It still seems surreal; his illness, his death. Jim died on May 17th of this year. But his memory and his legacy has not, and will not die.
We had a beautiful life together. We had weathered the storm of a broken marriage and reunited in God, stronger and more in love than we had ever been. Our mission, our ministry was to share what God had done in our lives. The Lord had spoken to me that as long as we shared the miracle that we had in our marriage, that miracle would never end. It would be shared with others and they in turn would be part of that miracle. We had a strong faith in God. He had done such great things in our lives. Yes we went through hardships, but they were part of the tapestry that God was weaving. The light and the dark; the brutal and the beautiful.
I look back at the day that Jim was diagnosed and I remember barely crying. We just looked at each other and said the Lord would get us through it. He would be our strength. And all the while we believed that He could heal Jim. We believed that He would heal Jim. And Jim's ALS kept progressing. His was a more aggressive form of ALS. It started with his swallowing and speech. My husband who loved to eat spicy meals soon lost his ability to eat anything but the most bland and soft foods. My husband who once sang and preached soon lost his ability to speak clearly. After that he lost his ability to walk on his own. His ability to hold even a cup to drink from. Then he had to have a feeding tube placed in his stomach. All this time we still believed for his healing. Even as we grieved the loss of each function, we still believed.
I don't think I really cried since his death. Yes, tears now and then, but I have felt like I couldn't even fathom the loss, so tears did not come.
And then today I watched the movie I Still Believe, about the life of Christian music artist Jeremy Camp. I don't even know why I turned it on, I was just scrolling and thought it would be interesting. Little did I know that it would open the floodgates of my tears. Here is the story of a young man who falls in love, only to find out that his fiancee has cancer. All the while her faith is so strong, so inspirational. Melissa tells Jeremy that if because of her cancer, one life is changed, that it would all be worth it. Jim said that to me shortly after his diagnosis. Our family was not as close as we once were, our children were not walking in the way of the Lord. Jim said if his illness would bring our children back to us, back together, back to the Lord; if they would see who God really was, that it would be worth all the pain, all the suffering.
As our children watched Jim lose so much, they always saw him stay positive, they saw him still believe. As he became more feeble in body, he became stronger in spirit. He never blamed God. He never became angry. Yes, I know he grieved the losses that he was dealing with, but what he lost just caused what he retained to shine that much more brightly. His love for his family, his love of God never wavered.
There is a quote in the movie where Melissa talks about being just one star out of a billion. Jeremy says that some stars shine so much brighter than others. That is how Jim was. He was such a huge presence wherever he went. When we had our businesses, people came just to talk to him. When he ministered, whether by preaching, teaching or worshiping with his guitar, he was larger than life. He was that bright and shining star. As Melissa is dying she tells Jeremy to remember when he said her star shone so bright. She says that the stars that shine the brightest are the ones that have the shortest life and then explode into a beautiful thing, a supernova. That was Jim's hope for his life. That even though it was cut short, it would not disappear. But that it would shine brightly and light the way to Jesus.
Jim spent most of his adult life in such an intimate relationship with the Lord. It was obvious in his actions and in his words. His greatest desire would be for those that he left behind to not mourn him forever, but to move forward into their walk with the Lord and to have the same deep relationship that he had with God.
I had someone ask me not long ago "How could God let this happen? What was the reason?" I don't have an answer to those questions. I am asking those myself. The title of this post is Brutal and Beautiful. That is what this past year and a half has been. It has been brutal seeing the love of my life stricken with one of the most horrendous diseases known to mankind. To see him lose his voice. To lose his strength. To lose his livelihood. He could no longer hold a tool in his hand, very quickly he could not button his own shirt. He could not put on his own shoes. He wept as he saw what he was losing, but he still rejoiced in his faith in God. It was brutal telling this man who built amazing cars, who had raced those cars that he could no longer drive. It was brutal getting him to use a walker, and then to use a wheelchair, and then a powerchair, finally being bed ridden. It was brutal being unable to understand much of what he tried to say. It was brutal watching my children see their father waste away. To see my grandchildren look at their papa, not understanding why he could no longer play with them, talk to them. There was so much that was brutal.
But in the midst of that brutality, there was beauty. Another quote from the movie is Melissa writing in her journal, that "suffering doesn't destroy faith, it refines it." That is true. The suffering that Jim went through refined him; like gold being refined in the fire. It distilled everything down to that one pure thing; God. God had formed Jim in his mother's womb. He had brought Jim through death at the age of two when asthma took the very breath from him and he died; blue and cold and stiff. God brought him through our broken marriage, seemingly irreparable and made something truly exquisite where there was only wreckage. God brought him into ministry; he touched so many lives; not only by his words, but through his actions and his love. God brought him through all of that and He brought him through ALS too. I said that Jim died on May 17th; Jim won his battle with ALS on that date. It was truly remarkable watching as he passed from this life into his Father's arms. I was holding one hand, my daughter Amber was holding his other, my stepdaughter April was standing right alongside. I told Amber to let go of his hand. As we let go, his hands raised of their own accord and he was instantly in his Saviour's arms. How glorious that moment was. But that ugly demon ALS still tried to show it's dominance; Jim's muscles continued to twitch, that thing that he had dealt with the whole of his illness. His muscles twitched for 20 minutes after Jim was already in heaven, dancing and singing and rejoicing with his Lord. See devil, you lose every time.
My tears are still flowing as I write this. I think the saddest thing is that my biggest fan, my proofreader will not get to read this. He always read what I wrote and prodded me on to greater things. Always encouraging me to use the gift that God had given me. At the end of the movie Jeremy finds a letter from Melissa telling him to pick up his guitar again when he is ready, to share the gift that God has given him. I feel Jim telling me that, to pick up again what I had laid down, and to continue his legacy by sharing all that the Lord has done.
As Melissa wrote in her journal, "God grants healing, miracles do happen; yet to another the call is to suffer and even die. I realized that both have value, because each is a chapter in a bigger story. Each is the stroke of a brush on this beautiful canvas; each is the light of one star helping to form a galaxy. I think I'm one of those lucky people meant to experience both."
While I may not understand why Jim went through all that he did and was not healed, I am not going to question God. And while I may not know what His plan is for the rest of my life, I am going to remember Jim and strive to honor his life, his faith. I can only hope that some day my light will shine as brightly as his did.