard. For those who have had their spirits and minds broken by some great and terrible event, the healing can feel like it never comes.

Sometimes we place our trust in others, expecting that they can help carry, or even relive us of our burdens completely.

And if they fail, the hurt to our soul can be worse than if they had never tried to begin with. The darkness is greatest at these times. The burdens the heaviest. When hope is gone, we begin to doubt even the faith that we cherish.


He didn’t know how long the men had argued with their critics. He didn’t know how long his son had lain there. If it weren’t for the weak rising and falling of his chest, he would be sure the boy had died. He wished they would leave him, allow him to maintain some dignity. But they wouldn’t.

And then, after a few hushed shouts, the crowd went silent.

“What were you arguing with them about?” He heard the Man ask the critics. But no one answered.

With tears still on his cheeks, his eyes red, and his voice weak and horse, he spoke in reply: “Teacher,” he addressed the man, “I brought you my son who is possessed by a spirit that robs him of his speech.” His voice broke, but through the sob, he continued “whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground.” He showed the Man his son, as if he couldn’t see for himself. “He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid.” Looking at the healers, he continued, “I asked your followers to drive out the spirit…” his voice broke again, “but they could not!” And the tears began in earnest again.

Looking to the crowd, and with… was it despair of his own? Anger? He couldn’t tell, but the  Teacher spoke. “You unbelieving generation'” that part was almost under his breath. His followers cowered in shame, and the opposing leaders squared their shoulders, defiant to his challenge. “How long will I stay with you? How long will I put up with you?”

And looking at the the father, the Man said “bring the boy to me.”

Gently, the weeping father picked up his unconscious son, and carried him to the Teacher.

Before he even got to the teacher, the boy started shaking again. So severely that his father  lost his grip. The boy fell to the ground, shaking, and rolling. The foam started again.

“How long has he been like this?” The teacher asked

“Since he was a child,” the father replied, looking around to see who had heard him admit it.


It is in these moments of darkest despair that we must turn ourselves again to the Teacher. We must muster what strength and faith remains and turn to He who bore our burdens.


With almost a whisper, he continued, “it has often tried to throw him into the fire, or into the water, to destroy him.”

The tears came again, unbidden. He looked to the Teacher and, summoning what faith for healing he could, he begged, “if you can do anything,” the bitterness returned now, and he wondered why he was even bothering to ask, “take pity on us, and help us!”


Sometimes, in our moment of despair, we fail to notice those around us who despair, who toil, who are working with us. It is hard to see those who have made our struggles their own.


The Teacher spoke now, his tone lovingly chastising now, “if you can just believe.” He said to the father as then to the crowd around, “anything is possible to one who believes.”

“Lord!” The man exclaimed, “oh, I believe!” Hadn’t he brought his son here to be healed? Hadn’t he loved his trust in the healers? But in that moment, the introspective and humble father realized his own doubt; “help me overcome my disbelief.”


In these dark times, when we have relied on the faith we once had, it is easy to forget to do the thinks we need to do in order to grow faith. Faith is either growing, or diminishing, it never remains stagnant. In your moments of darkness, have you ever stopped growing your faith? Do you have the gift of introspection enough to see the strength of your testimony?

The story could almost end here, why? Because the miracle that follows is less important than the faith that predicated it. While the Teacher will always lift our burdens, it isn’t always on our timetable. It isn’t always even in this lifetime. While all things are possible to those who believe, the belief must be in God, and in his will; not our own.


After looking around, the Teacher spoke: “you deaf and mute spirit, I command you to come out of him and never enter him again.”

There was fierceness in the Teacher’s voice that the man had never heard before.

And his son began to retch. A horrible gurgling sound burst from his son’s lips. Then the boy was still and pale.

The crowd began to whisper, quietly at first, then louder, “he’s dead. He killed him.”

And the Teacher reached out, taking the boy’s hand, and helped him to his feet. The color was coming back to him now.

And the boy smiled.

Today, I Am Peter

When they set out to cross the lake, a journey they had made many times before, the day was coming to a close. It had been an extraordinary day, one filled with wonder, power and miracles. But now, they had to make the 8 mile sail across the water. Usually, by setting the sail to catch the wind, combined with hard work at the oars, this trip was pretty quick.

But though it was hard work, it was work that Peter was used to. There was some joy and peace in the labor. He’d spent most of his life on this lake. He was a strong sailor, and a strong swimmer. If the truth was to be told, he’d forgotten more in his short life than most men ever learned about the trade. His hands knew the tasks at hand, so he could take the time to think about what he’d seen. He could reflect on the day.

None of the others talked much. Besides the hard work, it seemed like they all had a lot on their minds. How had he done that? Where was he now? What would they do next?

And then the winds changed. They were only about halfway across the lake, but with the wind shifting to become a head wind, they had to drop the sails. This meant that the remaining 4 miles would need to be done at the oars alone. This was never fun, but, like the rest of this work, Peter was confident, calm, and prepared for the trouble of it.

And then the waves started to form. Theirs was not a small boat, but she was sturdy. Really, she was bigger than many on the lake, but these waves were easily large enough to crash over the sides. They were easily big enough to capsize the boat if they turned her broadside.

So here they were, rowing hard against the waves which pushed them back for every stroke. If the stopped rowing, they’d turn, and the waves would have them. They couldn’t raise the sails because the wind was at their bow.

And it was totally dark. The moon was still low, too low to be an effective guide.

It was dark. The wind howled. The men were tired, and sore, and alone. There was no other boats nearby, not that they’d be able to see them in these waves and darkness. If they lost control now, they’d surely drown. Peter was starting to worry.


Life has a way of dishing out its worst right after we have experienced great blessing. The Adversary works his hardest to challenge us at these times; to make us doubt the joy and peace of God’s gifts; to forget the grace that we’ve received; to focus only on the momentary, the challenging, and the worrisome. And he’s pretty good at it.
I’ve gone from being at the helm, metaphorically speaking, of my life; knowing what I was doing, where I was going, and how I was going to get there… to not knowing how I’m going to function in the most basic ways; to not knowing how I’m going to raise my children; not knowing how to even take care of myself; and (sometimes) to not know where my next meal will come from. It’s been a pretty major shift for me. I’ve been content with the work of it all. I’m no stranger to hard work. But there is still fear in not knowing. There is fear in the challenges of life.


As they worked to keep the boat straight against the waves, Peter heard a shriek of terror come from behind him. As he listened to hear why his friend had cried out, he saw it: the ghostly apparition on the water. Peter had never been one to believe in silly superstitions, but how could he deny his own eyes? The evidence was overwhelming, and his shipmates confirmed the same: there was a figure on the water.

The moonlight reflected off the white of the figures robes, creating an halo of pale, blue light. The figure was moving across the storming seas as if they were simple hills.

And Peter was terrified. Was this was some apparition from the after-world coming to claim him and his shipmates? Surely, they were about to die, and this figure was their host into the next world.

As they began to fear for their lives, the boat started to turn. Peter cried out for his friends to keep her straight! Even in that moment of sure death, he wasn’t one to let it come easily. The spirit of death would have him, but not without a fight.


There is an old Christian trope that “God will not give you more than you can handle.” While it has some basis in truth, the understood implication is that whatever challenge we are given can be borne by us. This just isn’t true.

Oftentimes,  life presents us with challenges far to great for us to carry on our own.

The burdens that we bear sometimes curve our backs and break our wills. And just in that moment of deep despair, the challenges of life will sometimes side swipe us with a pickup truck. This can be overwhelming. Having had the broken will and spirit, being crushed by the weight of the world, we are given only two options; to surrender and die is the easier option. But what else can we do?


Just then they heard the voice, carried clearly above the winds and the waves.
“Don’t be afraid! It is I! Take courage!”

Peter looked out over the waves, and in the darkness he saw, for what seemed like the first time, that the apparition was his friend, his brother, his master: the Galilean. But how could this be? No man can walk on the water. Yet, after what he’d seen earlier today, how could it be anyone else?


And so His voice comes to all who are broken in spirit. When the burdens have destroyed all hope that we can carry on alone, He calls to us: “don’t be afraid! Be courageous. I am here!”

And we, like Peter, have to choose: do we let fear win, and go down with our boat? That is the easy choice.


Like the Sons of Thunder next to him, Peter was impetuous. He was brave. And he knew that the Miracle Worker could do anything.

“If it’s you,” he cried to the Man on the water, “tell me to come out to you, on the water!”

Even in his challenge, he doubted himself. These waves were too strong for his boat, they would surely sink him. If he got into the water, he’d surely be a dead man. What was this challenge? Why had he called it? If he was wrong, he’d pay for the mistake with his life.

“Come!” Came the reply.


When the master calls to us, we have the final choice: the easy one? Or do we risk what stability we have now, no matter how destructive that stability is, and come to him? Do we surrender to Him our fears, our hopes, and even the ground beneath our feet at His bidding?


Keeping his eyes above the waves, and ignoring the gasps of terror of his crew, Peter stepped out of the tossing boat onto the waves. His eyes fixed on the Man, Peter began walking… walking! On the water! It was as if the sea had solidified under his feet, and he allowed his pace to quicken.  And then it hit him: literally. He hadn’t noticed the wave until it crashed into his side, drenching him further to the bone. And he looked down to check his footing. There was nothing but the sea beneath him!

And he doubted.


When we come to Him, keeping our eyes fixed on He who is our salvation, the terrors that had only moments before had overwhelmed and even threatened to destroy us, seem like a thing of the past.

But when we look to the challenges, and not the Man on the water; we falter. Every time. The proverbial waves that had threatened to destroy us are no less powerful, and we no more powerful. We haven’t suddenly grown the ability to defeat the challenges on our own. And once we start to wonder if it is by our own power that we are succeeding, we will surely begin to be swallowed up by the very things we wonder if we’ve defeated.


The doubt came quickly, and as it rushed upon him, so did the cold, dark water. He just had time to cry out desperately, “Lord! Save me!” As the water came up over his head, anxious to claim him to its depths. He kicked, he tried to tread, but the next wave washed over him, and he knew he had lost.

And then the hand grabbed his.

And his Master pulled him into His strong arms. “You of little faith,” He chided, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.


Like Peter, I have witnessed the miraculous. Like Peter, I have stood when the world said I should drown. Like Peter, I have begun the fearful journey of walking to the Master. And like Peter, I have doubted. I have tried, again and again, to do the work on my own.

But like Peter, I have cried out “Lord, save me!”

And He has. And He will again.

I just hope that, like Peter, I don’t forget the salvation offered to me. Today I want to be like Peter. 

God grant me the grace to see You above the waves of life. Give me the courage to call out to You. Give me the faith to follow You. And guide me to Your Glory.

Living Liberty: We’re Doomed, What Do We Do Now?

Recent polls show that only about 12% of Americans believe that the Federal government does the right thing all or a majority of the time; compared to 81% who believe that the Federal government rarely or never does the right thing. Combined with over 50% of Americans who believe that the federal government has lost all legitimacy – we have to begin to ask, “what can we do about it?”

With such overwhelmingly depressing outcomes at the federal level, the American people are left in fear and despair about the direction of the American government: worse, we don’t know what to do about it. We don’t know what we can do about it.

So here we are, pretty much everyone agrees, we’re doomed! So what can we do? Elect an excellent president, of course! Someone who understands the constitution; honors the rule of law; will increase our allies’ trust in our country; who has unassailable moral character; and who can lead our country through these dark times with a clear vision of the future.

Wait…

Who are we choosing between?

Dang.

Well…

Excuse me for a moment.

<Weeps bitterly>

Well, I suppose we can retreat to our bunkers and live off of food storage while we wait out the coming apocalypse?

What?

The American people are in more personal debt than ever before, combined with generations of no increase in individual wealth? 

So…. There aren’t any bunkers? 

And nobody has food storage!?!?

Excuse me for a moment.

<Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.>

<Wiping away the tears, choking back sobs> well… At least we have a congress that is trustworthy!

What? 9… 9% percent approval rating?

Oh. I see. 

Excuse me again.

<Runs out of tissues. Screams loudly>

What can we do? The federal government is so broken as to be an effective kakistocracy (good word, look that one up). And if this election is evidence of anything, it’s that the broken mess is so complete as to be above correction.

Or is it?

Personally, I think we are left with one of two options. I wish I was being a defeatist here, but I’m afraid that (short of someone presenting another option), I don’t see another solution. The first option is a bad one. No, like… literal blood in the street… Bad.

This option is the complete dissolution of the Union. I have variously found myself desiring this option: the nation would dissolve into an handful of smaller independent nations. The Liberty belt might include Texas up through Arizona, Utah, and Idaho: over to Oklahoma and Georgia. I’d be in Texas as fast as an heartbeat. The People’s Socialist Republik of California might include Washington and parts of Oregon. DC might be the seat of the new United Socialist States of America, including New York, Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maine. The Dakotas would be designated as factions fought over access to electrical power…. But before any such dissolution, there would be the requisite civil war: literal blood in the streets, and war-caused poverty for a generation (or more). The Liberty States might well become wealthy, at the cost of generational war from both sides as the bitter socialist-leaning states insist on stolen birthright, or something epic like that. In short: this would be bad. I do not support this action. I’ll go a step further, those who (actively) do, are dangerous. War, when there are better options, is a bad thing.

But what other choice do we have?

The founders expected and planned for a day when the federal government had stomped over the protections defined in the constitution. They anticipated a day when the federal government, obsessed with power, took no action to limit itself.

And they defined the ways that power could be restored back to the people: these methods are defined in article 5 of the United States Constitution. The particular section allows for what has become known as a convention of states:

On the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress.

This convention allows for the people and the states to restore power where it rightfully belongs: to the people, not to politicians and bureaucrats in DC. This convention has support in each of the fifty states, but hasn’t been proposed by each state’s legislature yet (as required… Well, in 2/3’s of them anyway). Over the course of this series, I hope to make the case for changes to the constitution that would restore both power to the people and the faith in Washington. I hope to alleviate the concerns claimed by opponents to the convention. And I hope, most importantly, to restore hope when it is currently so tenuous.

I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert. I am an opinion writer. I, of course, believe that I am right on this solution. However, I implore you to seek knowledge on the topic by those more articulate and better informed than I am: I recommend that you start by reading The Liberty Amendments by the great one himself, Mark Levin. We’ll be back to talk specifics later.

 

Despair and Hope

I find the relationship linking despair and hope to be fascinating. I just left the doctor for my monthly checkup. I’m on a very high dose of a very powerful drug (I won’t say which), but it provides little relief from my pain.

As I’ve said before, multiple doctors have confirmed that there is no solution for the causes of my pain: no surgery, no injections that we haven’t tried, no therapies, no magic pills. In short, my brokenness cannot be solved. I’ve come to peace with that fact, but it is nonetheless an unpleasant one. For me, the only long term plan is short term pain management.

I participate in some varied online forums. One is a forum dedicated to those of us with fibromyalgia. We call ourselves fibromites, and men being such an anomaly in the fibromyalgia world, I coined the term fibromates to describe those of us with the XY chromosomes. That forum is great. It gives us a group of peers that understand the struggles. It gives us a place to vent, complain, gripe, and moan. But more importantly, it gives us a positive environment for gentle hugs (figuratively). The community is one of uplifting and realistic optimism. We can seek advice and feedback from those who will be more helpful than the ol’ “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” feedback that is all too common toward the disabled communities.

Another forum is dedicated to those of us who struggle with chronic pain in general. A larger community gives us a greater spectrum of feedback and opinion. There are some who deal with neurological conditions, like fibromyalgia, and others with skeletal, muscular, or other conditions, including depression and anxiety. As you can imagine, at least on the surface, this is a more appropriate community for one like me: one who has neurological disorders, as well as muscular and skeletal disabilities, topped off with psychological or emotional disorders; in short, one who is in constant, chronic pain.

The sad truth truth concerning this second forum, however, is that the atmosphere is greatly different than the first. While the fibromyalgia forum is one of positive reinforcement and uplifting optimism, the chronic pain forum is negatively reinforcing. As you can imagine, for those who struggle constantly with the basic tasks of life, depression can set in pretty quickly, and even more powerfully. There, optimistic and hopeful comments are scoffed at and scorned. Weekly I see posts by people who literally are throwing in the proverbial towel: declaring in one open form or another “I can’t handle this pain anymore, I want to and am planning to die.” I mean that there is no equivocation and I’m not reading between the lines, there are literally people declaring the desire and/or plan for suicide. And worse, the community, in its complete understanding, supports the poster with morbid empathy, telling them that their decision is not only understandable, but perhaps even wise.

Empathetically, I understand the desire for death in the lowest of the lows. While these circumstances have never brought me to a suicidal point, I do understand. Even this morning, talking with Jeff, my exceptional pain specialist, I felt near despairing for that sentiment. The cold truth is that, as strong as my medications are, the best I can ever expect from them is about a %50 reduction in pain (and that’s just for my back, as these medications don’t and can’t address the fibromyalgia). I don’t get that much relief; I’m closer to %26-%30 reduction in pain… and that’s about as good as it gets. This truth is discouraging. Even if I make the (incorrect) assumption that my back will never worsen, my pain levels are about as low as they will ever be.

So I understand the desire for the pain to end at any cost… But I can’t agree with it. As Lehi said:

 “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.”

In other words, without misery, there can be no joy. Without despair, there can be no hope. So we finally come to the fascinating relationship: there must be ‘opposition in all things.”

God doesn’t give us trials, pain, and misery; rather, he allows those things and turns them to our benefit if we turn to Him. Another prophet of God also empathized with despair:

“O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?…  O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol–stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward [me].”

But in His wisdom, God replied:

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee… with warm hearts and friendly hands.”

So we see in His great Plan of Happiness that trial, tribulation, pain, misery, suffering and even the lowest despair are all allowed to exist in order to provide contrast to the joy, happiness, peace, comfort, salvation and hope that are to be found by the redeeming atonement of the Great Son of God.

I wish I could share this hope with those of my fellow sufferers on the chronic pain forum, but the voice of hope is regrettably not a welcome one. So I write instead here, where I dictatorially control what voices are allowed 😉.

I worry that the topic is heavy, but so is the burden that we all carry, whether you deal with physical pain or not, we all have burdens, trials, and pain. And all of us feel overwhelmed by it sometimes – that’s why understanding the relationship between pain and relief, between sadness and happiness, between despair and hope, is so important. That’s why we have hope: so that we can know the contrast between what we feel and experience now and what we can obtain through the promise of Him who took our burdens upon Himself.

Hope exists, not because we want it to, but because it is the very law of Nature: there must be opposition in all things.

So, my friends, don’t despair. There is hope for relief, even for those of us with the promise of none: after the time of trial, comes the reward of the faithful. Jesus Christ lives. He carried our burdens, so that we might be free of them eventually.

Quality vs Worth: The Value of Life

Lately, I’ve had some questions from some readers, they are usually variations of this: “Jared, how do you stay so positive with all that is going on that is negative?” 

Sometimes they’re closer to “how do you do it? I don’t think I could keep going if I had ‘x,'” but I assume that, rather than suggesting I should off myself, these questions fit in with the first.

So I want to take a minute to address this question.
First, as is the nature of social media, you don’t often see the lows, if for no other reason than that when I’m really struggling, the last thing I want to do is to write. This is normal, by the way, which is why if we look through the Facebook pages of our high school classmates, we can reasonably assume that every one of them is financially successful, purely joyful, and traveling the world on peace missions, in short, that everyone but ourselves have found the key to happiness. And maybe some have, but I expect that a poll of those people would show that most of them feel like the world is in various stages of collapsing around them, while everyone else has it together. This is the lie of Facebook.

You, as the reader, don’t see nights I spend silently weeping to myself because I’m exhausted to the point of collapse, but am kept awake by the intense pain in my back and or nerves. I try to hide those low moments, even from my wife.  You, as the reader, don’t see me desperately, but without success, try to wake myself up once I’ve finally fallen asleep because the drug induced, hallucination like night terrors. You, as the reader, don’t see me curled up in a ball desperately wondering what the point of it all is. You don’t see the state of my house (that’s no accident…) because I can’t keep up with my chores.

So what is the point of it all? How do I stay positive? Well, the short answer is that I’m not always positive. I’m often angry and bitter about my lot in life (it’s not a lot, but it’s a life… Yuk yuk yuk). But it’s critical to understand the end goal. Life is not made to live from one moment of temporary excitement or high to the next: life is is about happiness, not excitement. But more importantly, life is meant to be a trying test.

This may not really answer the questions, in truth, the thought isn’t really well developed. I don’t struggle with the bitterness of depression, so I can’t speak to the power that it holds over the sound of its victims… Except I have felt that depression. My first buy of advise for those of you dealing with overwhelming depression, or depression that never goes Away (maybe it waxes and wanes, but is always present… Like a stupid song in the back of your mind….) first things first: speak to your doctor. I’ve found it helpful to write down my thoughts before a doctor’s visit (and I have lots of the ) – this helps me not forgot anything. Depressive disorder is crippling, but it’s also not just you: it’s a real medical condition and it can be treated. Please, if I’m describing you here, never free of the blues, call your doctor and schedule an appointment. It can be better.

But assuming that one’s chemistry is under control, we have to look at some of the other causes of misery: at the risk of sounding like a preacher, often we feel like bad people because, well… we are…. if we are living our lives free of the bother of moral compass, we might (or should) feel bad about ourselves. That’s not depression, it’s conscience. When I have not been right with my wife, or with my kids, or with my Lord, I have not been more than temporarily happy. It’s a feeling that I can’t shake, and no matter how great I may feel for a moment, it always fades back to a disappointing base. So we spent last week preparing for Resurrection Sunday – we repented of our sins, and we sought  to make amends to those whom we have wronged. If you didn’t follow us on that journey, it’s not too late: begin the process of being right with God. If you don’t believe, then at least make sure that you are right with everyone else (not quite the same, but a big first step).  

Next, forgiveness is critical. Again, I’m sure, I sound like a preacher, but not without cause. Once we’ve repented of our sins, we need to move on. We need to trust God that He has forgiven them. Sometimes the memory of that sin can come back to bite us a long time later- especially if it was particularly egregious, but trust isn’t a one off type of thing: I don’t just trust my wife once: I trust her always. The same is true with our heavenly relationships: we don’t just trust God to forgive us once, we must actively work toward the trust that He continually forgives us.  Sometimes the people that we have wronged don’t forgive us, even when we have truly repented. I’d love to say “move on, they aren’t worth your time anyway.” But I’d be lying… At least with some people. Unlike the Father, we are not perfect, and being forgiven isn’t guaranteed with our fellow man like it is with Him. If we have really repented, however, we recognize and accept that their non-forgiveness may be a consequence of our actions. We just move on the best we can. And finally, we need to accept and forgive ourselves. I’ve found that no one holds a grudge against me like I do. I find myself loathing actions from decades ago: “couldn’t I be a little kinder?” “Couldn’t I have responded better.” – but moving on with our lives means that we have to forgive ourselves, after we have done everything we can to correct the problem. 

If we have are chemically balanced correctly, we have a clean conscience, and we have accepted the forgiveness of God, sought the forgiveness of others (and accepted whichever response they chose) and forgiven ourselves; once we have done all of those things, then we can tackle the rest:

Life sucks. There. I said it. Life is full of pain, misery, sorrow, weakness, impossible choices, dirty laundry, and burned dinners. All of those things happen even if we have been forgiven, are making righteous decisions, and aren’t depressed. So what’s the point?

I wanted it share an analogy complete with home video. I even found the old 30 second clip in all it’s 144p glory (from my first camera phone…) but sadly the sound is corrupted, and without my shrieks of agony, you’d never be able to see from the video only that you were watching me get tazed (oops, spilled the beans on that one.)

But how do we answer the point of this life? Simply put, just as I willingly was tazed because I needed to understand the power of the tool, we willingly agreed to this life so we could have the experience of it: dirty socks and all.

How the do I stay positive despite being in constant physical pain? How do I sit in my chair (I’ve been unable to sleep more than an hour of three in a bed for years), shivering because I have the window open to the sleeting cold in order to counteract the sweats of the medicine and leather of my chair? How do I find joy despite being unable to move for a great portion of the day? How do I feel whole despite being broken in every significant measurable physical measure (and many mental measurements)? How do I live when living is without… Wait, turning off the country music station on Pandora… Okay, better: how do I have a sense of humor despite… Well… Everything?

I agreed to this. Well, maybe not the dirty laundered or the damnable spiders, the laundry is just par for the course, and the spiders are the tools of the devil… But the rest, I agreed to. I stood with the he host of heaven and trusted my Father when He told me about His plan: I cheered when he told me that I could come to earth, obtain a body, learn, live, marry, and have children. I cherished the opportunity to be like Him. And whether you believe it or not, whether you know it or not, heck, whether you know me or not; so did you.

We knew what challenges would face us, maybe not in detail, but how do you really understand something without experiencing it? I might have had a different opinion had they told me about the spiders (“I’ll just stay here, okay?”), and had I known about the laundry, my cheers might have been a bit less exuberant… 

But we also knew we would sin. We knew that we would fall short of the perfection needed to live with God in His Glory. We knew we would damn ourselves (auto correct just put that to ‘dang ourselves,’ you think it knows I’m a Mormon?) and most importantly, we accepted all of that risk and pain because we trusted the Father’s plan: we trusted His Son and the promised atonement which would cleanse us of our sins.

So how do I keep on? I simply do it because I always have. I started out a long time ago trusting God. I started out a long time ago with the end goal in mind: Salvation and Eternal Progression with my loving Father in Heaven. I began this journey a long time ago, and while I hadn’t yet experienced the misery of dirty underwear, I knew that all the laundry in the world was worth the prize.

And do you know what? So did you.

So despite my aching legs and churning stomach tonight, I want to share with you my joy. Life isn’t always great, but it is always worth it. If you ever doubt that, please reach out to someone for help. Be chase while we knew that we’d have a lot of muck to slog through, we never have to slog alone. Your family loves you. Your friends love you. I love you, even if we’ve never met. And with the greatest love of all, our Savior and our Father love you.

Life is always hard, but it is always worth it.

Saturday, the Spirit World, Salvation, the Son of God, and a Call to Act

Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath, and broken in Spirit, the disciples  and apostles spent the day mourning their fallen Lord.

Having died, just as fully as you and I will, The Son of Man’s spirit left His holy, but now lifeless, body. One must wonder where His spirit went in the days after His death. Fortunately, we have that answer: like all dead souls, His spirit went into the spirit world, wherin one awaits the resurrection. The Sinless one, burst the door between that prison and the spirit world, and entered paradise. So he had promised to the repentant thief, “today, you shall be with me in paradise.” Here he taught the deceased who would listen. Some assume that in this time, He had returned to the throne of His Father, but tomorrow, we will see, He affirms that he “[had] not yet ascended to [His] Father.”

Ever the Teacher, Christ ministered to both the spirits in paradise and those in prison. As Peter declared, decades later: “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient…”

As the day of rest, the Sabbath is a day fitting for the Lord’s body to be unmoved and for His spirit to do the work of the day: bringing souls peace, joy, and preaching the Gospel of Christ.

So the day went by with little action, at least visible to the mortal man. But they prayed, and the mourned, and they mentally and emotionally prepared for the next day, when they planned to return to the Holy Body, and give Him the proper burial robbed Him by the short time on Friday.

So must we prepare for tomorrow. So must we pray, but our preparation is different than our brothers of the past. We prepare instead to celebrate the greatest day in human history: a needed relief from the day mourning the the worst in human history.

Yesterday I learned of something that grieves my soul. And I ask your help:

We know the barbarism currently falling on the followers of the Messiah in the Middle East. It has officially been labeled a genocide. Following the butcher of 15 million souls less than an hundred years ago, we as a people have vowed “never again.” Sadly, we have broken that vow, and stood by during repeated genocides and butcherings in the years following.

I served the Chaldean Catholics on my mission, though having fled this same persecution for their testimony, they were wary to accept to the Restored Gospel, as to them it felt like abandoning those left in their old homes. I am personally invested in these people. It is their families and friends who are now facing death in Iraq. Preparations have been made for over 1000 souls to retreat from the Islamic State, and to find new homes in safe counties. Our own country has refused these refugees, but a place had been found for them throughout Europe.

Following the deadly and dastardly attack in Brussels last week, however, the doors were shut for these people of the Cross: they are not being allowed to flee the death camps and beheading axe that they face now. They are literally in imminent peril. The symbol of the Arabic ‘n’ has been painted on the doors of the believers to mark them as followers of the Nazarene. This mark is literally a death sentence: “convert, pay the price of subjection, or die.” Most have died or fled rather than deny the testimony of the Lord.

The funds are there for their rescue, the homes are there for them to retreat to, these impoverished and desperate followers of Christ are ready and hopeful to leave; but the doors to their rescue have been shut.

So I beg you, as you prepare for tomorrow’s feasting, celebrations, and time with family; pray for a miracle. Pray aloud, pray with your families, and pray in your heart. The very lives of our brothers and sisters are at stake. Pray that the hearts of world leaders will be softened. Pray that the doors that were open will once again open in their behalf. For the love of Christ is charity, and it is not enough that we accept that love, if we don’t have it for others.

Pray, remember, and prepare for the coming of our Lord. For the love of God and His people, pray with me!

(UPDATE – 2018 – One fund, the Nazarene Fund, has worked tirelessly over the last 2 years, since I wrote this article; they had prepared to evacuate those 1000 people. The update they give is as follows: “We have surpassed that goal through evacuating a total of 8,202 people, providing housing for 5,462 people, and giving humanitarian aid to over 35,000. We confidently and proudly report that 95 rescues have been made to date. In 2017 The Nazarene Fund has focused on the task at hand, placing all efforts on the mission – to rescue, rebuild and restore people’s lives. Although much has been done, the work has just begun.”

(There are a few, too few, but some others who are working to rescue and stop the genocides still happening in the middle east against the Christians and Yazidis. While there has been good news, there have been many who have returned home to our Heavenly Father at the hands of murderers intent upon the complete destruction of all of the “people of the book.” There is still so much more to do.)

Good Friday, the Road to Galgotha, and the Broken Law

Following His trials, which lasted the night, the Sinless One was scourged. They took a cat of nine tails, a brutal whip with nine ends, each laced with shards of bone or pottery, designed to tear the flesh, and break the spirit of those on the merciless receiving end. He was given 39 lashes, a process which frequently ended in death for the whipped.

While he was beaten, the Roman soldiers bet for his clothes, and when they were done brutalizing him, the gave him new raiment: they clothed him in a purple robe, symbolizing royalty, and a crown to mark his Kingship. But in the mocking fashion of the blasphemer, they had fashioned the crown of biting thorns. As the pressed the ring onto his forehead, it undoubtedly took flesh with it.

The Romans made their bleeding and broken Lord carry his cross through the streets to the hill of crucifixion. The streets were lined with a deriding mob, who shouted, and mocked and spit on their Redeemer. The very man who, just hours before, had taken their every sins upon himself. Mixed in the crowd were the meek and broken of spirit who wept as they watched their Master carry the burden that He had chosen but certainly did not deserve.

Jesus stumbled and fell under the weight of cross, unable to carry the weight any more.

The Romans forced another to pick up the cross and they continued on. I wonder what the man thought. Was he one of the bitter and angry crowd? Or was he one that the Healer had made whole? Did he resent the burden? Or did he weep knowing that he was helping the Man to his death?

The writers of the Gospels had few words to describe what happened next, because of the monstrous and barbaric act that followed, few words can describe the horror: “and they crucified him.”
They buried nails in his hands, wrists, and feet, and raised the cross on the hill of skulls, called Golgotha. Here men were left to die. It could take days as the men would die slowly, not of their wounds, but of starvation and thirst. The merciless Romans would give water to the dying to prolong their death. Of the few things the Innocent One said while on the cross, the first was a plead for drink, which was granted in the form of vinegar.

In his pain and agony, He prayed to the Father, asking for forgiveness for the Romans, who “…know not what they do”, as they crucified the Son of the Living God.

He asked John to care for His aging Mother.

He spoke to one of those dying with him.

And again alone, He cried “why has thou forsaken me?”
As 3:00 in the afternoon approached, the sky darkened and the ground shook. The veil separating the courtyard of the temple from the Holy of Holies was torn in two, as the Father rejected the the Covenant People in their wickedness, and the the Son of Man died as he uttered the words “it is finished.” The very earth recognized the death of its creator, and tore itself asunder, burying cities in the sea, and sinking valleys with the mountains. The whole of the New World was reformed, killing many. And darkness covered all the land for days.

The Romans were astounded by the speed of his death, and to confirm the death, stabbed him through the ribs right into his heart. It gushed water and blood; it was broken.

The Lord of all creation had died. The consequence of sin, the just reward of sin, is death; but the Sinless One had died unjustly: thus, the law was broken.

History has come to know this day as Good Friday. His death was unremarkable: the Romans had crucified countless before, and would crucify countless after. That He died was remarkable, because He, unlike any before him, or any after, was free from the need for death. Having never sinned, the law of death did not bind him, but He died anyway. The Atoning sacrifice that had begun in a garden was nearly complete.
The spirits of His disciples were as broken as His body. I imagine their voices to be hollow as they asked the Romans to bring him down so that they could bury him. With the Sabbath approaching, the apostles, Mother Mary, and Mary Magdalene, had to act quickly to prepare the spiritless and lifeless body for burial. Joseph of Arimathea, one of the Sanhedrin itself, offered his tomb for the burial of the Christ.
The day ended with the burial of the King of Kings. Fearing His body would be stolen, the Romans ordered his tomb to be sealed, and guards to watch it.

The hopes of countless Jews died with the Carpenter from Nazareth.

One other died this day. The traitorous coward Judas Iscariot, knowing his own sin, used the 30 pieces of silver to buy a plot of ground, where he hung himself from a tree.

This was the darkest day in human history. A day where the Covenant People killed their own God.

The faith of many died with Him.

And if the story ended here, hope should have died too.

But it doesn’t end here. Tomorrow is the Sabbath for the Jews, and tomorrow we will learn what the Savior of Mankind did millenia ago on that Sabbath.

As we remember the cross, as we remember the Holy Death, let us know why He died: he died as a sacrificial Lamb, making atonement with the Father on our behalf. He is the Lamb of God. He is Savior of mankind. He is the Redeemer.

As we prepare for Easter, who’s very name forgets the Master of All, let us never forget. Let us ponder His sacrifices in the Garden and on Golgotha. Let us remember as we have broken the law, the law was broken by Him.

Remember. Remember.

Remembering and Looking Forward

I remember trying to step where he stepped, but his strides were too big. He could go a lot farther than me, too. I’d be exhausted and he’d just be starting. I still loved those outings.

I remember my first hunting trip. I got so excited seeing that buck that I nearly wet myself, figuratively. I realized that I hadn’t paid clear attention in my hunting lessons: I didn’t know how to take the buck (30 points if it had 2), and I was forced to let it go. In my breathless excitement I remember telling him all about it, and I look back with a chuckle on his quietly amused response.

I remember laughing as he pretended his swollen leg was a prosthetic. I remember curiously poking at the black and brown spots  that were indicative of the congealed blood inside his leg. I remember curiously wondering why he grimaced when he walked sometimes. I remember playing with his crooked cane like a shepherds crook, especially around Christmas.

But it’s only been in recent years that I’ve understood, at least to some extent, what he was dealing with, both personally, and in setting a positive example.

My dad was born handicapped. I guess I’ve never been really clear on what that looked like, if I understand it correctly, neither do the doctors. There was some sort of mutated gene that made one leg significantly longer than the other, and added a few extra arteries in there, causing it to have way too much blood and swell to twice the size of the ‘normal’ leg. It hurts him, too, though he stubbornly hid that from everyone.

My dad set some powerful life lessons for me, like “work hard,” a lesson he may have taken a bit too far. He taught me to enjoy the outdoors, and even now when I haven’t hunted in years, I keep my rifle clean and my powder dry (literally and figuratively). I long for the forests. I am desperate to teach that lesson to my boys, as it is one of the fondest lessons I’ve ever learned. He taught me that disability doesn’t have to define you. Most people don’t know that he is handicapped, after all. He never taught this directly, of course, as none of his children had any disabilities at the time.

It’s this lesson that I’ve taken the hardest. As my disability has taken over my life, I’ve been desperate to not be my disability. It’s an ongoing challenge to teach my sons hard work when my disability has stripped me of my mobility. I haven’t spent any time in the forests of my youth lately, but my sons have enjoyed being towed in their trailer behind my tricycle. As I learn new things about myself, I hope that I am teaching my boys to not be defined by their physical characteristics.

Overall, the things that I strive to be as a father are reflective of the father that I have. Thanks for the example, dad.