Today I joined with about 200 other people to celebrate the life of my friend Stephen. Stephen’s mom shared that when he was born nearly 31 years ago she was afraid and didn’t know what to do or how to parent a child with his disabilities. It is appalling to hear things the Doctors said to them, just a short 31 years ago. But praise God she and her husband joined forces to raise Stephen, along with their two daughters. Through the journey they found their source of strength, hope and joy in Jesus. In the 12 or so years I’ve known the family (and from hearing others it goes back longer than that) his Mom and Dad are perhaps the most accepting, loving and humble people I’ve ever known. Every memory I have of Stephen, and most of those recounted by those who shared, are of his never ending smile, his zest for life, his positive attitude (one of Jerry’s favorite stories is his family trying to teach him the word “bad” and he wouldn’t say it – he would only answer “good” when asked how he was!), his attitude of gratitude, and his joy of throwing kisses to every woman he encountered!
Stephen was not a man of many words, but the words he spoke, and the way in which he loved and encouraged people impacted more lives than many who supposedly have more skills, abilities and education.
Celebrating Stephen’s life brought back memories of some of my other friends who were born with developmental disabilities or cognitive impairments.
I think of Charlie, whom I had the joy of being his “houseparent” when I was just in my early 20’s, Charlie was in his mid to late 40’s at that point. I still smile thinking about the times we’d be out at a store and Charlie would want to show me something. He knew lots of people, but didn’t have a great memory for names. So most often he’d call me “Mom.” The looks we got were priceless as people saw a 40 year old black man calling a 20 year old white girl mom! But even more I remember Charlie for his profound wisdom. I wish I had written down the “Charlie-isms” I heard over the years. I can’t share a specific one, but Charlie had a way of weaving his words, to say something so poignant that cut through all the fluff and went right to the heart of the matter. I have no doubt that on more than one occasion he spoke straight from the heart of God to me. We were living on the other side of the country when I got the word that Charlie had died. I felt like my heart had broken. Jerry looked at our budget every way possible to try to get me back to his service, but it just wasn’t to be.
|Leroy (giving me a back rub on a camping trip)|
Then there was Leroy, what a goofball (and I mean that in the most endearing way!). Race cars, motorcycles, dirt bikes, cowboys and anything rough and tumble brought Leroy such joy, though the heart condition he had meant that he watched them more than partaking. Leroy idolized my best friend’s husband. They lived in southern CA, and we lived in northern CA (I was also Leroy’s “houseparent.”) One time I took him with me on a trip to visit them. Leroy and Bruce went out to the desert to dirt bike while Susan and I enjoyed a girls visit. You would have thought Leroy had received “the trip of a lifetime”, and maybe he had – though he also enjoyed the camping trips we all did, and vacations to Hawaii, Colorado, Lake Tahoe. Leroy was one of the ushers at our wedding. I remember that he was so thrilled to walk the first pretty lady down the aisle on his arm and then proceeded to sit down with her. He was surprised when someone went to get him and told him he didn’t get to sit yet – he had more pretty ladies to walk down the aisle!
Oh, now that I’ve gotten started talking about my friends, I could keep sharing stories of Lee, Allen, Robert, Bill, Nam Sun, Randee, Diane, Barbara, Dorothy, and on and on . . . . maybe they’ll be future posts.
With all these friends, and so many more, we did life together . . . day in and day out . . . that’s what made it so memorable. They knew the good and bad of me and loved and accepted me anyway; as I did them.
I juxtapose the celebration of Stephen today and the memories of these friends, with a news story a friend shared with me this weekend. Read the story here. In short, a teenager with similar disabilities to many of my friends was found wandering the streets in Washington state. When the police contacted his family they “were not interested in taking him in.” Really? I know I don’t know the full story, and yes – life is HARD when disability enters the picture, so I need to be careful about judging; and focus my energies on praying for him and his family, and be grateful for those who are trying to help him.
If you are someone caring for a person with a disability; thank you! Your investment in their life, and the example you set for the rest of us cannot be overstated. If you are not caring for someone with a disability, but know someone else who is – walk their journey with them please . . . you may make the difference in a family being able to continue their journey together; and likely you will be changed forever!
|A few of the amazing Moms I know who are raising incredible kids!|