An Amazing Choice!

Bracebridge water wheel
Disabled but not Destroyed

As principal for 11 years at a small Christian school I had the opportunity to bring in a student named Marshall. I had been given periodic glimpses of his life, elementary school and high school. Marshall has cerebral palsy and therefore has very limited mobility and is unable to use his voice. The school I was in did not have the facilities or the financial resources to accommodate Marshal’s needs when he was old enough to enter kindergarten. As a school we could not offer him the opportunities, gifts that he was able to develop elsewhere.

In November 2012 I made arrangements to bring Marshall in to speak with the students. On this particular Monday morning, Marshall shared a captivating message of hope.

Here is an excerpt of what I shared with the school community in the newsletter that was distributed later that same day…

Students … were mesmerized by a presentation given by a student who lives with cerebral palsy. Marshall shared not his disability, but rather his abilities. Despite living with the physically debilitating effects of cerebral palsy Marshal was able to give students a glimpse of his life.

Students had an opportunity to see what life is like when one has challenges moving around. They learned about situations that happen around town when one is not able to speak.

Through conversation with Marshall the students came to a profound appreciation of not only his challenges but also his incredible abilities and determination. Students watched a couple of superbly designed and executed videos that Marshall had developed giving others glimpses of his life. Students were dumbfounded to hear from him that it takes about a month to create a video.

Marshall is able to compose by using a device that scans the alphabet. He selects one letter at a time with a control that he manipulates by moving his head. Students experienced the time consuming nature of using this device during the question and answer time. Students would ask a question and then wait as Marshall formulated an answer one letter at time. The speech synthesizer would then read the response.

At the time I was struck by the quiet patience with which the students waited during the long pauses, at times for two minutes, as Marshall composed his responses.

Students learned that one day Marshall asked is parents to no longer pray for him to be healed from his cerebral palsy. He believed that if he was healed from cerebral palsy he would no longer be the same person. He believes that God created him as he is. He believes that in his cerebral palsy God has a purpose for him.

To quote from last week’s editorial written in anticipation of Marshall’s visit: “… so that God’s power might be seen at work in him.” John 9:3b

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind, as the presentation unfolded and as Marshall shared with the students that God’s power clearly is seen at work in him.

I continue to struggle with ABi and the changes that has meant for me. I still identify more closely and prefer the ways in which my pre-life enabled me to contribute to my community and allow me to realize my own goals and aspirations. Given a choice I would go back to my pre-life.

Here was Marshall, living with a diagnosis that put many more constraints on him that I could ever imagine. Yet given the choice he did not want to live in a different body. Given a choice he wants to keep his “pre-life”. For Marshall, life with cerebral palsy is part of his identity. This is how God created him.

Despite regularly being reminded of my limitations I am able to move forward with hope:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,

“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,

plans to give you hope and a future.” 

– Jeremiah 29:11

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Author: Jasper Hoogendam

I have been working in the field of elementary education since 1980 till my career ended due to a TBI. Renewable energy as part of 'walking lightly on this earth' has been and continues to be my interest since my teen years. Since early 2015 I have been learning to live with ABI (Acquire Brain Injury). In sharing my day to day successes and struggles, I am better able to understand how my life had changed and begin to accept the change. In sharing my experiences I'm hearing from caregivers and fellow ABI's. I'm encouraged when my experiences are helping others understand some of the complexity of living with ABI.

8 thoughts on “An Amazing Choice!”

  1. There is a purpose to everything we encounter with in this life. I was once rather upset about the pain I have had to endure for years until I learned that it was those painful moments in the dead of night that woke me so I could receive the inspiration God needed me to know. Unfortunately I was too distracted with things during the day to listen so He had to wake me to talk to me. I love it when others have similar experiences and share them. Thank you for taking the time to teach people the value of being and loving who we are, the way we are.

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  2. Jasper thanks for sharing your reflections on Marshall’s (and your students’!) wisdom. Good food for thought and encouragement to do likewise. I am also intriqued by your picture. I remember standing next to a water wheel as a child. It’s power was intriquing and compellingly dangerous. It was used to run a grist mill and a saw mill. I look forward to your blog stories but I am also find myself looking for the picture(s). Is the camera’s eye a new medium for you?

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  3. Jasper, thank you for sharing this post. Just recently, I have been formulating a concept that there is the Gift of Suffering. In its most basic form, the idea is that our suffering adds to our spiritual maturity. As we continue to add to our faith, we grow in our relationship with Christ. Once we trust God with our lives (and, we, who are disabled, know the meaning of this), we can move forward in our appreciation of God’s plan for us. One gift: tribulation develops patience; and patience, character (maturity). Another gift of suffering: we can then comfort others with the comfort that we received from Christ.

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  4. So true. It’s easy to long for pre-ABI, but I must acknowledge that there are things about my identity that I see developing in ways that are encouraging. Leaning on God’s promise has been key.

    You use the term “The rePurposed Life” I labelled the water wheel picture as “disabled but not destroyed”. It has been repurposed. It no longer functions as a water wheel, but it’s not mangled still, rather a water wheel reminder of a past event.

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