I have been around for 72 years, and during that time there have been many changes that have impacted my life. I guess the first one I can remember that is important is when I changed from a bratty eight-year-old to a water-baptized Baptist bratty eight-year-old in 1954. Somehow, I made it through high school where I graduated as a shy backward boy and went on to become a mostly mature Air Force Sgt. I left the Air Force in 1969 and once again changed from mostly mature veteran to a rather loose-living drifter sleeping at various times in the desert, friends’ houses, or in an apartment where I was afraid to hear the landlord knock on the door. I went back to the town where I graduated from high school, and that is where I had my first real conversion experience. I committed my life to God, got married, and by 1978 I had four fantastic kids, two two-year college degrees and a ministerial license with the Assemblies of God church. After 23 years of marriage, I was once again single, floundering, not going to church much and generally just existing. I married Debbie in 1994 and once again, life changed dramatically. I felt like I was back on track, a wife to come home to, a job that I enjoyed and a move to Bakersfield which I liked much better than Fresno.
I had started running during my first marriage. I completed several 10K races, 5K races etc. but it was during my second marriage that I began to get serious about fitness. I was almost 50 years old but suddenly discovered a real passion for long-distance running, especially on the trail. I completed two half marathons, two 15 ½ mile trail races, a couple of 7 mile trail races and lots of 10K’s and 5K’s. I felt like I could run forever and totally intended to. I also became a fan of Spin, an intense program of indoor cycling, even becoming an instructor. I was a follower of Jesus during this period but was a little uncommitted as far as developing a relationship with a local church.
Life went well until 2012 when I lost my oldest son in a gun accident; I found myself without a close relationship with God and with no church family to support me. I soon found Bakersfield First Church and that was one of the major changes in my life to that point. I began to have hope that I could return to ministry and have an impact in my community. Even though I was now 66, I was in excellent health, had a great relationship with my kids, a loving wife, and now a church family that I dearly love. All was well.
Then in 2015, I encountered another major life change, a change that threatened to rob me of my hope. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I didn’t know a lot about Parkinson’s at the time but quickly found out that it was degenerative and progressive. Almost overnight I lost my ability to run. Not that I didn’t try. I did not want to give up. I began running, some would call it slow jogging, but I could only run for about 1 min at a time. I would do intervals, I would run for a minute, walk for a minute and figured that I could slowly increase my jogging intervals until I could run at least a mile without stopping. That would be a real accomplishment in my eyes. One morning I left the house for a run/walk. My goal for the day was to run 1-1/2 mins, with a 1 min walk break. I didn’t even make it a block from the house when I suddenly found myself flat on my face on the sidewalk. With four cracked ribs, a big bruise on my forehead and skin rash on my knee, and feeling lucky that I had avoided a concussion, it was time to admit that I had to give it up. I didn’t get mad at God, I didn’t lose my faith, but I freely admit that I had bouts of depression about my future. I did not feel life-changing hope.
My neurologist told me that the most important thing I could do for myself was to keep moving. I decided that if I couldn’t run, maybe I could walk fast. I began to do cardio walks using my trekking poles. That was ok, but I felt too unstable to walk fast successfully without feeling like I could fall. But I had to keep moving. So I bought a rollator, which is like a walker but with large outdoor-capable wheels and a seat for when you get tired. I named it Red and now can walk 15 min miles and feel pretty good about the ability to stay active. So now I walk 4-5 days a week. I also do some weight training, and love to workout on my punching bag.
Working out successfully is great, but what about my ministry? I am not called to pulpit ministry. I am called to pew ministry. God has called me to pray, to encourage and to write. I am working at developing this calling into ministry and I am now at a place where I can say that Parkinson’s will not defeat me and will not define me.
After much time spent in prayer, reading my Bible, talking with good friends, and receiving support and encouragement from a loving wife, I can stand before you and say that I do have hope. I did some study recently on Paul and his ‘thorn in the flesh.’ Here is what he said in 2 Cor 12:7-9 “…… So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. 8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” Though I don’t compare myself with Paul, I too say that Satan put this upon me and God is allowing it to remain to teach me valuable lessons. I stand on Jeremiah 29:11, “for I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, they are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
I accept that. And I once again I have hope that God is not through using me yet