Brad, Miley, Bill, and Jim
Most of us do not grow one inch through success, or ease, or happy circumstances. I wish it weren’t this way. I wish we learned about patience by not having to loiter in traffic. I wish we learned about peace by living in peaceful times. And more than this, I wish we learned about suffering by reading good books on the topic, books that are on the blowout table for ninety-nine cents.
I first asked my wife Ramona out in tenth grade (okay, she was not my wife until later, she was my girlfriend…at least, I was hoping she would be) and soon learned that there was a 50 percent chance she was carrying around a hereditary disease known as Huntington’s. Though we have known for more than a decade now that she does not carry it, three of her siblings inherited this neurological disorder—her dear brother, Dennis, succumbed two Christmases ago. Her sister Cynthia recently passed away. Another sister Miriam is now forty-seven pounds. In both cases their husbands Bill and Jim have not just stayed faithful, they have stayed present, visiting their brides in the nursing home sometimes several times a day. How extraordinary to meet saints who put others’ needs ahead of their own without telling you about it.
I fear our sad culture has replaced the servants with the stars and that we need to refocus. If you’ve been unfortunate enough to read scandalous headlines in the checkout line lately, I think you agree.
Recently I began receiving phone calls from the editorial staff at Life & Style, a Hollywood tabloid, asking me to comment on various goings-on in the unnatural lives of celebrities like Brad, Angelina Jolie and Miley.
Now, I’m old enough to get away with being cranky, so allow me a brief rant: I know God loves these dear people. But I have no clue about their. I see Miley and Brad on the covers of magazines when I’m buying mangoes, and I know that God loves them (Miley and Brad, and mangoes too), but I can’t tell you a thing about their love lives. Will it help me in some small way to tune in TMZ and be more conversant about the latest scandal, fashion, or hairstyle? Will it better my marriage to know who broke up with whom this week?
I fear, in saying this, that someone may show up at my door and give me a talking-to for being insubordinate, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Perhaps this is aging. Sorting through what’s rotten and throwing it out.
At this particular time in my life, I cannot afford to be sidetracked by the trivial. If I am going to write about people, there needs to be some depth, some honor, something bordering on nobility. And that’s what I’ve found in the lives of these family members whose love for others propels me to love deeper, whose laughter astounds me as much as their attitudes.
Steve Cohen is the president of The Apple of His Eye Mission Society. Like Bill and Jim, Steve’s wife, Jan, wrestles with Huntington’s. And like Bill and Jim, Steve faces each new day with profound faith, a robust attitude, and a couple of much-needed chuckles.
I would love to see his face at the checkout line.
Recently the Cohens celebrated thirty-one years of marriage and the fourteenth year that Jan has bravely battled Huntington’s (HD). When Steve travels throughout the country he meets people whose lives Jan’s story has touched, people who are praying for them. “Please tell me how Jan is doing!” they say.
“One of the realities of HD is that our house must be as friendly as possible to Jan,” Steve tells me. “This has meant a number of renovations, and most recently the overhaul of a walk-in closet so that she won’t slip on something strewn on the floor. It was quite a chore but the closet never looked so good.”
With the renovation complete, Steve was downstairs with his children when they heard a thud and rushed upstairs to find Jan on the floor in the newly renovated closet. With no grab bar to steady her, she had grabbed the nearest thing she could find: the clothes. “We found her there in a mountain of clothing. Arms and legs protruding from the jumbled mass, but she was unhurt.”
It was 10:30 at night when they finished re-hanging the clothes, and Steve herded everyone down to the kitchen table where he announced that they were having a celebration.
“What are we celebrating?” asked the kids.
“We are celebrating the fact that the paramedics did not have to come,” Steve answered. “Mom was not taken to the hospital. She did not need stitches. There is no recovery period this time, and she is not in pain. Also, we’re celebrating the fact that the closet has never been cleaner.”
Jan’s battle with HD has helped Steve count the blessing of each day and each situation. They have discovered together that the joy of the Lord grows best in the soil of thanksgiving. “And we acknowledge God’s grace and mercy—new every morning and evening, too.”
A recent email from my brother-in-law Jim will give you an idea of the strength God gives his saints, and the attitude we can choose:
"Miriam's speech is now to the point that we have difficulty understanding most of what she says. Sometimes I have to ask her to repeat herself five or six times and she starts to laugh at me. How great is that! The two phrases she says the best, and probably the most often, are “I love you” and “I’m happy.” It makes my day every time. Thanks for your prayers. Isn’t life amazing?"
Yes it is, Jim. Partly because it has people like you in it.
In high school I heard a sermon on what we should say when God meets us at heaven’s gates and asks in His thundering Charleton Heston–ish voice why He should stoop to unlatch the door for the likes of us. I was sitting with three friends that day and normally we were busy distracting others, reading Alfred Hitchcock magazines stuffed in our Bibles, or listening to a transistor radio through a tiny earpiece attached to a wire beneath our shirts. But this day the topic sobered us enough to listen.
The preacher listed seven things we needed to say, and a host of things we would need to do on earth before we entered the hereafter. I’m ashamed to tell you I don’t remember more than one or two of them. I knew the preacher was a man who had no shortcomings; there seemed to be no reason God wouldn’t open the gates wide and say "Well done." But not me. I sat there hanging my head, knowing I could never measure up.
With a few years under my belt, I have come to the conclusion that I’ll be speechless when I arrive there. But if I finally find my voice and, for some reason, God asks me why He should allow me in, I shall bow nervously and try to stammer out the words a wise friend of mine said: “Because You love me, You know You do.”
Then I think I shall add this, and I may even smile: “I know Bill and Jim and Steve. They’re over there in the front row. They’re my friends.”