You’ve probably heard about ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, through archival footage of baseball great Lou Gehrig, who contracted the dread disease and was forced to retire. Gehrig famously told the hushed crowd at Yankee Stadium, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
He might have been the only one who thought that. Because just two years later, Gehrig died from ALS, a malady that has come to be known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS progressively removes peoples’ motor functions, robbing them of their personal dignity, and many, reduced to living on a ventilator, simply drop out of sight as they await the end.
Ed Dobson, however, is not a typical victim of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Dobson, a one time well-known mega-church pastor in Grand Rapids, has lived with ALS for over 11 years — it kills most people within five. And during this difficult season in his life, Dobson has refused to hide himself away while awaiting his death.
Instead, he has grappled with this disease and has written a brutally honest, often unsettling, account of how he has found hope in the midst of daily struggles and fears for the future. His book is called Seeing through the Fog: Hope When Your World Falls Apart, and when you read it, you’ll be encouraged and challenged.
“Since ALS causes your muscles to die,” Dobson writes, “it’s a degenerative disease; it gets worse and worse over time. ... There are no times when it is reversed. ALS is a downward spiral, month after month. It is a fatal, terminal disease. ... I have never been afraid of dying, but I was very concerned about the process of getting there.”
Indeed, one reviewer, Rob Moll, who wrote another excellent book, The Art of Dying, notes that most people today die slowly, and the experience often shakes their faith. And that includes Christians. It wasn’t always this way in the church. “Today, travelogues written by children who visit heaven are our bestsellers,” Moll writes. “But earlier, evangelicals read stories of transformation at the end of life and the narratives of faithful dying.”
Many of the lessons of those times appear to have been lost on us, as Dobson’s sometimes grim story reveals. He tells of some Christians who came to his office and offered to pray for his healing. Though no one has ever been cured of ALS, Dobson agreed, and his visitors began praying mightily, gripping his shoulders tightly as they did so. But after a few minutes, nothing had happened, so the visitors simply turned around and left without a word.
Although he would still like to be cured, Dobson says he isn’t obsessing about it. Instead, he’s focusing on the wonder of God and on living each day with no regrets.
For Dobson, that means asking forgiveness of people he has offended, learning to accept the help of others, and remembering that the significance of one’s life does not depend on one’s health. “I know that God and His grace are sufficient for the moment I find myself in,” Dobson says. “When I wake up tomorrow, whatever the challenges, I know God will be there and will provide His grace. This is my hope. This is my strength.”
Dobson in no way sugar-coats what is happening to his fragile jar of clay, and I doubt he would consider himself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth. But he is learning to trust God and give thanks in the midst of some supremely challenging circumstances. And that’s a lesson we will all have to learn some day.
To get your copy of Seeing through the Fog, visit our online book store at BreakPoint.org.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Publication date: November 21, 2012