In 2005, Kyle Wagner of Joliet, then 22 and dying from muscular dystrophy, had one reason for telling his story.
Kyle wanted people to know they could overcome any challenge – as long as they trusted God. So he shared his story with The Herald-News, which printed an article about his journey.
Kyle died three years later on Thanksgiving Day, but it was not until two years after Kyle’s death that his mother, Kathy Wagner of Joliet, wife of Carl Wagner, senior pastor at First Church of God in Joliet, considered writing a book about Kyle’s life.
Wagner’s initial thought in penning “Of Sojourners on the Narrow Road,” was to preserve Kyle’s memory and to share with family and friends cherished anecdotes from her son’s short life.
“I was sitting down with my daughter-in-law and telling her stories about Kyle and she said, ‘You need to write these things down,’ ” Kathy said. “That put the idea in my head because we have such short memories. We forget. I can’t even remember a lot of the stories I told her at the time. Even in Biblical times, God would tell Joshua to collect some rocks and build a memorial to remember.”
But Kathy, who finds writing a distasteful chore, saw her intentions change as she delved into the project. She wanted the example of Kyle’s life – what he believed and how he chose to live those beliefs – to affect others experiencing devastating challenges.
“Sometimes we feel like we have nothing to offer,” Kathy said. “Kyle showed me that we can be in a state of almost total helplessness and still influence people. There’s no excuse for not doing anything.”
Except for slow-to-develop motor skills, nothing in Kyle’s early development hinted at Duchenne muscular dystrophy, an inherited and progressive fatal muscle disorder affecting only boys – until Kyle turned 6 and had trouble climbing stairs.
And yet, Kyle accepted his diagnosis with a “God, if you want me to have muscular dystrophy, it’s all right with me,” Kathy wrote. Still, Kyle wondered how he would lift heavy objects once he was a father. His parents didn’t have the heart to tell their young son he would never be a dad. Kyle was in junior high when Kathy realized God would not deliver a miraculous healing.
“When you get the news that your child is going to die,” Kathy said, “you know your life is not going to be that white picket fence.”
By age 10, Kyle was wheelchair bound; at 12, he wore braces and underwent surgery to cut apart tendons to stop his feet from turning inward; at 13, Kyle had scoliosis.
None of the above stopped Kyle from acting as scorekeeper and assistant coach for a baseball team at the former Christian Youth Center in Joliet.
“His opinion and suggestions about team strategy, regarded as valuable to the success of the team, soothed the sting of his inability to physically play ball,” Kathy wrote in her book.
The “takeaways” in Kyle’s life continued: morphine to control pain, machines to ease breathing, audio tapes when holding a book became impossible and a diet of liquid nutritional supplements once his deteriorating muscles could no longer process food.
Email communication, with a mouse and computer in his bed, replaced his weakened voice. Kyle served as honorary best man at his brother Josh Wagner’s wedding. He watched the festivities via remote camera and wrote a speech that someone else read.
A simple nose bleed could take hours to stop. Electrical outages were deadly. Simple respiratory viruses quickly morphed into serious pneumonia. Visitors, Kathy said, begged to pray for Kyle. But Kyle, she said, would respond, “I’m closer to death than you are. How may I bless you?”
And bless others Kyle did. He sponsored a child in a Third World country with part of his disability income. He bought and distributed countless copies of Randy Alcorn’s “Heaven.” He not only prayed for others, he periodically contacted them with words of encouragement.
“People need hope. It’s what drives us,” Kathy said. “Without hope, we’re lost.”
A social worker from Joliet Area Community Hospice helped arrange a telephone conversation with Alcorn, Kathy said. At first, Kathy said, Alcorn’s secretary refused the idea until she learned that Kyle had talked about “Heaven” in The Herald-News article.
“The secretary asked her to fax a copy of it over to her,” Kathy wrote. “After reading the article, Randy agreed to the phone call.”
Although Kyle tirelessly promoted the notion of God calling individuals to distinct purposes and the anticipation of heaven, even Kyle himself comprehended that, ultimately, only faith could make sense of his “uncharted territory.”
“It can be very difficult to know things are out of your control,” Kyle said in 2005, “but you just have to accept it. It doesn’t help to get angry about it. I understand there is a plan, even though I don’t understand what that plan is, even though it is not easy.”
Kathy Wagner ends “Of Sojourners on the Narrow Road” with this: “Since Kyle wanted everyone who attended his funeral to receive a copy of ‘Heaven,’ we want you to have one also.”
Wagner said to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will mail a copy. For information on Wagner’s book, visit www.ofsojourners.com.