“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45, ESV)
Wanting to be “top dog” seems to be the way of nature. Perhaps it’s a “survival of the fittest” sort of thing. We want to be in charge, we want to call the shots, we want others to do our bidding. It makes us feel valuable, powerful, and important. There’s not too many people that I know that willingly take on the role of a servant, who humble themselves for the benefit of others. It seems rather contrary to our human nature to do so. If not for you, at least I know it is/was for me. Plenty of times I want to be served, and not serve. My spiritual gifts test results attests to that for sure. Out of 15 different spiritual gifts, serving is number 11, giving is 14, and mercy is 15 – not a flattering picture at all, if I do say so myself.
I guess you could say with certainty that for me to take on the role of a servant or caretaker would be relatively foreign to my nature. I’m simply not too good at it, and it doesn’t come naturally to me at all. It’s still true of me today. But, God has a way of using us to do things for His glory that is contrary to our very nature.
Longevity runs in my family, my grandparents on both sides each lived well into their 90s. Both of my parents died at much younger than the 90s that I expected them to be in. My older brother committed suicide in his 50s. So it was surprising that when the last member of my immediate family, my dear brother Scott, was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig disease). ALS is a terrible, cruel incurable disease that gradually weakens the muscle system of those whom it inflicts. To say that I was devastated would be a gross understatement. That news sent me reeling, everyone else was gone, and now my dear brother who was in his 50s was also dying. I never expected to be the last one of my immediate family left at such a young age.
Scott and I lived almost 750 miles apart, with him in Florida and I in North Carolina. Due to a terrible misunderstanding and a tenuous family situation, Scott and I had been somewhat estranged for over 13 years. We seldom saw each other, and rarely talked on the telephone. He had some issues that he had to work out for himself, and all I could do on my part was wait. Then in 2009, we reunited over Christmastime. It was a glorious visit that righted things back in their proper place. It was at that time that I noticed my brother limping about at his home. I mentioned it to him and he said that he had sprained his ankle and it was causing him a little bit of trouble. Neither of us thought much more of it at the time. As his muscle tone started to weaken more and more each day he began to suspect that something wasn’t right. Trips to the Doctor didn’t seem to yield answers. In March 2010, while speaking to each other on the telephone, Scott mentioned that he suspected that he had ALS. It wouldn’t be until May before he had a confirmed diagnosis. I took frequent flights to Florida to see him, and each time I saw him, I noticed his ability to do things had diminished.
He spoke often of wanting to end his life, as he didn’t want to face losing the ability to move, drive, or take care of himself. Then in October 2010 he decided that he would end it all, he took an overdose of pills and laid down to die. Yet, God had a different plan, and Scott didn’t die. He was placed in the hospital to recover from the suicide attempt. It was at that time that I made the decision that I would leave my job, and move down to Florida to take care of him for the remainder of his days. Within two weeks, most of my possessions were given away, some were put in storage, and I packed up a 10 foot rental truck and drove to a new life in Florida. A life that was extremely foreign to me. I often think that it was a good thing that I didn’t know everything that I would face at that time, because I might have thought twice about it.
Day after day it was a struggle to help him do the things that he wanted or needed to do. Yet, we figured out just how to go about accomplishing the common goals. As he weakened, I had to take on more, and more. My body was wracked with the pain and exhaustion of trying to take care of a man who weighed 140 pounds more than myself. We both struggled through the experience and had to maneuver through each new challenge as it presented itself. We found good moments, memorable moments, and a few cross times also. We talked about all the things that were important. We talked about trivial issues. We found common ground.
I spoke to Scott often of my deep and abiding faith, which for the most part he dismissed. When we were growing up our family didn’t practice the Christian faith. My parents were brought up in Christian homes, but for the most part we didn’t attend church. My faith was pretty much acquired and strengthened on my own, apart from my family. My prayer life deepened greatly during those times of caring for him. My journal was the place where I poured out my thoughts, cares, feelings, and prayers.
As predicted, Scott’s physical and medical condition worsened. And in May 2011 he entered into the hospital with pneumonia. He had a panic attack in the emergency room and said to me that he knew that he was never going to see home again. The next four weeks were even more exhausting then the previous months had ever been. Most of my time was spent at the hospital as I advocated for my brother as his body weakened. Eventually he had to have a breathing tube inserted because he could no longer breathe for himself. And communicating became even more difficult for him. The use of his hands, legs, and arms were gone. He couldn’t adjust himself and he needed assistance for nearly everything. He labored to speak to me through the breathing tube.
He was moved to a rehab hospital that specialized in people on ventilators. He was weak and frightened. He could only somewhat relax when I was there with him. He didn’t want me to leave him. We managed to communicate. It was there that he told me that he was afraid of dying. It was also there that he told me that two days in a row that he had been talking to Jesus. Those were sweet words indeed, my brother was talking about and talking to Jesus. And, it was there that I lead him into a relationship with my sweet Lord and Savior. Yes, he believed in Jesus, yes he wanted to be with Jesus.
Three days later Scott decided he had enough, his body was rapidly shutting down, he knew that he couldn’t go much longer. The trials were long and hard for him. He asked to enter hospice care. I had hopes that Scott would be able to breath on his own, and return back home. I wasn’t ready for him to go, to leave me. So as he was settled into his bed at the hospice facility, they began to turn down the ventilator. I sat on the bed with him coaching him to breathe on his own. I cried, I coached, I encouraged.
It was sometime before it dawned on me that my brother was not going to breathe on his own, and that he was dying. Somehow or another, God reached down and touched me right then and there. I changed my viewpoint. I looked at my brother with tears streaming down my face and told him how much I loved him. I told him that God was coming for him, and that finally he would be home, out of pain, at peace, and no longer a prisoner in his own body. I told him that it was okay for him to go, I told him that I would be okay. I asked him to let me know when he saw the angels coming for him. All too soon his breathing became more and more shallow as the speed of the ventilator was lowered, the hospice staff administered medications to help Scott not be anxious during the process. Scott laid on his back with his eyes focused on the ceiling of the room, I leaned over him constantly talking to and encouraging him. I was not in his sight line. Then, ever so slowly his head turned towards me and his eyes locked with mine. He was telling me that it was time to go, the angels were there for him. His head turned back and his eyes focused up. Within 60 seconds, my dear brother stopped breathing, and his heart stopped beating. On June 14, 2011, He was gone.
I’ve always been a fan of Natalie Grant, and it was about one month after my brother died that I heard one of her songs in a new light. As I listened to the lyrics, I knew that God was telling me that my brother was singing these lyrics and sending them to me for my assurance:
… Heaven has reached into my lonely soul.
Loving so deep, and so complete,
‘Til I don’t feel alone.
Where the light of love is burning,
Where the past is washed away,
Where I feel the sunlight shining on my face!
Now I can
Now I can run,
Now my heart sings,
And I feel the sun,
Now I can trust,
And I’m strong enough,
Free like the wind,
I’ll run into my Father’s arms,
I’m finally home!
Now I can trust,
And I’m strong enough,
Free like the wind I run,
Into my Father’s arms
I’m finally home.
Yes, Scott is free, he can walk, he can run, he’s strong enough in His Father’s arms. And, thanks be to God, I know that I will be reunited with my dear brother again.
*Finally Home, written by Mark Hammond, Cindy Morgan, Natalie Grant. On Natalie Grant’s Album: Stronger, 2001