Two weeks ago, Bill Self and I were sharing a meal together when he received a phone call from his doctor.
He had been waiting on that call.
For several weeks he had been experiencing curious and frustrating physical symptoms that had his doctors concerned. After a battery of medical exams and a barrage of exhausting office visits, he was eager to know the results.
It was not the news he had hoped.
Bill has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or as it is more commonly known, “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” For those who may not be familiar with the disease, the ALS Association describes it in simplest term this way:
“ALS, or amyotrophic laterals 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. “A” means no. “Myo” refers to muscle, and “Trophic” means nourishment – “No muscle nourishment.” When a muscle has no nourishment, it “atrophies” or wastes away. “Lateral” identifies the areas in a person’s spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates it leads to scarring or hardening (“sclerosis”) in the region.”
This is not the news any of us would wish to receive. ALS is a very difficult and imposing disease, with still much mystery surrounding it. While much is still unknown about the disease, however, neuroscience has made incredible strides in recent years in understanding what to expect and how to extend and improve the quality of life for those who are living with it.
While the disease is strong, I can assure you there is something in Bill far stronger.
Even now, as he and Carolyn make plans to consult with neurologists and other specialists along the way, as physical therapy continues and voice therapy begins, their primary plan is to enter this season of uncertainty the same way they have entered (and endured) every other season in their long and faithful journey thus far:
It’s the one thing stronger than his diagnosis.
In preparing to write this piece, I asked Bill to consider what he would want to say to the congregation as we all try to process this news together. Without hesitation, he said, “Shaun I want them to know that I’m not panicked. The same God who has brought us this far, will be with me through this too.” Then after a reflective and silent pause he added, “The One who rolls away stones is with us.”
You’re right, Bill. The One who rolls away stones, IS with us.
As a congregation, we struggle to hear this news, because of the deep love we share for Bill and Carolyn. So, it is out of that deep love that I am calling on us as a congregation to stand in solidarity with the Self family in a special way.
Each day at noon, I ask our entire JCBC family to unite in prayer for our founding Pastor. Wherever you are, and whatever it is you may be doing, I ask you to create a daily rhythm of lifting the Self family up in prayer. It does not have to be long, or dramatic. You don’t have to rearrange your day, or gather in a specific place. Whatever you happen to be doing at the time, stop at noon to whisper a simple prayer that the sufficient Grace of our Lord be known and felt that day.
Let’s get practical about it.
Set a reminder on your phone, when you finish reading this blog.
Noon: Pray for Bill.
Then every day at noon, from the sanctuaries of 3000 hearts, our prayers for Bill will rise united like a mighty chorus of compassion, undergirding he and Carolyn with great strength.
And let them know you’re doing it.
Bill has expressed to me that while it is requested no food be prepared at this time, the family is extremely grateful for cards, letters and emails. If you wish to email Bill, his address is firstname.lastname@example.org. (Special note of care: Please make emails one directional. In other words, let’s be mindful that if all of us ask questions or inquire further in our emails, it may compel him to reply, making it more taxing than necessary. One directional emails written like you would write a card will be the best expression of care.)
Thank you for being the congregation you are. You love deeply and widely. There is immense healing in your love one for another. I have seen it. May we now unify in that love as we walk alongside the entire Self family, by faith.
Because He lives…
Johns Creek Baptist Church