. . . I thought this stage would last a long time. My retirement from public education was nearing and I would have more time to travel with Bob. The little vision I shared with Bob in the fall of 1963 to travel the world was happening. And I loved it. . . .
We expected that Bob’s last season of life would be spent somehow connected to Moody Broadcasting, national broadcasters, and partnering over more of the world. He expected to be running with his grandchildren and painting the homes and apartments of his children. We expected to be traveling together. We had only been to 40 countries. So many more places to go. David and Sharon Keely of HCJB had a plan for us to go to India and no doubt there would have been ways for Bob to partner there.
God, however, allowed the unexpected to intervene. With a fall in June of 2003, Bob dislocated his shoulder and embarked on a season of tests to determine what was going on in his body. Eventually he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a wicked disease that has no treatment or cure.
While is would seem that this disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrigs’ disease would dictate the last season of his life and limit Bob in fulfilling his calling, this was simply not true. While the disease followed its typical progression, Bob never ‘succumbed’ to the illness.
He continued to work as long as he could and never missed a grandson’s basketball game.
Literally hundreds of people come to our home during that season and left encouraged, The impact of his smile of contentment, his words of strength and faith charged the rooms he entered and the hearts of those there.
Yes, there were moments of humor, times of confusion on my part, and questions.
“How did you get through it,” I have been asked.
Let me describe one source of strength. Put simply, I observed Bob being the Bob I knew and loved: rock solid in his faith, reassuring me of his love, and full of gratitude for every moment he lived.
What does faith look like when you’ve heard that you have an untreatable, incurable disease?
Let me illustrate. Bob’s life Bible verse was Proverbs 3: 4 & 6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths. “ (New International Version) I watched him lean into that truth in times of family crisis and tumult in his broadcasting world. What would happen now? He knew that tomorrow would be less comfortable, and he would be less mobile. And that was putting the best spin on the disease. He knew he would ultimately have to step down from his life calling. He knew he would not see his grandsons enter high school, become the adults of sure character which he confidently expected. He would not see his children develop, grow and step into life’s challenges and opportunities to serve. What would happen to this rock solid, hope filled man of faith who historically ‘got life right?”
I’ll tell you. One morning he awoke with a new motto. “Today is the best day of the rest of your life.” I’m privileged to have been the first to hear those words, spoken by still the most lovable baritone voice I’ll ever hear. Clutching his blue house coat about me (which I wear to this day) I started the coffee wondering what he would be up to next. Rather than focus on the probabilities of his wicked illness, “What will happen to me next? he asked with greater strength and determination than ever, “What good can I do today?” “Who can I encourage today?” “What good does pessimism do? Nothing!”
He told people with a bit of wit and a twinkle in his eye, “God was not napping when I was diagnosed with ALS. He knows and He cares. God will have something good come from this tough journey, or tunnel of chaos as some call it.” These were not just public words he said. He lived with that optimism 24/7. I know. I was there.
I can tell you today of a few good things that came from that season of his life.
. •Our family drew close, moved closer, and one son moved home to help care for Bob.
. •Colleagues and co-workers encouraged us with a party--a BIG party. Great food, video greetings from around the world, jokes, funny stories, and our grandsons in tuxedos.
. •Bob’s fancy wheelchair supported him, two 10-year-olds and a 9-year-old son across gym floors after every basketball game. (Yes, we had morphine in the backpack. Sometimes if the gyms were especially noisy, I wanted some for myself!)
. •Family and friends continued to hug Bob when he could not hug them back.
I learned often that my greatest exercise of the day was to run after, pursue full speed, the optimism that came naturally to this man of faith.
Several months have passed since Bob’s departure to heaven. I’m relearning some truths I used to know. Their reality before is not sufficient for today.
The truth about comfort: my comfort must come from God, the Reliable, not people.
Isaiah 51:12 "I, even I, am he who comforts you.
The truth about hope: my hope must be anchored firmly to eternity only. Any expectation here on earth is a disappearing vapor at worst and uncertain at best.
Psalm 33:20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.
The truth about justice: God’s justice ultimately will be fair. Though I don’t understand God’s ways, I accept them. Though Bob was frustrated with his limitations, he exuded the peace he felt with his personal Savior and planner of his days. His smile was consistent, large, and for real. I persist in believing a Good God will appropriately reward Bob, not just for how he lived, but for how he died.
Psalm 106:3 Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right. Psalm 11:7 For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.
Now about tomorrow, dear reader, I believe we should and can rejoice in today. It is, in fact, God’s gift that we woke up breathing. Therefore, He has good things for you, right here, right now. Today can be the best day of the rest of your life.
Psalm 118:24 This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
PART 3 OF MIRIAM NEFF’S STORY