Monday, September 15, 2014

Our Great Big God (a story of ALS)



Back in August, my Facebook feed was filled with videos of folks participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. While I wonder about the wisdom of dumping a bucket of ice water on your head on purpose, I applaud the efforts to bring attention to this devastating disease.

My fear, however, is that after your waterlogged shoes have dried off the awareness of ALS will fade away and we will all move on to the next challenge or cause. 

My first introduction to ALS was when I watched The Pride of the Yankees as a young girl (it is one of The Muffin’s favorites). We see strong Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig. Our heartbreaks as the diseases slowly takes its toll on this strong and confident man. 

The movie is wonderful, but it still does not paint an complete picture of living with ALS. 

Gary and Tami are some of the most precious people you will ever meet. Tami was my boss. She was the director of the preschool. I was the cook and later taught a class. I thrived working for Tami. She didn’t squelch my crazy…in fact, she is a bit crazy herself. We took great joy in planning Mother’s Day teas, Father’s Day Breakfast Bars and I even catered a wedding she coordinated for a young couple who she and Gary had taken under their compassionate wings.



Gary and Tami with their boys in 2008.


Gary and Tami have always been servants. They had spent years in Youth Ministry. Gary was a master carpenter. He built beautiful homes. He also would give of his time and talents to bless those who needed a bathroom redo. A new roof. A new kitchen floor. Tami used her considerable creativity to fluff and fix up the dreary spots in the world. 

They were busy. Raising their two fine boys and pouring into those around them. Troy and I benefited from their servants heart. Fred the Ford came to us because a friend of theirs wanted to bless someone in need. Gary and Tami thought of us. 

I was still working for Tami when Gary started to have some “issues.” He was a strong man. His endurance remarkable, but something just wasn’t right.

Gary was eventually diagnosed with ALS. 

He immediately went into overdrive. He was determined to finish those projects around the house. He wanted to make sure that Tami would not be without. I remember going over to their house. We stood around the newly remodeled kitchen. Gary did beautiful work. I also remember Gary laying down to rest. In the middle of day. For those of us who knew the work ethic of this strongman… it was a reminder of what he was facing. 

Gary has lived with ALS for the past six years. And Tami has been his champion. His nurse. The family’s cheerleader. Gary has remained faithful. And though he now speaks with help from a computer he still imparts the same wisdom and encouragement he always has. They have continued their ministry of pouring into those around them.

Tami has been careful to guard Gary’s dignity. She giggles and sighs over him just like she did when they were high school sweethearts. I can honestly say that even though I am not a part of their day to day life I am encouraged every time I see her pop up on FB. Even during the hospital stays and dark times she always has an encouraging word, message and a laugh. How I love her laugh!

The family has grown! This is the most recent family picture with their beautiful daughter-in-law and precious granddaughter.

Tami and Gary would be the first to give Glory to God. They have seen His hand at work time and time again. They have not hunkered down and closed themselves off. 

A health crisis is never easy. It’s not easy on the individual. It’s not easy on the family. I know that when I have gone through my issues I have worried most about my family. 

It’s really hard to know what to do for a family who is facing such a giant. 

Sometimes we can give monetarily. I recognize that this just isn’t possible for many people. How can you help? First of all, I invite you to Tami’s website. Dancing with Gary. You can see Tami’s beautiful heart firsthand. I know that Tami and Gary would be first to tell you to Pay it Forward. Maybe you have a neighbor on your street that has a need. You can’t fix everything. But you can provide a meal, mow a lawn, put some gas in somebody’s car, wash up their dishes or just hold their hand. 

Is there someone in your life that could use a blessing? How about an encouraging word? 

Here is another little assignment. When I am tempted to complain (which has been frequently lately), I remind myself that God has shown himself to be faithful in my life. Over and over again. I have also been encouraged by my friend Tami to face any obstacle with grace and laughter. She is not shy when it comes to glorifying God through whatever the day might bring her. I know that she would be the first to tell you that it is not easy….but it has made the difference. 

This is one of her posts on Facebook from July. 

WHAT IF...instead of panicking, we trusted....instead of being angry, we loved...instead of weeping, we laughed...instead of grieving, we rejoiced...instead of obsessing, we were at peace...? I don't know about you, but I'd rather travel light in this life...His shoulders are stronger than mine:)

Isn’t that terrific advice? I challenge you to face those challenges in your life with the same resolve. I am striving to do the same. 

Tami always talks about our “Great Big God.” There is a song that has been going through my head lately. Have you heard it? 

Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters
Put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea
Take a look at yourself and you can look at the others differently
By puttin' your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee

Am I dating myself?

Tami and Gary would be the first to tell you that God has held them through every bad day and bad night. It has been God who has provided in ways that can only be described as miraculous. Sometimes we just don’t know what to do.

I’m here to tell you that we serve a Great Big God who does.




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