Eighteen years ago I didn’t know Jesus. I thought I was in control of my life. I couldn’t have been any farther from the truth.
At some point in my life I have been where you are now. Before I developed ALS I believed there was a God. I talked to Him a few times when I was a child. My grandma gave me a little bible that had been her aunt’s. I tried to read it, but nothing made sense. I put it away. As a teenager I visited a Catholic church with my best friend. I didn’t understand or like it. As an adult I was proud I could handle anything life threw at me. My appendix burst when I was twenty. I miscarried my first baby. I had my son and daughter the “natural” way. I was tough. I was strong. I was in control. I had a friend who kept inviting me to Women’s Programs at her church. I went to a few of them just to be nice. That religious stuff wasn’t for me. I wanted to roll my eyes every time I heard someone say, “I have to pray about it.” I didn’t know what good that would do. Besides that who was this Jesus guy? What was a Holy Spirit? The Trinity? It sounded like a lot more than what I wanted in my life. I didn’t need anything else, my life was just fine the way it was. I didn’t need to know any of that to know God.
In February 1997, I found myself being a stay at home mom. I was walking up my basement steps carrying my 9-month old daughter. Near the top of the steps my left knee gave way and I fell hard on my kneecap. It swelled and bruised. I adjusted my walk to favor my knee and seemed to be doing fine. A few months passed, then I started falling without warning. A visit to the doctor and a MRI later, I discovered I had damaged my knee much more than I had thought. A few months of physical therapy helped and my falls stopped. Taking my son to preschool one morning I noticed the door to the school seemed heavier to open. I had begun falling occasionally again too. One night I was being silly with the kids. I jumped up, lost my balance and fell backwards head first into the entertainment center. I gave myself a mild concussion. I knew something was terribly wrong.
I made an appointment to see our family doctor. Immediately upon seeing me walk, she began ordering a MRI of my brain and blood work. She also referred me to a neurologist because she suspected I had Multiple Sclerosis (MS). I left her office in a daze. I was only 30 years old; I’d never had any sickness in my life. I couldn’t process what was happening to me. Over the course of the next two months, I saw my neurologist 16 times. I had a spinal tap, 3 more MRI’s and enough blood tests to make me feel like a pincushion. Everything tested negative for MS. When my neurologist wanted to refer me on, I realized all the confidence I had in him to stop this nightmare was gone. This situation was out of control. I numbly asked, “What can I do?” His reply helped change my life. He said, “Do you pray?” Did I pray? No, what for? I had always said that God knew everything anyway, why waste my time?
I was back in physical therapy again. I saw my therapist, Annie three times a week. Often I found myself crying while doing the exercises. I knew I wasn’t getting any better. I asked Annie, “What am I going to do? How will I take care of my kids?” Annie said, “You trust God”. She then began sharing her life with me. I was amazed to learn that Annie, her husband and kids had left their family, friends, everything they had in South Africa to come to America. I wanted to know why. Annie simply said, “That’s what God wanted us to do.” Now I really wanted to know how she knew that’s what God wanted! I was fascinated with Annie. She was different. I found I wanted what she had. I bought a NIV bible and began reading the New Testament. My wonderful husband and I also began attending various churches looking for one we felt comfortable at. On November 15, 1998, we were baptized at Covenant. I thought everything was going to be fine then. I had what Annie had didn’t I? I believed!
I soon found out that everything was not fine. On Friday January 16, 1999, my parents drove me to Madison, Wisconsin to meet with a doctor who is an expert in ALS. Up to this point other doctors said I might have MS or ALS, but no one had put a final diagnosis on my condition. I desperately wanted an answer. After completing a battery of tests and answering numerous questions I was now waiting on the doctor to talk to me. I watched the doctor as he wrote the results down. I saw him write my name at the top of my folder along with ALS Clinic. I heard myself say, “I have ALS?” When he looked at me, his face was compassionate but his eyes were sad. He shook his head and said yes I had ALS. At that moment I felt my life being drained from my body. I felt like I had died right then and there. Every goal, every dream I had vanished. I knew ALS was a disease without a cure and without hope.
I felt like I was detached from my body—I heard my mom say, “Are you alright?” I must have looked like I was going to faint or fall over, because my dad had gotten up to catch me. I mumbled, “I have to get out of here”. I felt like I was going to throw up. I had to use a walker to get to the bathroom. Mom went with me. My body was convulsing and retching the whole way down the long hall. Once I got in the bathroom I threw my arms around my mom and started sobbing, “Mom, please don’t let me die.” I kept repeating my plea. There wasn’t anything she could do—she just kept rubbing my back.
My dad phoned home to let my husband know what we had found out and then we started home. During the long ride home I kept asking God why ALS? Why me? I felt very alone. When we arrived home, my husband helped me get in bed. He wrapped his arms around me and we cried all night long, until we fell asleep. The next morning, and the rest of the week all I could do was lay on the sofa and hold my kids who were 5 and 2 years old. I didn’t want to do anything except hug my kids and cry. I thought I had no hope. The life span for a person with ALS is only 3-5 years. I would be dead by the time I was 35. My son would be 8 years old, my daughter 5 then. Would they remember me? What would they remember? My grandma died of ALS and my memory of her was awful. Since she couldn’t move or speak, she looked like a stick figure with blinking eyes. Would that be me? With those thoughts swirling in my head, the only feelings I had were cold, empty and black. I couldn’t eat, sleep or function. I no longer had control of my life, of anything. The world held nothing for me now. That’s when I finally heard Jesus knocking on my door.
My husband had picked up audiotapes of a sermon series on biblical hope the pastors of our church had given. I thought hope was something I didn’t have. As I listened to the tapes, one thing kept coming out. To have hope you have to have Jesus in your life. Jesus is hope. Jesus is love. Jesus is life. I needed hope. I needed Jesus in my life. With that realization I began praying earnestly for Jesus to come fully into my life, into my heart. Immediately I felt at peace. My thoughts no longer tormented me. Jesus did what He promises. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27 He gave me strength. He conquered my fears. He banished the darkness. He gave me glorious hope. For the first time in my life I felt truly alive.
The first and most important thing that I have learned is to trust in God completely. If you do, He will meet every need that you have. In 1999, shortly after I was diagnosed with ALS, a network of ladies started bringing meals to our family. They continue to provide dinner three nights a week to this day. Out of those ladies, God has also given me a willing heart and hands in Beth to do whatever I need done. I’ve prayed and asked to be healed to get something done hundreds of times. Everything always gets done and I am always blessed in ways I never would have imaged. The more I grow to know God, the more He opens my eyes to see Him. I no longer worry about anything because I am no longer in control of my life. I actually like it that way. I feel free. I had to completely surrender my life in order to live. I still have a few days now and then that are dark. I simply pray, “Jesus help me”and He does. I haven’t had a day yet that Jesus has failed to comfort me. I thank the Lord that He is always near to us when we call upon His name. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
What I’ve found is real. My life has changed drastically since 1997. Incredibly it is richer and fuller now than ever before. ALS is nothing compared to knowing Jesus. Knowing Jesus is the key to life. Remember I have been every one of you. I didn’t believe or know Him. I believed and didn’t know Him personally. I now thankfully know Jesus. I now have what I saw in Annie. People look at me in amazement over the peace and strength I exhibit. It isn’t me you see it’s Jesus. I love this verse because it sums up this truth so well… He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10. Everything I have experienced is available to you right now.
Will you accept God’s gift of hope, love and life that is Jesus Christ? Will you get to know Him? All is always well when you know Jesus.
The best way to describe what knowing Jesus is like is this… you’ve been walking in a parched dry desert for an endless number of days, maybe years searching for refreshing, living water. One day while shuffling along you come upon an oasis. Lush green plants, trees, wildlife appear in your vision. Then you hear it. The sound of flowing, cool life sustaining water. Your shuffle turns into a run and you find what your heart desires most, living water. As you stand under the flow of water, you start feeling clean, renewed. No longer are you thirsty. You are perfectly refreshed. That’s how it feels to know my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
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