In his famous farewell speech, Lou Gehrig said that he considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” This came soon after he was diagnosed with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
If you look at this old picture of my sisters and me, you may be thinking, “What a nice family!” Well, it is! I am the one on the left. I am the middle sister. Smiling, I am sure I thought that this is how life will always be. It will be wonderful, fun, happy, Santa Claus…Christmas! It was, for the most part. There were a few glitches along the way, as expected, some not so expected. My father died when I was very young. My mother remarried. My beloved Nana and Grandpa died. But I always thought my big sister would be there forever. She always was for me. We were very close. We were only 2 ½ years apart. We shared a room our whole growing up years until she went away to college. She was the smart one, always studied and did the right thing. I only wanted to hang around the music wing at school, to sing and be in musicals, shows and concerts. She would help me with my homework and drive me all around in high school.
It was good. She will always be there. I was her maid of honor when she got married; she was my matron of honor. It was good; she will always be there. Even when my husband, Chris, and I moved away from Ohio, it was good. Fast forward to October 2010. The Cleveland Clinic. My big sister, diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig Disease. What? Seriously, God? Are you kidding me?
We were raised in the Presbyterian and the United Church of Christ. My step-dad is a minister. I have always gone to church. I was a delegate to three general synod meetings of the UCC. I attended a Christian UCC college. I consider myself a person of faith. I believe in prayer. I believe in Jesus Christ. Seriously, where is the Holy Spirit now? My big sister taught me everything. I was mad, really ticked off. I couldn’t pray anymore. Could not do it. My faith journey was shot…journeying down the tubes.
Then I found the Holy Spirit, alive and well inside my big sister. She took me in her arms and said, “Marty, I consider myself the luckiest woman on the face of the earth. God did not give me this horrible disease. God is mourning the loss of my body with me, weeping with me. But I hear God saying to me, take the Holy Spirit into your heart and mind, and use the strength and power of it to guide your journey. God may not choose to take ALS out of my body, but God will help me use the life I have to help others. To even help you, Marty.” This is what my big sister said to me. Yes, I see God and the Holy Spirit working in her every time I am with her.
She almost died last February from two blood clots, one to the heart and one to the lung. She survived. When she was out of ICU, the nurse said to her, “You are very lucky. I don’t know how you survived.” Well, I do! She can’t use her legs. Her arms are starting to fail. Her voice is raspy. Her breathing is a bit labored. The disease is progressing. But God is not finished with her yet. She is an inspiration to everyone she meets. She is participating in a clinical trial at Ohio State University so that maybe what she is going through may someday slow down the progression of ALS for others. She meets with other ALS patients in northwest Ohio to give them encouragement, reading to them and praying with them. She is making a DVD and quickly trying to finish a journal for everyone in our family before she loses the use of her hands. She is brave, the epitome of courage. She is strong, the kind of big sister I am trying to be for my younger sister.
The Holy Spirit is working in my sister, Barbara, and everyone who comes in contact with her is touched by this Spirit. Who can save her life now? Probably no one, but she has brought God and Jesus into her heart and soul and is spreading that to everyone who knows her. She is living her life with the conviction of someone who knows her days are numbered and says, “I have so much to be thankful for.”
Seriously? Yes, that Spirit is saving my life and faith now. Thank you God for giving me my big sister. I love you Barbara. (Please pray for Marty’s sister and all those afflicted with this disease.)
This is the third in a series of stories by people who shared their “Stories of Good News” during the Lenten season at North Church in February and March.