The mission field is not always thousands of miles away. Perhaps yours is within your home, workplace or on your street. You stay and spend your entire life focused on giving. Then something comes and tries to take it all away, but your hope runs deeper than your strife. And you continue to give to others in death, just as you did in life.
I gave what I could with my hands.
Jackie McLarry met his wife, Deana, at a country western dance in 1980 and married six months later. After the heavy flop of a fish in the nearby lake interrupted a romantic moment on their honeymoon, which was sure to lure Jackie’s attuned fisherman’s attention away, Deana thought she might have some competition for Jackie’s heart. He spent every day since proving her wrong.
Jackie was the Fleet Manager for Interstate Batteries for over thirty years. He traveled across the country and gathered many friends as he bought and sold vehicles for distributors, always admiring Interstate for its deep-rooted Christian values. And he always returned home to his family and his friends, ready to help whenever needed. “Early on, I taught myself to fix pretty much anything with my hands- electrical, plumbing, you name it. So I was kind of a, no pun intended, Jack of all trades. I gave what I could with my hands.”
“Fishing was definitely his first love. But in all 36 years of our marriage, no matter where we lived at the time, Jackie was truly a servant to his family, friends and to all our neighbors. That has been his purpose in life.”
Jackie carried him everywhere, up until his very last opportunity to do so
One of their neighbors was diagnosed at a very young age with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is rare and incurable. Its progressive, neurodegenerative nature affects nerve cells in the brain and in the spinal cord. Over time, the brain loses its ability to communicate and control muscle movement. ALS patients gradually lose the ability to speak, eat, move, and even breathe. Surprisingly, their friend lived with it for 22 years despite ALS’s average life expectancy of 3-5 years.
While their neighbor fought through the slow decline of ALS, Deana would visit during the day, fixing him lunch and looking after him. Jackie would come home from work and tend to his home or vehicle repairs and he carried his friend everywhere, even down the beach on vacations, until his very last opportunity to do so, in a casket at his funeral. “We saw his disease from start to finish. We had great empathy for him and his wife.”
Jackie and Deana already knew what the disease would mean for their lives.
Three years ago, as Jackie’s retirement plan came near to fruition, he started experiencing severe muscle spasms in the middle of the night. These episodes were particularly startling for someone who expresses love through the physical use of his hands, arms and legs.
At first, the doctors credited it to dehydration. When the spasms moved from his legs to his stomach, he knew something was wrong. A neurologist ran him through a battery of tests and then handed Jackie the unfortunate news- it was ALS. Jackie and Deana already knew what the disease would mean for their lives.
“The doctor looked at Jackie and said, ‘I hate to tell you this, but I think you have ALS. Are you familiar with that disease?’ And our hearts sunk because we didn’t have the bliss of ignorance. We knew ALS tries to take everything away from you. That disease is a beast. And knowing how bad it is made this journey a bit tougher than if we didn’t know what was just down the road.”
After Jackie brought the news to work, he learned that ALS is the only disease which forces a patient into full retirement. As he wrapped up his career and said goodbye to friends from work, they weren’t ready to say goodbye to him yet.
As he wrapped up his career and said goodbye to friends, they weren’t ready to say goodbye to him yet.
His son and daughter decided they wanted to celebrate his life and legacy in a unique, lasting way. They reached out to those who knew Jackie and asked if they would be willing to share a story about him. The response was overwhelming. Letters from neighbors, friends and colleagues poured in. Then, one of his friends from Interstate asked if he could help compile them for the family.
“We’re thinking he would make a little scrapbook, but after he was finished and brought it to us, we were just flabbergasted. The cover says, ‘Jackie McLarry: Fish Tales and Other Stories.’ It’s so beautiful. We absolutely sobbed.”
We have been so blessed through all of this.
“This book is probably one of the neatest things anybody can get before you go. My ashes are going in an old minnow bucket, so this fits me perfectly. There are over 50 different stories in here that people have written about how I intertwined with their lives while I was doing something with my hands mostly. They really have compassion to make something like that for somebody.”
“If Jackie gets low, he’ll flip through the book. He has read it all. Most people are gone before everyone talks about all the lives they’ve touched. What a gift to see this before you go- a great positive despite all the negatives. We have been so blessed through all of this.”
After the book, a short documentary followed which was intended to be shared among employees of Interstate Batteries. Jackie hesitated to film the video at first but pushed through because of his commitment to sharing hope with others. He wanted to pay this unexpected gratitude forward and bless others in the short time he has left on earth.
Stop. Just pause every day. And thank God for what He has done in your life.
In the video, Jackie gets an opportunity to leave one lasting wish, one way others can become catalysts for hope so the thread continues.
“I really never had any why-me’s, period. And that’s the gospel truth. But I think it’s important for people to know God doesn’t make mistakes. ALS has given me a time to reflect on how grateful I am for all the things that God has given me. I feel blessed. I’ve been married for 36 years to a wonderful woman, I have two wonderful kids and four wonderful grandchildren. If I had a chance to speak to all my family and friends, I would say, ‘Stop. Just pause every day. And thank God for what He has done in your life.’”
God is still using him to reach people.
The video was shared with Jackie’s friends, family and nationwide with all the distributors with Interstate. One by one, the calls started coming in. People from California to Wyoming and Texas called to tell Jackie they watched his video. His words prompted them to stop. Following Jackie’s example, they paused and thanked God for everything and their lives were changed because of it.
“We have been married 36 years and we have been a great team throughout those years. God is the center of our lives. That’s why our marriage has worked so well and how we are beyond blessed with our two incredible kids. This disease has been a test of his faith for sure. He could be really angry and bitter. In the beginning, Jackie was feeling low and didn’t want to do the video. Of course afterward, he was so glad he did. It’s crazy to us that it touched so many people. It just shows God is not through with him. God is still using him to reach out to people.”
Two years after Jackie’s ALS diagnosis, his doctor found something else this February. A large knot in his throat turned out to be cancer. The doctors had never treated an ALS patient before, so they devised something new so that Jackie could keep his breathing machine on during treatments. This spring, Jackie underwent a condensed radiation schedule which has taken a new toll on an already tough road.
Jackie has peace because he knows he blessed everyone who would let him.
His nerves are failing him, his breathing is weakened and his throat is completely raw. But through his love for God and his heart for sharing, hope still spreads. Jackie has peace because he knows he blessed everyone who would let him.
“Contentment isn’t for purchase. It’s free. I was as guilty as anybody of not realizing how easy it is to get. It’s really not complicated. If you open up your heart, accept Christ and start giving however you can give, you’ll be rewarded. You have no idea what circumstance somebody is in when they need help. It’s just a matter of figuring out how you can give effectively and do it. Simple as that.”
** If you, or someone you know, is in a similar situation as Jackie, please check out our Caregiver’s Support Group. It’s for support caregivers of family or loved ones and is on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month at the Rockwall Campus at 6:30 pm in room A108. For more info on all the groups we offer, visit www.lakepointe.org/counseling/groups
Written by Amanda Cunningham