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
Although we certainly hate to hear of this diagnosis for Dr. Self, we surely can agree with and find comfort in his words “The one who rolls away stones is with us.” Most assuredly, we would all be wise to remember that, no matter our situation.
Without fail, Dr. Self and Carolyn will most certainly be lifted up in prayer daily and I can honestly believe they will feel those prayers in a way that only our Lord can manifest.
I cannot express how pivotal and important the Dr. Self and the Self family has been in my own life and, I know, countless others. My heart, thoughts, and prayers are certainly with you during this time!
I will mark my calendar immediately and send bold prayers on behalf of my dear friends and former pastor Bill and Carolyn. Even from Florida, the prayers will find the path of support and love.
Thank you for such a nice blog written about Dr. Self and his health issues. It’s still having to sink in.
Fred and I will be praying for Dr. Self and Family. Beautifully written Shaun!
Shaun, as I sat and read your One Thing Stronger, I must admit I was in tears as I have been several times since I learned the news about Bill a couple of weeks ago right after they got the news. I have known Bill and Carolyn 44 yrs. More than pastor we have been friends, he baptized my children , my daughter-in-law, my grandchildren, and he married Al and me. Your commits were so meaningful and just what we all needed to hear, you will be a great comfort to them both I know. What a blessing to have you here at this time. You are a special young man in so many ways and God is certainly using you in this place and time. Thank you for being who you are, Praying for Bill and Carolyn and family and also always for you. Pat
I had already sent Dr Bill and Carolyn a letter… My mother died of ALS in 1984. I know about
the confining frustrations of that disease. But I also understand how Faith makes things seem lighter and easier. Mama taught me so much through her experience. First to pray aloud for her. Although at first I could not do so without weeping. That simple discipline later helped me to serve Christ while working with battered women and children. Second suggesting I sign my letters and notes to her and others -“Share the Faith.” We do so love our older Shepherd Pastor & Carolyn .. Thank you Pastor Shaun for sharing these sad
tidings with the Church- There is a circle of loving prayer around them now as they encourage our own belief in the mercy and love of Christ- as always. +
My prayers are with Bill and his family.
Can the “news letter” keep the church updated at least by weekly or monthly, so we can keep our “e” too Bill one directional?
So sorry Bill “this has not been a good day.” We will be praying at noon each day for you, your family and your doctors.
Bill was on my Ordination Council and I used his ministry as my model when I pastored the Noonday Baptist Church near Woodstock. Please assure him of my sincere prayers in this time. He is truly one of God’s unique people.
I am an Emory grad. I have a good friend in Raleigh who developed the same disease. The Emory Help Desk reached by their switchboard, gave us valuable connections to any studies being done on this dread disease.
Just call the Emory Medical School main number / ask for the Nurse Practitioner dealing with AlS and go from there. Miracles happen through Emory and the CDC. If there is such, this is the best place to go, in my experience. I have helped save 2 friends with this route!
Good words Shaun. My daily prayers will be lifting Bill and the Self family.
We should also remember that this disease affects everyone a bit differently. There are many who live with ALS, and you would never know it. Michael J. Fox comes to mind.
Dr Self is a very strong man of great faith. Let’s be positive and encouraging and remember God will fulfill every day of every life.
Although I am no longer a member of JCBC the impact of Bill Self Has strengthen the lives of tens of thousands. I am one of them. When my wife Bobbie was diagonosed with cancer Bill said to me Sometimes things in like hurt like hell”. Yes Bill this is one of those things that hurt like hell. However, it’s only temporary! The cure is promised by the same one that has made both heaven and hell!
When the strong winds of fear begin to swirl around, your ships come in. Don’t know who said that, but someone should have, I am pulling my little dingy into your port to let you know my prayers are with you. I’m at Peachtree Presbyterian now and you are a legend there. I enjoy sharing quips and cautions from your teachings in my Bible study group.
The one that always gets the biggest laugh is when Dr.Harrington turned to you and asked, “have you read my last book?’ With perfect timing, you replied “God, I hope so”.
Hope this brings a joyful reminder of your dear friend and the grace and love you shared.
Be well in your mind and heat – the body will follow your lead.
Bill Self was our pastor while we attended Wieuca Road Baptist Church and John’s Creek. What a joy it was to hear his sermons and the effect it had on our lives. So very sorry to hear his diagnosis, but with his faith and our constant prayers lifting him up, he will be strong to the finish line no matter what his diagnosis is. Our prayers are with him and his family at this difficult time.
I still remember the first sermon I heard Dr. Self preach, “What is your Pharaoh?” We joined the church 18 years ago and watched the church grow under his shepherding.
In 2009, I lost my daddy after a long period of multiple illnesses. Two days after we buried him, I broke my ankle. A few days later, my husband had a scheduled (be delayed hip replacement) and my mother fell and cut her head open about five inches.
When we finally got to come back to church, Dr. Self was standing at the front door. In my opinion, God placed him there that day so I could tell him how much he had prepared me for what all I had been through. I don’t remember the title of the sermon, but the last one I heard before all the above events happened was something about walking through the valley and how much we grow while there.
The next Christmas, I received a short note from him saying that he was praying for me as I celebrate the first Christmas without my daddy. Needless to say, I still have that note.
All I can say is that as he has prepared us for these “valleys”, we must now lift him up and help carry him through. My mind’s eye sees a winning team carrying their coach on their shoulders.
I thank GOD that Dr. Bill Self and Carolyn are in my life’s path.
Susan Y. Gilbert
I first heard your sermon when I was a student nurse at Emory University, a long time ago. I have not forgotten. You will be in my prayers and thoughts.
Bill our prayers are for you, Carolyn and family. We were with you and Carolyn at Wieuca Baptist in 1965-1972. We were married in 1970 and you baptized Gary in 1971. We are so fond of our memories with you there. We also went to your retirement service at John’s Creek. God has and will bless you during this time. We will continue to lift you and family in prayer.
The news of your condition fell like a brick across my heart this week. As a boy I was crushed when Lou Gehrig was similarly stricken. Now another hero of mine has fallen and I am hit even harder, for my spiritual teammate and coach has been laid up. I wish I could be there to help comfort you and Carolyn. But you will have hundreds who love you and have been blessed by your amazing ministry who will express their love and appreciation.
Bonnie and I are settled now in Norman, OK We miss
John’s Creek very much.
Bill and Carolyn–Last weekend, while visiting Frank and Doris Boggs in Atlanta, we drove by Wieuca Road Baptist Church and had a rush of so many memories of you both from Stetson days to our days at Northside Drive when you were at Wieuca Road. Happy memories of friendship and shared experiences. I was so deeply touched when Charles informed the Stetson “circle” of your recent diagnosis. Knowing you, this will be a time when your strength and “grit” and grace will prevail. My love and prayers are with you daily. Bettye
I just finished reading the comments from members and friends of your congregations. What wonderful memories they conjure up. With the current news regarding Harper Lee, who could forget your sermons on Father’s Day? Though George & I weren’t parents, we always looked forward to hearing your Father’s Day sermons.
My faith became even stronger after George’s death, with the help of Ella Moore (whose husband, John died 3 months prior to George). Your sermons helped so much to sustain me during those sad days.
I’m also praying for you and Carolyn daily along with your congregation. May God hear our prayers and give you comfort, knowing how much we all care for you both.