Some medical diagnoses are filled with uncertainty, while others seem to have a set course to follow. For instance, multiple sclerosis has a number of characteristics, one of them being its unpredictability. Several years ago, an article I read shared an interesting statistic: at that time, roughly forty percent of those diagnosed with MS kept it secret, and many were able to keep others from knowing anything was wrong (though my guess is that many suspected something). It is feasible for a person with MS to go several years without new symptoms, while it is also possible for effects of the disease to strike hard and fast. Steps can be taken to help reduce disease progression, but the “unknown” remains. Trust me, I deal with this on a daily basis.
Unlike MS, there are some illnesses that have a standard road map, one from which the patient rarely veers. The speed of travel may vary, but the path is seemingly set in stone. One of these ailments is ALS, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” ALS is a degenerative disease in which neurons in the brain and spinal cord break down, causing degeneration of muscles and systems throughout the body. The rate and order in which this occurs may vary, but a cure or treatment does not yet exist. There is a possibility of a few on the horizon, but this is not yet a reality.
So why the biology lesson? A dear man, a mentor and friend went home to be with the Lord last Thursday after a five-year journey with ALS. Wally Roth was a professor of my husband during his student days, but he was also a man of God whose love, wit, intellect and heart reached so many. Wally’s wonderful wife Marlene was not only T.R.’s favorite elementary school teacher, but she was a friend of mine and co-leader in our ladies’ community Bible study for many years. I recall when she stepped away from that commitment in order to offer care for her husband. The “caregiver” role is often undervalued, I think, as I know from very personal experience that it can be difficult to accept limitations. (This is such an understatement… and I can only imagine the way in which the magnitude of struggle would multiply for a gentleman who was a respected leader and head of household, with so many abilities and responsibilities, not to mention that he was a recently retired college professor.)
Several months ago, I recall a conversation I had with Jay Kesler, filling the role of “teaching pastor” at our church. “Your ears may have been burning a little while ago,” Dr. Kesler told me. As I asked why this would be, Jay told me it was during an exchange with Wally Roth. My response: “Wally and Marlene are in our prayers each day… what an amazing picture they are of perseverance and faith.” “That’s funny – he said the same thing about you.” Jay went on to say that people with ‘stuff’ in their lives often draw more attention to others than themselves. I don’t know about this… but I know this was certainly the case with Wally.
Mission and prayer were an important part of Wally’s life, and the legacy he is leaving behind is one that I’m sure will inspire many. His work with OM, with mission work at the Taylor Computer Science department, then with our church’s Mission Board were physical ways in which his commitment was visible. As he did his very best to come to church each Sunday that he could, we all witnessed Wally’s commitment and tenacity. On top of all of this, we all saw something just as profound, and that is the love and commitment of his dear Marlene. She reached out as a Mentor Mom to the MOPS ladies, spent time with grandchildren, taught Bible study and cared for Wally in ways that I can only begin to comprehend.
I know that Wally and Marlene both looked to II Corinthians 12 for inspiration, as Paul shared, “… for when I am weak, then I am strong.” During the past year or so, Wally wore a neck brace to keep his head upright, but I truly think that his faith and tenacity were even more evident at that time: strength was evident through the weaknesses we perceived. I know that his Homegoing is a thing to celebrate, but my prayers are also with his family that is left behind here. Knowing that Wally’s ministry and legacy remain, may the family find peace knowing that our hearts, purposes, direction and faith have been undeniably touched by this lovable professor, mentor and brother.