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Patrick McGoldrick died at at 10:05 PM the day after Christmas. I attended college with Patrick and and his wonderful wife, Dena. Patrick was a soccer player, I played basketball, and Dena cheered for both of our teams.

During our respective off seasons, Patrick and I would play pickup basketball together. I loved playing basketball with Patrick, mainly because he competed like he lived: with contagious joy. I don’t have a single memory of Patrick where he didn’t have a smile on his face. That’s not to say that he was never upset or discouraged. It is to say, though, that his life was characterized by joy.

Patrick was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) a little over a year ago. As soon as I received word about his diagnosis, I began to follow his blog, Patrick’s Story. One of the unspoken questions in my mind as I read his posts was: “What does a horrific disease like ALS do to a Christian’s joy?” Can the joy that our Triune God provides us withstand the unforgiving and unrelenting assault of ALS?

Sometimes we Christians act as if we shouldn’t grieve over loss as deeply as non-Christians do, as if the loss of our health or a loved one shouldn’t bother us as much as it bothers those who don’t know Jesus. “After all,” we sometimes say, “Christians do not grieve as those who are without hope.

But I believe that Christians should actually grieve more deeply over the loss of God’s good gifts to us (life, health, family, friends, etc) than non-Christians do. Just look at how Jesus conducts himself at the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus. The Apostle John makes it abundantly clear to us that Jesus is very angry, not at the unbelief of Mary and her companions, but at what was the cause of all their grief: the death of Lazarus itself. As Herman Ridderbos writes, “The emotion [that Jesus shows at Lazarus' tomb] is the revulsion of everything that is in him against the power of death.” The one who from all eternity knew the joy and good gifts of the eternal Father infinitely better than them all grieved over the loss of his dear friend more deeply than them all. Jesus’ show of emotion at Lazarus’ tomb teaches us that true joy and profound grief are not mutually exclusive; rather, the greater our enjoyment of the joy and good gifts of the Father, the deeper our grief will be over the loss of those good gifts.

As I read Patrick’s blog over the last year, I was immensely encouraged by the fact that Patrick did not sugarcoat what he was struggling with both physically and spiritually. He struggled as one who loved God’s good gift of life and lamented its loss (see hereherehere and here). The way Patrick suffered (and the way his wife Dena and two children suffered) testified to the fact that the Gospel frees us to weep in hope, to rejoice in weeping, and to praise the God/man who will one day make all things new, even though our bodies are now in bondage to decay (Romans 8:21, 23). It was the Gospel that enabled Patrick both to grieve his loss and to say in the final weeks of his life, “My short life in Christ is infinitely greater than a long life without Christ…”

Patrick was able to grieve the way he did because of the one who not only grieved for us but also with us. About Jesus’ grief over the death of Lazarus, Herman Ridderbos beautifully writes:

“Jesus’ deep inner agitation is not limited to what, in his confrontation with death, applies to himself, but also expresses itself in his solidarity with the grief of those who once more go to the tomb to weep over the loss of their dear brother and friend. He weeps with those who are weeping. When ‘the Jews’ see him as a member of the procession, weeping as he goes, they do not misunderstand him when they say, ‘See how he loved him!’ Jesus allows himself to be caught up in the general grief over Lazarus’s death, and there he experiences and participates in the grief of all whose loved ones have gone to the grave. That does not militate against the purpose of his coming to Bethany. As the Son of God he does not come to redeem the world from imaginary grief or to make grief over death imaginary. Therefore he joins the mourning procession for the friend whom he is to raise from the dead, and he weeps . . . Nowhere else in the Gospel does the true nature of the entry of God’s glory into flesh, of God’s identification with the true man Jesus of Nazareth, come more vividly to expression than in Jesus’ going—described thus—to the tomb of Lazarus” (emphasize mine).

It is a great honor for me to have known Patrick and Dena. In his life and in his death, Patrick reminded me afresh that the Gospel is indeed for real life. Because of the Gospel, not even ALS can steal a Christian’s joy.

On October 12, 2012, Patrick McGoldrick received the Outstanding Faithful Service Award by Baptist Bible College & Seminary — the school from which both Patrick and I graduated. Patrick was interviewed by the school, and the video below was prepared by them and shown to the crowd at the service. Patrick’s best friend, Matt Frey, spoke for him. Also, take a few minutes to read the moving reflection that Matt Frey wrote about Patrick.

  • Rosalia Duff

    Patrick live the life as Christ said That we are born in his image. Now Patrick has a glorified body and he is praising our Lord face to face. WOW the hard struggles we have here on earth have great rewards as we enter into the arms of God. I often said after my diagnosis of ovarian cancer ( 28 year ago) I told many people that if I didn’t find the cure then the greatest gift would be to die. I felt that would be the greatest gift of a body with out more pain and suffering. And the bonus would be to praise God all day long. I know that I would even measure up to Patrick who let us know that he would be here on earth. Praising God .He was a great man ,kind ,generous and compassionate for Christ. Tonight I will cheer on his favorite team Notre Dane. This is for you . I know your rewards wil be great ones. I miss you already and I will pray for Dena ,Paige and Parker you left them with the comfort of your knowlege that Thing maybe hard but keep on tucking for Jesus. Go ND

  • Deborah

    My husband lived 2 and 1/2 yrs w/ ALS. It is a very cruel disease. Our family of 6 shared many tears but we experienced as well God’s unfailing love and provision. Yes—to God be the glory. Thank you for sharing Patrick’s story.

  • Dan Cruver

    Hi Deborah,

    So sorry to hear about your husband’s death with ALS. Just with a few sentences, though, you show the beauty of God’s grace and comfort. Wow. Thank you for sharing.


  • Dan Cruver

    Hi Rosalia,

    My mom is an ovarian cancer survivor, too. I’ve not met very many who have survived ovarian cancer. Thank you for sharing and for your thoughts on Patrick.


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  • Anna Forsythe

    So thankful to have read this. My dad passed away when I was 8 due to this disease. I am thinking this is my mom below, Deborah, who recently shared. Yes it was a painful time and much I don’t remember. But I do remember my dad’s joy to the end. What a blessing to read this and know this family knows the Savior who wipes all tears from our eyes. What a reunion in heaven it will be. Praise the Lord!

  • Delphine Warbington

    Thank you Dan for sharing your memories of Patrick and helping us all to know even more about our friend Patrick. There will be such a void here at Cornerstone. We do however look forward to THAT day when we meet him again. It is remarkable to see how many people he had impacted over the years. It also continues to amaze me how wide his ripple in the ocean of God’s people was. My husband and I met you at an adoption conference a few years ago in Louisville, KY., and continue to enjoy your blogs on adoption, so I was surprised to see your post on Patrick. I, too lost my mother to ALS thirty-five years ago and felt deep empathy for the McGoldrick’s as they faced this trial. I was not a Christian at the time, and when Patrick was diagnosed and subsequently walked through this trial I was able to face the pain of loss I had buried in my past and as well as witness to many unsaved family members. What providence God brings to all avenues of life. Patrick helped so many people in so many ways. I can’t wait to share with him the way he never knew how he helped me face a 35 year old pain of loss I hadn’t realize I never faced as a Christian. I continue to pray for Dena, Paige and Parker as they grieve the loss of a Patrick… Comfort, Joy, Peace…

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