Friday, September 21, 2007

A difficult life lived well

My younger brother, Marty, died a few years ago. I had the privilege of speaking at his funeral. There were hundreds of family and friends in attendance to remember his life. Marty was only 49 when he died. He was a neat guy, but not because all had gone well for him.

Marty had a hard life. From the age of three his health was never good. At an early age it was discovered that he had a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy. Marty had to have a kidney transplant at the age of 12, and our whole family became “residents” of the Mayo Clinic during those difficult days in May. At that time in 1969, Marty was one of the youngest and earliest kidney transplant recipients in the United States. It was a very difficult time for our family, but both Marty and our Mom - who donated her kidney to him - came through the twelve hour surgeries well. The next 37 years would prove to be more difficult for Marty than anyone could imagine.

We always called him “the six-million dollar man” because of his uncounted times in hospitals for hip replacements, knee replacements, tendon grafts, skin grafts, cancer removals, hearing aids, eye surgeries, etc. In those early days of kidney transplants, the anti-rejection drugs used were steroids- prednisone to be specific - and they are devastating to the body if used over time. Marty was on prednisone for over 35 years! After the initial transplant, most of the problems that developed for him were related to all the medications he had to take. Ironic, isn’t it, that the cure proved worse than the cause?

Marty, because of his circumstances, should have been a miserable man. But he wasn’t. He married, had three great kids, six wonderful grandchildren so far, loved his wife, went to church, served God where he could, and made the best of a difficult life. Marty was a happy guy!

If you asked him how he was doing his reply was always the same. He would quote an old southern ditty,

“I’m tired and sore,
and I’m not gonna do it for a nickel no more.
A dime’s more my price,
and for a quarter I’ll do it twice…

In fact, this little ditty so captured Marty’s outlook and life that his wife, Debbie, put those words as an epitaph on his gravestone!

Yet those of us close to him knew he was in constant pain. Suffering constantly and on a tremendous number of drugs and painkillers, yet through it all he enjoyed his life. He was happy to be here, and even in his last month he was planning a cruise with his wife “when he got out of the hospital”. He never did.

How do some people do that while most of us complain about a broken fingernail? What is it about those few of us who see beyond our circumstance to something bigger, to someone bigger? Where do these unique people get this perspective and attitude that makes them stand out from the rest of us?

The Bible gives us an interesting, and yet very simple answer to these questions:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your body,
And refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3:5-8

How do some people live above their circumstances? It’s amazingly simple, yet profound:

Truth for life is a Person and our relationship with Him.

Our situations, good or bad, have no effect on that relationship. Solomon wrote these verses to communicate this vital truth - the key to life is not knowing something, it is knowing someone, and living a life of trust and dependence upon Him.

In Marty’s last month in hospital the oncologist came in to see him with some news. He told Marty that he had bone cancer, and at best would live four months. He lived thirty days. After the doctor left mom asked him, “Marty, what do you think?” His reply told more truth than you can communicate in such a simple sentence at such a serious time. Marty said,

“I’m going to trust God anyway.”

In that simple confession Marty revealed his secret. The secret to a difficult life lived well is in knowing someone - the eternal, loving, all-sufficient God. It is in that relationship Marty had built the foundation to live out his life, and it is that relationship that sustained him during his personal crisis of faith. It's that same loving God who holds him now.

Marty is the first member of the "Finishing Well Hall of Fame"


Anonymous said...

I think Marty is an excellent start to the "Finishing Well Hall of Fame." Thanks so much for sharing his story. "I’m going to trust God anyway" should be the motto every Christian.

GramCrackers said...

Thank you for sharing your brother's story with us! I'm thinking my late father-in-law could be in your "Finishing Well Hall of Fame." I think I was too young at the time to really appreciate his love for Jesus and his passion to share it with everyone. He was an amazing witness. Maybe I'll give you the details some time and you can decide if you want to add him to your membership roster.