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