We only told a handful of people about this when we were going through it. It was my wife’s call, and she didn’t want to tell everybody unless there was something to tell. So we told our kids, and a handful of others, and asked them to pray with us about it. And let me say up front that the news was good. But after the fact, I’d like to tell you about the best Christmas gift I ever received. And it was on December 17th, eight days before Christmas.
My wife’s mother had ALS. That stands for “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis”. It’s a progressive disease that causes the muscles to weaken and nerve cells to break down. It impacts physical function, interfering with your ability to walk and talk, and even breathe. It’s a horrible disease, and there’s no cure for it. Lou Gehrig, baseball player for the New York Yankees, had this disease. That’s why it’s often called “Lou Gehrig’s disease”. Fortunately, it’s fairly rare. Less than 20,000 cases a year are diagnosed in the US. But my mother-in-law died from it.
When our family doctor learned that Rae Anne’s mother had ALS, he wanted Rae Anne to be tested for it. He didn’t want to be treating her for something else if this might be the underlying condition. He wanted to make sure about it, and hopefully eliminate the possibility. So he made her an appointment with the same doctor in Indianapolis who had diagnosed and treated Rae Anne’s mother.
Our doctor ordered the test a couple of months ago. When Rae Anne told me about it, I felt a moment of sick dread. Then I promptly shoved it aside, telling myself I’d deal with it when the time came.
About a week before, Rae Anne reminded me about the appointment. Then all the sick fear and dread came flooding back. I spent the next week praying over and over again, “Oh, God, please don’t let Rae Anne have ALS!”
I took the day off so I could drive her to the appointment. I didn’t want her to be by herself for this. But I forgot about the COVID-19 restrictions. She got a text from the doctor’s office the day before informing us that she had to go in to her appointment alone. That made me angry, and even more afraid.
There’s not much more to tell. It was the longest hour and a half of my life.
It turned out I could go in as far as the waiting room, but I couldn’t go in with Rae Anne to the examination. So I sat out there in a vast waiting area, by myself most of the time. That was okay with me. I’m afraid I might not have been a very good testimony right then.
I skimmed the news a little; didn’t care about any of it. I tried to read a little; couldn’t concentrate on what I was reading. I wrote a few notes on my iPhone for the Candlelight Christmas service that next Sunday evening. Then I tried to doze a little, with not much success.
People kept coming in and being called back for appointments. Some were shaking; one boy was in a wheelchair. One man was helping a woman as she walked unsteadily. A nurse asked an old man with a trembling hand how he was doing. He replied in a serious voice, “I’m hanging in there.” And I thought, “Is this our future?”
When it was getting to the end of the hour and a half, I thought I’d better go to the bathroom in case the doctor wanted to talk to us both. As I was washing my hands, the text alert on my phone sounded several times. I waited until I walked out of the bathroom before I read the texts. Rae Anne had sent this to our son and daughter, and to me: “No ALS!!!!! All is well!!!!” And I got down on my knees right there and cried, and I said “Thank You, God!” over and over again.
Rae Anne then sent me a text saying “Come get me.” I was confused. I didn’t think they’d let me back where she was. Turns out she thought I’d probably left the premises to go somewhere else during the appointment. As if!
So I tentatively walked up to the door leading back to the examination rooms. To my relief I could see Rae Anne though the little vertical window, coming toward me on the other side of the door. When she came out, she gave me a big smile and hugged me. I hugged her back. All I could do was hold her and cry. I was so grateful. I just said, “Thank You, God!” over and over again.
Then she pulled back, looked at me and said, “Do you think we could do some Christmas shopping now?” I couldn’t believe it. I think women are tougher than men.
So we went and got something to eat, and then I took her to Greenwood to go Christmas shopping. It was such a hard, such a very good day. We had ice cream before we left town. Baskin-Robbins ice cream. We were celebrating.
I told several people after that day, “If anybody asks me what I want for Christmas, I’m gonna say, ‘I’ll just have a cup of coffee.’ Because I’ve already received my best Christmas gift ever, eight days before Christmas. And I’m so very grateful. Thank You, God!
Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! –Psalm 34:3
I’m going to say it in English this time:
To God alone be the glory! Amen!
May God give you all a blessed New Year!