Insights From a Wheelchair

by Mary Yoder

Editor's note: Mary A. Yoder was born December 19, 1941 and died on December 2, 2002. Most of her nearly 61 years of life would be termed "unremarkable" by those who did not know her. She grew up, married, raised a family, and became a grandmother. Then she contracted ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and in a quiet, determined way, her life became very remarkable indeed.

We've asked Jeanie Chandler, executive assistant at AMG International, to introduce Mary Yoder to our readers and then we share excerpts from her writings called "Insights."

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Introduction and Recollection By Jeanie Chandler

I first met Mary Yoder shortly after I started working with AMG International in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and liked her immediately. She and her husband, Daniel, came to Chattanooga from Sugarcreek, Ohio, to attend AMG's 50th anniversary celebration. They returned a few years later to attend Dr. Zodhiates' 50th anniversary with AMG. I also saw them at AMG banquets in New Holland, Pennsylvania.

Mary was a perfectly healthy lady when I first knew her-lots of fun, and she enjoyed life to its fullest. But at one of the banquets one of her daughters told me the sad news that her mother had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS). Each time I saw her after that I could see the increasing ravages of the disease. She reached the point of being unable to walk or talk or move her arms or legs at all.

But they equipped her with a mini-computer mounted on her wheelchair, which received signals from a pressure-actuated switch placed between her knees. Using this switch, Mary would laboriously write words one letter at a time-though the computer would suggest word possibilities, after she "typed" two or three letters. In this way Mary was able not only to write her journal entries but also to write to friends and to send encouraging email letters to other sufferers of ALS. (Thank God for modern technology and those special computers!)

Though she had so little control remaining over her body, Mary's mind was unfettered, and her infectious trust in Jesus was a continuing joy and inspiration to all who knew her.

Mary was a wonderful person and loved the Lord. She received tender loving care from her loving family: her husband, Danny, son Tim, and two daughters, Becky and Elaine.

At her funeral, I heard Danny tell a couple in front of me that Mary almost never complained about her condition. The service was sweet and the pastor gave a good message, but Mary's life and testimony spoke more than any pastor could say about her.

She Being Dead, Yet Speaketh

My husband, Nathan, is a prison chaplain and the Sunday after Mary's service he conducted the morning worship service at the prison chapel. I had the opportunity to share Mary's story and read to them excerpts from her journal, "Insights." There were many tears and the hearts of the inmates were touched. I told these men who lived behind bars but could still walk, run, talk, eat, participate in sports, and enjoy good health, that while Mary had been imprisoned within her own body, her freedom in Christ helped her face whatever the Lord had for her day by day.

A young man, who said later that he had never before been in a church service, knelt that day to acknowledge Christ Jesus as his Savior also. I gave my copy of "Insights" to one of the inmates. He said he shared it with some of the other inmates, and now has requested another copy because he sent her story to another ministry.

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Mary Yoder's journal follows. Her journal was begun in 1999, after Mary could no longer use her limbs and was unable to speak. The occasional comments, in brackets, are supplied by Becky Yoder Conn, Mary's oldest daughter.

Mary Yoder's "Insights"

This is something I wish I had started right when I got sick. But maybe this will help me remember some of what I have learned, or a truth God impressed on my mind.

When the children were small and for many years I thanked the Lord for good health and asked him to spare my life as long as Danny and the children needed me. He answered that prayer-just not the way I thought he would. I thought I'd always be there for them. But God knows what is best for my family; there is just no question about that.

Early on this journey I heard a message by John Stott from England where he stressed over and over that the Lord invites us to just trust Him. It sounds so simple but God is almighty and sovereign over all. "Just trust me," was written indelibly in my mind and I have come back to that phrase many, many times over the last four years. Thank you, Elaine, for taping them in many places in the house so I could not forget.

Something else that has made a difference in my life is to keep my eyes and heart focused on Jesus and my glorious future. [This thought became the central focus and witness of her life, and was reiterated in many of her letters.] When I'm thinking about this disease and my difficulties all the time, then I get very discouraged and my problems get bigger and bigger. But when I fix my eyes on the Lord, He will increase and my problem will seem smaller. There are a number of verses that tell us to keep our focus on the Lord; when I come across them I'll come back and post them here. (Added later: Col. 3:2, Is. 26:2,3.)

January 2000-In a message, (Dr. Charles) Stanley said God gives everyone enough time to accomplish all he has planned for each one to do (Acts 13:36). So if it wasn't in His plan for me to continue working in my house and yard and garden, (and) even though I enjoyed it so much, then I should let it drop. If I look at everything else that I've had to give up in that light, it's easier to say it's okay.

In Ephesians 1:11 it says we who are Christ's have been given to Him, and if I am a gift, then isn't it entirely up to God what He does with it (me)? "Am I not permitted to do what I choose with what is mine?" (Matt. 20:15). [Whenever Mary was tempted to question God, this is the verse she came back to again and again.]

It is so embarrassing to look like I do. But one Sunday morning I thought, "Well, this is the body the Lord gave me right now, so it's okay. I should not complain. Philippians 3:21: "He will fashion anew this body of humiliation." I love that verse! (Maybe I'll have straight teeth then, and curls!)

March 8: God never wastes pain. Hebrews 4:15 sends well-timed help, just when you need it.

Picked blooming daffodils here on March 9, 2000! [The flowers bloomed early that year, and Mary felt they were a special early sign of God's faithfulness. Of course, the daffodils had to be picked for her.]

Elaine said, "Have you noticed that in the 23rd Psalm it says He MAKETH me lie down in green pastures. He restores my soul.'" How about that!

If I would want to pattern my life after a Bible character it would probably be Joseph. I don't expect to be promoted to prime minister any time soon, but after all the adversity in his life there was not a hint of bitterness. Bitterness can eat at your soul like a canker. I want no root of bitterness in my life (Gen. 50:20).

One thing that is hard for me is to be patient when I'm misunderstood. I want to defend myself and explain why I said what I did. But now it is making me too tired to repeat myself, and I realize how very hard it is to understand what I am trying to say. It's very frustrating but I need to say it's okay. "For ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God ye might receive the promise" (Heb. 10:36).

From my perspective, so much of our activities and stress and deadlines have no eternal value. [She was learning not to be a "Martha."] Many things that I thought had to be, just really don't matter. How do you keep a balance with so many demands on your time? I know one thing: Jesus did not go rushing about when He lived here. We live as if this was the main event, when in fact our whole life here is but a vapor compared to eternity. A hundred years from now it won't matter if the ironing got done today or tomorrow.

Something that I try to do every morning when I pray is to yield and submit myself to the control of the Holy Spirit to totally permeate, dominate, and saturate my life. Asking Him to arrange all the circumstances that affect our lives. Wish I had always yielded and submitted. Cleansing must take place before He can fill me. But living your life each day, knowing that the Holy Spirit is in control, is very freeing.

My verse today is Hebrews 13:5. I am not to covet what other people have and can do, compared to what I can do, but to be content with how I am. For He has said, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." A must-read in the Amplified! [Mary could read the Scriptures on her computer screen, and could choose from six versions.]

Sometimes the love and care I receive from my family, especially Danny, is almost overwhelming. To do my care day after day, night after night, and all without complaining. The children, too, and Liz and Ada [Mary's sister and sister-in-law] have so given of their time. The kindness of the church family and neighbors with flowers and cards I have so appreciated. I could have been deserted and you could have gone on with your lives but you chose not to. I thank you.

Psalm 27:14 (Amp): "Wait and hope for and expect the Lord. Be brave and of good courage. Let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord." I repeat this often. Every morning and every evening I think maybe today we'll be ushered right into His presence. It makes me so excited. [Mary loved the Amplified Version.]

Philippians 2:3,4 was very convicting today: "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory.Let each esteem other better than himself." I find it so hard to sit here and not think I could have done a job here in the house or outside better or faster. I am no better than anyone of my familywhy would I ever think that? Or why would it even matter?

There have been so many things I have had to give up-like singing, talking, eating good food, my hands won't move, my feet won't walk. But one thing that I can still do is pray [and pray and pray and pray! Mary prayed a lot.]. For that I am so grateful. Whenever I'm awake at night I try to corral my thoughts and pray. There have been many answers but the needs are so great.

Sometimes I feel crushed and very discouraged with my situation. Then I think of Hebrews 12:3: "For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds." Whatever I go through is nothing compared to what my Savior endured.

Luke 22:42 really was an answer to something that was a question in my mind for awhile. What did all those verses about healing mean and why was I still in this wheelchair? I had prayed about it and what perspective I should have. And here even Jesus prayed for "this cup to pass" but He accepted whatever was the Father's will. So I, too, can leave my situation in the Father's hands. He knows what is best for me and for my family (Rom. 8:23). AND the answer Paul got about his thorn in the flesh was "My grace is sufficient for thee." He was content with that.

Philippians 1:6: "I am assured that God is at work in my life and will continue until the day of Jesus Christ." And see especially Gal. 4:19: "Until Christ be completely and permanently formed and molded in you" (Amp). Isn't that amazing!!

The longer I have this disease the more earthly things' lose their appeal. Why do we want to accumulate so much stuff? We can't take it with us. I liked new things and old things, especially items that were passed along from family. But how incredibly more valuable is a soul that needs a Savior. I don't want to be critical of others, but I'm afraid we have our priorities mixed up. "Learn to hold lightly all that is not eternal."

It really amazes me to think that when I pray, I am talking to the same God that appeared to Saul on the Damascus Road, to Daniel, to Joshua, to Moses, to Abraham, and walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam. He is King of the universe yet I can talk with Him. I could never talk to our president, but I live in the presence of the King of heaven. Is that awesome or what!!

There are so many verses about loving one another. I know we love each other, but do we show forth love? I'm afraid I fall flat on my face on this one. Why do we act the worst to those we love the most? Now that I can't wrap my arms around anyone and tell them I love them, I realize how I failed. (But) I can still love with my heart and my eyes. [Though Mary could not give hugs, she could and did get them frequently from her family, especially her grandchildren!]

Dear Readers:

Mom would have wanted this article to be a memorial not to her but to God's grace and care through suffering. I don't think she ever understood why she had ALS, but I know she learned to accept the path God allowed. She often thought and talked about heaven. I think she's already reaping the rewards for her faithfulness. On Dec. 2, 2002, her "earth suit" gave out and with her family gathered round, she went home to her eternal reward. She would want you to make absolutely certain that when your "earth suit" gives out, the next breath you take will be in heaven.

Becky Conn (daughter)

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