The Activity of My Limbs

If you listen to enough ol’ black church folk pray, it’s inevitable you’ll happen upon this phrase: “the activity of my limbs.” Thanking God for having the activity of your limbs – that is all your parts in working order – is tried and true prayer vernacular. It’s from the prayer template, the stuff you say when you don’t know what to say.

As with anything that becomes rote, it eventually falls on deaf ears like the doxology you sing following the offering – All things come of Thee oh Lord, blah, blah, blah. Regular church goers become so accustomed to the activity of their limbs phrase, they likely hear it without hearing it anymore. They lose sight of just how profound and significant a blessing it is to stand, walk, place a phone against your ear, hold a conversation or simply smile if you choose.

I was guilty too until my encounter yesterday. I received a stark reminder of how there’s nothing routine about stepping out of your bed and going about your day. I learned that and more.

Yesterday, I spent my afternoon with a man who is stricken with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. ALS is a progressive motor neuron disease that shrinks muscles and renders them useless, makes swallowing and breathing increasingly difficult and eventually ends in death.

That’s what Don – the gentleman I interviewed yesterday – is battling. Once a strong steel worker, he no longer has “the activity of his limbs,” or at least not all of them. Having watched his father-in-law succumb to ALS, he’s all too familiar with his prognosis. He understands that in time, the disorder will claim his motor functions making the simple act of smiling at his wife, son and daughter impossible.

He understands that as of today, there’s nothing doctors can do to save his life.

Despite that this man endures while he can. He plays the banjo – an activity that taxes his body but enlivens his spirit. He and Saundra, his wife of 46 years, smile and laugh. They remark about how fortunate it is they actually like each other because the days are tough and her role is demanding. She awakes every two hours at night to turn him over because he can’t do it by himself. And they honor God through every moment of his illness-ridden days, acknowledging that it’s the only way they’re able to optimistically manage a disease for which there is otherwise no optimism.

Now THAT’S a model of faith.

Don believes science will find a cure, even if that doesn’t happen in his lifetime. And he may be right. Before visiting with him, I spent the morning speaking with researchers who are seeking genetic clues for how ALS works. I’m impressed by what they do and what they’ve learned. The potential for breakthroughs soon is encouraging.

Juxtaposing science in the morning and faith in the afternoon has stirred some compelling thoughts.

Who are the crazy butts on both sides of the spectrum who say science and religion can’t co-exist? Who are the fools who think a religious person can’t also be someone who has faith in science’s ability to solve human problems? Who are the people who trust God to the exclusion of science, as if God wouldn’t dare let man join in his handiwork? Lastly, who are those folks who claim there is no God at all and that man – in his infinite lack of wisdom – is the ultimate arbiter of life?

If any of them had spent time with Don, they may have learned a few lessons.

I discovered that at the end of the day, the stuff we argue about is insignificant. If I wake up tomorrow with a terminal disorder, I’m now relatively sure my greatest concern won’t be the mostly meaningless chatter that riddles social media and television. I hope I’ll be gratified to believe in a God who will see me through the ordeal.

I trust I’d have faith that He’s created enough smart people to someday find a cure even if it doesn’t come in my lifetime.

©Copyright Jonathan Clarke, 2012, All Rights Reserved

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