An Unexpected Gift for Christmas

I like gifts. Who doesn’t? So much can be said about them. They come in many different shapes and sizes, given with various intentions and sometimes are handed over with expectations of return. They keep us guessing, hoping and shaking for clues. They might fill our needs and maybe our deep desires. They can also be disappointing and even downright offensive. (I hope you didn’t experience any of the latter this year.)

I want to tell you about a gift I received on December 23rd, exactly one week ago. It came from a dear friend. This gift was costly, yet looking at it, it would appear as one of the most trivial. It came in an unusual way. You could say the wrapping was void of any human traces, was modulated and computer generated. Yet, I will never forget this gift as long as I live. It will be in my heart as a reminder of all what it means to be human.

It was late afternoon and I was sitting in my car in the driveway. The sun was setting, pushing an orange glow through the pines behind the house. It was a great place for a phone conversation to connect with my friends. She had texted me to see if it was ok to call. We talked about the kids and Jesus, about the weather and about the pains of this world. We took time to remind each other of the precious things in this life. Her husband was with her and our conversation was on speaker phone.

“Heidi, he wants to say something to you.” I paused. I knew he needed time to type on his retinal recognition device, so the computer could generate his letters, turning each single one of them from text to voice.

Then those synthesized words made their way to my heart.

“I love you, Heidi.”

I cried. I knew it could very well be the last time I would hear him.

It was the last time. He went home today. After twenty-three years of ALS ravaging his body, Bill crossed the finish line. For nearly twenty years he was unable to walk and move, yet his gift of faith moved many toward the Hope of Heaven. He was unable to speak for two decades, yet spoke to thousands by typing one single letter at a time. Bill knew his limits and shortcomings, yet trusted God with the gift of each day. God filled the void and through Bill’s weakness, shone His Light. Bill had the ability to make people know how much Jesus loved them. I felt it. I knew it better because of Bill. For this I am eternally grateful and forever changed.

Jesus gifted Himself in the most unusual way. God wrapped His message of Love in a frail, human body and tied it up with few dingy rags. Then He placed it all in dilapidated manger. Jesus translated God’s eternal message of Love for us into our broken so we could hear it. God’s Love shone in the temporary and fading so we could hear and see the eternal.

“I LOVE YOU, WORLD.”
(see John 3:16)

Thank you, Mary, for your example of God’s love by serving Bill for all those years. Because of your faithfulness, many people (including me) benefitted from his friendship. Your love for Bill and perseverance in this unimaginable, long trial are witness of Jesus’ love on earth.

37 Comments »

  1. Heidi, I am truly sorry for your loss. I only read a few of Bill’s blog posts, but man they were powerful. I am so glad he is no longer in pain, gasping for breath, or feeling the weaknesses of his earthly body, but I can only imagine the gap his homegoing has left in the lives of his friends and family. I’m so glad you received that priceless Christmas gift. Sending you a hug, friend.

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  2. I teared up when Mary’s email about Bill’s homegoing appeared in my inbox; I am crying fresh tears now. Such a wonderful couple to have to endure so many years of painful loss and suffering. And yet Bill’s blog posts always sought to encourage and uplift; he never used his platform as an outlet for anger or self-pity. And dear Mary, caring for Bill all these years, with no bitterness or self-pity from her either. Their example will live on in our hearts, their story will find its way into our conversations, for the rest of our lives.

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    • I agree, Nancy. Mary’s example of a Godly wife taught me more than any book I have ever read on marriage. Bill and Mary had the greatest influence on my faith in the last five years (besides the Word and the Holy Spirit). God used them more than any other tool to teach my heart about suffering. I know the Lord will continue to use their lives and example in the months and years to come. Thanks, Nancy, for being part of this wonderful community. You are always an encouragement and bright Light here. Bill has encouraged my heart with a resolution for this coming year, namely to tell people that I love them.
      I love you, Nancy … for the love you hold in your heart for Jesus … for quietly serving your husband in his need … for smiling through your words and for being such a cheerleader here… THANK YOU. I pray your New Year will be blessed.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. After reading your blog here, Heidi, about Bill Sweeney, my heart is so full I’m not sure of what words to use to make a comment. I’ll try.
    Bill’s story did exactly what all of us Christian’s are meant to do: glorify God. In thinking about the staggering difficulties he needed to face, every day for 24 years because his godly goal was to encourage others. God used his surrendered life in a profound way. I know that I will never be the same after reading this today. From now on, pity parties are out of the question, regardless of any circumstance in my life. Please, dear God, use me to glorify You and You alone. I have a strong desire dear Lord to build up and encourage others in any opportunity You give me. And Lord, please remind me always to submit to Your requirement of humility. Thank You blessed Savior, for the example of Bill Sweeney; for teaching me so much more, of how to be like Jesus. Amen.

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    • Dearest Jaquie, that is exactly what Bill did for me. He was man who allowed God to change people through him and living his life with what God had given him. He always said, “Don’t focus on the things lost, but focus on what remains.” His blog will be a treasure for many who will read it in the days to come.
      Thank you for your words, my friend. I can hear how much you love Jesus in them. I am praying for you in your own trial, to keep a steadfast grasp on the goal, namely to glorify God. He is worth all the effort, all the pain, all the running and chasing after Him. Can’t wait to meet you in person, Jaquie … either on this side or on the other. Hugging you!!

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  4. I’m so sorry for you, and his family, and yet for Bill, whose Unshakeable Hope spoke volumes when he couldn’t – oh, tears flow as I write this – he has triumphantly crossed the finish line. May the God of all comfort, who was with Bill every moment of every day, comfort you, his family and friends. Bill’s battle is over and eternal victory is his.

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    • I am blown away each time when I return to the blog and read about the lives Bill changed … I can still hear that computer generated voice… making me want to use my real voice even more for the cause of Love.

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  5. Thank you for this post. Bill was an inspiration and blessing to so many, and he will be missed. I am so blessed to have known him and call him my friend. God’s comfort and peace be with Mary, their kids, and all who loved Bill. God bless you.

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    • Yes. He had friends all over the world. When he said something to you, it was as if you were the only person who mattered. I am feeling so blessed along side you having had the privilege to have known him a little. Yes. Prayer for Mary and the kids and those who loved him so. God bless you, Ryan. Keep up your work for God in your world and where God put you … How great we were able to cross paths with Bill and with each other. It’s all worth it in the end, my blog-friend!

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    • His story was by far the most impactful example to me in my walk with Christ. Of course the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit are always the number one change agent, but Bill’s life made what I learned in the Scriptures real. I often used his life a gauge … if I heard a sermon or a teaching I would often say, “If it doesn’t apply to Bill, it’s not true!” It’s amazing the heresies one can weed out this way.

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  6. Oh Heidi, I didn’t know Bill and Mary are personal friends of yours. I’m so sorry for your loss, too. I was often so encouraged by his testimony of God’s love and faithfulness. I have been following his blog for some time. It inspired me, too, knowing what work he had to put into writing. And what you say to Mary is so true – “Your love for Bill and perseverance in this unimaginable, long trial are witness of Jesus’ love on earth.” Love and blessings of strength and peace!

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    • I have never met Bill and Mary in person, yet God allowed us to become friends. His story, from the first time I heard it stirred my heart like no other. My goal this year was to visit … but then COVID … Bill had the ability to make every person he met feel like they were the most important people on earth. He did it to thousands. He changed the way I view suffering and taught me much about our true God. Thanks, Trudy for reading!

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  7. Oh, Heidi. I’m so sorry for this loss in your life. I know it well. One of my dearest friends, since our childhood, left us due to ALS in August. He only suffered from it for a bit shy of two years. I’m grateful you had this moment of communication just before he was taken. We usually never forget final words. God’s grip – Alan

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    • Yes. I can still hear that computer generated voice in my head. What a day that will be when we all get to see Jesus. What a joy it truly will be to hear and talk with one another, walk with each other and finally eat together. (Let’s make sure we all sit somewhere close at the banquet table …. I really want to hear all your stories, my friend!!!!)

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