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Ed Dobson’s Story


The following link is to a video that accompanies a CNN story on a prominent pastor, Ed Dobson, who is dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. I cannot urge you strongly enough to watch this video, presented to the media by Flannel, a Christian production company.


This is not a puffy, light-hearted, no clouds in the sky of life, piece. Praise God for this seriousness; the video is not the bane of mature Christianity: triteness. Triteness takes the truth that we have in scripture of the majesty, power and surpassing grace of Yahweh and reduces it to a ten second sound bite.


This dying pastor is anything but trite. People facing the end of their lives logically desire to share their most important, wise, life lessons.

Ed Dobson is poignant, simple and weighty. This God-lover’s story shows powerfully and irrefutably that spiritual maturity is forged on God’s blacksmith anvil. You will need to cut and paste the address.



For some additional material here are some excerpts from the accompanying CNN article:


Ed Dobson is not afraid of dying. It’s the getting there that really scares him.

A former pastor, onetime Christian Right operative and an icon among religious leaders, Dobson has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. When he was diagnosed, doctors gave him 3 to 5 years to live.

That was 11 years ago.

“I am a tad happy to be talking to you right now,” joked Dobson, whose voice has deteriorated since his preaching days, in a phone interview. Speaking with him feels like being exposed to a brief moment of clarity. He speaks slowly, but with an understated confidence and authority.

As pastor at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a position he held for 18 years, Dobson would regularly preach to 5,000 people or more on Sundays. Back then, Dobson said he looked at himself as a man filled with lessons, proverbs and, most of all, answers. After retirement six years ago, the massive crowds went away.

“I went from 100 miles an hour to zero miles an hour overnight,” Dobson said. “That was a shock to my system.” Dobson says the answers vanished with the crowds.

“I know that sounds a bit lame,” he said. “I know that that I should have all the answers, but the truth is, the more I live, the fewer answers I have.”

After being diagnosed with ALS, Dobson suddenly felt unsure of himself. At times, he said, he didn’t want to get out of bed. After years of intense Bible study, Dobson said this is not how he thought he would react to news of his own mortality.

“I thought that if I knew I was going to die, I would really read the Bible and if I really was going to die, I would really pray,” Dobson said. “I found the opposite to be true. I could barely read the Bible and I had great difficulty praying. You get so overwhelmed with your circumstances, you lose perspective.”

Eventually, Dobson regained perspective. But feelings of listlessness led him to take his preaching to a more personal level. He now meets with congregants one-on-one. Sitting with them in their homes or offices, Dobson provides whatever help he can. “Most of the people I meet with have ALS and basically I listen,” he said.

“When I meet with someone and look into their eyes, it is like I am looking into their soul,” Dobson said. “We are both broken, we are both on the journey and we are both fellow pilgrims.”

Going from 5,000 congregants to one at a time was a big change for Dobson, forcing him to reevaluate his job as a pastor. “I am trying to learn that one-on-one is just as important as speaking to thousands,” he said. “I reemphasize – I am trying to learn that.”

During his one-on-one meetings, Dobson says he remembers Adam and Eve being charged by God to work the Garden of Eden. For years Dobson’s garden was Calvary Church – the baptisms, weddings, the Sunday preaching.

“Whether it is preaching to 5000 or meeting one on one, I am trying to take care of the garden,” he said.

Dobson explains the purposes of the videos this way, “My desire is that people who have had the air knocked out of them, whether divorce or losing a loved one or illness, that they will get a sense of hope by watching the films,” he said.


His illness, as you can imagine, has had a profound impact upon his marriage:

Dobson has lost much of the function in his hands and is seen struggling to brush his teeth, his frail body using two hands on the small brush. Though he is able to do a lot, including drive, Dobson wouldn’t be able to make it on his own, a fact he is keenly aware of when about when describing his wife, Lorna.

“She is my right hand, my left hand, my left foot, my right foot, my heart and my brain,” Dobson said. “Without her, it would be impossible to go on.”

Standing in the kitchen in one video, Lorna helps puts Ed’s belt and gloves on. The two don’t speak on camera, but their love is obvious.

“Our love has grown each year of marriage,” Lorna said. “I didn’t want to just wither in the sorrow of how our life was changing. It took a while to get used to what our life was going to be like but I realized that I needed to be more available to him.”

Dobson says he is also more available to her.

“I am no longer a preacher,” said Dobson. “Today, I would say I am a Jesus follower. Period.”

Lorna said she continues to learn from her husband. Throughout their life together, she said she learned by being in church with him, by raising three kids together and by loving one another.

The last 11 years, however, their love has changed. Dobson’s illness has taught her to focus on the important things, she said, primarily their kids and five grandkids.

After tending the garden for decades, Dobson is now being tended himself, largely by Lorna. “ALS forced me into a situation where I grew in understanding of what it means to obey Jesus,” Dobson said in the latest film. 2


A Jesus follower…Ed and Lorna are learning a depth of spiritual maturity that we often blithely ask for but recoil from when our path merges with the path towards true maturity. It is human, and understandable to say, “No, please Lord, not this (fill in the blank).”


Not this illness.


Not this job loss.


Not this business failure.


Not this troubling family issue that is chronic.


Not this marriage trouble.


Not this loss of a home.


Not the death of this loved one.


Not this rejection by spouse, family or friends.


Not this…


Jesus understands the ‘not this’.  Remember when Jesus was in his garden that Good Friday eve? “…My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.” (CEB) In short, Jesus ‘gets it’. Jesus understands what it is to be human and to face the hard road of growing up spiritually. Jesus understands the naked emotional and physical fear of suffering but he stayed on the path set out for him. Jesus’ path was the cross.


What Ed and Lorna Dobson understand that as Jesus followers we are not blazing a trail but walking where Jesus has already trekked. Because Jesus has been down the road of the human lot he looks at our struggles and lameness with compassion. We follow, but not at a distance for his is a step away. We do not walk alone.


“Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help.” (CEV)



  1. Ed’s Story, My Garden      (2011); Flannel Media
  2. Facing Death, A Top      Pastor Rethinks What it is To Be a Christian, Dan Mercia, 2.18.12, CNN      On-Line



Copyright © 2011 Brian Bailey, Author