I met Jeff through Facebook last year via Parkinson's Journey. It is my utmost privilege to publish this 'post' of bittersweet transparency in reference to his battle this past year not only with PD, but life in general. This is one man's account of letting go of the things that cause fear, anger, hurt and more, giving things up to God and trusting Him to work through them.
I hope you enjoy it. Not many people would be so open. Through his words, you will be blessed as you see anew that a much greater peace is afforded when we follow God than when we want to fight Him.
Thank you, Jeff, for sharing your heart. ~sherri
I watched my father die in a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia on May 10, 2009. This man that I had known every day of my life, the man that took me and my younger brother to baseball games when we were little, the man that had watched every black and white episode of Andy Griffith at least a hundred times and still laughed at them, the man that I rebelled against when I was a teenager, the man that I had grown closer to after I married and had children of my own, the man that created beautiful pieces of furniture from wood, the man that doted on his grandchildren, the man that had spent most of his adult life preaching the Word of God.
This man, I watched take his final breaths on a warm spring morning in Atlanta, Georgia. They disconnected him from life support shortly after my wife and I arrived there, allowing me to say goodbye before pulling the plug. They said he would pass quickly, but, for nearly three hours, I listened to him gasp for breath. Those sounds that he made are sounds I will never forget. They haunt me to this day.
I knew that he had lived a good life. And we all knew that he was heaven bound. But losing your father is never easy. And watching him die was not easy either. He always said he wanted to live long enough to marry his oldest granddaughter. But he never got that chance. He never got to see my son hit his first home run. He hit it the following year when he was ten years old on a day close to the anniversary of my father’s death. I guess he saw it from heaven. I hoped he did. I cried when my son’s coach gave that ball to my son and asked him to take it to me. I cried as he handed me that ball. I cried as I stuffed it into the pocket of my jacket, partly because I was proud of my son and partly because I wished my father could have been there to enjoy that moment with me. But, by the time my son handed that ball to me, something had changed about me.
Four months after watching my father die, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. My life would change forever. I attempted to fight the disease. I really thought I could win the battle. I had overcome other obstacles in my life. But this opponent proved more formidable than I expected. Only three years after the initial diagnosis, I was out of work. Depression began to overwhelm me, as I watched my family begin to suffer financially because of my inability to work, and as physical aspects of the disease began hindering my ability to engage in certain activities I once enjoyed. I was not handling the situation well. I wanted to be the person I used to be, but the disease and the side effects of the medication I was taking to control the disease had so altered my behavior and emotions that optimism and happiness seem to be increasingly difficult to manufacture.
I was only forty-four years old, and the best days of my life seemed to be over. I wondered why God had allowed this to happen to me, and I wondered how long I would be able to withstand the emotional toll this disease was having upon me. Sometimes, I would be awake all night, tormented by my thoughts. It didn’t seem to matter how much I read my Bible or how many times I knelt and prayed. The person I was before Parkinson’s, the person I wanted to be again seemed irretrievably lost. I was not the husband I wanted to be. I was not the father I wanted to be. I was not only struggling physically and emotionally, but I was struggling spiritually.
My faith and confidence in God was beginning to wane. I was certain of my salvation, but I could not understand why God was allowing this to happen to me. First, the death of my father. Then, the diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. Then, the loss of my job. Then, the loss of our house. Then, the loss of all of our savings. How much did God expect me to endure? What limitations would be placed upon my suffering? What else could possibly go wrong?
Well, about the time I was convinced that every bad thing that could possibly happen had already happened, I was confronted with the most painful revelation ever – my wife did not love me anymore. She wanted me to leave. So now there was not just the Parkinson’s and all of its debilitating symptoms and there was not just the depression and guilt procured by my family’s situation. Now there was loneliness – a profound and deleterious loneliness that was more noxious than any emotion I had ever experienced in my life. I had just been rejected by the woman that promised to love me for the rest of my life. I was living in a trailer absent of the voices and laughter of my children. How much more suffering did God expect me to endure? I began to wonder if He even cared.
I continued to read my Bible, and I continued to say my prayers. But that peace that passeth all understanding and that more abundant life – those promises from God seemed blatantly absent in my life. I did not have peace. And I did not feel like I was living an abundant life. Instead, I felt like I was withering away anonymously, and nobody even cared. My life had been cast into chaos, and peace and contentment seemed to be elevated on some towering plateau I had no chance of ever reaching. And then there were all those television preachers with beautiful wives and adoring children that were following them in spiritual obedience. And they were telling me how to pray and how to seek God and how if, I would just do this or just do that, my life would be saturated with blessings from above. But I had been praying and I had been seeking God, and, despite all of that, in September of 2013, I was sleeping on the floor of an empty trailer with an incurable disease, no job, no wife, and very little money. Did God not love me? Did God not care about me as much as He did the television preacher with immaculately white teeth and a beauty pageant wife? Had the sins I committed been greater than the ones they had committed? What was I supposed to think about this God that had apparently overlooked me when He was delivering His abundance of blessings?
To tell you the truth, I am not sure how God expected me to react to this seemingly inequitable amount of suffering. I am not certain there exists a universal dictate on how to deal with hardships and tribulations and sorrows, not even in the Bible. After all, we were all created uniquely, according to scripture. And, even in the company of others who share our belief in God and the saving power of the blood of His son, Jesus Christ, there still exist a variety of personalities and characteristics. Not all of us share the same opinion on every subject. Not all of us enjoy the same music. Not all of us enjoy the same modes or methods of worship. Some of us like worship services to be orderly and regimented. Others of us enjoy worship services that have no definitive schedule. So how can we all be expected to react the same to tragedy or suffering or distress? I do not believe that we can be, nor do I believe that God expects us to have similar reactions. All I can reveal is how I reacted, hoping you will understand that this is only a personal account of my behavior and actions and not a justification or condemnation of the reaction of others who have suffered similar tribulations in life.
For me, one of my first actions was to abstain from watching television evangelists or even listening to sermons on Christian radio stations. I am not implying that all television evangelists and radio ministers are fraudulent or hypocritical. In fact, for some people experiencing similar situations as mine, these media ministries may have been a blessing. But not for me. Every time I attempted to watch a minister or evangelist deliver a sermon on television, I became filled with rage and anger. Look at this guy, I would think in my mind. He isn’t living with an incurable disease, he has not been separated from his children and family. He has never heard the words “I don’t love you anymore” from his wife. In fact, she is sitting there on the front row. She looks like a model. She has a beautiful voice. She is wearing expensive clothing and flashy jewelry. And she shares her husband’s passion for ministry. They met at Bible college, where he was studying to be a pastor and she was studying to be a minister of music. They had been happily married for twenty-five years, their children went to Christian schools and went on summer mission trips, they drove nice cars, they made nice salaries and went on amazing family vacations. Of course, he can preach about the goodness of God and how to live an abundant life and how to overcome sin and temptation. His life has been a bed of roses.
Of course, my perception may have not been accurate or fair, but, encumbered by the many sorrows of my life, that is what I believed about every minister I saw on television or heard on the radio. The sad truth is that I did not want to see anyone that was living a blessed life, not on television and not even in the local church I attended. I guess, in some sordid way of thinking, I wanted every one to be suffering just because I was suffering. And seeing happy Christians just made me angry. After all, I had accepted Christ as my Savior just like they had. I had taught Sunday School, been involved in children ministries, and even been the director of Vacation Bible School at my church one summer. Why was I suffering while all these other Christians appeared so happy and content? It just didn’t seem fair.
But what I began to realize eventually was that the way I was thinking at the time was completely narcissistic. I should have been rejoicing to see God blessing the lives of other Christians, not angry at them just because I was suffering through what seemed like hopeless tribulation. Actually, the devil was attempting to deceive me and using other Christians and my perception of their lives to accomplish his objective, which was to convince me that God didn’t love me or care for me as much as He did others. If he could convince me of that, whatever ministries or purposes God had planned for my future would be annihilated. No, he would never be able to get my soul. That belonged to God and had been paid for in full by the shed blood of His son, Jesus Christ. But he could certainly attempt to mire me in a state of self-pity and misery so overwhelming that my witness and testimony for Christ would never be as effective as God intended it to be. That is his specialty, by the way. The devil is a master of deception. And he often uses others and the perceptions we have of others to deceive our minds into accepting beliefs that we know or should know are contrary to the teachings of God’s Word. Actually, I don’t think we should ever compare our lives to the lives of others, because, when we do, our tendency is to only see what they have that we do not have or what they have that we want to have. Our analysis of others’ lives deflects us from enjoying or appreciating or even recognizing the blessings that are a part of our own life. Sure, some people seem to be more blessed than others. But so what? If you are saved, we are all eventually going to the same place anyway – the preacher with the pearly white teeth and supermodel wife and the pastor of a church on the edges of the Amazon jungle who has no wife and no teeth and sleeps in a hut. If saved, both are heaven bound, and both are equally loved by God.
I realized that I could not allow my present sufferings to affect the way I felt about God or others. Romans 8:18 says that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. In the end, we are all going to a place where we will be blessed beyond measure and whatever suffering we had to endure on Earth will be forgotten. So one lesson learned during this bleak chapter in my life is that being mad at others for whatever reason has no spiritual benefit for me.
And neither does being angry at God.
I am ashamed to admit that I have attempted to act out in anger toward God during this turbulent time in my life. But I have. Sometimes, I begin thinking like this – Okay, God, you allowed me to get Parkinson’s Disease, you allowed me to lose my ability to work, you allowed my marriage to dissolve and, just to prove how angry I am at you, I am going to buy a six pack of beer and listen to drinking songs all evening. I am going to do that just to prove to you that I am mad at you. I wonder what God thinks about me when I do stupid things like that? I imagine He must be in heaven just shaking his head and wondering – when is this guy going to learn to behave like a mature Christian, because really what I am doing, in those moments when I am acting out my anger toward God, is behaving like a child throwing a tantrum because his parents did not buy him a toy he wanted in a store.
Now most of us that are parents realize that our children cannot get exactly what they want at the exact time they want it every time they make a request. And the fact that a friend has the toy doesn’t matter. And neither does the fact that a friend has the toy indicate that the parents of that friend love their child more than we love our child. The circumstances are just different. And that is the way it is with us and God. The circumstances of our lives may be different, but God loves us all just the same, whether our lives are sated with an abundance of blessings or marred by an abundance of sorrows. His Son died on the cross for all of us. But I have learned, during these difficult times, that God cannot work with me as long as I am down here on Earth throwing temper tantrums just because things are not going the way I want them to go. I have to be willing to yield my life to Him, even when I do not understand the suffering. I guess I am just like most people – I want to know where I am going. I want to know the outcome. I want to know where God is leading me. I want to know how He is going to deliver me from this mess. But knowledge of what may transpire in my future is reserved for God. It is not my duty to know. It is my duty to trust.
Sort of reminds me of morning deer hunts, entering the woods before daylight, while darkness still lingers. When I enter those dark forests, I know where I am going. I know where my stand is located. I have walked back and forth to that deer stand so often that I can find it in the darkness just as easily as I can find it in the daylight. But what about my son, what if he decides to go hunting with me one morning? He doesn’t know the way to the stand. He would have difficulty finding the stand in daylight. There is absolutely no way he could locate the stand in the darkness. So what does he do? He follows me. And he doesn’t stop me every thirty seconds and ask me if I am sure that we are going the right way. And he doesn’t even question me when I lead him through patches of bristles and thorns. His faith in my ability to get him to that stand never wavers. He trusts me completely. And I need to be that way in my relationship with God. I need to quit fighting Him and asking Him why He allowed me to have Parkinson’s Disease or why my marriage failed or why am I having to endure all this suffering. I need to learn to quit fighting Him or even trying to understand why all this is happening. I need to quit doing all of that and just trust Him. That is hard to do sometimes, especially when He may be leading me through a thicket of thistles and thorns that seems neverending. My initial instinct is to question Him, is to wonder if He really knows what He is doing. But if my son can trust me to lead him to a deer stand in the darkness, I should certainly be able to trust my Heavenly Father to lead me to the place He wants me to be.
I don’t have to understand why He has chosen a certain path for me, I don’t have to understand why the journey seems to be more challenging and forbearing than I thought my walk with Him would be. All I have to do is trust. All I have to do is follow. As long as He is in the lead, I will get to where He wants me to be, because He knows the way – not me.