You Should Write a Book

by Guest Blogger David Wentz

You should write a book.

If you’re a Christian, you should write a book. In today’s world many people know so little about Christ that they truly wonder why a reasonable and intelligent person would be or become a Christian. They wonder what difference it makes in your life. They wonder a lot of things about being a Christian that have nothing to do with theology and apologetics and all the stuff you may feel unqualified to discuss. You are qualified to discuss what being a Christian means to you. People want to read that.

If you’re a pastor, you’re already writing. Every sermon is a potential chapter. Every series is a potential book.

Modern publishing is amazingly easy. The entire process can be done from your home computer at no cost. And people need to hear what Christians have to say. The question is not, “Should I write a book?” Your only question should be, “Which book do I write first?”

For me the answer came when I was leading workshops for pastors in Turkey. Many are converts from Islam who never experienced an established church. They knew how to evangelize, but then they were stuck. They needed practical pointers on the life and job of a pastor. That was the start of Pastoring: The Nuts and Bolts.

They’re not alone. A Facebook group called Things They Didn’t Teach Us in Seminary has over 16,000 members. Knowing the Bible, theology ,and church history is vital, but pastors also need to know how to run a church.

Thirty-eight years pastoring experience plus a varied denominational and academic background added up to more than just teaching notes. I realized I had a book.

Experts say it’s important to expand your author platform. I started Facebook friending every name that popped up and offered to email my manuscript to anyone who would give feedback. I was blown away when a leader in Kenya asked to use it to teach his pastors. He turned it into a sixty-hour course of study. On August 25, sixty-three men and women received certificates of completion.

In Uganda, Pastoring was taught in a jail ministry. A superintendent in Kenya and a professor in Nigeria have used it. It’s been taught in India and Pakistan. All this just from the emailed PDF! Since it came out online in August, a publisher in India has asked for rights and I’ve had offers to translate into several languages. You never know what God might do with what you write.

You might think, “But I don’t have any great special knowledge. Why should I write a book?”

I thought I just knew what every pastor knows, but apparently not. One reviewer said, “I’ve been a pastor for fifteen years and I’m learning a great deal.” You have unique experiences, perspective and voice. Somebody out there needs that.

Here are some examples of my voice as I wrote to train and encourage pastors:

  1. A pastor’s job is to equip God’s people to do God’s work until they resemble God’s Son (Ephesians 4:12-13). Focus on that and God will take care of the rest.
  2. If you please your members, you will be popular and your church will be small. If you please outsiders you’re getting warmer. But if you please God, watch out – you might catch fire!
  3. God doesn’t condone human sacrifice. Don’t lay your family on the altar of your church.
  4. Your people don’t care about theology, so you have to. Nobody ever set out to invent a heresy. Your knowledge of theology and church history is your people’s spiritual safety harness.
  5. Never overestimate people’s vocabulary, never underestimate their intelligence. Some really smart people don’t know what “infralapsarianism” means. If you can’t put it in simple words, you don’t either.
  6. Learn from everybody. Worship as many ways and with as many kinds of people as you can.
  7. Sometimes God wants Lazarus dead. Jesus didn’t automatically answer Martha’s summons, he asked God what to do. Don’t let expectations drive your ministry.
  8. If someone can possibly find a way to misunderstand you they will. Vet your words for ways that might happen, before you put them out there.
  9. Your church sign is important, your name on it isn’t. Unless your name is Billy Graham, nobody cares who the pastor is. They just want to know what time to be there, in letters they can read at the speed limit.
  10. Have each other’s backs. Pastoring is a tough job. We may disagree on some major issues, but we are all in this together. We need each other.

These are things I’ve learned that might help other pastors. Of course there’s more to my book – 330 pages worth.

You’ve learned different things that might help different people. I bet if you started writing them down they’d come to many pages. Somebody needs to know them.

You should write a book!

Pastoring: The Nuts and Bolts available here!


About guest blogger David Wentz: 

Serving as a pastor since 1981 has honed David’s passion for helping people connect with God and make a difference.

Add a varied church background, a first career in engineering, and graduate degrees from three very different seminaries (charismatic, mainstream and Wesleyan-evangelical) and you can see why he expresses God’s truth in ways everyone can appreciate.

Raised in the Episcopal church, David has also been part of Nazarene, Pentecostal Holiness, and non-denominational congregations. As a United Methodist pastor he has served small, large, and multi-cultural churches in rural, small town, suburban and urban settings. David served as a regional church consultant in the Maryland – D.C. area and has led workshops for pastors in Turkey. In 2015 he retired to the rural Ozarks, where he writes, works in God’s great outdoors, and continues to pastor part-time.

David-Wentz
In 1974, David married his college sweetheart, Paula. They have five children, all with wonderful spouses, and fourteen grandchildren.

David-Wentz_2

David earned a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia; two Masters of Divinity, one from Melodyland School of Theology and one from Wesley Theological Seminary; and a Doctor of Ministry in Christian Leadership from Asbury Theological Seminary.

In his spare time David enjoys playing sax and flute in jazz and blues jams (though those are hard to come by in bluegrass country), and writing worship music with his guitar.

His heroes are John Wesley, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (And for you old baseball fans, Brooks Robinson.)



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Weighing the Cost

by Guest Blogger Matt Giesbrecht

In His mercy, Christ bids us to weigh the cost to follow Him. However, those who respond to the free gift of salvation are those to whom Christ beckons to consider how to respond.

Jesus challenges His disciples in Luke 14:25-34 to weigh the cost of following Him, Matt-Gmaking sure to warn them with an illustration in verses 28-33 (New International Version):

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

I have a sinking feeling that many so-called Christians in our culture take little consideration of the calling that is the Christian faith. In many ways, it seems, Western Christendom (is that still a thing?) is treated more like a worldview, perspective, or philosophy, than it is a devoted, long-suffering commission. (Reducing anything to a mere worldview nullifies any real significance it has, making it one of many “options” among the plethora of competitive frameworks. This is a grave mistreatment of the promise of salvation through Christ Jesus.)

Christ calls us to discipleship, a calling to lose anything and everything that stands in the way of our devotion to Him. Twentieth century German theologian and martyr Diedrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “[t]he first Christ-suffering which [everyone] must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old [self] which is the result of [an] encounter with Christ,” (Diedrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, italics added). [Click here to read where else I use this quote.]

In His mercy, Christ bids us to weigh the cost to follow Him. This isn’t to say that we choose our salvation. Christ won salvation for all that are called by God. However, those who respond to the free gift of salvation are those to whom Christ beckons to consider how to respond. Those who respond in humility and lay down all else for the eternal gift of salvation commit to abandon earthly things (sin and anything that competes with God). These are chosen by the Heavenly Father and united in eternal fellowship with Him.

Christ is recorded in an earlier passage in Luke, speaking to this.

Luke 9:22-26 (NIV):

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

So what does it mean to forfeit one’s self? A common English definition of the passive verb “forfeit” is “to lose or to be deprived of something, (have something confiscated) out of consequence of wrongdoing.” So, Christ’s warning is to those who refuse to come under His Lordship and give up the things that claim allegiance in their own lives, in place of Him–the rightful claimant of their allegiance. These are the ones who shame themselves in the end and are rejected by Christ, as a consequence of rejecting Him.

However, the wellspring comes to those who, unlike the former, see the gain of surrendering to Jesus. I doubt this could be possible without them first truly understanding (and appreciating) salvation. This is, of course, our undeserved redemption from sin and bondage, but also our inheritance into the Kingdom of God and position as His holy stewards on earth–set apart for His mission.

Those who realise the gravity of their sins and understand the impact of Christ’s grace over them are those who are not only capable to weigh the cost to follow Jesus but also acknowledge the worth in doing so. They, not unlike their counterparts, forfeit their lives as well, consequently. However, theirs is an active forfeiting–out of allegiance to Christ. A necessary consequence of honouring Him. They have concluded that the world is worth losing in light of gaining much more: the abundance of knowing Jesus Christ.

My prayer is that more in this world would come to grips with this and surrender what can only serve as a loss in the end. I know that I would rather suffer earthly death than to give up eternal life with the God who loves me and calls me His own. The weight of losing this marvelous gift is far more than I can bear.


About Matt Giesbrecht, Guest Blogger

Matthew-Giesbrecht_FCL-8-22-19Matthew Giesbrecht (BTh) and his wife live in Southern Manitoba, Canada. They have two small children. Matt has always aspired to be a writer, and it is his greatest joy to use his talents for the goodness of his Heavenly Father.

Matt’s passions have led him to try his hand at blogging about his faith walk on his page Chronicles of a Broken Saint. He hopes that his inklings will inspire others to place their faith in Jesus Christ. Matt understands that faith in the One called Truth is not easy in our culture of so-called relativism, but that it is an exercise of surrender, humility, obedience and wonderment. Chronicles of a Broken Saint centers on these real life faith issues.

Overflow

by Guest Blogger Jason Moore

Jason-Moore_8-26-19_cup-overflowsThe psalmist shows us a life-giving secret to ministry. Overflow. He writes in Psalms 23:5, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.

Overflow comes as we receive and respond to the Lord in our lives. As our hearts are filled with his promises, we are prepared for what a day will bring. Just as an eight-ounce glass spills over when more in poured into it, when we are filled to overflowing with God’s love, it “spills over” on others.

Often we measure out what we think we need for ourselves when God wants to pour out in abundance. As we delight in the Lord, our ministry to the Lord ministers to people. In worship we honor him with thanksgiving. Our hearts get full. He anoints our head with fresh oil (Psalm 92:10) and it overflows to others. If we change the order of this equation, we run the risk of giving people the best of ourselves and our solutions but not God’s best. Overflow of God’s presence creates more than problem solvers—it is life-giving.  

In the kingdom of God, we are called first “unto” Christ before being called “out” in ministry. Christ’s life is what produces real-life and transformation. In this place of communion, faith is born. A personal encounter with God develops a personal ministry to others.  

God’s will is for us to enjoy a love relationship with him first; then the overflow of that relationship will feed our call to action. Notice this in Lamentations 3:24-26: “I say to myself, The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him, The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” 

Live for the audience of One—this will have an eternal impact.


Many thanks to our guest blogger, Jason Moore. Please visit his websites: jasonfmoore.com and About Me

About Jason Moore

family christmas.jpgPassionate about reaching people from all walks of life, Jason Moore has been involved in worldwide mission work and discipleship since the age of sixteen. While living in Ukraine, he completed his internship in church planting, resulting in three new churches that continue to thrive today.

As a graduate of Maryland Bible College and Seminary with a Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies, he leads the Pastoral Care team of Greater Grace Church in Baltimore, MD. He serves as a guest speaker in churches throughout the United States and overseas. With his wife, Leah, and son, Carson, he is dedicated to guiding people in discovering the riches of God’s grace.

 

Help and Encouragement for Spousal Caregivers

sanctuary-in-the-midst

Today’s guest post is by Elizabeth Shulman. She shares her personal story about caring for a spouse with mental illness. While caring for him, she met others caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and learned that many of the challenges are similar. She eventually wrote a Bible study addressing those challenges.

Please click on the book image (left) to learn more about Elizabeth’s Bible study. “Sanctuary in the Midst of Alzheimer’s” is the only Bible study specifically designed to help churches provide support to now the largest group of dementia caregivers – spouses. Experiencing scripture through the lens of personal stories, participants get to ‘walk in the shoes’ of husbands and wives caring for a spouse with dementia. The result is a greater understanding of the caregiver’s role and a deeper empathy upon which an effective ministry can be built. You may visit Elizabeth’s website here.

And now, Elizabeth’s story . . .

I was married for 20 years to a brilliant, kind and loving man who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia 12 years into our marriage. The depression related to trying to manage my husband’s behavior and adherence to his medication regime, along with raising four children under the age of 8 was overwhelming. I had sought help from support groups such as those sponsored by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness); however, I did not meet other spouses in these groups, only siblings and parents of persons diagnosed with schizophrenia, and their issues and concerns were not the same as mine. My concerns centered on the commitment of marriage, questioning God’s presence in the midst of my turmoil and finding meaning in a relationship where my husband’s ability to function as a spouse, father and professor was dependent upon medication that he would repeatedly discontinue taking because in his mind, “he was fine and did not need it.”

A few years after his diagnosis, I realized we could not depend on his employment at the university as a guarantee for income, and I went back to work as a healthcare chaplain. I eventually became the pastoral care director for a 600-bed skilled nursing facility, and that is where I found my purpose in life that has directed my work the past 14 years.

What inspired me during this time was observing the husbands and wives who came to the nursing home where I worked to visit their spouses in the Alzheimer’s unit. Just to differentiate: Alzheimer’s and many other forms of dementia are a brain disease, whereas, schizophrenia is a mental illness; however, many of the symptoms such as disoriented thinking and speaking, paranoia, personality changes and forgetfulness manifest similarly, and so caregivers of both types of patients may experience comparable circumstances – which is why I identified so strongly with these dementia caregivers!

I will never forget Frank, a husband who visited his wife in the Alzheimer’s unit every day. One day he walked in and found his wife sitting on the couch holding hands with another man, and as Frank walked over to her and introduced himself (she had long since forgotten who he was), she smiled and introduced Frank to “her husband.” I could tell Frank was taken aback from this, but he quickly recovered and when I asked him about this encounter later, he said, “this disease may be robbing my wife of how she is, but it can never take away who she is: my wife and God’s child.”

Frank was just one of many spouses that I met while working in the nursing home. After some time, I began working in hospice and also encountered caregivers whose loved ones still lived at home. Their struggles were often compounded by the physical challenges of caregiving. I discovered that spouses’ approach to caregiving was as diverse as the caregiver. However, most struggled with coming to terms with how they viewed their commitment to marriage and all expressed profound feelings of isolation.

It was during this time that I decided to go back to school for my doctorate. My dissertation was on the experience of marriage for Alzheimer’s patients during which time I reviewed literature and interviewed spousal caregivers. As with the spouses I met in hospice, the theme of isolation came up in every interview, and – probably because I lived in the Bible belt of Tennessee – feeling isolated from their church in particular was a significant issue. In talking with pastors about this, it became obvious that church members wanted to help, but they didn’t know how. So, I used the findings from my research and wrote Sanctuary in the Midst of Alzheimer’s: A Ministry for Husband and Wives Caring for a Spouse with Dementia.

This book can be used many different ways. It is a written in the format of a Bible study using personal stories to guide discussion.  Anyone can lead it because the directions are embedded within the lessons. It is made up of two parts, one section for spouses and the other section for those who want to “walk in the shoes” of spousal caregivers to better understand their needs and discover ways they can provide support. In a church setting, a congregation ideally conducts this weekly program with both groups running simultaneously for 4 weeks, and then in the 5th week both groups come together to create a dementia ministry for their church using information gathered during the previous four weeks.

However, I have found that the parts of the book can be separated and used as either discussion guides for dementia support groups or educational programs for assisted living facilities or other communities that want to provide education as a form of outreach with a spiritual component. Additionally, spouses can go through the spousal section on their own, using it as a personal workbook to help them process their feelings and hopefully, find inspiration.

Jesus’ words, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32) has been my foundation as I work with spouses to find meaning in their marriage and to help them make sense of a situation that often makes little sense. I have found that when spousal caregivers are honest about their feelings and their goals for caregiving, it allows them to express their love in the most honest way possible. (For example, when making decisions that they know is best for them and their spouse even if their children or friends disagree.) My hope is that Sanctuary in the Midst of Alzheimer’s will help guide spouses through the difficult terrain of dementia caregiving while also educating others on how they can best support these caregivers. When we are able to love openly, honestly and completely, we truly do experience the freedom that Jesus promises.

Keeping an Eternal Perspective in a Temporal World

This post courtesy of JesusOnLine. I encourage you to visit their site to read other posts and learn more about their ministry.


One of the greatest challenges for Christians is maintaining an eternal perspective.

Life goes by so quickly. And yet we often get caught up in the day to day tasks and forget that we are not promised tomorrow.

James 4:14 refers to the human life as a vapor: it appears for a while and then vanishes.

Perhaps if we remembered this truth we would have an easier time also remembering our purpose on earth.

Life isn’t about accumulating money, power, or fame. Life’s about fulfilling God’s purpose for us. We must focus, therefore, on His eternal perspective.

Colossians 3:2 tell us, “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”

Although we live in time now, God created us for eternity. As Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “[God] has also put eternity in their hearts.” We may live in time, but eternity must be the backdrop of our life. We must learn to live for eternal purposes.

So what is this eternal perspective? What is God’s way? His thoughts that are higher than ours?

An eternal perspective affects our priorities and actions. Here are some of the ways believing and relying on God’s eternal truths will affect your life:

– You will realize that suffering on earth is momentary. 2 Corinthians 4:17 tells us that our afflictions here on earth are “light and momentary” and are “achieving for us an eternal glory” that will far outweigh anything else. In other words, the things we experience here on earth are shaping us and preparing us for eternal life.

– You will find it easier to love others. Every soul is eternal, and each is in desperate need of knowing God and his mercy. When this is at the forefront of our mind it helps us extend love and mercy to those around us. The way we relate to others is inevitably influenced when we believe that eternal closeness or separation from God hangs in the balance.

– You will not be fearful. People are afraid of many things, and especially of death. But 1 John 4:18 tells us that there is no fear in love and that perfect love drives out fear. We have perfect love from our Savior. It was through his perfect act of love on the cross that sin, suffering, and death was defeated (1 Cor. 15:55-57). He has made available to us eternal life. This means we no longer have to be fearful of anything, not even death. God wants us to embrace and embody the love he has extended to us.

In what ways can you reflect on God’s eternal truths today? How will it change how you think and act? Remember, though heaven and earth pass away, God’s truth will never disappear (Matt. 24:35).

Are You Hopeful or Hopeless?

Are You Hopeful or Hopeless?

Guest blogger: Mark Goodman

In a song from Les Miserables, Fantine mourns her shattered dream.  Weeping, she sings:

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame

And later:

Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

Everyone reading this has lost a dream to the strangling grasp of life.  What dream did you bury?  What dream do you continue to exhume?

On a now-famous day in August of 1963, a man well-familiar with personal pain and shattered dreams stood before a crowd of thousands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and declared his dream.  Later he still held to that dream as he evidenced in the words from 1967 that we now hear:

If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all.  And so today I still have a dream.

This week marks the beginning of the Advent season, a time of expectant waiting.  We imagine what it was like for the Hebrew people awaiting the Messiah’s arrival and we experience our own wait for the Lord’s return.  Today we focus on the Hope of Advent. 

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so beautifully stated, hope is indeed “that courage to be.”

I want to point you in the right direction in which you can choose to travel and to the journey along which you will discover the sources of Hope from which come strength as you tap into them.

Like the Oz-bound brainless Scarecrow pointing in all directions, shared opinions, spoken philosophies, and a plethora of spiritual teachers will steer you toward a hope found in self-actualization and/or the true fulfillment of your inner being.  For the follower of Christ, however, the only true guidance comes from Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  This Christ spoke all things into being, including the Word of God as found in the New and Old Testaments.  Let us, then, turn to the Old Testament to find the map for our journey toward Hope.

1 Hear my prayer, LORD;
let my cry for help come to you.
2 Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.
3 For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
5 In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.
6 I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
7 I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.

Psalm 102:1-7
 (1984 NIV)

Withered heart, vanishing days, no appetite for food – the situation appears hopeless.  Yet (oh yes, yet), the afflicted man dares raise his eyes to take in the wider view of life.  There his eyes or, perhaps more so, his spirit found a profoundly delightful focus.  God came near.

25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
27 But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
28 The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.”

Psalm 102:25-28
 (1984 NIV)

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, wrote:
“Hope is hope for infinite Hope.”

Notice the capitalization of the last “H” in the sentence.

To push “shift” as one types that last word’s first letter, is to recognize that hope, in order to last, must claim God as its source, motivation and destination.

In 1626, from the pulpit of the immense and magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the English poet and pastor John Donne proclaimed the following words about death on Christmas Day, of all times.  I am glad he did.

Others die as martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr.  He found Golgotha (where he was crucified) even in Bethlehem where he was born.  For to his tenderness then, even the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as his cross at last.  His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day.  (Hendrix 53)

While I am quite sure that Jesus the newborn child did not formulate thoughts of the cross while still in the manger, I do know that when the soldiers led Him up to Golgotha, it was no surprise to Him.

Ultimately and immediately, you will discover Hope if you will look forward to the Lord’s return and will look backward to see His willingness to die.

Works Cited
Hendrix, John. Celebrate Advent Worship and Learning Resources. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1999.

_______________________________________________

Many thanks to guest blogger Mark Goodman. You may visit his blog here. He shared this about himself and his family:

 

I have served in Christian Ministry for over 25 years in Texas and Alaska. Since 2008, I have been living in Anchorage, Alaska and serving as the Senior Pastor of Rabbit Creek Church. As a pastor and teacher, my passion is guiding people and helping them in their journey with Christ. I was raised in Arlington, Texas. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree from Baylor University and my Master’s Degree from George W. Truett Theological Seminary. I earned my Doctor of Ministry degree from Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. My wife, Vonda Kay, and I have three children. All of us love Alaska!

ALS: A Widow’s Point of View

FALLEN SOLDIERS MARCH® is a 501(C)(3) non-profit dedicated to providing biblical counseling, service dogs, and veteran advocacy. I encourage you to visit their website to learn more about what they do and how you can help.

With Jim Retzke’s permission, from time to time I will post articles from their newsletter. (Jim is president of the organization.) This one is titled “Widow’s Point of View into Operations Desert Shield-Desert Storm 100% Service-Connected ALS.


2 Timothy 4:7: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

We met in early fall of 1998. It was Friday night. Keith Button watched me walk past him toward the Virginia Beach’s Septembers Club dance floor.  Keith had decided that after he finished his cocktail and potato skins, his next step was to ask me to dance.  Shortly afterwards completing his beverage, he looked to see where I was, but he could not find me.

A friend and I had left to go to Worrell Brothers on the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.  We had no plans to return to Septembers.  However, two hours passed, and we still didn’t see any of our friends. So, we decided to return to Septembers.  Shortly after we arrived, Keith began walking toward me as we made eye contact.  He saw me roll my eyes at him with disinterest.  He had long spiral curled hair down to his waist, not exactly “my” type.  Keith decided to still “proceed as planned.” If I said no, he would continue walking toward the exit door behind me.

Up close, his burly looks did not match his very polite, relaxed and soft-spoken demeanor. “Yes!” I thought to myself; this Harley riding, pot smoking, tall and handsome dude has “no lines memorized?”  I was quickly reminded of the hazards associated with judging a book by its cover.

Keith was a devoted father, libertarian, Christian and Army Veteran, having served as a Water Craft Engineer in the Gulf War (1987-1991).  He rode a bike; however, did not smoke pot!  Keith’s deep green eyes and kind smile became very attractive . . . minus the long hair!  As he walked me to my car, he offered to give me his number, thinking to himself I would not give him mine.  I told him I will not call. “I am old fashioned – I don’t call guys.”. He politely asked for my phone number, returning one of the biggest smiles when I gave it to him.  I woke up the next morning to my phone ringing. Keith and I talked for hours.  Days led to weeks, weeks to months, and we became inseparable for 18 years.

What was our marriage like?  We planned, strategized like soldiers ready for combat, argued at times and learned to agree to disagree.  No matter what challenged us, we owned it and tackled it “together.”  Keith learned to roll egg rolls like a pro and sweep with a bamboo “filipino broom.”   An Indiana native, he learned to love the beach just as much as I do.  Keith taught me to tile floors, build a flagstaff stone Koi pond and enjoy an organic garden!  Marriage was challenging at times; we both had ex-spouses and three teen age girls in the mix!  We loved to entertain, and friends visited often.  My daughter married and had a baby girl who fondly called him “Grampa.”. Keith was the apple of her eyes and vice versa—I learned to accept being the third wheel.

Our lives were blessed with the companionship of two Shih Tzus named Tobi and Lulu.  Our home was full of love and laughter.  We worked hard at being “debt-free” and managed to vacation on the beaches of the Outer Banks.  We were grateful that through the kindness and generosity of a dear friend, we always had open invitation accessibility to his beach house. Memories of beach horses, grilled rib eyes and seafood feasts abounded!

However, during our summer vacation in late August of 2011, Keith tripped going down the beach house steps, resulting in a limp.  The limp lasted several months before progressing to a “dropped foot.”  Keith saw my chiropractor and several specialists in vain.  Several more months passed, and the dropped foot exacerbated. Keith began dragging his leg while walking, occasionally losing his balance and falling.  Keith’s sprained ankle clearly was getting worse, not better!

What Is ALS? 

Life was not perfect, but life was good.  We had matured as a couple and had arisen to many challenges.  I remember co-workers celebrating my recent promotion at a luncheon.  My employer punctuated this promotion by remodeling my office, replete with new furniture.

On a winter day in 2012, I was eating lunch at my desk while looking out the window; I thanked the Lord for all the blessings in my life—my heart was full.  The phone rang, Keith calling after returning from another appointment concerning his leg.  I could hardly understand him as he was sobbing.  All I heard was “A-L-S . . . 2, max 3 years to live.”  What in the world is A-L-S???  My frantic research began on the internet.  Lou Gehrig, aka “Iron Horse,” played Major League Baseball as a New York Yankee (1923-1939).  Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS, ended his career in 1939, and lost his ALS battle in 1941, just  two years after his initial diagnosis.

“ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. A-myo-trophic comes from the Greek language. . . . Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body.”  www.alsa.org/about-als/what-is-als.html

Keith’s “dropped foot” progressed to a “dropped leg,” causing Keith to lose his balance and fall.  Keith was 6’2″, 250 pounds.  I could not lift him up when he fell to the floor; often I had to call the Fire Department for help.  The local Fire Fighters were an insightful, cheerful team of guys that graciously cheered him up, joking about his beloved “Steelers” to distract Keith from being embarrassed.  Often Keith’s solemn facial expression would quickly turn into a big smile, at times, laughter.  The Firefighters would always arrive within five minutes, no matter what time of the day or night they were dispatched.  As Keith’s falls became more frequent, out of appreciation for the Fire Fighters’ rapid responses, I would pre-make home-made eggrolls, freeze them and have them ready to serve, sweet and sour sauce on the side to hand to them.  Although they were happy to help, it became clear that their service was only an interim solution. Keith’s disease progression signaled I would need additional help and equipment to take care of him.

By the fall of 2014, Keith needed full time home care or VA hospital confinement in Hampton, VA.  Hampton is a thirty-minute drive, much longer during rush hour traffic.  My career was demanding; commuting to the hospital would have only allowed me to see him on weekends.  The progression showed no sign of slowing down, but I trusted God to guide my thoughts and daily path.  The Bible says we are to place our marriage and spouse second only to God.  Consciousness toward biblical knowledge and obedience does not make an immediate decision to walk away from a thirty-year career easier, transforming into a full-time care giver for a disease I knew nothing about.  Immediately I was challenged to learn medical terminology, to accelerate medical equipment and supply deliveries and scheduling home care medical staff, my “new norm.”. The challenges did not end there—I did not have a clue what would come next.

The financial burden was astronomical.  However, because ALS is 100% service connected (predicated upon deployment location and years of service), the VA provided most equipment, supplies and a grant to modify our home.  Unfortunately, the disease progression often accelerated faster than I could obtain time-sensitive critically needed medical equipment and home modifications to adapt to Keith’s rapidly declining independence.

Suddenly, Keith was no longer able to climb stairs, and an Automatic Lift Chair was required to help him reach our second-floor bedroom.  Until installation, Keith was forced to sleep on the first-floor couch.  Keith ultimately required two Hoyer Lifts for each floor to assist me in lifting him off the floor when he fell, into a chair or onto his bed.  Walking with a cane rapidly declined to purchasing a pair of “walkers” for each floor.  Within several weeks, Keith’s impairment deteriorated, prompting the purchase of manual wheel chairs for each floor to facilitate mobility.

ALS Diagnosis Is 100% Service Connected for Gulf War Veterans

“Scientists have yet to find a cause for why America’s military veterans are approximately twice as likely to develop ALS than other segments of our population. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes ALS as a service-connected disease and provides financial and medical support to those with at least 90 continuous days of military service.

“Study after study continues to demonstrate this to be true: If you serve in the military, regardless of the branch of service, regardless of whether you served in the Persian Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea, or World War II, and regardless of whether you served during a time of peace or a time of war, you are at a greater risk of dying from ALS than if you had not served in the military.

“Factors that might contribute to the increased risk of ALS in veterans include exposure to lead, pesticides or other environmental contacts. Tobacco use also increases the risk of ALS, independent of military service.”

Source ALS Association

Ultimately, our home was ADA modified, replete with a ceiling lift, deck and elevator, hardwood floors and wide doors to accommodate a power wheelchair.  The challenge was finding an ADA Contractor who is knowledgeable, efficient and experienced.  Moreover, it was difficult identifying a contractor willing and able to complete the required paperwork expeditiously to transition efficiently to each new construction phase.  The Specially Adapted Housing Grant is available to veterans or service members who are entitled to compensation for permanent and total service-connected disability due to the loss, or loss of use, of both lower extremities.  Currently, the grant is limited to $81,080:

Many challenges exist when constructing an ADA compliant home addition: weather conditions, material availability and inspections.  Additionally, ADA-focused inspections and milestone payments complicate construction progress.  Our VA Grant Administrator warned us, sometimes a veteran passes away before construction is completed.  Knowing how to evaluate and select a seasoned, reliable and trustworthy contractor is a critical decision before beginning a project of this magnitude.

By early spring of 2015, Keith lost complete use of his arms, and a power wheel chair replaced all manual wheel chairs.  VA Grant was insufficient to replace our carpeted rooms. However, we identified supplemental non-profit grants to replace all first-floor carpeted rooms with power wheel chair compliant hard wood to accommodate functionality, an additional $6,000 expense.  God is good; the ADA compliant room addition was completed in June of 2015.

Three years after being diagnosed with ALS, Keith and I celebrated our 15th year Wedding Anniversary in February 2015.  Before ALS, Keith could outrun friends ten years younger than himself and move  machinery weighing in access of 450 lbs unaided while working.  Keith was a “Work Horse” in terms of natural strength, determination and energy.

However, three years after his initial ALS diagnosis, Keith was confined to a hospital bed, kept alive by an oxygen machine and nourished via a feeding tube.  This is a message I sent friends two days before the anniversary party, so they were not shocked after arriving into our home:

“For those who can come, but have not seen Keith in several months, I want to make sure you are prepared. Unfortunately, he is unable to speak or shake hands.  Recently, he began having trouble swallowing and drinking water. So, last Friday he had a PEG surgically installed in his core/abdomen area. The good news is, in just a matter of days, he gained a little hand and fingers function that he lost, improved his nutrition, hydration and even his breathing levels.

Although “he is still very sore in his core/abdomen area,” he is not as fragile as he looks! He still has his wit and will enjoy a conversation, even if all he can do is nod his head. He is able to manually spell out words on his homemade key board and his nurse or I will be delighted to help, if needed.”

My 30+ year contracts and procurement career did not prepare me for the challenges I faced.  Learning the medical terminology and how to use medical equipment was daunting.  In the beginning, we were blessed with a loving and thoughtful nurses’ aide, Suzanne.  Although the VA provided equipment and a nurses’ aide, VA polices, procedures and logistics fostered hassle factors—not necessity, efficiency or effectiveness. Case in point, nurses’ aides can only assist; they are not licensed to legally operate any of the medical equipment.  Simple acts of showering or grocery shopping subjected Keith’s life to risk if any of the equipment required immediate attention or troubleshooting.  I learned how to aggressively strategize, contest and override VA policies that led to the assignment of registered nurses, approved to troubleshoot the oxygen machines and feeding tubes essential to keeping Keith alive.

After 4.5 years, Keith and I lost our battle with ALS.  Keith returned to be with the Lord on January 22nd of 2016. I remember sitting in the Emergency Room, hearing the heart machine stop, watching the hospital staff swarm over him. I was only able to see his feet from my vantage point.  A nurse stood guard, keeping me away from Keith as they tried to resuscitate him.  I remember praying, asking the Lord that if I lost Keith that God would let me know that Keith went to heaven.  Unexpectedly, I saw an opportunity, I quickly passed by the nurse, grabbed both of Keith’s feet to caress, crying with heartache and anguish for the state of my husband.  I recall gazing up toward the heart monitor machine, and Keith’s heart began beating again. Within seconds, the nurse pulled me over, isolating me away from Keith’s  bed. The machine quickly lost its sound and displayed Keith’s heart stopped beating.  I am forever grateful for our good friends, Kathy and David, who were kind enough to come to the hospital to help me face the darkest time of my life.

On the same day, I praised God for answering my prayers.  Unbeknownst to me, Keith had generated and sent me an e-mail using his “Eyegaze” equipment two days prior to his death, a message I read the night of his passing:

“I have been praying to Jesus for direction.  I believe that He is not done with me.  He wants me to help others and save them from the misery and pain.  I believe that is why he put me through this to humble me.  To know the pain so others won’t.”

Knowing in my heart that Keith is in Heaven has provided the comfort I needed to pick up the pieces and look forward to what God had in store for me next.  Keith would not want me to feel sorry for myself, be bitter or sad.  Keith knew I am happiest caring for others; he would want me to share what I learned with all patient caregivers and veterans diagnosed with Motor Neuron Diseases: ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease along with a myriad of other debilitating diseases.

It’s 2019, I praise God as I write this article.  I was gifted a new life and my career has been restored.  I was even given yet another chance at love with Jim Retzke, President of Fallen Soldiers March (FSM) who like me is a devoted Christian with a passionate heart driven to assist veterans and military families challenged by the “consequences of war.”  FSM lovingly gifts Certified Biblical Counseling, Service Dogs & Veteran Advocacy to our National Heroes.

If you or your veteran suffers from motor neuron diseases, as the Fallen Soldiers March Director of Veteran Advocacy, I am passionately connected to your journey.  I will walk, stand by and fight with you to get not just what you need—I will work diligently to get it when you need it.

by Gigie Button, Fallen Soldiers March Director of Veterans Advocacy