Alone with God with Dick Jacobson (2009)

I met Dick Jacobson through a mutual friend, Charles Butler. A year into my helping Dick write his memoir he was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Our project gave him something positive to focus on while the cruel disease sapped his strength and energy. Thankfully, I finished Dick’s memoir several months before he passed away (in October 2009), and he was able to hold his book in his hands.


Hard work and Dick Jacobson got along fine. The physical labor that came with farming kept him fit throughout his life, and his fitness served him well, especially on mission trips when he put in long days building homes and churches. Though he worked less and less on his three farms in Grand Meadow, Minnesota, he still picked rocks, repaired fences and buildings, mowed farmyards, and worked in his shop. In 2006, a few months before Dick turned 69, he began to lose strength in his arms and hands. Even his thumbs were getting weak, and his arms began to feel like heavy weights were attached to them. To reach his arms above his head, he had to practically throw them up toward the sky. In addition to losing strength, he was losing muscle mass. His upper arm muscle disappeared, and what was left went flabby. He knew something wasn’t right, so in the fall he scheduled a checkup at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. After undergoing several tests, he drove south for the winter to visit his foster daughter, Deb, in Florida.

When Dick returned to Mayo Clinic in the spring, doctors told him they had narrowed his diagnosis down to one of three medical conditions. After further tests, they concluded that Dick had ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease. Those who have ALS usually die within two to five years. Dick had not heard of ALS—nor of Lou Gehrig for that matter—so when doctors told him what he had, he didn’t realize how serious things were. Now he does. ALS is painless, non-contagious, and cruel; the nervous system is destroyed while the mind remains intact. The cause is unknown, and there is no cure.

In 2007, Dick completed some farm work he had been putting off for thirty-five years. He tore out a mile and a half of fence line, steel posts, and rocks. It’s a good thing he did it then, because he couldn’t do it now. God putting Dick’s arms out of use tells him that his farming, building, fixing, and welding days are over. Dick says, “God wants me to focus my time on writing my book and encouraging others to let God come into their lives. ALS started me thinking in the right direction. It’s helping me get to where I need to be in my life before it ends.”