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Save Us All

One of the most meaningful things I’ve ever heard came from my friend Becky’s funeral last fall. (I wrote about Becky when I took her to a cancer treatment. I loved her so much. And I miss her terribly.)


Pastor Bob, of Bismarck’s Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, had a really tough job that day. It wasn’t just me, all of Bismarck and the surrounding county loved Becky. She left behind a husband, children, parents, and a beautiful legacy. 


If I recall, he began by saying what we were all thinking: “This sucks.” Yes, yes indeed it did and still does.


But he followed by sharing a little story. (I wish I could remember the exact context, but I can’t, so work with me here if I improvise a bit to set up his powerful words.)


He said that one time, after something tragic/spiritual/wonderful happened to his daughter and she felt the power of prayer/Gospel/faith, she looked at him and said, “Dad, this stuff is real. I thought it was just words on paper.” 


Then he quipped, “The preacher’s daughter …” (He had some great humor and I loved him for all of it.)


And then he hit me between the eyes with this statement: “It’s just words on paper, until it’s all you have left.”


I felt that down to my toes and into the depths of my Catholic upbringing and spiritual soul. 


It’s just words on paper, until it’s all you have left.


In June 2018, when I woke up to a broken brain and shattered life, I instantly turned for my pocket-sized, daily devotional. My mom had been ordering them for me for years, and I’m sure I often flipped through them, but they had never held a daily place in my life. And along with that little book, I picked up my Bible. One I had carried with me from (probably a high school confirmation gift?) my childhood home, to college, and into my adult-life.

I started to read those words. Then underlined them. And then I tried to remember them in constant prayer when I hoped I wouldn’t just tip over dead. Soon, I was able to even find them, quote them, and copy them down in cards for friends. And I silently mouthed repeated prayers while I carried beads.

For quite a while, those words were all I had. Because I feared that I had absolutely nothing left. And that without God’s help and intervening grace, that I would die. Or never have my life, agency, and personality again.

That’s why Pastor Bob’s words landed so hard. I was holding them at that very moment with the loss of Becky and what that meant for her family and all of us. And I’d been personally living with the feeling in some way since 2018.

But I also took great comfort in what he said. Because I believe that those words also grant hope in what may seem hopeless, and faith in what seems godless. It was a reminder that no matter how bleak it looks, God’s there. Even when you feel like everyone else has left you, he walks alongside you.


I had the opportunity to speak at that same church, just the other day, for a women’s retreat. It was one of the absolute best events I’ve been a part of since I announced one day: So I’m a motivational speaker now. Not only was I still hearing Pastor Bob’s words, but I actually repeated them in my speech, and mentioned Becky. Little did I know, Becky’s mom was actually in the room with us. (I believe Becky was, too.)


I felt God’s grace that day. And I’ve honestly felt it for the past six years. Even though autoimmune encephalitis absolutely reeks of the devil. As it robbed me of my mind. My voice. And all of my abilities. 


But it never robbed me of my faith. And my belief that there’s something more.


I hate what AE does and what it did to me. I hate that Becky died at age 49. I hate that last year, at this time, a woman I met only once, died by suicide. And right after, my cousin’s husband at age 38, died of cancer. And that they all left children behind. Or that my friend Amber has to raise her three children as a widow in her early forties. And that my mom and mother-in-law were widowed in their 60s. And I hate that my dad suffered for decades with muscular dystrophy and all the other illnesses that took so much from him. And cheated his friend, Abby, our youngest, who had tea parties with him for those few weeks he lived in Bismarck, near us. That play was probably the only few times I saw him a little outside of himself, as he was transitioning to what we do not and cannot know.


But through all the hardship, I’m comforted to know I always have one thing left. My faith. My belief that there’s so much more to come. That we are spiritual beings, living as human beings. And that no matter what, when all else seems lost, we still have those words. 


Things like: You are always at my side; I will not forsake you; Love your neighbor; Do onto others as you’d have done unto you. All those words I turned to in my early moments of pain. I kept my faith then and I still have it now. 


And I believe. Now even more than ever. I cannot or will not doubt, because of the dimes and feathers in my life. And the way I miraculously came back from AE. And because I have a miracle baby.

And because Abby told me, just the other day, after returning from Mom’s house. “I had a tea party with Grandpa. He sat in his chair.”


The chair where they had tea parties. The chair where Dad’s earthly body sat, before he died.


For me, for those I’ve lost, and for my family, I take great comfort in those words. 


I believe. That those words are some of the best things we have.


Love, jackie


“I know Jesus loves me

In my heart I know it’s true

I know Mary’s little baby

Came into the world

Just to save me

But I don’t know about you

“I've heard that your God’s older

Buddha, Allah, Krishna

Manifest with many faces

Worshipped the world over in foreign places

I assume your God must love you


“I know Jesus loves me

And my God is good and great and true

But if pride goeth before the fall

I hope someone’s God will save us all

Save us all

And love the sinners too” Save Us All ~ by Tracy Chapman


/ / The JM Stebbins blog is an autoimmune encephalitis blog by former lawyer and autoimmune encephalitis survivor, Jackie M. Stebbins.

Jackie M. Stebbins is also the author of Unwillable: A Journey to Reclaim my Brain, a book about autoimmune encephalitis, resilience, hope, and survival. / /



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