Sometimes in order to see the truth, the heart has to first soften. The greatest example I could give you is from my own life. Being that I was born with cerebral palsy I was given a very small chance to live. My birth weight was 4lbs and 4ounces. Doctors told my parents double sided news, meaning that on one hand, the doctor told them that I’d grow out of the condition. And on the other hand, I’d never be able to ride a bike or even clothe myself, I’d always be dependent on someone for my needs. With having cerebral palsy, came a myriad of operations on my body. My spine was first, then came a hamstring lengthening in both my legs, both of my hips were medically broken and cut in half, in order that both my feet could have arch support in them. For a time, I had metal plates in both my hips and any time that I would roll over on either side, they would make a loud pop.
Each operation would take over a year of recovery time, physical therapy was also included in that. For so long what stuck with me the most was the amount of pain that came with each operation. When I had my spine was operated on, after about an hour of waking up. My surgeon came in with some physical therapists, my surgeon informed me that it was time to sit up. Meaning that my feet had to hang over the edge of the bed. Even as a nurse elevated my bed slightly it felt as though someone was attempting to rip my flesh apart, it took a few nurse, the psychical therapists to pull to the side of the bed where my feet hung over. I can almost hear myself screaming in pain as a kid in my head even now. Despite the pain, I am extremely grateful for my family, my doctor who provided me the ability to use my trunk properly and all the physical therapists that helped me get stronger in recovery.
The experience with getting both hamstrings lengthened was about the same, after about an hour of post-surgery recovery time. In came my doctor with some physical therapists, one of the therapists brought with her a small walker, when my eyes locked on to what she brought along with her, my small frame began to tremble. I knew what was about to take place, the physical therapists, nurses and even my parents would have to get me out of my hospital bed and in a standing position in the walker that the nurse had brought in. I’m not sure that there are enough words to describe that shot through my legs when my feet touched the floor. I remember wanting to collapse to the floor, but the voice of my doctor saying that I had to try and stand up straight. He might have even told me to try and take a few steps, regardless the exact details are few and far.
These two separate times in my life sometimes feel as if they are all one, they very much shaped my view of God. Which was that he was a cruel, cold hearted sick excuse for a deity that liked to watch people suffer. Of course, that isn’t how I feel now, but for a good part of my life, this was my disposition toward the grander creator of the universe. It took me a while to my hard heart to begin to slowly turn a new direction. All along, though, I now know that God was there slowly and tenderly turning my face toward his. Before encountering this tender lion, I was a very sad and lonely kid who didn’t have much self-worth at all. As such there was much time spent in trying to find that worth in my fellow peers.
I would lie about being in a rock band or make up extravagant stories in order for people to like me. Worse yet I didn’t have much respect for the opposite sex, the simplest way to say it, is that I felt like my own life was meaningless and therefore their lives were meaningless as well. In spite of all of these, there was a deep sense that there was a divine spark beginning to ignite inside me. I began to feel and believe that there was more to life than the pursuit of my pleasures and somewhere inside me I wanted there to be more than a pitch black afterlife when I died, where only my bones remained of who I was. Even though there was a longing for my life to be over, there was also a longing to live. On my last day of senior year of high school, all the seniors gathered for our senior picnic. As usual, I kept to myself and sat with the one friend that I did have. We both devoured the burgers and hot dogs that were on our paper plates. With both made small talk through the chewing of food, all I could think of doing was going home and getting lost in the music that I loved.
On top of that there was still a long and drawn out war taking place inside me, yet as cliché, as it is I felt as though heaven and hell were waging were for my soul. There was still a part of me who wanted to live and there was a part of me that wanted to die. It was at the senior picnic that I would meet my friend Garret, he came into my life wearing a white t-shirt that had the word revolution on the front, black windbreaker pants, Adidas shoes, a blue hat that he wore backward and dreadlocks that rested underneath. I was instantly intrigued, to say the least. I was walking out to the parking lot when our paths crossed, at that time in my life there was a habit that I had, where I would start talking to people and not first introduce myself. I did the same with Garret, I asked him what his shirt meant, he told me it was the name of his youth group.
Automatically there were alarms being tripped inside me, because again, there was a longing inside me (a spark if you will) for something that the life I was existing in was not offering. When he told me that it was a church youth group that he attended, I began to hold my breath because the truth of the matter is I was in shock. There were a few possibilities in my mind as to what could be going on. Either this was a simple coincidence that my mind was simply putting together, or this was the God that created the Heavens and the earth that was reaching out to me. I decided to believe that this was God reaching out to me, but I wasn’t sure what to expect and there was plenty of anger and hostility inside me that had to be dealt with. As I got to know Garret over the following summer, what impressed me the most about him was his ability to listen and his ability to show compassion. My parents liked him and grew to trust him pretty quickly.
They even allowed him to take me to his youth group on a Wednesday night, going there was like someone going into a home of complete strangers. Garret stuck by me the remainder of the night, people were warm and friendly, but still there was the feeling of being a complete outcast in such a place as this. What would God want with someone like me? A filthy mouthed punk kid that still had his fists clenched in Gods presence. With Garret in my life now, though, there was something so disarming about him. Often after youth group, we would go out to eat or we would sit and talk somewhere. This was one of the first real times that I experienced real friendship in my life.
After a few weeks of spending time with Garret, there was still a great stubbornness that resided inside me. But the more time I spent time with Garret the more my hard heart began to soften to the Lords presence. One night when I was at revolution, the youth pastor was talking about having a covenant relationship with God. As the sermon went on I began to feel overwhelmed with love. No longer could I deduce this moment as mere chemicals going through my body, I have never felt this way before in my life. By the time the youth pastor finished up with his sermon, I walked up to him after waiting in a line of other people, when it was my turn I again started talking to him without properly introducing myself. I remember that the first thing I said to him was “I don’t have that relationship with God that you were talking about” I can remember sitting there with the youth pastor, telling him that I knew that I needed God, but that I didn’t know why God would make me in such a way. Meaning that I had to live with cerebral palsy, when I wanted to be like everyone else. After I was finished telling the youth pastor these things about me, he put his arm gently around me and said “you know why I think God made you this way? Because he knew you could handle it”.
At first the answer didn’t suffice, but as I look back on my life, if that was, in fact, one reason that God allowed to live with this condition, then it makes sense to me because I have (by the grace of God) done more with life having cerebral palsy then I probably would have done as an abled bodied person. Having cerebral palsy has allowed me the privilege to connect and relate to others in personal ways, having cerebral palsy has revealed to me my deep-seated need to connect with Abba’s love in a way that I probably wouldn’t as an abled bodied person. I know my heart well enough to know that if I was able to walk, run and do all the things that any normal person can do. I’d probably not give a shit about people as I do now, I probably be much more self-absorbed than I am now and I’d probably not seeking the Lord each and every day with my life as I try and do on a daily basis.
Of course, this does not mean that a person with cerebral palsy or any other condition couldn’t give the middle finger to God and turn the other way. Lots of people every day do this regardless of physical ability or lack thereof. All I’m saying is that for me, having this condition has allowed me to draw near to God in rich and intimate ways. Which is in many ways the heartbeat of all these pages, is knowing how deeply, richly and intimately God loves you and wants to be with you. The late Brennan Manning has been a significant resource in discovering once again how much God loves not only myself but all his sons and daughters. Each and every day I can’t begin to tell you a number of times that I more so forget then remember that God loves me. It’s so easy to forget and all the easier to believe that God hates me and thinks that I’m a worthless piece of crap.
I believe that if there was a time where Christians remembered again how much love God has given us. It’s now. As I said previously, the world seems to be spinning out of control and it doesn’t appear as if it’s going to get any better. I’ve never been one who is crazy about the end times, over the last several years’ various groups have claimed that we are in the end times. Yet, scripture tells us that won’t know the time (verse here) but if were ever in a time in which Jesus was going to return, I would want to be so consciously aware of my standing in Christ because of the love he poured out for me. It’s the only thing that would matter, that and what I did with his love.
As I mentioned in previous pages, when it came to engaging friends in my life who chosen not to believe in share in the same beliefs as I do. I would clam up and not know how to articulate a thoughtful response to their questions or comments. More so what would happen was that my heart would become so heavy, that I would simply want to cry out to the person about how much God loved them and how much they mattered to them. I know that my response would be out of pure emotion, but it would be true none the less. But this is the spark that I am referring to, that spark that God slowly ignites that slowly grows into a bright fire. It is when we allow Abbah to ignite the spark within us, that we can begin to see him working within us and allowing us to bring about change in our world and within ourselves. This spark is by grace and faith alone.