One day after work last summer, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things. While checking out, I noticed a boy looking at me. When I got out to the parking lot, there was the boy again, still staring, while I loaded the groceries into my car.
I was a little concerned, because I didn’t see a mom or dad with him, so as I pulled out of my parking space, I decided to make sure everything was all right. I rolled down my window and asked him in a friendly way if he was with anyone. He said yes and then blurted out, “I just feel so bad for you!”
Instantly, I realized that the boy had been staring at my unsteady gait all that time. While I was worried about him, he was worried about me. I assured him that he didn’t need to feel that way because God is taking good care of me.
I didn’t always feel that way. My birth on August 1, 1961, two months early, did not go well. Only three pounds and 11 ounces, I beat the odds and survived. But for the rest of my life I would carry the burden of cerebral palsy; the part of my brain that controls walking and other movements had been permanently damaged. After an operation at age 6 I was able to walk without crutches, but my hopes had been much higher.
Through the years I often asked “Why?” and thought about how much better my life would have been without this disability. In my mind I would participate in all the sports my younger brother Mike excelled in: baseball, football, basketball, and swimming.
While my parents always did their best to include me in family activities and to emphasize all the things I could do, it was hard not to feel jealous and resentful. Most of the time I felt like an inferior, an outsider, afraid to relate to others out of fear of rejection. And sometimes I was rejected.
Growing up I can only remember going to church a handful of times, usually for an Easter sunrise service. Yet I remember looking up one night at the countless stars splashed across the silent, black sky. In the darkness my mother said it was hard to believe that all this could have just happened–but I wasn’t so sure. My own experience led me to suspect that the universe was cold, indifferent, and meaningless. If God existed, I thought He was either too busy to care or too weak to help.
However, I needed something to believe in, so I turned to science fiction, UFOs, “pyramid power,” and ESP to escape the dreary realities of this world. Along those same lines, in high school, I began reading books by Christians who said the world was going to end very soon.
As I read, however, the Bible’s central message started to make sense. God wasn’t just a maybe; He was a Person who took a personal interest in me. The Bible was in fact the record of a loving God reaching out to people who had turned their backs on Him–including people like me.
Slowly, I realized that my search for meaning and relationship had come up empty because I had been looking in the wrong places. Contrary to all I had heard about religion, making things right with God was not a matter of me reforming myself and measuring up to His demands.
Rather, God had already done it all by coming to earth as a man, Jesus Christ, to live the perfect life I had failed to live and to die on the cross in my place–in short, to pay for my sins. Moreover, he understood my frustrating disability, because he had experienced this part of life, too.
On his way to the Cross, Jesus had stumbled and fallen–how humiliating! I could relate. Pinned to the Cross, his weakness was exposed for all to see. And yet I discovered that because Christ was raised from the dead, someday I would be raised, too, with a powerful new resurrection body, in which I would live forever. That was an offer I couldn’t refuse!
I wish I could say that since then all of my insecurities have evaporated, my disability doesn’t matter, and I no longer have doubts about God’s plan for my life. But that wouldn’t be honest. My disability has shaped not just my body, but my soul, as well. Even though my life now has meaning and purpose, I still struggle with feelings of inferiority and anger. Even with God’s help, it will probably take the rest of my life to unlearn some of these thought patterns–but, slowly, I’m getting there!
One day, Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” The Lord said the man’s disability presented a divine opportunity, “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Indeed, not a day goes by that I am unaware of His presence, and people sometimes tell me they see God at work in me.
Truly, God has given me a peace I never had and, to top it off, He has provided the relationships I craved for so long: a beautiful wife, Christine, and three wonderful children.
No, I don’t know what the future holds, and there will undoubtedly be more frustrations and heartaches. Yet I know even the details of my life have eternal significance, because Christ’s power is most clearly seen not in my strength, but in my weakness.