11.29.11 | Faithfully Facing Mortality

I was diagnosed with ALS in November, shortly before Thanksgiving. About a week later I was sitting on the porch of my house watching the first snowfall of the season. As I sat there I was beginning to sink into that darkness. I was thinking that this would be my last winter. I was thinking that this would be my last Christmas. I was hoping to make it to spring! As I sat there depressed, I noticed a bird on the bush outside the window. As I sat there watching, it flew away, and I thought, “I wish I could be that bird.” And I thought that the birds have no cares, no issues, and no ALS. Then immediately I was drawn to the words of the writer of the Hebrew Scriptures:

My heart is in anguish within me:
the terrors of death assail me.
Fear and trembling have beset me
Horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest—
I would flee far away
And stay in the desert.”

–Psalms 55:4-7

This is exactly how I feel. I love the language—anguish, terrors, fear, trembling and horror. I’m not afraid of being dead. It’s getting dead that bothers me. For me, “getting dead” involves choices about wheelchairs, communication assistance, feeding tubes and breathing assistance. It’s not pleasant when I think of the future. Of course, I try to ignore it but the underlying reality is always there. I think it bothered the writer of this prayer as well. In the face of death and dying, I would like to be a bird. I would like to get away from this situation. I would like to feel like I am free. This passage expresses my deepest feelings.

I am a follower of Jesus. And I am fully aware of what Jesus says about worry. (“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself,” Matthew 5:34). Do you know how many people have come up to me and quoted this verse? Their attitude is that since Jesus said this, I should obey it. However, they have little to worry about. I am facing death and a life hereafter and I have a whole lot to worry about. This quotation comes from an extended passage in which Jesus deals with the subject of worry. In the middle of this section on worry, Jesus refers to the birds. “Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or store in barns yet your heavenly father feeds them.” So every time I see a bird, I am reminded that God takes care of them and if he takes care of them, he will take care of me. As I sit here writing, I am looking out the window and I see a bird. God takes care of that bird and ultimately the same God will take care of me. Of course, I’m not sure how God takes care of a bird. Neither am I sure of how God will take care of me. But since he takes care of the birds, I know he’ll take care of me.

So every time I see a bird I have two options. First, I can want to be like the bird and fly away to be at rest. It’s the longing to be set free from ALS. It’s the longing to be set free from the terrors of death. Second, I can realize that God takes care of the birds and ultimately he will take care of me. Sometimes I go for option one. I long to live and be free. Other times I go for option two. I know God takes care of the birds and I know he will take care of me. My life is lived between these two options. On the one hand is the fear of death. And on the other hand the reality that God will see me through.

Everybody has something to worry about. It may not be ALS. So whatever you worry about, whenever you see a bird, remember that God will take care of you.

This post first appeared on The Huffington Post on 11/14/2011.

  1. Paul Wolff says:

    A friend of mine is suffering with a debilitating disease. My dad died from ALS. And I happen upon your blog. and now you are in my prayers with humility.

  2. Shelly Vandlen says:

    Hi Pastor Ed, I just wanted to say that I think Ed’s Story is awesome. My first husband Randy Burgdorfer was diagnosed with ALS a month before you. He passed away in Feb 03.
    I remember you at the ALS walk that year and getting a picture of you with my first husband.

    While I went to college in GR I use to attend your church too and thought you were an excellent speaker.

    God be with you and your family as you continue to push through with this awful disease.


  3. Debbie Bishop says:

    Dear Dean Dobson, for that is how I know you. You were Dean at LBC when I was there in the late 70′s early 80′s. I can still hear you speaking of the death of Jesus on the cross. You blessed me then and your story blesses me now.

    My Daddy died of ALS in January of 1995. He only lived 4 months after he was diagnosed. He found Christ before he died. I think he gave up because he didn’t want us to suffer as his condition deteriorated. I thank the LORD for the last 10 years you have had and I pray the LORD allows you at least 10 more UNLESS HE calls us all home in the Rapture.

    May the LORD keep you close in HIS embrace of love.
    In Christ, Debbie Wetherington Bishop, Former student at LBC (when it was LBC).

  4. Dr. M.M. Sreenivasan says:

    Beloved Ed

    It ain’t over until it is over! How true!
    Kindly visit amazon.com and search for YOU WILL NOT DIE.
    May God bless you my dear, dearly loved Ed.
    Dr. M.M. Sreenivasan

  5. Ian Hess says:

    There’s a song by Relient K called Deathbed. It’s a song about a man giving his testimony right as he’s about to die. Towards the end the lyrics say “I’ve given up hope on the days I have left but I cling to the hope of my life in the next”. I don’t know if that would encourage but I hope it comforts you in some way.

  6. frenchfarmer says:

    Dear Ed
    Stop eating modern wheat and you’ll go another 10 years.
    Modern wheat is not good for you.
    They call it Gluten Intolerance, as if you are to blame, but the wheat nowadays is so inbred that it is harmful.
    It is not the gluten but other chemicals that cause the problems.
    It might not cure you but it will help a lot.
    I stopped eating wheat for three days and I would never go back to it.
    All the best,

  7. Wayne says:

    Hi Eddie,
    You were the Chaplain of my society in college (that’s why I addressed you as Eddie because that’s what we all called you). You were a wonderful, dedicated and compassionate person then and that is still true now. I was somewhat aware of what you were doing because of the visible spot you had during the 1980′s and 1990′s. I lost track of you after 1995. Today I came across a CNN article in Belief. WOW! I am overwhelmed with gratitude and thankfulness for your courage and the ministry and life of faith that you have right now. I, too, was in the ministry. I hit a brick wall (figuratively) also in 1995. Nothing has been the same since. I commend your courage in the midst of ALS. These Films are tremendous. I wish that we could sit down together one on one again. The depth of your Christian love and of your commitment to following Jesus resounded in the videos I watched on CNN and on your Web site.
    Thank you for being who you are and for bringing hope and encouragement to people in affliction and despair.

  8. Florence says:

    Your story has touched my inner most being God created. My Son, was diagnosed with ALS. Now unable to walk-as many other things,I’d like to say it’s not fair. But in a broken world all is fair. That is only off set when we know Jesus as our savior. Jesus suffered, bled & died, now at the right hand of God. At times I think maybe God calls those most dedicated to Him so they don’t have to suffer what is coming in this world. But then what is happening with this evil ALS. Suffering. My heart breaks when I see suffering, especially my son. God could take me instead. But thats not the way it appears. My son spends his time listening to praise music, ministry messages. But #1 is he is witnessing for Christ, from the confinment of his wheelchair. He is TOTALLY sold out for Christ, and claims the healing that Jesus paid for. “By His stripes we ARE HEALED!!!!!!!! And we confess it with our mouth every day, that he is HEALED. The tongue is sharper then a two edged sword, it is life or death. So we claim life in Christ Jesus.
    God be with you as you endure this awful illness. I heard you on Focus on the family. After this many years, you still speak well. Thank you for sharing and speaking out for Christ.

  9. Ullanclalu says:

    has not chaegnd The Way of Jesus has not chaegnd. I believe that what has chaegnd is life. What has chaegnd is how busy’ life has become What has chaegnd are priorities What has chaegnd are the attitudes towards the structure of the church. We are surrounded by electronics if we want something, it is a click away noise is always around us there is always a distraction our lives have become so full of stuff that it leaves little time and interest in this thing called the Bible and the church and the history and knowledge that they both hold. How does a leader in the church break this barrier? How does a leader in the church compete with the electronical age of gadgets? How does a leader in the church connect real events from the here and now to events of the past. How does a leader of the church help us to see that God is still present and functioning is this chaotic place that we call home??

  10. Willie says:

    Thanks for shanrig. What a pleasure to read!

  11. Ana says:

    I just wanted to conemmt your blog and say that I really enjoyed reading your blog post here. It was very informative and I also digg the way you write! Keep it up and I’ll be back to read more soon mate.