A mile in my shoes (March 15, 2009)

A few days ago, while suffering from a serious case of writer’s block, I came across a writing prompt that asked for my idea of what life would be like if I were a handicapped person. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I wondered what other people’s responses would be if they were to walk a mile in my shoes.

I was so eager to begin my life’s journey that I jumped the gun and arrived on November 22, 1985, almost three months before my due date. I was born with cerebral palsy (go ahead, click the link. I had to.), which is a disease that affects my ability to walk properly. I weighed in at a whopping three pounds, six ounces, and lost down to just above two before I finally rebounded and left the hospital in March 1986.
Don’t worry, I rebounded so well that I am presently on Weight Watchers, attempting to shed some excess poundage.
The doctors told my Mama and Daddy I’d probably never walk or talk, but fortunately they don’t always have the last word. It took a while but I caught on to the talking thing, and, depending on who you talk to, I’ve rarely shut up since. The C.P. doesn’t affect my speech, so apart from a good dose of Southern drawl, I’m pretty easy to understand.
Walking was, and sometimes still is, a different story.
When I was little, Mama — who is now an author — refused to accept the prospect of my immobility.
She contacted a physical therapist, and in no time I was doing exercises to keep my spastic muscles loose. When I was five, I went to Scottish Rite hospital in Atlanta, Ga. to have a surgery with a name so long I can hardly pronounce it, much less spell it. It was a success, and steps began to come easier for me.
I got around pretty well before long, so I figured I didn’t need any more therapy.
Mama knew better, and she refused to listen to what I thought was a well-rounded line of reasoning.
Despite my constant objections, she continued to pull and stretch my stubborn legs. I hated therapy, but Mama knew I needed it. I was too young to understand at the time, but I know now Mama is one of the biggest reasons I’m able to walk, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that. She taught me a valuable lesson that I’ll carry with me and use when I start my own family. If your kids don’t like something you know is best for them, go ahead and do it. They may hate you now, but they’ll thank you later.
My Daddy taught me a lot, too. It was under his guidance I learned I could be anything I wanted as long as I put my mind to it, and that setbacks may slow you down, but they don’t have to stop you. My family is a close one, and we often gather at my grandparents’ house to eat or swim. On one such occasion, somebody got the bright idea to bring some four-wheelers to ride. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so, with video cameras rolling, I sat atop the ATV and prepared to ride. My family didn’t know if I’d be able to control the vehicle, and worried I might have an accident. Someone finally said something to that effect, and my Daddy simply replied, “He can ride that thing as good as anybody out here.” I don’t think he thought much else about it, but I’ll never forget those words.
One of the hardest things I had too learn growing up was the fact there are, and will always be, things I’ll never be able to do.
I love sports, and one of the biggest hardships I had to endure was not being able to participate in them. When you grow up in a small, Southern town, sports is a big part of your life. Every year, especially in the Spring and Fall, the topic of conversations on my elementary school’s playground was which baseball or football team you were on at the local rec. center. I’d come home and ask my parents why I couldn’t play, and they’d lovingly tell me sports wasn’t the best thing for me. I grew to see the reasoning behind that explanation, and I still see it every time a batter has to duck out of the way of a fastball. I knew the reason I couldn’t play sports, but the desire never left me, especially when I got in junior high and high school, and my friends joined the football team.
They say football is a way of life in the South, and that’s absolutely true. I looked forward to Friday nights, and I was always a little envious when my friends took the field. My Daddy was a heck of an athlete in high school, and his teammates and former coaches still tell me stories of his crushing blocks and blazing fastball. He says they exaggerate, but looking at him I’d be willing to bet their stories are probably closer to the truth than his modesty will let him admit. There were Friday nights during my high school years I’d have given my pinkie fingers to put on that blue jersey, strap on a blue helmet with Daddy’s number 38 on the side, run through a banner and knock the stuffing out of opposing linebackers on my way to the end zone.
This was impossible, and I knew it. I also knew I wasn’t going to let something I couldn’t do stop me from doing something I loved, so I majored in Sports Journalism when I got to college.
I never have been comfortable with labels. Growing up, I hated the words “handicapped,””disabled” and “physically challenged.” Those words spawned the notion that I was different than everyone else. I know this is true in a sense, but I hated being categorized that way. Cerebral palsy will always be a part of me, but it will never define me. It makes up only a part of who I am.
I don’t know if I speak for everyone with C.P. or not, but one of the things I hate most about it is when people feel sorry for me.
This may sound strange, but I see cerebral palsy as a blessing.
It helps me rely on God, and forces me to realize every day that I wouldn’t even be alive if it wasn’t for Him. I think cerebral palsy helps me to see the blessings in life most of us, including me, take for granted more often than not. My ability to walk, communicate and function comes from Him. My family and friends are a blessing from His hand.
I survived those touch-and-go months because of Him, and I firmly believe I am on this earth because He wants to use me, cerebral palsy and all.
C.P. is a part of me, but I hope it’s not the only part people see when they come in contact with me.
I hope they see Jesus.
People tell me all the time I am an inspiration to them, and it always makes me uncomfortable because it’s not me I want them to be inspired by.
It’s the One who made me.
It’s the One who turns my disability into ability, and my tests into my testimony.
I chose a long time ago to let Him turn what most people see as a trial into His triumph.
The worse thing you can do is feel sorry me because of the way God chose to use me.
The best thing you can do is let Him use you as well, flaws and all.
Then, you won’t have to wonder what it’s like to walk a mile in my shoes.

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