Skin, Bones, and a Little Bit of Muscle

I glanced in the mirror the other day after a shower; that was a bad idea.  All I saw was skin, bones, and a little bit of muscle. I have lost fifty pounds over the past four months.  ALS has affected my muscle mass so that I resemble a prisoner of war. And sadly, the deterioration of my body means that, due to ALS, I cannot do many of the simple joys of life.  No more eating tasty burgers or steak. No more walking outside on a spring or autumn day (I have been having dreams of running and walking). No more teaching. No more writing notes.  No more guitar playing and singing. No more fluid conversations. No more shooting rifles or pistols. “No more” seems to be life’s theme these days.

The apostle Paul said to the first century Corinthians, “Don’t you know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?”  I can’t help but think about King Solomon’s glorious temple and how the Lord inhabited it.  Then, due to man’s sinfulness, the temple was destroyed around 587 BC by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.  Jeremiah, the prophet, laments Jerusalem’s destruction, How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations!”

Jeremiah lamenting the fall of Jerusalem, Rembrandt

So, I was standing there lamenting the destruction of my body, an earthly temple of the Holy Spirit.  Before I could slip into depression, I thought about Zerubbabel (a prince, in the line of the Messiah) rebuilding the temple.  I thought about Jesus (Messiah and King) speaking to the pharisees and telling them that He would rebuild the Temple in three days: “But He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21).  I thought about Jesus’ resurrection.  I thought about our future bodies which will be like Jesus’ resurrected body: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

In my recent talks I have been drawing attention to 2 Corinthians 4:16: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”  We are all decaying, but those of us on a rapid decay schedule may think about it a bit more often. These days, the beauty of the inner man being renewed surpasses the lament of the outer man’s decay.

What now is important? Loving God and loving others. In the two great commandments we see what renews our inner man, what will last for eternity, and what is really important.

My suggestion is to avoid mirrors.  But, if you don’t, then make sure you hold to this simple truth: “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him (2 Timothy 2:11).

A Welcomed Search

On December 12, I went in for some routine pre-op.  I was going to have a port catheter removed. The nurse discovered I was running a temperature; then she discovered my white blood cell count was high; then the radiologist discovered spots on my lungs.  This led to the ER doctor saying, “We are going to check you in tonight.” My response was, “You mean, spend the night?” I spent the next six nights being fed heavy antibiotics in room 605, and, though home now, I am still on intravenous antibiotics.  What started with a simple blood sample ended with a month-long treatment for a serious blood infection. This Christmas we gave thanksgiving to God for medical staff and the discovery of this illness.  So, my poor health for the past three months is more understood; I am much stronger now.

Over the past eight months I have been on the “With My Last Breath” speaking tour.  One of my points is found in Psalm 139:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.

King David of Israel invited God to diagnose any hidden spiritual illness festering in his soul.  This is a courageous prayer. This is a suitable prayer to start one’s year. What a wonderful year 2019 would be if the infections of our soul’s blood were exposed!  They need to be treated with the blood of Christ.  “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1:5).

“O Lord, there are poisons in my soul which are hidden to me.  Would you search them out, diagnose them as sin, and wash them out of my life through the blood of Christ, and fill me with your Holy Spirit?  I lift up praise and thanksgiving to you.”

Happy New Year!

Dawn’s Reflections on a Tree

This year our Christmas tree almost wasn’t a Christmas tree. The last on the lot, we got it for a steal. Free, that is. Good things come to those who wait (or procrastinate as the case may be.) I think the message from the generous folks at Boy Scouts of America went something like this: “It’s 12 feet tall and six feet wide. If they can haul it off, they can have it.” We hauled it off within the hour.

Remember how Charlie Brown rescued the overlooked tree that was too small and flimsy? Well, we rescued the equivalent of its arboreal doppelganger. Too tall and too wide, it was destined to be bonfire fuel before ever being adorned with lights and tinsel. But with some serious pruning with loppers and chainsaw, we managed to get it inside where the carols were playing and the wassail was brewing. Thanks Nolin (son) and Eric (son-in-law) and Chad (good friend) for adding muscle to our Christmas spirit so that this tree could find our home.

Destined for destruction, redeemed, pruned, adorned, and given the purpose of shining brightly through the season of long, dark nights—there’s a lesson in that. Like our spruce, we long to be brought in from the cold and given a home. I like analogies.

Speaking of which, John was sitting and looking at our big tree (which literally fills up a good portion of the room) and he mused, “Our year has been a lot like that tree. We too have had gifts piled up around us. We too have had the opportunity to shine light in places we’ve never visited. We could have felt cold and rejected, but instead we are surrounded with love and good friends and precious family.” Good thoughts on paper; helpful thoughts to read and ponder. But if you could have heard him say it, you may have noted the stark contrast between his message and his experience. Speaking becomes more and more difficult with each passing week. Forming the words and making himself understood takes a lot of effort (and patience) on his part. Likewise, listening carefully and decoding takes a lot of effort (and patience) on our part. But when we get past the confusion, we find treasures like the one about the tree. His perspective is one of blessing, not loss, and it’s worth the effort it takes to share it with others.

When I think about it, John himself is a lot like our Christmas tree (although he is beginning to look a little more like Charlie Brown’s.) So before we all begin dismantling the evergreens that grace our living rooms, I’d like to conclude with the old German ode to the Christmas tree as my way of saying thanks, John, for being steadfast in every season.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,

Thy leaves are so unchanging;

Not only green when summer’s here,

But also when it’s cold and drear.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

Thy leaves are so unchanging.