As the nasty disease revealed itself more and more, so did God’s love. God’s love showed up in Roger’s life as it always had—through Jesus’ body, the local church.
Alzheimer’s was not Roger’s first encounter with a heartbreaking diagnoses. Years earlier he sat in a hospital at the end of his rope. This time he was watching his daughter fade away. As he sat there, he prayed a desperate prayer to a God he had believed didn’t exist: “God, if you are real then show yourself! Please, heal my daughter.”
Spoiler alert: my wife today was Roger’s little girl. Tessa had somehow contracted e-coli, which was attacking her kidneys. The doctors had tried everything the knew and were out of ideas. They were preparing for a last ditch dialysis effort as Roger prayed his prayer for God to reveal himself.
I don’t know if the invisible God always complies with demands to reveal himself. But he did this time. As Roger sat by Tessa’s side the next day he watched as people from their church flooded the hospital. They brought food. They prayed. They listened and encouraged Roger and his family. Something slowly dawned on Roger as he watched so many people love in a way that was beyond what he had ever expected. They called the church Jesus’ body—as if in some way the most tangible expression of Jesus in the world today was standing there in the hospital room with them. Just as Roger couldn’t see a disease like e-coli but could see it manifest itself in his daughter’s sick body, so Roger could also see the living God revealing himself through the living body of the local church. Jesus’ body had come to visit them and had revealed God to them. In that moment, Roger prayed to give himself over to Jesus’ love and become a part of this loving body as well.
Almost immediately, my wife was healed. The effects of the e-coli slowly began to disappear. The doctors never had an explanation.
I’m not suggesting every sickness is a parable in disguise. But God used something evil to work a miracle. He softened a hard heart and used his people to reveal himself to Roger. The next Sunday, Roger attended church (which he had done begrudgingly for several years) and announced by walking forward that he had given his life to Jesus. Applause erupted. Tessa and her mom and sister had been praying for Roger for years, and they had asked the church to pray with them. So for the church, Roger also became a story and a sign that God was living and active, revealing himself in answers to prayer.
Roger got used to a new way of life, following Jesus. He was giddy to discover the instant connection he had with those he had never met but were part of the family of God. After returning from a conversation with Christians he had never met before, Roger shared with a buddy from church that it was just like talking with his sister. “Then I realized, she is my sister!” he had exclaimed. Bereft of a father from an early age, Roger had finally found the love and belonging he had been longing for in this new family.
Even as Roger and Karen moved to be closer to us, Tessa and I found ourselves praying that the local church would welcome and support Roger and Karen and show God’s love to them in their hour of need. Again, God answered. Time and again, the local church(es) prayed, visited, encouraged, and upheld Roger and Karen as they suffered. The young men moved furniture and did maintenance. The young women listened and gave hugs. Men helped them with insurance. Women watched Roger and gave Karen an outlet. The children brought laughter and relief. Days after Roger died, God showed up again. This time he came to the house in multiple cars from multiple states and from multiple backgrounds and ethnicities. Small groups and small children, friends and family converged to mourn the suffering but also celebrate Roger’s life. They were happy when we were happy; they were sad when we were sad.
The neighbor across the street approached me afterward and said, “Man, we saw everyone show up for the memorial. I don’t know what you got going on, but I’m just thinking I need what they’ve got. Whatever they’ve got going on I want some of that.”