Today, my Richard would have turned 60 years old. Because we knew he wasn’t going to live to see this day, we threw him a party a few weeks before he passed away. It was such a special time of outrageous joy, gratitude, love and celebration. I love this picture with him along with my brother and sister-in-law. It shows the sparkle in his eyes and the joy he poured out onto others until the day he passed away.
The picture of his children was taken after the memorial. During a time of deep sadness and grief, the seeds of hope were planted in them to take the best of their father with them as they chose life each day for themselves. His greatest desire was for his children and grand children to learn from his failures.
He inspired me everyday during the last year his life. One year ago, on his 59th birthday, we made a video specifically to be shown at his memorial. He learned so much about life, love, God, gratitude, and himself during the previous three years, he wanted to share it if it could benefit others.
In the last year of his life, his biggest motivation for living as long as possible was to help his children heal from the hurt he caused. He wanted them to know how much he loved them even though so much of their lives he was living in a world of isolation no one could enter.
The following is the script from the video we showed at the end of his memorial. On today, his birthday, it is my honor to share with you the legacy left behind. It is a story of transformation.
My body is wrestling with an illness which is taking away my ability to speak. The privilege of making a video has allowed me to share with you some of the most amazing life lessons I have learned and continue to learn in and through what might be the last years of my life. I want to share them with you hoping they might help you or others you may know.
We all face many challenges in life. We cannot speak of, nor understand how difficult it is to live the life of another. We can only share our story, from our perspective. It is so easy to judge others choices. I know I have been guilty of it my whole life. It was all part of covering up the fears inside of me. The fear I fought was the fear of myself. I was so afraid of not measuring up. I hid inside myself my whole life trying to be anyone but me. I was afraid if anyone really saw me they would see how horribly inadequate I was. So I fought to be someone I’m not. I ran from my self, God and others. I looked to become “someone” through education, money, success, relationships etc. someone who people would like, value and appreciate.
That process drove me into isolation and then chronic pain drove me deeper internally through drugs and alcohol. I discovered numbing the pain, emotionally and physically was the only way I could feel “normal”.
No one wants addiction. It is not something one seeks. It is a drive stronger than words can explain. Addiction literally consumed me. By nature, I am a kind, considerate, loving, giving man. I am a God-fearing Christ follower. I became the antithesis of that during my years of addiction. I hurt everyone I love and I hated myself for it. I begged God to deliver me every day for years and yet I continued to do it! The guilt and shame from the hurt I caused drove me deeper into it to shut down the screams inside.
God didn’t deliver me any of those countless times I begged Him to. What He did was give me the ability to get back up and fight against it again and again. He was with me though the process to humbly be honest with myself about myself. Then I was able to be honest with others. The truth will set you free yet the journey to honesty is bloody when addiction is present.
Living inwardly focused is a lonely place. In that place it was all about me. “No one understands how hard it is for me, I know what is best, I know how to take care of this, poor me, the typical blah blah blah playing the victim…yuck!” Love became something associated with what I got out of it because I was the center of the universe too afraid to let anyone else in.
But now I don’t have to hide. I let people in. They see me and I see them. What I have learned since getting outside myself is that love is doing what is best for another, even if it’s not good for me. It is always considering what is best for the “we” in relationships. I have found my true God-given self. I have started learning how to consider the needs of others more centrally that ever before. With a new focus, I am becoming more and more alive. I am no longer afraid of being who I am because now I am who God made me to be. I am still far from perfect but I am free even though my body is becoming more and more limited.
When I started having the symptoms associated with ALS, I didn’t feel “targeted” or “picked on” by God. I’m not afraid of dying. I am afraid of how this will all progress until my body dies. That is all unknown right now so I try to stay focused on enjoying every day as much as possible. I intentionally want to be more present for as long as possible.
On the way home from the doctor’s appointment regarding insertion of a feeding tube, Jean asked how I was doing. My response was, “I used to have good days and bad days. Now everyday is a great day!” I have learned the extraordinary blessing of living in what is real right now. It’s not about what has been lost. It is what is still here. Gratitude is often a lesson hard learned. It is worth every fight to get there.
Continuing to get up and fight where you left off is almost more important than experiencing freedom. Without fighting to move forward you will never experience what God has in store for you.
If you don’t keep fighting to break free from what is holding you captive, you will never experience what it is like to be truly yourself. Don’t give up on yourself. Don’t give up reaching for your true self.
God was with me every step of the way. One day recently, I was spending some quiet alone time with God at Meijer gardens. I was enjoying time with God talking with him about the beauty in nature. It one point I asked him, “Why haven’t/won’t you heal me?”
It felt as if he pulled me onto His lap and said, “ That is the wrong question. Think on this and ask me again after you look at your life.”
After considering it for a while I then knew the better question, “How have you and where have you healed me? Where are you continuing to work in my life?” Then I could see he had healed me in very profound ways. I was free to live life unlike ever before. I am now asking, how can I help people who are struggling? How can my experiences help build others faith who are faced with terminal illness or addiction?
After God has opened your eyes to recognize what has happened in your life, express gratitude for the miracles that have occurred. You will be amazed what He will show you!
I can handle the miserable that I face now with this illness much better than the miserable I was in the past with addiction, (fighting depression, manipulation and controlling others for my benefit, etc.) My eyes are open now. It is interesting how priorities change depending on what challenges are set before us. There are always things I can’t control but I can always control how I act and react. My choices are my responsibility.
I choose to never give up fighting for what is right
I choose to continue to learn to love more purely
I choose to live in gratitude for what I have
I choose to remember that there is always someone who has it worse than I do
I choose to remember God is always with me providing me with the courage to keep going as long as he choses to give me breath.
ALS is not the hardest thing I’ve ever faced. God has brought me through much worse. He’ll be with me through this and beyond.
This isn’t goodbye. This is see you later.
It’s a great day!