I have been diagnosed with a disease named after one of the greatest baseball players in history, Lou Gehrig. Gehrig played for the New York Yankees from 1923 to 1939, the year doctors told him he had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. By the time this motor neuron disease killed him in 1941, journalists were calling it Lou Gehrig's Disease.
I'm a lifelong baseball fan, and a while back bought two 4-inch plastic Yankee statues, one of Babe Ruth and the other of Gehrig. One day a couple of years ago, staring at a possible ALS diagnosis, I removed the statuette from my dresser top and stuffed it away in a drawer! I didn't want to be reminded of a dreadful disease that I desperately hoped to avoid.
Later, I read about how Gehrig approached his disease. He did not become angry. He always hoped for a cure-but as his condition worsened, he stated that "if the inevitable comes, I will accept it philosophically and hope for the best." His sentiment was, whatever will be will be. By His grace and through His word, God has enabled me to approach this disease differently. I don't think, whatever will be will be. The Bible has taught me that God always works through an eternal plan and purpose.
Years ago I was looking at a large, beautiful tapestry of The Lord's Supper. Out of curiosity, I wondered what the back side of the tapestry looked like. I lifted a portion away from the wall and noticed that the back was an ugly mess of threads seemingly strewn in a nonsensical pattern. Beauty on one side, a dark threaded mass on the other. So it is with our lives: Dark and messy threads on the back-sickness, relationship troubles, temptations, ethical issues, fear, and so on-can be what we need for the greatest beauty-maturity, spiritual growth, and godly character qualities-to appear on the front.
I believe with all my heart that God is working out a great plan in my life. Part of that plan includes the dark threads of my disease woven into the tapestry of my life. And yet, those dark threads, when properly seen, are woven into the beauty of what God is making my life to be. From one angle, the back side, it might appear that God is unfair to me, or that He is punishing me. Some may even believe that my life is not worth living.
However, God, the Master Weaver, gives me a promise in the Bible assuring me that everything in my life, including the "back side," is working together to make the other side beautiful in His eyes. Through my disease I am learning that I cannot simply like Romans 8:28, but I must live in it, and be swallowed up by its great promise. Understanding that God has a great plan for my life, I know that He has allowed my disease in order to turn my life more completely toward Him. Because of Jesus Christ, I do not say with Gehrig that I am the luckiest man in the world, but rather, that I am the most blessed man in the world!
By the way, I gave Gehrig back his status on my dresser, and I did so with confidence that God is working in my life. Before my diagnosis, I had dreams and plans about how my life would work out in the future. I'm now living in that future, and it isn't how I had planned. Yet, God has given me great joy with Him and my family, and I find myself excited about the different opportunities He places before me to share the joy of Christ with others.
Thankfully, as difficult as it is, to date the disease has only attacked my arms and my energy level. Yet, every day I wonder if it will spread, especially on days when I feel exhausted or emotionally down. However, knowing that God is weaving His plan for me gives me an unusual peace that actually does pass understanding.
-Doug Tilley is a North Carolina pastor