Meet the Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel – well known professor, pastor and preacher – who, despite suffering the effects of a stroke, rejoices in Christ’s gifts of value, worth and honor.
To Lutherans around the world, the Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel is a theological giant, a learned professor, a renowned preacher, a compassionate pastor and an academic expert. But to his wife, Betsy, and his children — Richard, Kit and Matthew — he is simply her husband and their father.
While students soaked up his theological insights in the classroom during the day, his family did something even more profound in the evenings. After supper, his wife recalls, “I would do the dishes, and they would all go into the living room and he would read.”
Surrounded by his children, Pastor Nagel would read aloud to them: the Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, books that filled young ears and mature hearts alike with stories of struggles, redemption and grace. The books, he says, taught a significant lesson: the importance of “Honor. Standing up for what’s right. That there’s always the business of evil.”
It’s why Pastor Nagel is speaking up. By sharing his story through the #eyesoflife campaign, he is giving voice to what millions of others believe as well: that all life, from conception to natural death, is sacred, valued and a gift from God.
And the man knows a thing or two about honor, about standing up for what’s right. Pastor Nagel suffered a severe stroke some ten years ago, leaving him paralyzed on one side. In a culture that allows and even promotes ending the life of the sufferer rather than caring for and easing the hurt of the one who is suffering, society could easily dismiss him, and his decade-long confinement to a wheelchair and the nursing home in which he lives, as unimportant or without value.
But the Church does neither. The Church instead remembers her own, caring for one another in mercy and compassion. And as a baptized child of God, Pastor Nagel not only deserves but has also received honor from those around him. It’s not honor earned because of his academic prowess or his theological acumen but honor given because of his baptism into Christ. “When I was weak,” he explains simply, “it was He who pulled me through.”
And his heavenly Father continues to bestow other gifts on him as well. “Weekly Communion,” Pastor Nagel explains, gives him the “strength to get through this hard time.” Visitors – from former students to current pastors – remind him that “he is cared about and isn’t forgotten,” Betsy says.
“Pastors around here gather once a week to study the pericopes for the next Sunday for their own sermons,” he recounts, ever the theologian. “They include me in that, and it’s a great blessing.”
“He loves that,” Betsy agrees, piping up from her seat near his side.
And so together, husband and wife, father and children, teacher and students, pastor and Church carry on in faith. Bodies are broken, and minds weaken. Speech fails, and hearing fades. But the Lord’s mercies, as Pastor Nagel knows firsthand, never stop, and his confirmation verse reminds him of that: “Commit your way to the Lord,” he says easily and by heart, “trust in him, and he will act” (Ps. 37:5).
And He does. And He will.
Honor. Standing up for what’s right. Caring for one another in love. To Pastor Nagel, to Betsy, to his children, to thousands of students, it is a daily occurrence … and it is all gift.