This week, I am starting a new series on of my favorite topics, friendship. Each week, for the next several weeks, I will highlight a different group of friends in the hope that we can be both inspired and encouraged. These relationships are one vehicle God uses to reveal Himself in our good times and our struggles. I hope you enjoy meeting these lovely ladies (and gentlemen). This week, we meet Kathy and Lisa. Please read all the way to the end for a special prayer request.
We stayed a little after our normal mother's bible study at Marist School on a day that feels like just yesterday. She seemed like she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders and sharing her worries might lift some of her concern. Patiently, we listened to her concerns. After telling us about the tests and the waiting, we sat dumbstruck (which is saying a lot as we often talked over each other). How could it be that another member of our community was facing the possibility of an ALS diagnosis? The waiting was hard, but the confirmation of the diagnosis was even more difficult.
Nothing can prepare you for the day that shifts the foundation of the world under your feet. ALS (you can learn more here), is a progressive neurodegenerative disease of unknown origin which eventually robs you of your ability to move, eat, or speak all the while never altering your mental acuity. Kathy's husband, Shawn, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease at 48.
This past week, there was a fabulous party in honor of Shawn’s 52nd birthday. As I sorted through the pictures Lisa shared, I thought immediately that this party was not only a celebration of life, but a celebration of friendship as well. You could tell these women (and Mike Coveny) enjoyed being together.
Before ALS, Kathy and Shawn were always on the go, involved in activities that their son enjoyed. As the disease progressed, their world got smaller and smaller. Over time, it became more difficult to navigate all of the obstacles that exist for someone in a motorized wheelchair with concerns about their respiratory health. Time that had been spent worrying about whether Notre Dame would have a winning season was replaced with making sure Shawn maintained his weight and did not catch a cold.
ALS not only takes away your ability to move, eat, and breathe easily, it takes away your ability to work, meet people for coffee, and volunteer at your son’s school. This makes it very difficult to maintain your friendships. Where you were once the one who was making meals and helping out with carpool, you are now the one in need of assistance. When your friendships are based upon shared activities, it is nearly impossible to sustain the connection when that activity is eliminated from your agenda. If the ties that bind you together are only knit by your ability to reciprocate favors, things unravel fast when all of your time is dedicated to slowing the progression of an incurable disease. Thankfully Kathy and Shawn have a network of friends who are not counting costs and have pitched in to help in both large and small ways.
Friendships forged in bible study and faith sharing groups tend to be a little different compared other types of friendships.
Women who are seeking to understand what it means to live as a disciple of Christ relate to each other in a way that I have not seen in other environments. Friendships forged through prayer seem to stand the test of time and weather the vicissitudes of life in ways that other relationships do not. Each week, as we share our prayer requests, we come to know each other and what is weighing on our hearts. Praying for each other tethers us together in ways that are difficult to explain in words. When we are able to be vulnerable with each other about our needs, especially when we ask others for their prayers, it builds trust and love.
That is why, when the email invitation went out— so many jumped at the chance to gather in the middle of the week on a lovely June day to celebrate our friends Shawn and Kathy. Friends in town and out filled Kathy's home. Some attended virtually, sending cards and prayers from around the country. A large group gathered for prayer, good food, and much laughter. People rearranging their schedule to be together, carpooling in order to spend more time catching up, baking, balloon buying, and sending cards. All to let three people know that they are not alone in their journey and they are deeply loved. This is where Christ calls us to be, walking alongside each other in the joy and the sorrow of each day.
Today, July 9, Shawn is undergoing surgery that will allow him to breathe more easily. As with any surgery, there are risks of complications and ALS makes surgery and recovery much more difficult. John, Shawn and Kathy’s son is entering his senior year of high school and Shawn’s goal is to see John walk across the stage at Marist School to receive his diploma. Please join me and all of our friends in praying for Shawn, Kathy, John, and all of the people who take care of them.