How does she fulfill all her dreams and reach her long awaited goals when so many of those around her tell her it just won’t happen? It’s hard… hard to believe in herself when others are teasing her, hard to hold her head high when middle school classmates mimic her limp, hard to look forward to school when she has to stand back and watch while others laugh at her struggles. Most children and adults don’t understand her problems and so they avoid talking to her because they are not sure what to say. They leave her out of games, and she feels unwanted and lonely. Often, at night, when she’d ready herself for bed she would hide her face in her pillow and cry for long spells. It helped take away some of her pain.
Those feelings started for me (yep, that girl was me) when I was young, but didn’t get really bad until I was 11 or 12. The disease was diagnosed when I was 18 months old. They didn’t know what caused it, but called it juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. This is a disease that starts attacking healthy joints and causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and other problems. Because of all those symptoms, I had many surgeries: 57 to be exact. The doctors have replaced most of my joints with artificial ones: both of my knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and ankles. But just like an old car, parts wear out …so they replaced them all over again. Only this time around, my left elbow got infected, as did my right ankle. Surgeons tried over and over again to fix them but to no avail. The left elbow was removed, leaving my arm hanging limp. This prevented everyday activities like eating a sandwich or writing (I was left-handed). Eventually the same thing happened to my right ankle which required an amputation below my right knee. Then my right shoulder became permanently dislocated and my neck fused. Some days I’m tired of missing out on the fun and lying in hospital beds while they try to help me; some days, the inside of me screams… aarrgghh, enough of this!
What about you? What has made you feel different or left out? It doesn’t feel very good, does it? Have you ever left another child out because they were different than you? Truthfully, each of us is different in God-given ways. Some of us have a physical disability – that’s me. Others may struggle with their learning or have divorced parents. Some wear glasses or have a hearing loss. Whether it’s the color of your skin, the size of your body, your interests or abilities, how rich or poor you are, you still have worth. It’s important to find support through family and friends, a teacher you trust, a pastor, or a coach.
Let me wrap this up by telling you about Mike- he was a good friend to me. I remember one day in high school on the bus drive home, some bullies on the bus began to call me names and imitate the way I walked. When we got to my stop, I was scared to get up and walk down the aisle past all the mean kids. All of a sudden, Mike stood up… he was getting off at my bus stop instead of his. I listened as the kids began to jeer, called me cripple, and stood up to imitate the funny way I walked. Mike, who was a big-time football player on our high school team, turned to all those who were laughing at me and yelled, “Stop it! I’m her friend and I like her just the way she is.” Wow, did that ever make me feel better!! I mean, here’s Mike- big, important and popular- and he had the guts to stand up for me in front of everyone. I guess that’s when it hit me… if Mike could stand up for me just the way I am, then I should be able to do the same. I learned to believe more in myself and notice the good that lies within me. It wasn’t always easy (not even now), but it was always the right thing to do. My Christian faith grew stronger, and so did my resolve to never give up.
As a matter of fact, that year I began life’s trek into great adventures. I decided to explore... I went skydiving in Colorado and climbed Peru’s famous hidden city of Machu Picchu. I went on an African safari, boated down a tributary of the Amazon River in Brazil, and ate witchety grubs with Aborigines in Australia. I’ve rafted, gone four wheeling and snowmobiling, enjoyed ziplining in Costa Rica, and snorkeled on many islands in the Caribbean. I saw the Sphinx and pyramids in Egypt; I visited Russia, China, South Africa, and Europe. Of course, I had lots of help since my limitations would not allow me to safely venture out on my own. My husband and family helped, so did my friends. And that’s just the beginning. Now I’m a counselor and a college professor and my differences aren’t so significant! One of my favorite quotes comes from an actor named Christopher Reeve who played the first Superman. Later in his life, he became paralyzed after a horse riding accident. He wouldn’t give up and neither have I.
For everyone who thought I couldn’t do it,
For everyone who thought I shouldn’t do it,
To everyone who said, “It’s impossible,”
See you at the finish line!