One night, about a year before I was diagnosed with ALS, Mary and I were up late watching “Nightline.” Ted Koppel was doing three nights of interviews with a retired college professor named Morrie Schwartz. Morrie had ALS and was sharing his life-lessons with Ted Koppel just as he had done previously with one of his former students named Mitch Albom. Mitch later compiled these life-lessons and wrote a best-selling book titled “Tuesdays with Morrie.”
I hate to admit this, but even after seeing the three nights of interviews and reading the book, I cannot remember most of the life-lessons that Morrie taught. But, I do have one vivid memory from watching those interviews; it occurred while listening to Morrie describe his daily routine – having to rely on his wife and caregivers for virtually all of his needs. After hearing how helpless he was, I turned to Mary and told her I would rather just go to heaven than live trapped in my own body like him.
About a year after making that statement, I was diagnosed with that same “trapped-in-your-own-body” disease.
While I believe words are powerful and can even be self-fulfilling (“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” Proverbs 18:21), I don’t believe my statement had anything to do with my being diagnosed with the same disease the following year, but…
That hastily-made statement began to haunt and even taunt me when I began needing help from Mary with things I once did with little effort. The statement kept playing over and over in my head, challenging me to either disavow my words or live up to them. In this case, living up to my words meant throwing in the towel and going to heaven.
Obviously I chose to change my view and began trying to do my best to live one day at a time. But it wasn’t really me that decided to carry on; it was the grace of God in me, urging me to keep going. Not like a coach on the sidelines shouting, but more like the team captain competing alongside of me. It was then I knew the full meaning of verses like, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Hastily-made statements (like the one I made about Morrie) that are carelessly uttered by healthy people (like I was) are spoken out of pride.
Pride is something we usually don’t know we’re guilty of before being humbled by a severe trial. Pride cannot comprehend the grace of God because pride is self-reliant, self-righteous and just plain selfish. God’s grace (to carry us through a trial) is one of the things people usually don’t factor in before making such statements.
Another thing people (who make statements like that) don’t consider or even understand, is how strong our God-given survival instinct is. Not merely for our physical survival, but also for our emotional and spiritual survival. This is an ironic thing because it would seem that a Christian (who believes in heaven) would be the first to cash in his chips, but the opposite is true. It is usually those that don’t believe in an after-life that judge the quality of their lives by physical, financial and other temporal pursuits and who cannot imagine a life worth living without these things. But the believer can know joy, peace, hope and have a sense of purpose without the worldly blessings. Of course, it’s always best to have both spiritual and earthly blessings, but, to the Christian, the former are essential and the latter are viewed merely as “bonuses.”
Trials cause us to reexamine the hastily-made statements we’ve made before the trial, when we so carelessly said what we’d do if this thing or that thing happened to us. As I discovered, no one really knows what they would do until faced with that situation. This is why the Bible tells us to “be slow to speak” (James 1:19).
This is the only advantage I’ve discovered from losing the ability to speak; I no longer say things that I regret!
When someone hurts you, annoys you or is doing something that you dislike, it is very easy, often too easy to let the words fly off your tongue, “In haste”, as Bill says. But what would happen if your words were taken away? Your only way to communicate is through eye-gaze technology. The words that we would use would be picked wisely.
On a scale from 0–1–2—3—4—5—6—7–8–9–10, how would you rate your ability to control your tongue?
0 = No word filter. you say whatever is on your mind and you don’t care who you hurt or how it comes out. You have no friends.
1= You have a word filter, but you rarely use it. People walk on eggshells around you.
2= You say hurtful things to a majority of the people. You have one person who you try not to hurt.
3= You are still a negative person, but only to those who don’t see it your way.
4= You attempt to bite your tongue when someone hurts you. You have a couple of friends.
5 = This person has an equal amount of friends as they do enemies. You lash out at people when they disagree with you.
6= This person tries to control their urge to lash out, but fails 4 out of 10 times. Your speech is positive 60% of the time.
7= This person works on their word filter a couple of times a month through prayer and bible reading. They succeed at being positive 70% of the time.
8= This person has a good outlook on life. They are able to control their tongue 8 out of 10 times. This person spends time in prayer and bible reading 3 days or more per week. If this is you, your speech is 80% positive.
9= This person is the whistler, a cheerleader and an encourager. When others are talking bad, they are able to change the conversation to something good. If this is you, congratulations…you are able to control yourself and your tongue 90% of the time. They slip up once in a while. They read their bibles and pray four or more times per week.
10= This person is slow to speak and slow to anger. Since this person is able to control his tongue and what he says 100% of the time, he is able to control his urges and desires. This person is the leader, an encourager and a good councilor. Rarely do they have a slip of the tongue. They read their bibles and pray nearly every day.
So, which one are you?
I am so encouraged by Bill. Bill is no longer able to communicate via words due to his paralysis. He now uses eye-gaze technology to communicate. He has to choose his words wisely. What a fantastic example that Bill sets for us all. His story is one of gratitude. How can he be grateful!? He can no longer eat and enjoy the taste of food, he can not move his limbs anymore. He is dependent on his wife and a caregiver for all his needs. He is unable to speak verbally, he must be tube fed.
Bill gets it!
He looks at what he has……not at what he does not have. He is rich in spirit, in thought and in love. Thank you so much Bill for challenging all of us to “come up higher” and use our words for good and not for evil. You are an inspiration to me!
Bill lives in Texas with his family. You can follow Bill on his blog at unshakable Hope He will inspire you too!
Thank you Bill for sharing your story!