When Chris met Denise, he described himself as a wanderer. He had been raised in a Catholic family, going to church and school, but he never really felt connected to God. By the time he met Denise, he was divorced and in a dark place in life. Denise was like a bright light.
“Denise had this thing about her. She put Jesus first and everything else would fall into place. She never told me about religion. It was just the way she lived her life. Within a week of knowing her, I asked if I could go to her church. And that’s when the whole big change started for me.”
Chris and Denise dated for a year, and then got married. Chris was a runner. He was 22 states into the 50 states marathon club. Denise had just begun running and asked him to help her train. On their wedding day, Chris promised to take her anywhere in the country to run her first marathon.
They began training together, and very soon Denise started experiencing physical challenges. First, it was a weakness in her hands, then she had trouble walking. One of the scariest things was when, without warning, she would fall hard. She went to the doctor, and eventually made an appointment with a neurologist. Chris was with her the day they heard the diagnosis.
“You have ALS. There is no cure, it is a terminal disease. You have 2 to 5 years. I’m sorry.”
Denise had always been so strong in her faith. How would she handle this diagnosis? On the ride home from getting a second opinion, Chris witnessed something stunning.
“Denise said, ‘Chris, I think we should pray about this.’ I was thinking, you’ve just been handed this death sentence, and you want to pray? But I knew it would do no good to say that, so I agreed.”
“On that car ride home, she had a conversation with God. Something came over her, and it was like she was actually having a conversation with God about why this was happening, and from that point, she was at peace.”
It’s not that there weren’t hard days and plenty of tears and frustration. It was difficult for Denise to lose her physical abilities and very hard for Chris to watch that process. But Denise decided to focus on the blessings and her faith continued to amaze Chris.
One day, Chris worked up the nerve to ask a difficult question. He asked if she was mad at God. She no longer had the ability to speak, but, using her DynaVox, she answered him.
“She said, ‘God didn’t give me ALS. So, no, I’m not mad at Him. But God has used it to slow me down because I was missing life.'”
Throughout her illness, Denise wrote a blog. In it, she said she was choosing not to become angry with God. But instead, she was choosing to find the many ways in which she had been blessed by the changes and by those who joined her on this journey. In her blog, she wrote,
“I have always joked that my glass is not half empty, or even half full. My glass is overflowing and that has remained unchanged even through this challenge.”
As Chris witnessed her steadfast faith, his own began to grow. Denise asked him to consider getting baptized, and he did.
“When I came up out of the water, this thing happened that I can’t even explain. My heart needed it and it was a changer for me. It opened me up to a lot more and I find myself being more like Denise – more positive, seeing the glass as half full, seeing so many blessings.”
Chris followed through on his promise to help Denise run a marathon. In fact, they ran 8 marathons together, with Chris pushing Denise in a specialized racing chair. Along the way they raised awareness about ALS and funds to help others, raising more than $150,000.
Hear more about the journey of Chris and Denise in Chapter 20 of Epic.Chris Benyo - ALS and the journey of faith