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Revelations: Tragedy doesn't define the end

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
March 18, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 17, 2011 at 10:18 p.m.

Jennifer Preyss

Let me tell you about one of my favorite people in Victoria. His name is Bill. I'm never sure if he truly remembers me when I see him around town, but I always convince myself when I leave him and our conversations behind, he does indeed remember me, and believes I'm one of his favorite reporters. What? It could be true.

But you see, I think it's just because when you're in Bill's presence, he makes everyone feel like they're one of his favorites. I've never seen anything like it. We're putty in his hands.

And it's been that way since I first met Bill, six months ago, standing in the rain at a charity fundraiser, Fill the Boot. The event was hosted by the Victoria Fire Department and monies raised went to research funding Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. Bill, who was diagnosed with ALS a few years ago, came out to support those hosting the fundraiser that day.

As soon as he arrived, the sun came out and the rain stopped pouring. Since then, I've always thought of Bill as the man who literally brings the sun wherever he goes. That was the first of many days I saw Bill exude love and humility to those around him. I'm not even sure he knows he's doing it.

I guess it shouldn't surprise me as much as it does because he is, after all (a not-so-retired) retired Lutheran pastor who commits his life to openly modeling Christ's compassion and grace. So, as with many men and women of the cloth, there is an expected gentility attached to their vocation, and by association, them as people.

But it's not simply his vocation, or love of God that makes me want to be one of his favorites. It's his infectious and continuous optimism amid a devastating (and likely frustrating) disease that's at this very moment, slowly robbing his abilities to walk, move and speak.

It's his ability to praise God, preach God, live God, and demonstrate God, using what he's got; using what he's lost.

A few weekends ago, Pastor Bill was invited to lead a sermon at Riverside Park Stadium to kick off the ALS Stroll, roll 'n run 5K race.

It's been a few months since I last saw him, but I could tell even since our last encounter, he'd become less agile. Not that it mattered; that man was energized to preach. And that's a perfect example of Bill's spirit and attitude - he's always energized to live, no matter what the circumstances are.

Before the service started, I sat with him and pre-interviewed him. He showed me a computer attached to his wheelchair that would digitally speak for him during the service.

And as I saw him roll his wheelchair to home plate, and deliver a clever and moving sermon using a digital voice, my eyes welled with tears. I saw Pastor Bill grace home plate before hundreds of people, and refuse to accept the limits of his illness.

What's more, as a man of God, he refused to allow the ALS to rob him from his ability to speak God's word.

Since that day, I've wondered how I might respond in a similar circumstance of tragedy or illness. I've wondered if I'd demonstrate the same optimism Bill does, or if I'd retreat and blame God for not changing my situation.

The answer is, I don't know for sure. But, when and if I'm presented with that decision, I'll remember Pastor Bill.

I'll remember his speech that day at Riverside Park Stadium.

And I'll remember through his example, that illness and tragedy don't define my life, or my ability to reach those who need a word from God.

I'll remember that I'm only still and silenced and unmoved, if I choose to be. Hopefully, I'll choose to be like Bill.

Jennifer Preyss is a re porter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or jpreyss@vicad.com.

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