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Through Eyes Of Faith - Part 2

by Chris Ely


This is Part 2 of the true story of one man's fight against a crippling disability and his undying faith in God. It details his life of living with cerebral palsy and telling how God worked in his life to take him through college and into a career as a journalist and to where he is today living in a nursing home. He gives God all the glory and wants to use his writing to encourage others in their walk with Christ.


TABLE OF CONTENTS PART 2

PART 1

Graduation
Leap of Faith
The Master's Plan
College Bound
Taste of Independence
Trials and Testing
A Second Chance
My Big Break
The Interview
Editor-in-Chief
Leaning on God
Pressing On

Life's Uncertainties
Believing
On My Own
A Deeper Walk
Dream Comes True
New Day Dawning
Fast Forward 20 Years
The Abundant Life
A New Start
One Day at a Time
Saying Goodbye
Epilogue


Graduation

The days leading to graduation were full of emotion as I prepared to leave Pampa High and say goodbye to friends I’d known since grade school. Friends who had drifted away over the years and I’d not talked to in a while came back for a final farewell.

I had a special reunion with my old grade-school friend Derrick Smith. He watched out for me, picked me up when I fell, or else told me to get up; he protected me. But over the years as we grew and changed and our interests grew apart, we began to drift apart.

The night of our graduation, we rekindled our friendship. I had my gown on, and we were lining up for the procession. I was trying desperately to keep that flattop, cardboard cap from sliding off my head when Derrick came over.

“This is it,” he said, solemnly.

“I know. Are you ready?” I asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“Me either.”

“I want you to know I’m proud of you, and what you’ve done. I’ll never forget you, you know.”

“I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me,” I said.

Derrick stretched out his arms to hug me. I tried to force back tears as we embraced warmly. Emotions were running high that night. A melancholy feeling hovered in the halls. I soon would depart those hallowed halls. I was excited about graduating, but the uncertainty of the future left me with mixed emotions.

I was unsure what would happen in the weeks and months to follow. I had made no decisions about the future beyond graduation, but I trusted that God would provide.

That night promised the unexpected. Ominous, dark clouds hung overhead, bringing the threat of rain. Everyone hoped the storm would hold off until after the ceremony. The procession led us outside the main building where the line formed to the fieldhouse for the ceremony.

I stood to the side as the class began lining up. My body was more tense than ever, and my coordination was as poor as it had ever been. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep pace with the beat of the march, and I didn’t want to slow the class down, so the teachers arranged for me to slip in and take my place just before the march began.

I was all ready to go in when the senior class sponsor stopped me. He instructed me to line up with the class. I tried telling him I wasn’t marching in the procession, but he said there had been a change of plans.

Some students had gone to him before the ceremony and told him they wanted me to march with the class. They didn’t care if I couldn’t keep up or if I slowed down the line. I was part of the class, and I should march in. I was thrilled that they wanted to include me. It meant a lot to me that they wanted to include me.

The students cheered as I took my place in line. My heart was pounding fiercely as the music started. This was it, the minute I’d dreamed about.

They divided us into two groups. Half the class entered the fieldhouse from the east side; the other half from the west. The groups marched down the outside aisles, crossed the back of the room and came up the center aisle together.

Instead of going all the way around, they told me I could march until I came even with my row, then cut across and take my seat. It was still like marching with the class, but I wouldn’t hold up the line.

The music began, and the line started in. I advanced a couple of feet when I noticed the gap between me and the students ahead of me starting to widen. I couldn’t keep the pace of the march. I was falling behind. I walked slowly and cautiously so I wouldn’t lose my balance. I felt like every eye in the room was trained on me.

I only had to make it to the first row, then I would drop out of line and take my seat. It couldn’t have been more than 10 or 15 feet, but it seemed much farther. I kept a steady pace toward my goal. I came to my row and darted in. I was in the last seat on the first row.

I remember little about the speeches or the ceremony that evening. Kambra was class valedictorian. As she stood up before the class to deliver the farewell address and speak of the future, I couldn’t help remembering the past and the times we had shared together.

Kambra always had been the class leader. I felt proud knowing my friend was up there delivering the valedictory speech. I cherished the friendship we had. I never knew for sure, but I always believed Kambra was responsible for me marching with the class. I was deeply touched by her gestures of friendship.

I was terrified at the mere thought of crossing the stage in front of all those people. My whole family — Mom, Dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins — turned out to see me graduate.

The honor students went forward first to receive their diplomas. I was on the tail end of the top 10 percent of the class. The principal called the names of the honor students in the order of class rank.

One by one, students crossed the stage to receive their diplomas. I waited for him to call my name.

Finally, I heard my name.

I stepped onto the platform, my legs shaking violently. I was petrified. Midway across the stage, I took the diploma in my left hand and shook the principal’s hand with my right. Suddenly, the entire class stood and erupted in applause, as the audience joined in a standing ovation.

The applause lingered as I left the stage and returned to my seat with the class. I cannot describe my feelings as I sat there, half oblivious to my surroundings, and watched my friends pass across the stage to receive their diplomas. We finally made it. We had graduated.

The thunderstorm had moved overhead as the ceremony ended and we left the fieldhouse, ready to begin a new chapter in our lives. It was sort of a sign of what lay ahead. There would be storms to weather along the way, but with hard work and perseverance we’d weather the storms.

I cherished my memories of high school and my years in school. It was one of the most carefree and happiest times of my life, and I knew my life would never be the same again.


Leap of Faith

I always believed if I worked hard and trusted in God, I could move mountains — even if I had to trudge a few valleys along the way. It was only through faith in God that I was able to do anything. He helped me in the good times and carried me through the hard times.

After high school, all my attention turned to college. I had given much thought to the future. I knew my calling was to be a journalist. The only question now was how to turn my dream into a reality. Summer was quickly approaching, and I still had many unsettled questions, wondering if I would go to college in the fall or if I could get a job once I finished. Still, I had to believe God had a plan for my life.

Mom and Dad never really talked about college with me. Why get my hopes up over something that might never happen, they asked themselves. Although they hoped there would be something I could do after high school, they had doubts about sending me away to college. They didn’t feel I was capable of going away to school. They braced for the worse: that I might never be able to live on my own. They only wanted the best for their son, but the odds seemed too great.

Whenever I mentioned college, my parents said, “We’ll have to wait and see.” But now, it was time for me to make decisions. I had to make my future happen.

I was determined that things would be different after high school. No longer was I content to sit around and do nothing. I had to find a job.

Mrs. Queen graciously offered her help in the job search. As soon as school was out, she called her friend at the newspaper, hoping he would let me work there for the summer.

I was willing to do any job at the paper, even if it meant taking no pay at first. I just wanted someone to give me a chance.

Weeks passed, and I heard nothing from the newspaper. I was beginning to lose all hope when I received a reply. The editor gently but resolutely turned me down. Without experience or a college degree, there was nothing he could do.

No one would give me a chance. I decided the only chance I had of getting a job was to go to college and get a degree.

I carefully devised a plan to convince my parents I was ready for college. I had it all worked out. I could go to school with Bill, I thought. We could be roommates, and he could help me.

Bill and I always vowed we would go to college together. Bill’s mom once joked if we were roommates Bill could cook and help me, and I could help him with his studies. She was joking, but it was no joke to me. I saw Bill as my only chance to go away to school in the fall.

My dream was shattered when things didn’t work out as I planned. Bill decided not to go to college. He’d had enough school and wanted to work after graduation. Then, there was my parents. They always assumed I would enroll at the community college and live at home.

I was heartbroken, of course. I had my heart set on going away to school. But for now anyway I would have to be content going to a junior college and living with my parents. It wouldn’t be that bad, I assured myself, and it would just be for a couple of years. I could take some classes, then in a couple of years transfer to a four-year school. I always kept that dream alive in my heart — that I would go away to college.

When school started in the fall, Dad took me to enroll at Clarendon College-Pampa Center. The picture I had of seeing the campus for the first time is etched in my mind. There was a meager one building, an old elementary school that the college leased and turned into a makeshift campus. It was the stepchild of Clarendon College’s main campus 50 miles away, which had lush dormitories and a modem library.

Clarendon College opened a Pampa campus to attract the growing number of students returning to college after a great oil depression in the late ’70s. Temporary classrooms were set up in the high school basement until a permanent place was found in the abandoned grade school. The building was old and dilapidated. Hardly what I imagined college would be like.

The desks sat only a few feet off the ground. Most of the school’s enrollment was older, making it a tight fit for some to squeeze into the tiny chairs that seemed more suited to grade-schoolers than college freshmen.

Drinking fountains and bathroom sinks were lower, too. At first, I thought they were lower to accommodate people in wheelchairs. I always looked to see if buildings were accessible, and this one certainly was even if their purpose had been to accommodate smaller students rather than disabled people.

I started off slowly with only three classes the first semester. I had to prove — mostly to myself — that I could handle the rigorous college work. I didn’t know what to expect.

It wasn’t much different from high school. A sea of familiar faces greeted me on the first day of class. I thought I was the only one stuck living at home going to a junior college. I was surprised when I saw friends from high school turn up there, too. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one.

The students weren’t the only reminders of high school. The college recruited its core of small, but dedicated faculty from the public schools, allowing instructors to teach at the college at night. I had the same algebra teacher that I had in high school.

Mixed in among the fresh-faced high school graduates was a group of older students returning to school to get their degrees. I found acceptance among the older students that I didn’t have with people my age. They accepted me, while the younger ones still considered me an outsider.

The older crowd welcomed me into their study sessions and invited me for coffee after class. They treated me like a guest instead of an intruder. I made many lasting friendships.

I was fond of one woman in particular. Reba was old enough to be my mother. She hadn’t been inside a classroom in 20 years, but she was following her heart. She wanted to get her degree. Being older, she knew it would be hard, but she set a goal and went after it.

She struggled to keep up with the younger, sprier students. We learned to help each other. We studied together after class, and she gave me rides home because I did not have a car.

Although Reba was older, I was more at ease with her than with those my own age. We had something in common. We were both following our dreams. College came at a price for both of us. We had to work harder to reach our goals.

The older students inspired me. I saw them and thought if they could do it, surely I could make it in college.

After taking a lighter load the first year to reassure myself I could handle college work, I was ready for a greater challenge. I took a full load my second year at Clarendon: 15 hours. The classes were more advanced now, and I had to buckle down and study. Chemistry was the hardest, and it taught me quite a lesson about life.

A retired Baptist minister taught the class. He had taught biology and chemistry at the high school for years before retiring. He came out of retirement to teach this one class at the college two nights a week. Just my luck.

I put off taking any science classes until my second year, and chemistry was the only science course offered that semester. The class centered around a lab. One night a week was strictly lab work, which counted for half our grade. I was nervous because I knew I’d have trouble working with chemicals for the experiments.

I talked to the instructor, who was getting up in years. He assured me the lab work wouldn’t be a problem. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll help you,” he said in his deep preaching voice. I could do what I could in the lab and observe the experiments I couldn’t do.

My mind was put at ease after talking to the instructor. I went into the class confident that he would work with me and not penalize me because of my physical limitations. After all, I had never had a problem before with a teacher modifying my assignments when I needed help.

I had no trouble with the written assignments. I picked up the concepts right away. When we started labs a few weeks into the semester, I was matched up with a lab partner.

The old instructor paired me with his most advanced student. My partner was well versed in the sciences. He worked in a chemical plant. He only took the class because he needed it to get a degree.

Some experiments required only simple operations, and I performed these tasks with no trouble. When it came time for complex experiments that involved mixing chemicals, I merely watched while my partner did the hands-on work.

My lab partner was very patient and kind. I never was that fond of science, so his experience was helpful in explaining the experiment as we went along. I was able to grasp the concepts behind the experiment without actually performing the hands-on work.

As the semester progressed, I was doing well in the class, or so I thought. I made As on all the tests and my homework. It came as a surprise when the semester ended and I got my grade in the mail. I got a ‘B’ in the class, the only ‘B’ that I had made since I started college. I couldn’t understand it because I had made As on everything all year.

The grade confounded me. I thought maybe I failed the final exam. I studied. I couldn’t understand it, so I called the instructor. He said it wasn’t that I hadn’t done well on the test. He said he couldn’t give me an ‘A’ because I hadn’t done the labs.

I was angry. It wasn’t fair. I had done the work. I felt like telling him I had worked every bit as hard as everyone else in the class, maybe more so. I needed help from time to time, but in the end I did the work and I got the same results as everyone else. It was just unfair that he would penalize me for something beyond my control. I could have understood it if I hadn’t done the work, but I had.

Life isn’t always fair. There are going to be battles. I could have fought the grade, but sometimes you have to accept that life isn’t always fair and forge ahead.

By that time, I had taken all the classes I could take at Clarendon College, and after two years I began to think in earnest again about going away to school.

I knew that if it was going to happen, I was going to have to make it happen. I had taken all the classes I could take at the Pampa Center, and now I had to make a decision. I started talking to Mom and Dad about going to the university. They were skeptical, but they agreed to let me try.

That spring, I sent letters to colleges in the area. I wrote to West Texas State University and Texas Tech University. I first had to find out if the campuses were accessible or if they lagged behind like the high school, which didn’t even have an elevator until my junior year. With a three wheel bike as my only means of transportation, I had to find a place where I could get around easily by foot or bicycle.

I received little response from either school. I got a standard reply: a copy of the college catalog and an application for admission, but nothing about accessibility.

The chances of me getting to go to college were looking slim. By the middle of July, I still hadn’t found out anything. It was beginning to look like I wasn’t going to college that fall.

I didn’t give up. I begged my parents to take me to West Texas State University to talk to the coordinator for disabled students. So, three weeks before school was to start, Mom, Dad and I went to WT.

Our first stop was the admissions office. The admissions’ director showed us the campus. I was surprised that most buildings were accessible. There were elevators and ramps in almost every building.

As we toured the campus, Mom was still skeptical. “It’s so big. How would you ever get around?” she asked.

I had a different view of campus. It wasn’t that big; it was really quite compact. I could picture myself on campus, jetting from building to building on my bicycle easily. I was more determined than ever to go to school there.

The campus was deserted on that sweltering, summer day. It was between semesters, and most of the students and faculty had left for a two-week break before the fall term began. We went to the disabled student services office and the journalism department, only to find that the people we needed to see were off campus that day. I filled out scholarship applications and left copies of my transcript.

I left WT knowing little more than I did when I got there. It was beginning to look like I was going to have to sit out that semester, and my dream of getting my degree would remain just that — a dream. All I could do now was pray for a miracle between then and the time school started.


The Master’s Plan

A miracle did happen. The next day, the head of the school’s communications department called. He had received my transcript. He offered me a journalism scholarship. My hopes soared. I still had a chance.

Now, I really had to make a decision. Until then, it was all just talk. Now, I had to decide. I didn’t know if I could make it on my own. I asked Dad if he thought I could make it away from home.

“That’s something you’re going to have to decide for yourself,” he said. “Only you know if you can do it.” Even though they still had doubts, my parents would support me whatever I decided to do.

I didn’t know, but one thing was certain. I had to try. If I didn’t try, I would never know.

There was still much to work out before school started, whether I should get a roommate and live in the dorm, what classes to take, how I would get to class in bad weather. I believed if it was God’s will, he would provide a way.

Mom worried about everything. Although she was proud of my accomplishments, she worried I was fooling myself by thinking I could be something I couldn’t. She was afraid I was setting myself up for a let down. She wanted to spare me some of the hurts of reality. Mom was looking at reality. In the natural, I couldn’t do what I was setting out to do. But I saw through the eyes of faith.

Still in doubt, Mom called the dean at West Texas to see if we could meet with the journalism professors to discuss my chances of becoming a journalist. That’s when everything fell into place. It was as if God had gone ahead of me to clear the way.

The head of the communications department, Dr. Robert Vartabedian, was helpful beyond belief. He had everything ready when we arrived at his office. He told us about the scholarship and the journalism program, and he arranged for me to meet with the two journalism instructors.

Rick Carpenter was the student adviser, and Nancy Hansen was a journalism instructor. Neither fit the image I had of college professors. I had pictured professors as old, gray-haired men. Rick was a tall, slender man. He was very astute and businesslike that day. Nancy was young as well. She was very friendly and energetic.

Mom had told them about my cerebral palsy when she talked to them on the phone. They seemed almost as surprised when they saw me as I was about them. They watched as I shuffled across the room to greet them.

The instructors were very willing to talk to Mom and me. They told me about the journalism program and what classes I should take the first semester.

But they were honest in telling me that with my speech difficulties, I’d have a tough time making it as a reporter.

But I persisted. They enrolled me in a beginning journalism class and suggested I write articles for the yearbook.

While the instructors advised me on classes, Dr. Vartabedian called the coordinator for disabled students and the campus housing director. They were waiting for us when we finished scheduling my classes.

The housing director took us to show us the dorms. I debated whether I should get a roommate or ask for a private room. It would be nice having someone to help me, but a roommate might think I was a burden. Maybe no one would want to room with me, I thought. I was torn over what to do.

The dorm director described two rooms to us. Both were accessible for disabled students. He would show us both, and I could decide which one I liked.

The first room was in a seven-story dormitory. As we walked up the sidewalk to the building, I looked skyward at the massive structure. I could hardly believe I was standing there and might actually be living there. My heart was racing with excitement.

The director took us inside and down a long hallway to a room at the end of the hall. The room was much larger than I expected. It had been refurbished to make it more accessible. One of the desks was lower so someone in a wheelchair could roll up to it easily, and one bed had an electric lift. Even the doors had push levers instead of door knobs. I was beaming with glee. It was exactly what I needed.

Mom still had some questions before she could give her blessing. “What about the bathroom?” she asked. That was where I would need the most help. At home, Dad put a handrail on the side of the bathtub for support, so I could pull myself up out of the tub.

As the dorm director led us down the hall to the bathroom, I expected to see a wall of showers instead of a bathtub. Most dormitories had only showers. I never took showers. The slick, wet surface made it impossible for me to keep my balance. I was afraid of slipping. I didn’t know how I would manage if there was no tub.

I could hardly believe it when I walked into the restroom. There was a regular shower next to the door, and back in the corner was a bathtub — complete with handrails like the ones at home.

It was hard to believe the way everything worked out that day. It was as if that room was meant for me. The housing director even offered to let me have the room as a private room. I wouldn’t have to worry about finding someone who would want to share a room with me.

We didn’t look at the other room. I didn’t need to see any others. I knew that room was meant for me. It had to be.

As we left the school that day, I told Mom it was no coincidence the way things had worked out. It had to be God. There was no other explanation for the way things fell into place that day. Mom agreed that it was as if I was meant to be there. She felt better about me going away then. After seeing the obstacles being rolled away, Mom knew she couldn’t stand in my way. She had to let me go.


College Bound

The day I left for college was the day I saw my dream become a reality I waited two long years for that day, and it wasn’t until the car was packed and we were on the way that I realized my dream of going to college was coming true. I was on my way to independence.

It was harder on Mom than it was on me, knowing she would have to leave me at the end of the day. Mom had stood by me and supported me through it all. It was hard for her to let me go, but she stood by me. Dad too.

They knew how much it meant to me, and they supported me. They kept silent even though they still had doubts. Sink or swim, I’d have to stand on my own now. They knew I’d take some falls, but they encouraged me and let me stand on my own.

Finally, the time we had both dreaded had arrived. It was time to say goodbye. Choking back tears, we said our goodbyes. I hugged Mom and told her I would be all right, then I watched as she slowly drove away.

A strange feeling came over me as I watched Mom pull away. It wasn’t a sad feeling, but I wasn’t as excited as I thought I would be. For a minute, I wanted to run after her, yelling, “Stop! Don’t leave me here!” But then, I realized this was what I had wanted for so long. The future stood before me. I only had to look to God to know I was going to be all right.

Mom got a few blocks from the school and had to pull off the road. She had put up a tough front while she was with me, but now tears began to caress her face. She had a good cry before she started home.

Slowly, I made my way back into the dormitory filled with strangers. I wondered if they would accept me and give me a chance. It really didn’t sink in on me that I was finally on my own. That thought frightened me.

That night, there was a cookout on the lawn outside the cafeteria. Tables were spread out beneath the trees, and some students were sprawled on the ground feasting on hamburgers and ice cream. I was at a loss as to what to do. I couldn’t eat on the ground, but how could I carry my plate to the table without dropping it?

My hands quaked violently at the thought of trying to steady the tray and carry the food without spilling it. I didn’t dare ask for help. What would people think? I was on my own now. I couldn’t ask for help. I took a tray and got in line.

When I reached the front of the line, the lady serving noticed I was having trouble balancing the tray. She quickly summoned one of the cafeteria workers to come carry my food. The tables were full by the time I got through the line. I sat down on the cafeteria steps well away from the crowd, hoping no one would notice if I dripped lemonade down my shirt.

I watched the other students as they milled around, laughing and greeting friends they hadn’t seen all summer. They all looked so happy. How I wanted to rush over and join them, but I kept my distance for now. A group of freshmen came over after recognizing me from moving into the dorm earlier that day. Their warm greeting was a welcome surprise.

“You live in Jones Hall, don’t you?” one of the boys asked.

“Yes,” I said surprised they had recognized me.
“We live on the seventh floor. You’ll have to come up.”

“Thanks,” I said, thinking they were just being friendly and that they didn’t really want my company. I simply couldn’t believe they meant it. They were just being kind, I told myself.

I quickly finished my burger and left. I had refused any ice cream, afraid it would get soft and run down my chin. It had been a long day, and I was exhausted.

That night, the excitement began to sit in. I could hardly sleep. I lay in bed listening intently to the unfamiliar voices on the floor above me. There was never a quiet moment in the dorm. The noise didn’t bother me. I was just thrilled to actually be there. I fell asleep, assuring myself everything would be all right.

The next day was the only free day before classes began. I spent the day riding around looking at the campus. I was all wide-eyed as I explored my new surroundings on my three-wheel bicycle.

I found the building where my classes met. The fine arts building was as far on the other side of campus from my room as you could get. Still, it took me only about 10 minutes by bike. I remembered Mom’s warning when we first visited the school and how hard she said it would be to get around in such a big place. Suddenly, it didn’t seem as big or as scary.

I rode around admiring the beautiful, old buildings that had been restored and renovated. They were beautiful. The lawns were green and meticulously groomed.

I was riding back to my room when a girl rode up beside me on a bicycle. She was looking at me rather curiously so I stopped, thinking she wanted to get around me.

She was friendly and smiled warmly. “I was just admiring your bike,” she said as she rode up beside me.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m glad to see someone else on a bike.” My three-wheeler stuck out among all the other people walking, and I felt a little out of place anyway.

She asked my name and said we should go riding together sometime. We talked awhile before I went back to the dorm. It was nice to see a friendly face in a place that seemed so foreign. Still, I had to question whether her gesture was sincere or if she was just being polite.

Classes got under way the next day. I had only one class the first day. It was an 8 o’clock class, and without Mom there to prod me, I had to get up and get dressed by myself. I was up early because it took me longer to get ready, struggling to get my socks and shoes on, which was still difficult for me. At last, I was on my way to class.

I saw Dr. Vartabedian on my way to class. He was one of the few people whose kindness I accepted as a genuine willingness to help me. I thought everyone else was just doing it for show. Dr. Vartabedian showed me a safe place to stow my bike and walked me to the elevator.

The elevator was tucked away in the back of the building. I might have never known it was there if he hadn’t pointed it out. Music students used it to cart their instruments to a second-floor music room. I actually had to pass through the music room to reach the elevator. I wasted more steps walking to the elevator than I saved by riding it, so I took the stairs after that.

My first class was public relations, and we lost little time before we started writing. We got an assignment the first day. Nancy Hansen, one of the instructors I had met a week earlier in Dr. Vartabedian’s office, divided the class in groups of two. We had to interview our partner and write a profile of the other person.

The class was one shy of everyone having a partner and by the time the instructor got to me, everyone already had a match. Everyone was already starting to shuffle their chairs and beginning to interview someone.

There was a woman there named Lydia who came to class with a hearing-impaired student. She was an interpreter for the student who read lips.

I interviewed Lydia. She went around to classes with the hearing-impaired student and translated the instructor’s lectures using sign language. I was comforted knowing there were other disabled students on campus. I wasn’t alone in the battle for independence. There were others like me.


Taste of Independence

Gradually, I settled in and began to make adjustments trying to survive on my own. I rode my bike everywhere. I never could have made it across the campus without my three-wheeler. It was like having an extra pair of legs.

One morning, I got up and it was raining. It was a cold, driving rain. It fell in sheets and pounded the ground. I knew I’d get soaked if I tried to ride to class.

I waited a few minutes, praying the rain would let up. It came down in droves. I knew it was no use to try to ride my bike that day, but I had to get to class. I walked down to the lobby hoping someone with a car would see me and offer me a ride. I was ready to give up when I spotted Tim, the resident assistant on my floor.

Resident assistants were upperclassmen who lived in the dorm and helped the residents adjust to college life. I was determined not to ask anyone for help, but I could see no other way. I had to get to class. I got up the nerve and asked for a ride.

Tim was headed the other direction, but he offered to drop me at the fine arts building on the way. I was never so grateful for a ride. I didn’t want to miss class, especially because of a little rain. Winter would be coming on soon, and I didn’t know what I was going to do then. I just took it one day at a time and trusted in God to help me.

The thing I dreaded most was mealtime and eating among strangers. I went to the cafeteria at odd hours after most students had left. I waited until mid-afternoon or late at night to avoid crowds.

Every other Thursday night was steak night at the cafeteria. It was a rare treat, when the fare was a little better than the usual choice of turkey fritters and soy patties.

I went to the cafeteria that first Thursday thinking I would enjoy some good home cooking, but what I got instead was a taste of humility.

We had a choice of chopped sirloin or chicken-fried steak. I chose chicken-fried, thinking it would be easier to manage. Mom always cut up my meat for me, but I thought I’d be able to manage. It looked tender, and I was sure I could manage a little piece of steak.

I took the knife and tried to slice off a small piece. The steak was smothered in gravy and when I tried to cut it, the gravy ran off but the knife didn’t cut through the meat. I tried to cut another piece, but my knife kept slipping. The steak slid off the plate and almost went in my lap. I recovered it before it landed on the floor. The knife had scraped all the crust off but wouldn’t cut the meat.

Finally, I gave up. In frustration, I picked up the whole piece of steak with my fingers and started to bite into it when I noticed a girl watching me from the balcony. I froze. She must have been watching me the whole time. She got up and started toward my table. I wanted to crawl under the table or disappear.

I was embarrassed. The girl asked if she could cut my steak for me. I was grateful but humiliated. I was supposed to be doing it on my own. I couldn’t enjoy the rest of my meal.

That night, I started to have second thoughts about whether I could make it at college. I went back to my room and started questioning whether I’d made the right decision. If I couldn’t cut a piece of steak, how could I manage other tasks? I began to pray, “God, you brought me this far. Don’t leave me now.” I knew I couldn’t make it without God. He was my strength, especially in those first few weeks at college.

As much as I relied on my parents to do everything for me when I was young, now I was determined to make it on my own. All on my own. I had to find that balance between independence and being dependent on others.

I realized it was all right to admit I needed help. I couldn’t do it all by myself. I was going to need some help. After that, I wasn’t afraid to ask for help when I needed it.

One kind cafeteria worker graciously carried my tray and cut up my meat and anything else I needed. Billy Rowe helped me with my food every day. He’d see me come in and rush out to help me.

Billy was a patient, gentle man. He waited while I tried to decide what I wanted to eat and then made sure I didn’t need anything else cut or poured before he went back to his post in the dish room. After a week or two, he knew what to cut up without me telling him.

Billy was a man of strong conviction. He did a lot to encourage me in my faith. At a time when I was torn between living a fast and loose college life or following the Christian scruples my parents so sternly instilled in me, Billy was like a spiritual beacon.

Away from home for the first time, it was easy to forsake the principles of godly living and follow the crowd. Mom wasn’t there to prod me to get out of bed on Sunday morning and go to church. I could have easily stayed in bed an extra hour, especially since I had no way of getting to church. But then there was Billy.

He graciously offered to take me to church services with him. I gladly accepted his invitation, if for no other reason than just to be with someone. The halls were always swarming with people, but I often felt like I was on an island isolated from everybody.

I loved going to church with Billy. He was raised much as I was in a Pentecostal Assembly of God church. The church had a lot of older saints, fervent prayer warriors. I went through many falls my first year away from home. Their prayers lifted my faith. It gave me hope when I felt like giving up.

After church, Billy sometimes invited me to his home for Sunday dinner. I delighted in any chance at a home cooked meal away from the school cafeteria, and Billy always remembered to cut up my food. At times, I think he thought I was helpless. He insisted on helping me into the car and buckling my seat belt. I needed help with my food, so he assumed I couldn’t do anything for myself. I had to remind him, “I can do it. I’m not helpless.”

Billy was a friend at a time when I was alone and needed an ally. The loneliness was suffocating the first few months I was there. Mom and Dad told me it would be hard at first, but they assured me I’d make friends. It wasn’t that easy for me. I couldn’t talk to strangers.

I was determined that I was going to be more open in college than in high school. Things would be different at college, I told myself. I would go up and talk to people and let them get to know me. I would be one of the boys, and they would want to be with me.

I tried to open up and talk to the guys in the dorm. I tried to fit in, but it was the same as high school. I was still an outsider. The guys in the dorm were friendly, but that’s as far as it went. The fact was I didn’t fit in. There was a barrier that wouldn’t crumble. No matter how hard I tried, I could never be one of the boys.

I joined the handicapped student-support group on campus, where I made friends with other disabled students. I saw what they went through, their struggles, their trials and I realized I wasn’t alone. I was no different from any other student there. Everyone struggled, and we learned to help each other.

Rusty Tomlinson was the disabled students coordinator. He helped us work to reach our goals. Rusty was a graduate student. He wanted to help disabled children when he finished school.

He called me nearly every day; he often took me to lunch and encouraged me to keep trying. And when I turned 21, he bought me my first beer. I only took a few swigs. It tasted bitter and made me sick to my stomach. I swore I’d never drink again. I knew it was wrong to drink, but it was a rite of passage, and I had to try it.


Trials and Testing

Fall rolled into winter, and the frigid weather kept me inside more. My classes were mostly in the morning, and I had the rest of the day idle. I stayed in my room, mostly by myself. I was lonely. Mom called nearly every day. I looked forward to her calls and the sound of another voice, and I wanted to go home every weekend.

I begged my parents to come get me on weekends. Dad made the 75mile trip to pick me up on Friday, and he took me back Sunday afternoon. I didn’t want to stay at school on weekends. When the weather was too bad and I had to stay on campus, I locked myself in my room. It got so bad that at one point, I said if I made it through the semester, I didn’t want to go back.

The only thing that kept me from giving up was my classes. I was finally doing what I loved. I took only journalism classes the first semester. I hadn’t written anything since high school. It had been two years, and I had missed writing. I was nervous about writing again, but it all came back the first time I sat down at the typewriter.

There wasn’t much writing at first. I had to start at the bottom. My classes were filled with mostly freshmen. I was almost a junior and eager to write again.

I knew there would be plenty of chances to write later on, but I didn’t want to wait. I had all these ideas in my head, and writing was the only way I knew to get them out. I expressed my desire to write to Rick Carpenter. He echoed my fears from high school that the deadlines of a weekly newspaper might be too much for me, and he suggested I write for the yearbook.

Rick took an interest in me and warmly welcomed me into the yearbook class. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder if I could meet the stiff demands made on reporters. He watched with growing concern the difficulty I had communicating. He was hesitant to send me out on interviews, so he gave me a special assignment: to write articles for a news-magazine section in the yearbook.

The yearbook editor gave me a stack of Newsweek and Time magazines. I read about the events in the magazines and wrote an account of what I read. It was a historic year. There was plenty of material. The Berlin Wall came crashing down that fall, and Hurricane Hugo left a path of destruction as it swept across the East Coast.

I didn’t have to worry about interviews and the frustrations of not being understood, and I liked writing news articles. I worked on the stories for two solid weeks, writing and rewriting, painstakingly choosing each word. Finally, I turned my first story in to the editor.

My heart was bursting with excitement as I handed her my story. I watched as she skimmed the pages I had pounded out on my old typewriter. I was beaming with pride, only to have her hand back my story and ask me if I had copied it from the magazine.

Later that afternoon in my adviser’s office, Rick explained to me about plagiarism and how it was wrong — not to mention illegal — to take the words of others and pass them off as your own.

I didn’t understand. I sweated over those words for two weeks, carefully choosing each one. It was my work. I wrote those articles. I handed Rick the magazines and told him to see for himself.

That night, I cried myself to sleep. No one believed I was capable of writing that article. More than ever, I vowed that I would not return to school in the spring. How could I if no one believed in me?

I was angry. I cried out to God. Why would he bring me this far to watch me fail? But I didn’t give up. I continued to trust God. I knew he would see me through.

When I went back to class the next week, Rick returned the magazines. He had compared the magazine articles to my work, and he saw that he was wrong. He told me I was blessed with a special talent. Rick gave me back the magazines and asked me to keep writing the articles.

I persevered and finished the semester, but it wasn’t without much help and encouragement from my professors. Although the first few months at college were lonely, I wondered what I’d do with my life if I didn’t go back. I knew my only hope of finding a job was a college degree. I had to try.

The second semester brought less trials than the first. Gradually, I relaxed and adjusted to being on my own. I accepted being alone, and I found that the way to forget about the loneliness was to get involved. I threw myself into my studies. I took another writing class and started writing for the college newspaper.

It was different from the articles I wrote from magazines. I actually had to talk to people. I was afraid they would reject me. It created a problem getting stories, but the professors were understanding. They worked with me to help me get interviews. Each week, either Rick or Nancy would call and set up the interview, then I’d go and talk to them in person.

I had no trouble when I went to talk to them in person even though I had a rather crude technique for interviewing. I wrote down my questions and gave them a copy. It was less awkward that way. They didn’t feel embarrassed when they didn’t understand me, and I didn’t get as frustrated if they couldn’t comprehend right away.

I submitted an article each week, hoping each time my story would get in the paper. It was weeks before I got a story in the paper, but I was so proud when I finally got my first story printed.

The story was on faith. I wrote about the campus minister at the Methodist Student Center and his mission in helping students explore their faith. College is a time for searching, and as a minister, he helped students deal with life’s uncertainties — not to provide all the answers, but to help them discover their own beliefs.

I learned something from writing that story because I was at that stage of searching, and I thought other students could learn, too. I submitted the story, not knowing if it would get in the paper, and the editor liked it. She printed it that week.

More than anything, though, the editors were surprised by my writing. People thought someone “with my condition” was incapable of accomplishing a goal like going to college or writing a story. “He shouldn’t be able to do that,” they said.

I had to dispel the stereotypes people had about me and other disabled individuals and, in time, people began to look past the physical defects and see my abilities.

The editors began to see that I was capable of doing the work. Over the semester, they began to assign me more difficult subjects to write about. I received choice assignments.

In time, Rick also began to believe in me. He believed I had a gift, and he unselfishly devoted time to help me.

Shortly before the semester ended, Rick arranged an interview with the Amarillo Globe-News for a summer internship. The job was for a copy editor. Writing was my first love, but Rick convinced me I’d have a better chance landing a job as a copy editor than as a reporter. I was ready to try anything at that point.

I went to the newspaper for an interview and an intense editing test. I hadn’t done much editing since high school. The test didn’t go well. I panicked when they handed me a story and told me to edit it. I sat staring down at the paper. I didn’t even finish the test. Needless to say, I didn’t get the internship.

I was heartbroken, and Rick was almost as disappointed as I was. He really wanted me to do well. Rick encouraged me not to give up. I was, after all, still a junior. I had time.

I was discouraged when I left school for the summer. Despite some success with my writing, I still had been unable to get a job. I had prayed I would get that internship so I could work that summer. I didn’t want to spend another summer at home. But it wasn’t meant to be.


A Second Chance

After the fiasco of the editing test, I wanted to give up. I felt like I had failed. I had to be the only person who had ever been turned down for a job, I thought. I sulked for weeks. Again, I vowed I would not return to school in the fall.

I had been home only a few weeks and already was getting restless from the dog days of summer when I got a call from Renita Finney. Renita was the new editor of the college newspaper, and she offered me a job as copy editor for the fall semester.

Of course, I was thrilled. I knew it was only because of Rick that she even considered me for the job, but I was glad to accept. This was my chance to prove to Mom and Dad that I could make it as a journalist.

The promise of a job gave me new hope. Suddenly, I could hardly wait for school to start. Hoping to avoid a repeat of my performance on the internship test, I inundated myself with the bible of every copy editor: The Associated Press stylebook. It had every hard and fast rule of fine editing, and I was determined to know every one of them by the time school started.

I was raring to go when September rolled around. My only fear was facing that empty dorm room again. The loneliness I felt when I went into that room still haunts my memory. It was as if the four walls swallowed me up.

I didn’t stay in my room long enough for loneliness to set in. As soon as I got settled, I headed straight to the newsroom. I was anxious to get started. I wanted to thank Rick for recommending me for the job and to meet the new editor.

Renita wasn’t at all the way I pictured her on the phone. She had long, flowing blond hair. She looked more like a movie star than a staunch newspaper editor.

Renita seemed friendly enough. She showed me around the newsroom and told me what I would be doing, and she introduced me to Nate Briles, the associate editor.

Nate was a freshman, straight out of high school. His fresh-faced, wiry visage made him look much more youthful. It was unusual for a freshman to work on the newspaper staff, let alone become associate editor. But then Nate was no usual freshman. He was editor of his high school paper and a gifted writer.

Nate and I hit it off from the beginning. There wasn’t that barrier that existed with most people. He wanted to know about my disability, a subject that was taboo with most strangers. His candor startled me. I didn’t mind talking about my disability, but no one had dared to ask about my handicap before.

It was the first time anyone had taken time to get to know me — the person. Nate listened intently as I told him how the palsy had left my taut limbs untamed and listless.

Once I had satisfied Nate’s curiosity, the subject of my disability was put to rest and our talk turned to other things, namely journalism and our jobs on the paper. Our interest in the paper and love for writing drew us together. I left there that day feeling like I had known him forever.

The first weekend back at school, Rick invited the newspaper staff to his mountain cabin for the Labor Day weekend. I usually begged Dad to come get me on every long weekend, but this time was different. I wanted to be with my new friend.

As soon as classes let out on Friday, we headed for Colorado. It felt strange being with them, like I was out of place. I felt the way I had on the first day of kindergarten looking out at the unfamiliar faces.

I didn’t stay a stranger long. Soon, I found myself sharing in the most intimate details of their lives. And I was talking about myself, something I seldom did among strangers. The long drive and open countryside gave us ample time to get to know one another, which was what Rick had hoped would happen by taking us on the retreat.

Over the next three days, I came to know the people who would become a family to me. Besides Renita and Nate, there was Heather Davis and Kenneth King. Heather was the only one I knew from the year before. She was in several of my journalism classes, but I had never talked to her before that weekend.

Kenneth was the newspaper photographer. He was a freshman and came to West Texas from Odessa, Nate’s hometown. Kenneth and Nate were roommates.

It was a scenic drive through the hills and valleys into Colorado. I gazed out the window at the beauty of nature and all God created. The view of the mountains from Rick’s cabin was breathtaking. The leaves were beginning to put on their fall brilliance. I’d never seen anything so beautiful and peaceful. Rick’s mountain home was an authentic log cabin.

That night, while the rest of the group walked into town, Rick and I sat in the cool mountain air. It was a quiet night, and there was a brisk chill in the air. It was the first time I had had a quiet moment alone with Rick since school started, and I hadn’t had a chance to properly thank him for getting me on the paper.

I spilled out a heartfelt thanks. Rick understood my intent and said kindly, “There’s no need to thank me. You did it.” He knew I was disappointed I didn’t land the internship that summer. He was, too. But this was a new year.

“Forget about last year,” he said. “Today is a new day. You’re going to do fine.”

I had come a long way in Rick’s eyes since a year earlier, when he wondered if he should encourage me to pursue a career in journalism. Now, he boosted my confidence. He believed in me.

We rose before dawn the next morning, and Rick took us to watch the sun rise. It was an awesome sight, watching the sun peer from behind the mist-filled mountains.

Then, Rick took us up the mountain. He knew I’d have difficulty getting around on the uneven terrain. I offered to stay at the cabin while the others hiked. I didn’t mind. I was just thrilled to be there. Rick wouldn’t hear of leaving me at the cabin. Before we left school, Rick loaded my bicycle onto his truck and brought it along.

When we got to the foot of the mountain, he untied my bike and they began pushing me up the side of the mountain. It was about a half-mile uphill on a steep, rocky path. I never could have made it on foot. Even with my bike, I had trouble navigating along the narrow path.

Everyone helped me. Nate got on one side of me and Kenneth on the other, and together they pulled and tugged until we reached the top.

We came to a place where the ground leveled off and I could walk. I left the bike and walked across a grassy plain where the mountain peaked. This time, Renita and Heather helped me. They took my arms and led me through the thick brush.

It was the most spectacular view. It was a clear, sunny day, and I could see for miles across the rolling hills. I felt like I could reach up and touch heaven.

Rick stood before us with the sun coming over the hill as a backdrop. He gave us his sermon on the mount.

He told us the story of a young boy, brought up in the shanties of Oklahoma City. Growing up in a broken home, the boy was forced to do for himself at a tender age. He was a strapping lad and quite athletic. He turned all his attentiveness to sports, running track and cross-country. Running was his passion, often crowding out studying and book learning.

One day, a caring teacher sent for the young man. The boy walked in all covered in perspiration from having just come from practice. The teacher sat him down and began to impart to him the importance of hard work and studying, of reading and writing. She told him if he worked hard he could do anything he set his mind to.

That boy was Rick, and he remembered the lesson he learned that day. He began to set goals for himself and make them come true. Rick shared that message with us that day on the mountain.
“It doesn’t matter what you want in life, you can do it if you set a goal and work to reach that goal,” he said.

Rick told us to set our sights high — not to settle for second best. Anything worth having is worth fighting for, he said. Whether it’s happiness or anything else, it takes commitment. I felt like his words were aimed straight at me.

“If you want to be a copy editor, work to be the best copy editor you can be,” he said.

After Rick finished, he sent us off to spend time by ourselves and to think about the future. Sitting by myself atop the mountain, I felt closer to God than I ever had. I had time to ponder my future and think about what I wanted to do with my life.

I had let doubt fill my mind. I didn’t know if I could do the job before me, but I had to believe. I set a goal that day: of being the best copy editor I could be.

Back at the cabin, everything was done for me. They catered to my every need. At mealtime, my meat was cut up for me before I asked that it be. It was a peaceful weekend. Even though I had known them only a few days, I felt so close to them.

That night, Renita shared her goals for the newspaper. She told us the expectations she had for each of us. She said the job would demand commitment, dedication and team work. It would take all of us working together, and she said some of us might not make it all the way through the semester. It wouldn’t be easy, she told us. Then, she gave us a chance to change our minds, but no one did.

We were all new at the newspaper game. Except for Nate and Renita, none of us had done it before. No one was sure what to expect. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I was determined to try. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. It never is, but I finally had the chance to prove myself.

I kept thinking about what Rick had said on the mountain. It made me start believing in myself. I started believing I could make something of my life. I really could do it.

Rick was more than just an instructor that weekend. He taught me more than just about journalism; he taught me about life. He taught me to set goals for myself and then work to reach them.

We all had a great time that weekend, and no one wanted to leave. Classes resumed in full force the day after we got back, and the first issue of the newspaper was due out less than two weeks later.

It didn’t leave much time. Stories had to be assigned and written. The stories had to be edited and the pages laid out. All of this and go to class. I never had taken an editing class, but I had to start proofreading stories for the paper. I hardly knew where to begin.

Rick was patient. As stories drifted in during the week, he went over each one of them with me. He edited them meticulously, explaining each change he made and showing me how to make the story flow smoothly from one thought to the next.

There was so much to remember and so many rules. I was overwhelmed. No wonder I had botched the editing test for the internship.
Rick and I worked side by side. We worked late into the evening and all weekend before the first paper came out.

Gradually, he let me begin editing the stories, and he watched. I was so careful, trying to catch every mistake, but Rick always found little slips of the pen I never even saw. I didn’t think I’d ever get it, but Rick encouraged me.

Rick could edit a story in no time, while it took me 30 minutes to read a story. “You’ll catch on,” he assured me. “It just takes awhile. I’ve been at this a little longer than you have.”

It gave me a sense of pride when the paper came out and I knew that I had a part in it. It made all the hard work seem worthwhile. Then, the long process began again.

I had little time to get lonely. I became so involved with the newspaper. It became my whole life. I loved it. I lived in the newsroom night and day the first two weeks of the semester. I hardly had time to go home weekends.

Rick soon relinquished the editing chores to my charge, and I edited all the copy. I had help, though. Renita and Heather helped. Then, there was Nate.

Nate and I were inseparable. We were together day and night. We did everything together. We often stayed and worked on newspaper assignments long after everyone else had gone home.

It wasn’t all work, though. We did our share of carousing, too. Nate had a souped-up hot rod. It was a two-seater. After class, we’d climb in his old jalopy and take off. We’d ride carelessly for hours, often heading to Amarillo for the evening. We’d cruise through town, laughing and carrying on.

Nate was a real speed demon. He’d go flying down the expressway with the windows rolled down and the wind sweeping through the front seat and music blaring on the radio. It was invigorating. I forgot all my cares and worries when I was with Nate. It was a real contrast to my first year away from home, staying cooped up in my room all day. Finally, I was enjoying college life.

When the weather turned colder, Nate drove me to class. I pretended to be tough. “The cold doesn’t bother me,” I told him. “I can ride my bike.” But Nate wouldn’t hear of it. He insisted on driving me. I was glad he did.

It was a frigid winter, much colder than the year before. The first snow of the season came in late October. Temperatures had been hovering below freezing all week, and I knew it was only a matter of time before we got our first winter blast.

I dreaded the snow because it made getting around difficult at best. The inevitable finally came. I had a night class one night a week, and it started sleeting while I was in class. By the end of class, there was a thin blanket of snow glistening on the ground.

It wasn’t a heavy snow, but it was enough that the instructor let class out early. The roads were getting slick, so the instructor offered to drive me home.

The kind teacher was always looking out for me. She often sounded like my mother, telling me to be sure and bundle up and wear my mittens. She worried about me riding home in the snow that night. It was snowing pretty hard when I got ready to leave. The instructor told me to leave my bike there and let her take me back to my room.

But I wouldn’t listen. I insisted on riding my bike. People were walking from class, and if they could make it, I could, too. I bundled up in my heavy coat and stocking cap and set out.

I had no trouble at first. I sloshed through the sleet and over the snow-covered walkways. I had good traction. My bike didn’t get stuck as I had thought it might. As long as it was just snow, I made it fine.

About half way home, I hit a patch of ice. I gently tapped the brake, and the bike began to slide. I slowed down to keep control of the bike. The wind started picking up, and snow was blowing in my face. I couldn’t see what was ahead, but I plunged ahead. I was almost there. I was rounding the comer when the bike slid off the sidewalk.

I skidded off onto the soft snow. I tried to push myself back onto the sidewalk, but I couldn’t move. I was stuck. Each time I put my feet down to propel myself back onto the sidewalk, I would slip and lose my footing. It was like walking on glass; I couldn’t keep my balance.

The wind was howling now. I couldn’t see anything. If anyone came out of the building, they wouldn’t be able to see me through the snow. The thought of being stranded there all night ran through my mind, but I wasn’t worried. Not yet anyway. I knew it was only a matter of time before someone came along and spotted me. The only thing I could do was wait.

My hands were numb. I had been out there only a few minutes. I knew I wasn’t going to freeze. Finally, one of the guys from the dorm came up on his way back from class. He rushed over to rescue me.

“Boy, I’m glad to see you,” I said.

He pulled me out of the snow drift and started pushing me up to the building. As he rolled me in out of the cold, the warm air hit me across the face, but my hands were still numb. I couldn’t hold the key to get into my room. He unlocked the door and helped me into my room.

It snowed all night and all the next day. It was the biggest blizzard of the year. Classes were canceled the next day. The cold lingered for several days, and I relied on Nate to pick me up and drive me to class.

As soon as the ground began to thaw, I was back out on my three-wheeler. My bike gave me a sense of independence. People saw my bike, and they knew I couldn’t be far away.

As the weeks went on, I spent more time at the paper and less time studying. I took two more writing classes that semester. I became wholly absorbed in the newspaper.

I felt overwhelmed at times. Each week, Renita would set another mountain of papers before me, and I faced the insuperable task of uncovering the hidden fallacies. It seemed hopeless. By the end of the week, my eyes were swimming in a sea of words. I never would have made it through the semester were it not for the kindness and support of Nate and the others on the staff.

We had weekly critique sessions of our work. The journalism instructors, Rick and Billy Smith, marked up the paper. They highlighted all the mistakes they could find in red ink. Some weeks, there was more red than black.

It was hard for me to accept their criticism of my work. I had doubts about being there anyway, wondering if my work was really satisfactory or if they merely tolerated me. I thought every mistake was my fault. It was my job to catch the mistakes, I told myself.

I accepted their criticism gracefully and openly, but privately I felt as if I had failed. My emotions swayed between moments of joy and sadness. I often became depressed when things didn’t go right, but I kept my feelings of insecurity inside.

Gradually, I learned to take their faultfinding in the manner in which it was offered. No one thought I was incapable as I had imagined. They only wanted to help me.

I soon began to take on more responsibility at the paper, writing editorials and making more decisions. I loved every minute of it. Finally, I was doing what I always had dreamed of doing.


My Big Break

The new year brought change and a few surprises into our lives. As I was preparing to return to school from the Christmas break, the country was preparing for war with Iraq, the first massive call to arms in my lifetime.

The country was turned topsy-turvy as families braced to send husbands and wives, sons and daughters to war. Talk of the war terrified me. Not knowing what would happen with the war, I was nervous about leaving my family and returning to school.

I knew I would never have to fight in a war because of my disability, but for friends in the Army Reserves, war was a real possibility. One friend from church already had left for the Persian Gulf, and others were put on alert.

Everyone was on edge, knowing that at any moment a bomb could explode that would change our lives forever. There was an air of uncertainty for many students, not knowing if they would get to stay in school or have to fight in the war.

The only comforting thought about returning to school was knowing that Nate would be there. I could hardly wait to see him again.

I was one of the first students to return to the dorm after the Christmas break. The halls were hauntingly quiet. That night, I rode my bike around the still-deserted campus. It was strange to see the streets so empty, no loud music blaring out of dorm-room windows.

It was like a ghost town. I was riding aimlessly through the desolate streets, searching for a familiar face, when I spotted Rick coming out of the journalism building. He saw me across the parking lot and began wildly waving me toward the building.

He was beaming with excitement. I had never seen him so worked up. As I rode up, Rick began shouting, “They’re here! They’re here!”

“What’s here?” I asked.

Rick rushed me into the building, to the top of the stairs, where stacks of empty boxes were piled up to the ceiling, and a row of shiny new computers sat on a table.

We had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of new computers since I started to WT a year and a half earlier. Rick was eager to demonstrate the new wizardry. They had the latest technology with all the bells and whistles.

Then, Rick hit me with an even bigger surprise.

“Renita quit!” he said with the same enthusiasm as he told me about the computers. It was no secret that Rick and Renita had had their differences. I had even had a few run-ins with her.

I was shocked. “Who’s going to be the editor?” I asked.

“We have to hire someone,” he said. “I think you should apply.”

Me? Surely he was joking, I thought. I could never be editor. Could I? A sudden burst of excitement exploded inside me and raced up my spine as for one brief moment, I considered what it would be like. Me, editor of the college newspaper!

Soon, my senses returned, and I quickly came down to reality. “I don’t know,” I said. “There are others more qualified. What about Nate?” Nate had much more experience than I did.

“Well, Nate’s still a freshman. He’ll have plenty of time to be editor . . . after you’re gone,” Rick said.

“I don’t know.” I’d never thought about being editor. I was thrilled just to work on the newspaper. I never dreamed I could be editor. I thought someday, perhaps my senior year, maybe . . . But not now. I wasn’t ready.

“Think about it,” Rick said. “You would be a great editor.”

That was all that was said about the matter for the moment. That evening after I left Rick, I didn’t want to go back to my barren room. I kept riding, roaming aimlessly through the streets that now were dimly lighted. Farther and farther away from campus, I rode. I found myself on a darkened street far from campus, and as I watched the sun collide with the landscape, I remembered what Rick had once said. “You can be anything you want to be, if you only try.”

I had always been a follower, never a leader. I doubted my ability to be a leader. I knew with my slurred mouthings, it would be difficult to communicate with the staff. But from somewhere deep in my heart, a feeling of hope welled up inside me. Could I really be the editor? Could I really do it? I had to try.

I raced back to campus with increasing speed, the sky now swallowed up by darkness. I rarely strayed that far from campus and never at night. My heart was beating wildly as I reached my room.

I lay in bed that night, my eyes wide open, thinking about the night’s events. I should have been thinking about starting class the next morning, but my mind kept wandering back to my conversation with Rick.

Nate returned to school the next day. I could hardly wait to see him and tell him the big news.

We had a rollicking reunion. When I saw him in the bookstore that afternoon, I bolted across the room to greet him. I was sure Nate already had heard about Renita. When I caught up with him, we both began talking at once.

We stood in the middle of the store, laughing and tittering like a couple of hyenas. People were staring at us like we had lost our minds. I didn’t care, though. I was elated to see Nate again. When I was with him, nothing else mattered.

I quickly forgot my fears about the fighting going on half way across the world. We must have carried on for the better part of an hour. Finally, Nate said, “I hear you’re going to be the new editor.”

“Who told you that?” I asked.

“Rick. He said you were all excited about it.”

“I haven’t decided if I’m going to do it,” I said, knowing full well that I’d already made up my mind to apply. “Besides, someone else might get the job. What about you? Aren’t you going to apply?”

“I wouldn’t get it. You’ll get it. I know you will.”

I left with those words ringing in my ears. I could hardly concentrate on my studies that afternoon. I was too worked up. All I could think about was becoming editor.

We had another reunion that evening when Nate and Jessica came to my room to watch television. The three of us had a lot to catch up on after the Christmas break.

Jessica was an editor for the yearbook and wrote for the paper. She was a year younger than me. Nate had a crush on Jessica and had had since the day he met her. He would never admit it, but there were the telltale signs. The way he looked at her with those big puppy-dog eyes when she walked into the room, the way she giggled whenever Nate told a joke.

Our happy reunion came to a sudden and abrupt halt when one of the fellows who lived upstairs stormed into my room with the news that American troops had launched an air attack on Iraq. He came in ranting and raving about the invasion, then as suddenly as he appeared, he was off to tell others.

I turned on the television, and we learned that the United States was at war with Iraq. It was January 16, 1991, a night I’ll never forget. It was a sad day when our country began fighting another. We sat in horror as we watched the news reports. We heard the rumble of bombs exploding in the distance as a quaking voice on the television described what was happening.

Images of war flashed before us as the fighting was played out on the screen. Brilliant streaks of light illuminated the night sky over Baghdad; there was the distinct crackle of gun fire. Suddenly, a cold, void feeling came over me. I felt hollow inside.

I looked at Jessica. I could tell she was frightened. A single teardrop streaked down her face. She stared intently at the television. She had a friend in Saudi Arabia and feared for his safety. Nate reached over and took her hand to try to reassure her.

We were all frightened. We sat motionless, our eyes fixed on the screen. No one said a word. We just sat there and, like the rest of the nation, stared helplessly at the set.

Nate and Jessica stayed until midnight, then Nate walked her to her room. She was still pretty shook up when they left my room.

The next day, it was all anybody could talk about. Professors devoted their classes to talking about the war, and students gathered to pray for the soldiers. The radio was on in the newsroom when I arrived at the paper. Nate was talking to Rick and Billy about the war. They said we should do something. We all wanted to do our part. Rick suggested that we put out a special war edition. He said he would talk to his classes the next day for anyone who wanted to help with the special edition.

The newsroom soon was abuzz with activity. Everyone was scurrying about, talking to people and trying to get reactions to the war, and in between listening to updates on the skirmishes in Iraq.

Nate became acting editor until a new chief could be selected. Nate quickly took charge with story and picture assignments. We would have to hustle to get the paper out by Tuesday night, only four days away.

Patriotism began to spread like wild fire. All across campus, patriotism was alive with yellow ribbons streaming from trees and cars adorned with red, white and blue ribbons, a sign of hope. Flags waved freely at buildings on campus to show support for the troops.

The most striking display of support was the messages of encouragement painted on the car windshields and dorm room windows. Signs reading “God bless America” and “We support the troops” showed hope and concern for the soldiers in the Gulf. I was proud to be an American.

Emotions ran high that week. I interviewed students and faculty for a story about those who had family and friends in the Gulf. The university’s vice president was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves and had a son on a plane headed for Saudi Arabia. He said he could have as little as 24hours notice to report for duty if he received his orders.

We worked feverishly that weekend. Everyone pitched in and helped. Students gave up their weekend to help with the edition. I worked on my story most of the weekend. There was little time to think about anything else. Still, my mind raced ahead to Monday and my interview with the publications board. I found myself thinking more and more about becoming editor.

My fiercest competitor in the race was Heather Davis. She was a strong person, full of confidence. It was awkward that weekend working so closely together. We traded snide glances, the way a fighter peers at an opponent before he steps into the ring.

All weekend, Heather made surly remarks like, “When I become editor ...” Of course, I got in my jabs, too. I strutted into the room informing everyone, “I would be in my office,” gesturing to the room now vacated by Renita. It was half in jest, but I took the competition seriously. Nate joined the race after all. Although he was still a freshman, he said the tryout would prepare him for a day when he might become the editor.


The Interview

I was nervous about speaking before the publications board. If the board couldn’t understand me, they might think I was unable to communicate clearly with others. I rehearsed my speech to the board, speaking slowly and distinctly.

Fearing that I would become flustered and start spouting some unintelligible language, I recorded my responses on my Touch Talker. I simply had to type the words into a computer, and a synthesized voice would repeat my words on command.

I got the Touch Talker on loan from the education service center in Amarillo while I was in college. It was portable, so I could carry it with me to class. I often used the machine in class and when I interviewed others for stories.

My legs trembled as I made my way, Touch Talker in tow, to the dean’s office for my interview. There, a panel of professors, newspaper professionals and students would grill me with questions. Heather was in with the board when I arrived. I would be next. My hands began shaking uncontrollably as I waited to go in.

My chief objective was to impress the board. It stood for one thing in my mind: proving to others — and to myself — that I was capable. Whenever I wanted to impress someone, my coordination deserted me. I wondered how I would ever make it the 100 yards into the room without losing my balance. I wondered if the board would pity me, or if they would question whether it was a good idea for someone as handicapped as I was to be the editor.

Finally, I saw Heather appear from behind the closed door. She shot me one final snarl as she passed me and left the office. I wasn’t going to be moved by her ploys to psyche me out. It was time for me to go in. I mustered up all the strength I had to make it across the small office.

Rick pointed me to a chair at the end of a long table. I was relieved to see some familiar faces in the room. Rick was seated at the other end of the table. He offered me a reassuring look as if to say, “You’re going to do fine. Don’t worry.” I couldn’t help but be nervous, though. I was terrified.

I looked around the room and saw another friendly face, Carol Snowden. Carol had been the yearbook editor when I was on the staff the year before. I felt a little better after seeing Carol. She was familiar with my writing and knew what I could do.

Then, the interrogation began. The board began firing questions at me. Rick threw out the first question: “What do you think the role of the student newspaper is?”

I sat silent for a moment. Every eye in the room was trained on me. Beneath the table, my legs were quaking like a creaking rocking chair. I thought for a minute longer, then slowly and distinctly, began to speak.

It was my chance to share my passion for the First Amendment. I saw the newspaper as a way to share ideas, to express opinions. The First Amendment is a sacred freedom entrusted not just to journalists, but to every American. With the war, the freedom to speak became even more real to me.

One by one, each panelist took a turn in the interrogation. “What is your view on censorship?” “What should the editorial policy be?” “What role should the adviser play in running the newspaper?” I answered each question frankly and directly, even though I knew some of my answers disagreed with some of Rick’s views.

I sensed that some of the panelists were having trouble understanding me as I struggled to get the words out, but no one asked me to repeat myself. I guess they were afraid to ask me to repeat. I gave my responses slowly, distinctly, and without the aid of the Touch Talker.

Afterward, one of the members seemed disappointed that I didn’t use the Touch Talker. He wanted to see how the computer worked, but I felt I must speak for myself to show them I could do it on my own.

My hair was ringing with perspiration when I left the interview, but I had made it. I made it through the interview without stammering. All I had to do now was make it to the door without stumbling, and I’d have it made. I thanked the board and walked stiffly toward the door.
Nate was in the office when I came out. “How did it go?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“You’re going to get it,” he said. “I might as well not even go in.”

“No, you’ll get it. Good luck in your interview.”

As I walked slowly back to the newsroom, I was so relieved the interview was over, I didn’t care who the board selected. I had given it my best try, now whatever happened, I had tried.

Heather was in the newsroom when I arrived. She was actually cordial. She even smiled when I came in. She asked how the interview went. I don’t know what brought about the sudden change in demeanor. I guess she thought now that the interviews were over, there was no need to keep up the animosities. All we could do now was wait.

We talked about the questions when Nate came in. “Hi, guys,” he said. He didn’t look nervous at all. He was his usual, cheerful self.

The only thing left now was to wait for Rick to return with the verdict. We didn’t talk. We sat motionless, staring up at the clock.

After what seemed like hours, Rick appeared at the door. He called the three of us into his office for the answer we had all been waiting for. My knocking knees shook violently as I got up and started toward the door. My heart was pounding and felt as if it was about to explode.

I grappled my way into the office and sank into the chair closest to the door to give me support before I fell down. This was it. I had prepared myself for the possibility that I wouldn’t get it, that they would choose Heather or Nate. Still, I hoped and prayed it would be my name Rick called out.

Rick followed us into the room and took a seat behind a desk cluttered with books and stacks of old, faded newspapers. He gave a sly grin as if to agonize us a little longer. Then, he began.

He started by saying the board felt that any of us would make a good editor. He said he hoped that we would all work together for the good of the newspaper, no matter who was chosen.

“But,” he said, “there can only be one editor.” He paused for what seemed like an eternity. Then, it happened. “The board has selected you, Chris.”

My heart did a flip in my chest. For a minute, I thought I had heard wrong. I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly, everyone was gathering around me. Nate slapped me on the back. “Way to go, dog!” he said.

Rick came over and shook my hand. “I know you’ll do a great job.”

Even Heather congratulated me in her own jeering way. “Looks like you got me,” she said punching on the shoulder with her fist. She obviously was disappointed, but she took it well.

All the reporters had gathered in the newsroom for the announcement. Nate ran from the room to give everybody the news.

Everyone began applauding and cheering when I came into the room. The reporters all gathered around me. I was overwhelmed by all the attention. One by one, they congratulated me. It was truly one of the happiest days of my life.


Editor-in-Chief

It was only after I learned that Nate told the publications board he wanted me to have the job that I realized what a true friend he was. I would be a senior next year, and he still had three years to become the editor.
It was my time now, Nate said, and he promised to help me any way he could. I never had anyone do anything like that for me before. He was a true friend.

As the day wore on, the excitement began to die down as the crowd broke up and everyone went back to class. But in my heart, the excitement was still burning.

In all the excitement, I nearly forgot about the fighting on the other side of the world. The war raged on despite the triumph in my life, and we had less than a day left to get out the special edition.

That evening, Nate and Jessica surprised me with a cake to celebrate my new position. Heather didn’t stay around for the celebration. She was obviously disappointed that she didn’t get the job herself and was not in the mood for a party.

In the excitement of the day, I hadn’t thought to call Mom and Dad to tell them the news. When Rick found out I hadn’t told them, he insisted that I call right then.

It was late when I called, and the first thing Mom thought when she answered the phone was that something must be wrong. Why else would I be calling so late?

“Nothing’s wrong,” I assured her. “Everything’s right. I got the job. I’m the editor.”

The phone line was silent for a minute. “That’s wonderful, son,” she said finally through faint sobs. “We’re proud of you.”

When I had told my parents I was thinking about applying, they were skeptical. They were afraid I’d be taking on more than I could handle and that my school work might suffer. But they did nothing to discourage me. They said it was my decision. Now that I had it, they were overjoyed. I had crossed another milestone in my parents’ eyes. I had my first job.

I went right back to work after I got off the phone with Mom. Nate and I worked long after everyone else had gone home. We worked into the early-morning hours on the special edition, and it was nearly 2 when I got back to my room.

I was exhausted. I lay in the bed that night not fully realizing what had happened that day. I am the editor, I kept telling myself. I thanked God for what he had done for me that day. My dream was becoming a reality. I asked the Lord to help me, knowing in my own strength I could do nothing, but in him everything was possible.

The next morning, I was up at dawn and back at the newsroom putting the finishing touches on the special edition. Our deadline was noon, which we missed by almost seven hours.

I saw this as my first failure as the new editor. Deadlines are critical in newspapers, and I missed my first one. Despite glitches in the new computer system that caused part of the delay and the fact that Nate was the only one who knew how to use the new machines, I saw the missed deadline as a reflection on my ability. I was stubbornly determined not to fail.

Even though others considered me capable of being a strong editor, because of my handicap I felt that I had to prove myself in everything I did. I concentrated everything in me on impressing Rick and my staff.

The next few days and weeks were a tide of emotions for me. I had such a sense of pride when the first papers rolled off the press and I saw my name in the editor’s box. Everywhere I went on campus, people greeted me and congratulated me on becoming the editor. I got calls and letters from people commending us on the job we did on the war edition.

I couldn’t take credit for that, though. Most of it was finished before I took over. Still, things were good. I was ready to conquer the world.

I began making decisions on what stories to print and what issues to cover. My confidence was improving. I took a hard editorial stance in the next edition, sparking some controversy when I came out in favor of the decision to cut football from the university. It was an unpopular stand, despite the fact that athletics was putting a financial strain on the school.

I received more phone calls and letters, only this time they weren’t praising my work, but disagreeing with me. I accepted this criticism. I knew people would disagree with me. I had prepared myself for this criticism.

I stood my ground when a faculty member threatened legal action after I printed comments he made about the war. He was the ROTC commander, and as such, was forbidden to talk publicly about the war. But when he spoke to a group of students on campus about the Army maneuvers, I felt it was my duty to write about it.

He was furious when I wrote a front-page article for the next week’s paper. He was on the phone to Rick, demanding to know how he could allow me to print the article. I was relieved when Rick defended me, saying I had a right to report on his lecture.

Things went well for the first few weeks. Everyone seemed pleased with my work. Rick even praised my editorials in our critique sessions. I had a real sense of pride when we had a good paper, but I could always feel it when it didn’t come out the way I had planned. I got a sick feeling down deep in my heart.

After a few weeks, things really began to shake. People started complaining that the paper wasn’t giving some groups on campus fair coverage. They wanted to know why we wrote stories about some groups and not others.

I began to feel like I was in over my head. I tried to be a fair editor, but things got overlooked and people complained. I quickly discovered there was more to being editor than just writing and editing. I had to learn to be a leader. It was hard for me because I’d always been a follower, never a leader. I depended on Nate more than ever. I took advantage of him sometimes, assigning him stories I didn’t want to do. He never complained. He was always right by my side.

I had to prove to Rick that he hadn’t made a mistake in recommending me for the job. Nothing else mattered.

I got less and less enjoyment out of writing. My emotions were on edge all the time.

I took every criticism of the paper as though it was aimed at me. I was the editor, and I was responsible. I became depressed. I dreaded Monday morning and the thought of having to put out another paper.

Nate knew something was wrong. I walked around in a daze. I wasn’t the usual enthusiastic, hopeful person I normally was. I tried to hide my feelings, but Nate could see my frustrations. It must have been written on my face. He tried to get me to open up and talk about what was wrong, but I pushed him away.

Then, at the most awkward time, all these feelings gushed out. We had just finished another edition, and I was in my cubbyhole office reading the paper. Rick and a few reporters were in the newsroom looking at the papers when suddenly Rick shouted, “Chris! Why are the names wrong on these pictures?”

I bolted from my chair and rushed into the newsroom, fearing I had messed up again.

“Where?” I asked in a state of panic.

Rick grinned. “Not really. I was just seeing if you were awake in there.”

A fit of rage ignited inside me. I turned around and stormed back into my office and burst into tears.

“He’s really upset, isn’t he?” Rick asked as he started toward my door. I turned my face to the wall to hide the tears. I couldn’t let him see me crying like a baby. At that moment, I felt as if the whole world was falling in on me. I got a hollow, sunken feeling in my chest.

Rick came over and gently put his hand on my shoulder. “I was only joking. Everything’s all right,” he said.

I tried to stop crying, but a steady stream of tears kept rolling down my cheeks. Nate and the reporters were gathered around the door, gawking at me. I was humiliated. I wanted to run away.

“It’s all right to cry,” Rick said. He brushed everyone away from the door and came back and patted me on the shoulder again. I never felt more like a failure than at that moment. For Rick to see me crying, he must have thought I was such a weakling.

He sat on the edge of the desk while I let it all out. “It’s all right,” he kept saying. But it wasn’t all right. I had let him down and made a fool out of myself in front of my staff.

Finally, when I calmed down and stopped bawling, Rick tried to comfort me, saying he knew the pressure I was under. I had never been in a position where I had so much responsibility.

He told me to go home and get some rest. I would feel better in the morning, he assured me. I didn’t see how things could get any better by morning, and I left that day believing that I could never recover from this.

When I went back to the newsroom the next day, I tried to slink in unnoticed. I slipped into my office and closed the door. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I hid out in my office most of the morning.

It was mid-morning before anyone noticed I was there. Rick finally noticed my light on and came in to see how I was doing. We had a long talk. I was ready to quit right then. At least that way I wouldn’t have to face the staff again. What they must have thought about me.

I had fallen behind in my studies, too. Finally, the pressure of trying to balance three writing classes and be editor had taken its toll on me. I thought the best thing for everyone would be for me to quit. I had never been a quitter, but I didn’t think I could face Nate and the staff again.

Rick wouldn’t let me quit. “You can’t let the pressure get to you,” he said. “It’s never going to be easy, but you have to go on. You’re strong. You have to keep going.”

After that, everyone was careful around me, probably afraid that I would go off again. Nate tried to lessen the burden by taking on more of the work. I felt guilty that he had to do so much, but he never seemed to mind. He never complained. Even Rick and Billy let up a little in the critiques. They were a little gentler in their reproofs.

We saw our share of successes that year, too. The paper received an All American Award from the Associated Collegiate Press, one of only 12 college newspapers in the country to win the award. One writer on the staff received national recognition for writing the top college journalism story. It was the Pulitzer of college awards for the writer. Her story uncovered the university’s stock purchase without approval from the board of regents.

We saw a new university president sworn in that year, and I had the task of interviewing the new president.

It was times like that that kept me going. It invigorated me. And knowing that I had a part in leading the paper through one of the most historic years in the school’s history — it made all the sweat and effort seem worth it.

As the semester neared an end, I started thinking about the summer. I didn’t want to go back home. I desperately wanted to find a job, and Rick was determined to help me get an internship.

A large media group came to the school in the spring, interviewing people for a summer intern program. Rick arranged for me to meet with the recruiters. I thought the experience from the past year would have made me better prepared for the interview, unlike the year before when I tried for the editing job.

I was desperate for a job, so when they asked if I was willing to move away from my family, I told them I would. I didn’t know how I would survive apart from my parents, but I’d find a way. I would have done anything for the chance to work.

The recruiters seemed impressed with my work, or so I thought. I showed them samples of my writing, and Rick gave me a glowing recommendation. The recruiters talked favorably in the interview, and I came out certain that they would offer me a job, hopefully at one of the papers in the area.

For weeks afterward, I lived with expectancy. They had to hire me, I told myself. I waited for the phone to ring. When Rick finally got the call a few weeks before school was out, I was disappointed once again.

I was standing outside Rick’s office and overheard him talking to the recruiter. I knew I shouldn’t have been eavesdropping, but I had to know. I heard the whole conversation. They had a job for one writer on our staff, but none for me.

Rick pleaded my case with the woman on the phone. “What about Chris?” he asked. “Yes, but if you’d just give him a chance ...”

There was a minute of silence. My pulse was racing.

“But I know he can do it. . .”

This exchange continued for a few more minutes. Then, I heard Rick hang up the phone. It was over, and I didn’t get the job. I ran back to the newsroom, feeling like I was at the end of my rope. I was never going to get a job.

Rick came out shortly with the bad news. I pretended to be ignorant about his phone conversation. He told me I didn’t get the internship because the editors didn’t think I could handle the rigorous physical demands of the job, rushing out to cover an accident or event and then back to the newsroom to pound out a story.

I tried to put up a tough front, pretend it didn’t matter, but deep down I was crushed. Rick was just angry. It’s hard to say who was more disappointed, Rick or me for he truly wanted me to find success.

The joy of learning that I was selected to continue as editor for another year was buffered by news that Rick was leaving West Texas in the fall. He had accepted another job at the University of Hawaii. I only saw it that he was leaving me.

I was devastated. I would be lost without Rick. In the two years that I knew Rick, he had been more than a teacher to me. He had become a friend who had sustained me through many toils and sorrows. I knew God had brought him into my life.

How could God take him away now, when I had another year of school left? He couldn’t leave yet. But as the final days of that year quickly approached, I found myself having to say goodbye to a man who had changed my life.

It was a tearful farewell as I reached out to shake Rick’s hand and thank him for what he had given me. He kept me from giving up. He could never know how much he taught me; he gave me the courage to believe in myself.

I returned to Pampa that summer despite wanting to stay at school. Without a job, I had to return home. It was a time of uncertainty, not knowing what would happen when I went back in the fall. I was afraid. After being rejected so many times by editors, I was afraid the new adviser wouldn’t give me a chance as Rick had.

Not knowing who the new adviser would be, my mind ran through all kinds of scenarios. I was afraid he would consider me incompetent and try to have me replaced with an able-bodied editor. I would have to prove myself all over again. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew one thing. God had brought me that far. He wouldn’t let me fall now.


Leaning on God

Soon after I returned to Pampa, the Texas Rehabilitation Commission told me it was going to buy me a computer to use my senior year. The state agency had paid my tuition and books my first two years at West Texas. But my counselor in rehab, like everyone else, balked at my chances for making it all the way through college. He wasn’t optimistic that someone with my limitations would be able to find work if I did graduate. I have to prove myself to yet another doubter.

I had to see the counselor once a semester and take a copy of my grades to chart my progress and qualify for the financial aid. Each semester when I handed him my records, he scratched his head as he looked down the row of all As. Mr. Howell just shook his head and told me to keep up the progress. Still, he doubted.

That semester when I went to see Mr. Howell, he had some good news for me. He said not only was the state going to pick up my tuition, it was going to pay for my room, meals and, at the urging of Rick, it was going to buy me a computer.

Mr. Howell said once they saw what I could do and my accomplishment on becoming editor, they realized I wasn’t a risk like they thought I was. They realized they could have done more to help me. And when school started, I would receive a check each week to pay for personal items.

I was elated by their confidence. I wouldn’t be such a burden on Mom and Dad. I helped with expenses when I could, but they had paid all my bills since I started college at Clarendon.

I got the computer early in June. A Macintosh Portable, the same kind we used on the newspaper. This would cut down on the late hours and all-night writing sessions I put in at the newsroom.

The computer helped me forget my worries, at least for a while, and the uncertainty that lingered with the search for a new adviser. I started working almost immediately after I got the computer on ideas for the paper. I was determined to have everything organized by the time school started so nothing would be overlooked again.

I would show the new adviser that I was organized. I made new style sheets and typed up schedules for writers so no one would have an excuse for missing a deadline. I was going to impress the new adviser by showing him I had everything ready when school started. He wouldn’t have a chance to reject me.

I stayed in close contact with Nate over the summer. I called him every few weeks with new plans for the paper. I must have made him crazy.

We planned to return to school a week early to begin making preparations for our first edition. As it got closer and closer for time to go back to school, I became more excited. I believed that God would provide an answer to all my worries.

Two weeks before school started, Nate called me with more bad news. “I’m sorry to let you down pal, but I’m not coming back to school,” he said. My heart became heavy, like a load of bricks had fallen on me.

Nate was offered a job as a youth minister at his church. And he was going to take it. “I believe this is what God wants me to do,” he said.

“Then, that’s what you need to do,” I said, trying to hold back the tears.

Nate had known about the job for several weeks but put off telling me because he knew I would be disappointed. “I’m sorry to let you down,” he kept saying.

I was devastated. I ran out of the house, jumped on my bike and began peddling as hard as I could, tears streaming down my face. Mom and Dad didn’t know what was wrong. I just ran out.

I rode down the street, barely able to see from the tears in my eyes. I sped around the corner and across a field to the back of the junior high, still deserted for the summer. No one could see me there. I poured my heart out to God.

I felt like everyone was deserting me, first Rick and now Nate. One by one, people were leaving me. I knew God had a reason for taking them away, though I didn’t understand. God began to show me all I really needed was him. I had to stretch my faith and believe in him to help me.

All my life, I had looked to man for answers to my problems. I relied on my parents to provide everything when I was growing up. When I got to college, I tried to do everything myself — or else I looked to others to help me. I didn’t give God a chance.

God was teaching me to draw my strength from him. Like the manna rained from heaven, he would provide what I needed now. Sometimes, I think God took all these people out of my life to show me he was in control. He would never leave me. He would be my strength.

When I finally went home and told Mom and Dad about Nate leaving, they didn’t understand. They assured me everything would turn out all right. I had told them nothing about the problems I had at school. They didn’t understand why I was so upset. They told me I had to get up and keep going.

The next day, I called Billy Smith, the only instructor remaining in the journalism program. School was just weeks always, and I had no associate editor. “What am I going to do?” I asked. Billy reminded me it was my job to hire the staff. Just get somebody else, he said.

He suggested two names for me to consider. One was a transfer student from a junior college; the other was a writer already on the staff, Charee Godwin. I didn’t know the transfer student very well. I had met her only once, when she came to visit the school. I knew what I had to do.

Charee was thrilled when I called to offer her the job. I told Charee I’d be returning to school in a week and asked her to meet me there early in the week to discuss ideas for the paper.

One crisis resolved, I could concentrate fully on trying to make a good impression on the new adviser. In my conversation with Billy, he told me the new adviser would start Monday, the day I was to return.

Billy told me that Dave Wohlfarth was a veteran newspaper editor and would bring a lot of experience to the journalism program. But that only served to confirm my worries. If other editors had rejected me, I was sure he would, too.


Pressing On

All the changes and uncertainty made returning to school that year harder than all the ones before it. It was even harder than leaving home the first time, when I didn’t know what to expect but knew my parents would welcome me back with loving arms if I failed.

It was my final year in college, the last year before I would be thrown into the reality of the working world. I couldn’t quit now. I had to reach the finish line.

I arrived on campus a week before classes began. I wanted time to organize my ideas and get ready for the first edition. I was determined that things would be different this year. I would be a strong leader, efficient and organized. Nothing would get overlooked again.

I got settled in my room, then headed for the newsroom. I saddled up on my bike and began the trip I had made a hundred times before, only to find when I got there that everything had changed. There were new faces and new people. People I didn’t even know were milling around the newsroom, the room I had run just months before.

When I reached the newsroom at the top of the stairs, I saw a light on in what had been Rick’s office. Thinking the new adviser already had started work for the day, I gathered up my strength and began the long walk across the newsroom to his office. But the room was empty. The office looked strangely empty, void of the stacks of faded newspapers Rick had had scattered around the room.

I turned around to see Billy Smith, one familiar face among a sea of no names. He told me Dave had gone out and would be back soon. I walked to my office on the other side of the newsroom and began sorting through the stacks of mail that had collected over the summer.

My heart was racing as I waited for the stranger to come through the door. What if he won’t give me a chance, I asked myself. I stared at the door, my heart galloping like a team of wild horses.

Finally, I saw him come in. He headed into his office. I sat paralyzed for a few seconds more, then began walking across the newsroom.

Dave looked like what I thought a newspaper editor should look like. He had graying hair and thick reading glasses. The embers of a freshly extinguished cigar glowed brightly in an astray on the desk.

He seemed startled when I entered the room. I introduced myself, extending my hand toward his.

“Oh yes, Billy has told me quite a lot about you,” he said motioning me into his office.

I was relieved. At least Billy had warned him about me so it wasn’t a total shock when I came waddling through the door. We talked for a few minutes. He told me about his experiences working as an editor in Dayton, Ohio. Then, he began asking about me and my work on the school paper.

As I began to tell him about my new ideas and show him the things I had worked on during the summer, a strange look came on his face. He scratched his head, and I could tell he hadn’t understood a word I had said. I tried to say each word slowly and distinctly, but he couldn’t make out my garbled words. He kept asking me to repeat things.

I began to get frustrated, making my speech even more unintelligible. It was normal for strangers to have trouble understanding me, but he seemed to have more trouble than others.

We talked a little while longer, then I rose to leave. Dave reached out to shake my hand again and said he looked forward to working with me, but I could tell he felt uneasy, too. We weren’t communicating, and in our business, that was crucial.

I went back to my office to prepare for the staff meeting I had called for the next day. My nerves settled a little after my meeting with Dave. At least he hadn’t dismissed me altogether. Despite the communication gap, he seemed willing to give me a chance. That’s all I wanted: a chance. If I failed, I failed but at least I tried.

I realized that the next few weeks would be my toughest challenge yet. I was in charge now. It was all on my shoulders. Before, I had relied on Nate to pull me through, but now I had to take charge.

My first chance to demonstrate this came the next day at the staff meeting. I had requested that all my editors meet me a few days before classes began to plan the first edition of the paper. I wanted to show Dave that I had initiative to get things started even before the semester began.

Except for Randal McGavock, the sports editor, everyone was new to the staff. This made my job even harder because I felt I not only had to prove myself to Dave, but to them as well. But I plowed in to let everyone know right from the beginning that I was a leader.

Everyone gathered in the newsroom, and I began to lay out my goals for the newspaper, much as Renita had explained her expectations for the paper at Rick’s cabin a year earlier.

Dave still was not understanding me. He had a faraway look on his face as if he was having doubts about whether I’d be able to communicate well enough with the other staff members. The students understood me much better than he had at first and interpreted my jumbled sentences to him.

I handed out a list of story ideas I had worked on over the summer and gave my staff its first assignments. I had high expectations of my staff. Expecting them to come in before the summer break was officially over was asking a lot. I thought if I had the determination and dedication to start, everyone else should, too.

By the time classes started the following week, I had written a story and an editorial for the first edition, which was still a week away. Things were going well as I tried to convince myself that I could get by without Nate. I began to draw my strength from God instead of man. I prayed each day and asked God to help me, realizing without him I could do nothing. God was faithful and helped me through the early days of that semester.

It wasn’t until I gave Dave my first story to read that his doubts about my being able to take charge of the paper began to fade. Once Dave read my article and saw that I was a capable writer, he began to see me differently.

Over the next few weeks, he began to get an ear for understanding me. He trained his ears to listen more intently when I spoke, and I, in turn, learned to speak more distinctly when I talked to him.

I got the first edition of the paper out that semester without overlooking any major stories — and without help or nudging from Nate. I had a new staff to help.

Over the long, lazy summer months, however, it seemed as if some of my writers also had grown indolent and forgotten some of the grammar rules. I got a letter after our first paper came out pointing out a slew of grammatical errors in the paper, particularly on the sports page.

I had become so engrossed with the news pages, I neglected to check on sports or even read the sports copy. I left the sports section completely up to Randal, unaware that he might need some help, too.

Now, I had to call the sports editor into my office. It was times like that when I wished I wasn’t the boss. Randal was my friend. How could I rebuke a friend?

Still, I knew what I had to do, for the sake of the paper. I summoned Randal to my office and handed him the letter. He read it slowly, a look of gloom falling on his face. I told Randal I owed him an apology for not helping him more, but I made it clear that he was going to have to improve. Though, ultimately, I was responsible for all the paper, the sports page was his responsibility.

Like a puppy that had just been scolded by its master, Randal looked like he had lost his last friend. He apologized for slacking off and vowed to work harder. He asked if he could keep the letter and slowly walked out of the office.

It wasn’t the first time that I had given a staff member a tongue-lashing or the first time I had gotten tough with Randal. But I hated it more each time. Randal started as the sports editor soon after I took over as editor. In fact, one of my first decisions after taking over was to hire Randal.

He had a tough time that first semester, much as I did at first. Rick said I might have to let him go because he just didn’t seem to be getting the hang of it. But I just couldn’t fire Randal. He was a dedicated worker; he just needed a little coaxing. I decided to give Randal another chance.

I remembered those who gave me a second chance when I had failed, and I was grateful for another chance. Randal deserved a second chance, too. Now, I wondered if I had done the right thing.

Randal took the letter to heart. He took the letter and tacked it up on the wall next to his desk along with some baseball cards and a tethered magazine cover. I tried to help him all I could, and Dave began to work with him on his writing.

Soon, Randal began making great strides. Every now and again, when Randal was going through a tough time, I’d see him take down that letter and read it again. Then, he would stick it back on the wall next to the baseball cards and magazine cover and go back to work.

I was glad I had given Randal a second chance, just as I was glad when someone had given me another chance.

Weeks passed, and everything seemed to run smoothly. I was more organized than I was the previous year. I finally seemed to be taking charge of my destiny.


Life’s Uncertainties

Each day brought new and exciting challenges for me. In October of that year, the university inaugurated its eighth president, and I was to cover the ceremony.

It was a huge celebration with great fanfare. Dignitaries from across the state attended the event. It was my first major writing assignment as editor, and everything had to be right. This paper marked an important day in the university’s history.

I was prouder of that issue than any other. It received accolades from students and faculty alike. I received letters and phone calls from people commenting on the beautiful, full-color picture that dominated the front page that week.

It was a great time. Inside, though, my emotions were on a roller coaster. When times were good and things were running smooth, I was on top of the world, but when things weren’t so good, I got depressed.

I was lonely again. My life seemed void without Nate there, the way it had been my first semester at West Texas. It seemed as though I had no one. I had friends, but they didn’t include me in their activities. They made plans without any thought to me. It was as if I was invisible when it came to them.

I drowned myself in my work to keep my mind off my troubles. I would do anything to keep from returning to the destitute of those four walls back in my dorm room.

Problems started to crop up again at the paper. People were slacking off, and writers failed to turn in stories I had counted on to fill the paper. To me, the paper came first, and I didn’t understand how people could be so negligent of their duties. What I failed to realize was that they had other priorities, with classes and homework.

I worked hard to put out a paper each week and thought everyone else should put forth that same effort. I felt that my staff had let me down. It wasn’t that they didn’t care. It was just that they still had lives outside of the paper.

As the weeks went by, things got progressively worse. Complaints began to filter in about the paper, and again I blamed myself. I thought everything was my fault. This time, instead of trying to keep my feelings bottled up inside, I decided to get help.

I thought I could do everything by myself, but I discovered I couldn’t do it alone. I needed help. I decided to see a counselor, so I made an appointment with the disabled students’ counselor.

My emotions were wracked when I showed up at the counseling center on campus. I told Kay about the loss I felt after Nate and Rick left, the rejection I felt when I was left out of activities and the insecurity I had about my position on the newspaper.

Kay was reassuring, her words consoling. She told me I was trying to overcompensate for my disability by working so feverishly, then blaming myself when things went wrong. No one is perfect; life is not without failures.

It helped to talk about my feelings. I poured out my heart to her, unloading years of guilt and frustrations.

No one could know I was seeing a counselor, not even my parents. They would think I was weak, so I went each week in secret. Kay helped me deal with the emotions I’d kept locked up inside me for years.

I had to deal with my feelings if I hoped to live a normal life. Others were beginning to notice my irrational response any time someone questioned me quite legitimately about my work. Dave, especially, had noticed the manner in which I reacted in our critique sessions.

While on the outside I accepted their criticism openly, on the inside I was burning with anger because I saw it as questioning my ability. I often left our critiques and went back to my office and started slamming things around like a wild man.

Kay reminded me how far I had come since those first days at West Texas when even the professors questioned my ability. Kay taught me to be honest when people hurt me by leaving me out, and she told me to ask others to go do something instead of waiting for them to ask me.

She told me that not everyone was going to share my passion for the paper. I couldn’t expect people to give 100 percent of their efforts to the paper all of the time. But she told me to tell people when they let me down.

I got a lot out of our talks, and I began to work through my feelings of insecurity. I saw that in their criticism, they were only trying to help me become a better writer and editor. My relationships with my friends also improved as I became bolder in asking them to go places.

As the days ticked down toward graduation, I faced still another problem: getting and keeping a job. My years at West Texas were the best years of my life, but they were quickly coming to an end and soon I would have to face the real world. My bitter disappointment over not getting an internship had made me lose hope over my chances of landing a job after graduation.

I began to think I had wasted five years of college only to return home after graduation to do nothing for the rest of my life. Dave was painfully honest about my chances of getting a job. He knew from experience after having worked in the fast-paced business for many years and hiring young reporters that my chances of landing a job as a reporter were slim.

He said if I hoped to find a job, I had to concentrate on larger newspapers where I could work on a desk editing copy, rather than pounding the payment trying to get a story.

Dave did everything he could to help in the job search. He called several editors at metropolitan newspapers, hoping they could help. Finally, he convinced his wife, who was the executive editor of the Amarillo newspaper, to give me another chance at taking the job test that I failed two years before. He even drove me to the interview.

But it was to no avail. I failed the test again and when a job came up they offered it to someone who scored higher on the test.

Still, I wouldn’t be dissuaded. I sent letters to every small-town newspaper in the area, hoping they would have something. Meanwhile, graduation was rapidly approaching.

The week before I left school for the final time, I heard about a job for a reporter on the newspaper back home. My spirits soared. Although my parents warned me not to get my hopes up, I knew this job had to be for me. The timing was perfect. It had to be God’s plan. I always believed that God would have something for me when I graduated.

I finished my last test and rushed back to Pampa. I was so excited. Everything was falling into place, or so I thought. I wasted no time after I returned home in going to the news office to apply for the job. I took my resume and copies of my writing, confident that they would hire me on the spot.

The editor took my application and told me he would let me know his decision in a week or two. I wasn’t worried. I’ll get the job, I kept telling myself. God will provide a way.

I really believed I would get the job, and I could go to graduation without worrying about the future.

It was an emotional day as Mom and Dad took me to the graduation ceremony. The whole family turned out — Karen, Grandma Altman, Grandpa, aunts and uncles. It was an emotional day as I walked across the stage and graduated with honors.

It was a proud moment, one many people thought would never happen. It had been a struggle, both emotionally and physically, but it was all worth it now. All the pain and sorrow, all the heartaches — it had all been worth it when I received my diploma.

I left West Texas State University stronger than when I came. What I learned couldn’t be taught in any classroom. What I learned came only through many trials and sorrows, tears and joy. I learned that to get anything in life, you have to make it happen. The road is not an easy one, but perseverance will see you through. I thanked God for leading me along the long and often difficult journey.

After all the celebrations of graduation, I sat back and waited for the call from The Pampa News. Two weeks past, then three, and I had heard nothing from the newspaper. They hadn’t called me for an interview or to offer me a job. Finally, after a month, I called the editor to see if they had filled the job. He assured me they were still reviewing my application and would make a decision within the week.

Meanwhile, I had received responses from the letters I mailed out to the smaller papers. One by one, they turned me down. Either there were no openings or they were looking for someone with more experience. I was beginning to doubt.

Dave, still determined to help me find a job, called me every week. He told me not to give up. “It takes time. Something will turn up,” he said.

At last, a letter came in the mail from The Pampa News. My heart pounding, I tore open the envelope, hoping . . . praying that it would hold the key to my future. I got a big disappointment. I had been rejected again. They had hired someone else for the job.


Believing

I was beginning to lose all hope of ever getting a job. Still, I believed.

Out of desperation, I went to see the job counselor at the Texas Rehabilitation Commission. He had told me to come see him after graduation, and he would try to help me find a job. But now, after losing all chance of working at my hometown newspaper, my chances of finding work looked bleak.

Mr. Howell didn’t hold out much hope of finding me a job any time soon. He warned me that it could take a year or more to find work. People just weren’t willing to take a chance on someone with a disability as severe as mine.

Since another job wasn’t likely at the paper any time soon, Mr. Howell said I might have to try another line of work. He suggested that I look to companies hiring someone for public relations, where I still could use my writing. But I had my heart set on working at a newspaper.

I left Mr. Howell’s office discouraged and heartbroken. Dad tried to boost my spirits. “It’s only been a month,” he said in the car on the way home. “You have plenty of time.” But he was beginning to doubt, too.

If I had taken Mr. Howell’s advice, I would have sat around and done nothing, but I wasn’t going to give up. I wrote to the Texas Press Association, asking that my name be included in a weekly listing of job applicants. Editors from around the state would see it. I saw it as my last chance.

At church the next week, my Sunday school teacher prayed with me. He was a man of great faith. He believed God already had a job prepared for me. He prayed and asked God to show me his will.

Then, he told me just to believe and to expect an answer that week. He encouraged me to keep the faith. My spirits soared. I believed God heard those prayers.

The next day, I received a call from an editor on the Texas coast. She had seen my name in the Texas Press Association’s listings. Unfortunately, the job was for a reporter and photographer and meant I would have to leave my family and move hundreds of miles away from home.

I would have done anything for a job, but I knew this wasn’t the job for me. God had something better for me. I thanked the editor but declined her offer for an interview. I kept praying that God would show me his will.

I got three other calls in the next two days, all from editors who had seen my listing. But they all wanted reporters, and I had resigned myself to finding a job as a copy editor as Dave advised.

Finally, the call came. On Thursday of that week, I was laying in bed when the phone rang. My heart skipped a beat every time the phone rang, hoping for a call from someone who had seen my listing. Dad answered it from the front of the house and summoned me to the phone.

It was Dave’s wife, Cathy Martindale, with the Amarillo Globe-News.

“Are you enjoying your summer?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Are you ready for it to end?”

“Very much!” I said, anticipating her next question.

She offered me a job as a copy editor. She said she liked my work from the beginning, but there was still the matter of the editing test. Twice I had taken the test, and twice I had failed. When a job came up earlier that spring, she had to hire someone who scored higher on the test.

Now, there was another job. She realized that one score on one test wasn’t a true test of a person’s ability. She had watched my progress over the last year on the college paper, and with a good word from Dave, she decided to give me a chance.

I don’t remember what she said beyond that. I was too excited. I could hardly answer her questions.

When I hung up the phone, I could hardly speak. I was overcome with joy. “Calm down and tell me what she said,” Dad said.

Tears of joy flooded our house that day. I was 24 years old when I got my first job. It was a day I never thought would come. After coming home from college and learning about the job at my hometown paper, I believed that job was meant for me. When I didn’t get the job, I became angry and bitter.

I couldn’t understand why God would allow that to happen. Why would a job open up at that exact time if God didn’t intend it for me?

I didn’t have the faith to see God had something better for my life. Now, I realize that God did have something better for me. He allowed me to go through that rejection to show me I had to trust him in everything.

Suddenly, my life was thrown into a whirlwind. With less than two weeks until I started work, there was much to be decided.

Mom and Dad accepted my leaving the nest better than I expected. After living away at school for three years, they realized that with a little help I could make it on my own. I finally had grown up in my parents’ eyes.

When Mom started talking about finding me an apartment and buying furniture, it frightened me. What if I can’t do the job? What if I fail? I suggested that I rent a room at the YMCA for a week or two until I saw if I could handle it. I was so afraid I was going to fail.

Mom made calls around town, but none of the places that rented rooms by the week seemed suited to accommodate someone with a disability like mine. Once again, God intervened. Mom heard about an apartment complex for people with disabilities. There, I could test the waters in my quest for independence.

That Saturday afternoon, Mom and Dad drove me to Amarillo to inspect the building. The apartments were in an older neighborhood, just off the downtown district. It was near enough the newspaper office that I could ride my bike to work in all kinds of weather.

Each apartment had two large bedrooms, a spacious kitchen and an accessible bathroom. It was more room than I needed, but it was a bargain at $250 a month.

A retired man and his wife lived on the grounds to help the tenants adjust to living on their own, though their goal was to see that the tenants got along without their help.

Mom was disappointed when the man told us that I could only stay there temporarily. Then, I’d have to move on and let someone else come in who needed the help. Mom was hoping I could live there permanently. I was just glad to have a place to go.

With my living arrangements settled, I could concentrate fully on my job. I started work on the copy desk the following week, working side by side with other editors. I knew this job was made for me, and I was ready to plunge head long into my work.

Everyone made me feel welcome. No one appeared conscious of my handicap or upset by it. I was more conscious of it than anybody. I was so eager to do a good job.

I was given the same responsibilities as any other beginning copy editor, which wasn’t much at first. I spent the first week training. I learned more in a week than in three years of school, or so it seemed.

In the newspaper business, timing is everything. There was no time to muse and mull, and with my rudimentary typing skills, I was slower than the other copy editors. It took me twice as long to edit stories. Still, I concentrated on the job at hand and didn’t budge until it was finished.

After the first week, I was moved to the night shift, working on the morning edition. I continued to work closely with the assistant managing editor. He checked my work before the stories went into the paper, and at the end of each day, he gave me a critique of my work, to tell me if I overlooked any crucial errors or wrote any inaccurate headlines. He was very helpful and encouraging in those first few days.

In spite of my fears, I became more skilled in editing. I learned more every day, but it still wasn’t enough to reassure me. I needed constant reassurance that my work was satisfactory. I prayed each night that God would help me keep my job.

Everyone assured me that I was progressing. Still, I worried. If I didn’t get praise from the copy chief, I thought something was wrong. I knew there was no such thing as a perfect paper, but I became upset over the slightest criticism or any time anybody pointed out a mistake.

But it was gratifying each time I caught a mistake, and when the papers rolled off the press, I knew that I had a part in it. It was hard work and long hours, but it fulfilled a longing in my life — a longing to work and live a productive life.

It was well after midnight when I finished work, which meant I had to ride home in the dark. The streets were well lighted. My route was along the downtown district of mostly businesses and small shops. The streets were deserted when I came along. There wasn’t a soul in sight, except when I had to pass a couple of nightclubs.

I usually came along about the time the bars were closing, and everyone was heading home. Mom worried about me being out at that time of night. “Why don’t you call a cab?” she badgered me. But I didn’t want to spend my hard earned money on cab fare.

Besides, no one will bother me, I assured her. Still, it was a little unnerving. I stared straight ahead, without veering to the right or the left, and pedaled as fast as I could. I didn’t slow down for anything. I kept moving and praying that God’s hedge of protection would be around me. No one ever tried to harm me.

When the weather started turning cold, I reluctantly accepted rides with the other copy editors. They took turns picking me up and taking me home from work. They were kind and said they didn’t mind, but I didn’t want to be a burden. I wanted to make my own way.


On My Own

Each day was a learning experience. Not only did I have to learn to do laundry and keep house, I also had to learn to cook.

I was a culinary disaster. I even burned toast. Mom kept me stocked with a supply of homemade, frozen dinners. Whenever she cooked a big meal, she always made a little extra and tucked it away in the freezer for me.

I was afraid to use the electric range. I was afraid the grease would splash out and burn me, but after weeks of fast-food restaurants and frozen dinners, I was starving for some home-cooked food. I decided to try to cook. My first meal was hamburger casserole.

The directions seemed simple enough. I can do it, I assured myself. I got the old, battered skillet that Mom had used to prepare so many meals with hands of love and started browning the meat.

I had the heat too high, and it started burning. Then, when I went to pour in the macaroni, the pan was too small and it began spilling over the sides. I poured more on the floor than in the pan.

It was edible, but not nearly as good as the meals Mom made. After that, I limited my cooking to TV dinners. late out some, but there weren’t many restaurants within riding distance.

Going anywhere in Amarillo was a struggle. Unlike at school where everything was at my feet, Amarillo was spread out. I rode my bike when I could, but most places were just too far. The nearest grocery store was three miles away.

Once a week, the apartment manager graciously offered to take anyone who needed a ride to the market. One by one, he would haul us to the store to buy groceries. I was grateful for the ride, but I wanted to go on my own. Trouble was, everything was so far.

It took me all day to go anywhere. One day, I decided to go shopping for some new clothes. Now that I had a job, I had to look nice.

I got up one morning and headed out to the mall. I was sure I could get home in plenty of time before I had to be at work. I started out the door and down to the comer bus stop.

I was so proud of myself for being so independent. For the first time in my life, I had financial independence. I was earning my own money. I got $350 a week, which was more money than I had ever seen. The night I got my first check, the other editors invited me to go out for a drink after work. I couldn’t say no. I was so thrilled they asked me that I went, even though I knew it was wrong to squander my money on drinking. Still, I wanted so desperately to fit in and make friends.

I was careful with my money and tried to save, but I couldn’t help but going on shopping sprees, buying furniture more suited for my new apartment. And I had to buy new clothes. The clothes I wore to school didn’t seem suitable anymore.

The bus took me downtown, where I had to get off and wait for another bus to take me across town to the mall. I sat down on a bench so I would see when my bus arrived.

Finally, I saw a big, blue bus round the corner and stop at the corner. I got up and started toward the bus. In the meantime, another one had pulled up behind it, then another and another. I didn’t know which one was the right one. I asked one of the drivers which bus went to the mall.

He pointed to the first one. “But you better hurry. It’s getting ready to pull out,” he said.

I ran to catch it, but it was too late. The doors slammed shut, and it took off without me. I had to wait 30 minutes for another one.

It was past noon when I arrived at the mall. I was starving. All that waiting had made me hungry. I decided to get something to eat before I started my shopping. Everyone else must have had the same idea. The food court was packed for the noon rush. I stood in line nearly half an hour before I got to order. I finally got my food and sat down to eat.

I felt better once I had eaten. At last, I was ready to shop. I made my way down the long hall, dashing in and out of stores until I found clothes I liked. I found a pair of brown dress slacks and a pullover shirt.

“What size do you wear?” the man behind the counter asked.

I thought for a minute. I didn’t know what size I wore. Mom had always bought my clothes for me. “I think I wear a large. I’m not sure.”

“Maybe you better try them on,” he said, sounding a little irritated.

The man showed me to the dressing room and handed me the pants. I went into the cramped room and started to change. There was hardly any room to move around. I scrambled around to take off my pants, then started to put on the new pair. I got them on and stepped from behind the curtain to look in the mirror.

The pants were too big. They swallowed me up. The clerk quickly brought another pair and sent me back into the tiny changing room. This time, they were a fit.

“I’ll take them,” I said boastfully.

I bought a whole new outfit, right down to socks and underwear. I was having fun trying on clothes when I glanced at my watch. It was 3 o’clock. I had to be at work in an hour. I quickly finished paying for my purchases and rushed outside where the bus let me out.

The bus was just rounding the comer when I came out. I quickly boarded the bus and headed home. When I got back to my apartment, my ride was waiting to take me to work. I didn’t even have time to change. I just had to get in the car and go. I was exhausted, but I was proud. I had made my own decisions.


A Deeper Walk

As soon as I got settled in my new apartment, I began going to church. The church was too far for me to ride my bike, so the youth pastor, Roger, and his wife came and picked me up. I had met Roger and Laurie at college. They came and ministered to the college students each week at a Bible study on campus.

They were about the only people I knew when I came to Amarillo, so when I began looking for a church, I called them. They graciously offered to pick me up each Sunday.

I often had to work on Sunday, but I went to church every chance I got. It became a place of refuge. I felt such a peace there. The people were warm and caring and welcomed me into the congregation.

The people of First Assembly of God were a people of faith. They believed in miracles. One Sunday not long after I started going there, I received a word of knowledge. I had been praying at the altar when a man came over and told me God was going to heal me. He prayed for me and told me to believe God for a miracle.

I always had believed in God’s power to heal me. Now, I believed it even more. I prayed for days afterward that God would help me to have enough faith to receive my healing.

I wasn’t healed that week, or that year. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t healed right then. I felt that my faith must be too weak, that it wasn’t strong enough to receive God’s touch.

I simply couldn’t understand why. Why didn’t God do what he said he would do? I struggled with my faith a great deal that year, especially when that word was given to me again a few months later. I felt God had to heal me then.

When it didn’t come when I thought it should, I became angry. I turned from God. I rebelled. I still prayed. I still went to church. But I wasn’t living the way God wanted me to live.

I thought if I wasn’t healed, I couldn’t do anything for God. He began to show me that even if he didn’t heal me right then, he could use me just as I was. He had a purpose and a time for everything. I had to keep believing. I had to hold onto my faith.

The church became like a second family to me. They prayed diligently for me and encouraged me to remain faithful in my walk with God.

I felt God was beginning to stir me, calling me into a deeper relationship with him. I was trying to it on my own, without leaning on him. He wanted me to turn everything over to him and trust him. I had to learn to surrender my will to him, which meant giving up some things in my life. When I did, my faith grew.

The first few months were lonely. At least at school there were other people around. In my apartment, it was so quiet I almost went insane. I lay in bed at night listening to the thunderous silence. I had accepted being alone. I even liked the solitude sometimes, but I missed my family.

Holidays were the worst. Thanksgiving came, and I had planned to go to Pampa for the holiday. Dad was going to come get me and take me back for a big family feast. The night before Thanksgiving, there was a big snowstorm, and Dad couldn’t get through. I was stranded in Amarillo.

I was disappointed, of course, but I had to make the most of it. For Thanksgiving dinner, I rode two blocks through the icy streets and below-freezing temperatures to the senior citizens center. There, I saw a lot of other lonely people and shared a hot meal.

Even though I was the youngest one there, the people were kind and made me feel welcome. I had a hot meal and time to think about how fortunate I was.

I had much to be thankful for. I had a job, a new apartment, and I was seeing my dream come true. I thought about all that God had given me that year. I was truly blessed.

When Christmas rolled around, I had to work and again had to stay in Amarillo. Being the new kid, I had to work all the holidays. I didn’t mind though. I was just thankful to have a job.

The new year started well. My supervisors seemed pleased with my progress. My speed increased, and I was less conscious of my disability. I still strived for perfection, but when I made a mistake — and they did happen — I didn’t become angry over it. I tried to learn from my mistakes and move forward.


Dream Comes True

There was, however, one dream left unfulfilled. One goal I hadn’t reached. I wanted to drive a car. It was the one thing that stood between me and true independence.

I had depended on others to take me everywhere. I depended on people to take me to work, people to take me shopping. It was like riding in the wheelchair when I started junior high school. It was easier, but I had to depend on others to take me where I wanted to go, and I desperately wanted to stand on my own.

I never lost hope that someday I would drive. Ever since I was 16 and my parents dashed my hopes of getting a license, I set my sights on driving. It was a dream I held in my heart.

More and more, I felt like I was missing out on part of life by not being able to get out more. One cold, wintry night, I had planned to go to a concert. I bought my ticket weeks ahead because the show was sure to be a sellout. I had looked forward to that night for weeks.

A friend from work promised to take me, but she became ill at the last minute and couldn’t go. The civic center was only about a mile from my apartment. I easily could’ve ridden my bicycle. I had ridden farther plenty of times, but it was the dead of winter and freezing outside.

Determined that nothing was going to keep me from the concert, I did the thing I had scoffed at when Mom suggested it. I called a cab. Afraid that I wouldn’t be able to find a telephone after the show, I asked the driver to pick me up promptly at 10. Surely the show will be over by then, I thought. I might miss the last few minutes of the show, but I wanted to beat the crowd out of the coliseum.

The coliseum was packed, and the country band shook the house. The floor vibrated beneath me. The crowd was pumped, but the whole time, I kept looking at my watch. I was afraid I would miss my ride.

It was 9:30 when the opening act left the stage. I waited patiently, hoping to see a little of the headline act before I had to catch my ride, but by the time they set up the stage for the featured band, it was a quarter until 10. I was going to miss the rest of the show.

As the band took the stage, I began to make my way out of the coliseum. I was crushed. I had waited so long for that night, and now I was going to miss most of the concert. I could hear the music echoing through the hall as I left.

On the way home that night, I made up my mind. I was going to get my driver’s license. I was never going to miss out on anything again.

When I told my parents of my plans to get my license, they were skeptical. They still wondered if I’d be able to handle driving, but they had to let me stand on my own. I was an adult now, and they realized I was going to do it with or without their blessing.

My parents surprised me. They didn’t try to discourage me from trying to get my license. They realized if I was going to live in Amarillo, I needed a car. It had become increasingly harder for me to get around in the city.

Dad came over and took me to the Department of Public Safety to see about my chances of getting a license. Dad told the DPS trooper his fears about letting me drive when I was 16. The trooper shared Dad’s concerns that my reflexes wouldn’t be quick enough to make sudden stops.

The road officer knew about cerebral palsy. He had been through this situation before. His daughter suffered from the crippling disease. The trooper said his daughter probably would never be able to drive, and he didn’t feel I could either.

I was furious. “Don’t judge me by your daughter,” I wanted to scream. “I’m not your daughter. Give me a chance to see what I can do.”

The trooper saw that I wasn’t going to be dissuaded. He reluctantly agreed to let me take the written test and get a learner’s permit. Then, after I practiced driving on the road, I could take a road test. If I passed, I would get my license.

Dad warned me not to get my hopes up. I might not pass, but I was overjoyed. All I wanted was a chance to try. I got a driving manual and studied it day and night. After only two weeks, I had worn the cover off the book, and I knew every rule of the road. I was ready to take the written test.

There was no doubt in my mind that I would pass. The real test would come when I got behind the wheel. What if Dad was right? Maybe my reflexes wouldn’t be swift enough. But I had to try. I had to know.

I passed the written test with ease. The trooper smiled as he handed me my learner’s permit, but I could see he still had doubts. “You still have to pass the road test,” he said.

I left that day more confident than ever that I would drive a car.

I was ready to climb behind the wheel right then and start driving, but Dad stopped me. “Wait a minute. You’re going to need a lot of practice before you’re ready to drive in town,” he said. “When you come home on weekends, you can practice. Maybe in a year or so you’ll be ready.”

A year! My heart fell on the floor. I couldn’t wait a year. I was ready now. But with Dad 60 miles away, I had little chance to practice.

The thought of having to wait another year was almost more than I could bear. That night after Dad left, the answer hit me. I would take driving lessons. I would get someone to teach me to drive.

Early the next morning, I set out on my bike for the driving school. I was exhausted and out of breath by the time I reached the school. I could hardly speak from riding so hard.

The driving instructor didn’t seem concerned about my handicap. He had worked with people who had been injured in accidents, teaching them to drive again. He was sure he could teach me. He asked me a few questions, then he scheduled my first lesson. For $30 a hour, he would teach me to drive.

Two days later, the instructor picked me up for my first lesson. I was nervous and excited all rolled into one. I squirmed in the seat as I strained to fasten the seat belt and adjust the rear-view mirror.

I thought the instructor might have doubts about teaching me to drive if he saw me having difficulty with the seat belt, but he told me not to worry.

“Take your time,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it takes you longer to fasten your seat belt. The real test is how you do once you get on the road.”

Finally, I got strapped in and pulled away from the curb and into traffic. I was on my way. I didn’t seem to make the man nervous as I did when I had Mom or Dad in the car with me. The instructor guided me through a maze of streets, weaving in and out of traffic, changing lanes and turning.

I drove to the newspaper office and practiced parking in front of the building. Several of my coworkers past by while I was pulling away. They looked as if they had seen a ghost. They were shocked to see me behind the wheel. I waved and smiled proudly as I pulled away.

I drove for nearly an hour. When I pulled up in front of my apartment, the instructor commended me. “Who said you couldn’t drive?” he asked.

I told him what the trooper said about my reflexes.

“You handled this car like you’ve been driving all your life,” he said. “But if you’d like, I can talk to the trooper for you.”

“You don’t think I’ll have trouble passing the test?” I asked.

“Not at all.”

My hopes soared. It really was going to happen. I was going to get my license! I took two more lessons. The instructor showed me how to parallel park and told me what to expect on the road test. Finally, after only three lessons, the driving instructor said, “You’re ready for the test.”

I wasn’t sure I was ready. After all, it had only been a month, but the instructor convinced me to take the test.

A few days before Christmas, Dad drove me back to the DPS office. I thought I would be nervous before the test, but I was strangely calm. The trooper got into the car and instructed me to pull forward and parallel park.

This was the one thing I had trouble with. I thought about how the driving instructor had demonstrated it just weeks before. I slipped into the spot like a hand in a glove.

The examiner was shocked. She sat beside me scribbling notes on a pad as she directed me through a maze of maneuvers. I proceeded cautiously through each intersection, held my breath at each turn and prayed each time I came to a stop.

Finally, I pulled up in front of the office and waited as the trooper tallied my score. It was the longest three minutes of my life. She checked the score twice to be sure, then she said, “Congratulations. You passed.”

I couldn’t believe it. I raced inside where Dad was pacing nervously. “I passed! I GOT MY LICENSE!” I screamed. Dad was a little surprised. I don’t think he really expected me to pass. Not on the first try anyway. But he was thrilled and proud of me.

I wanted to rush out and buy a car after I got my license. Any car. I had waited nearly 10 years for that day, and I was ready to plunk down my money on the first car I laid eyes on.

“You don’t want to make a decision you’ll regret,” Dad said. He promised to come back the next weekend and help me shop for a car.

My parents were afraid I was going to run out and buy a car before they had a chance to get back. “Don’t do anything without telling us,” they said.

In the meantime, Dad did some checking. My Uncle John was a car dealer down state. Dad called him to see if he had any used cars that would fit my needs. My aunt and uncle were so thrilled about me getting my license, they made me a deal I couldn’t refuse.

Uncle John made me a deal on a Chevolet Cavilier. It had had some work done on it, but it was still in mint condition. When Mom called to tell me about it, I was so excited I was willing to take it sight unseen. All I wanted to know was, “When can we go pick it up?”

Mom and Dad drove down to pick up the car on New Year’s Eve. I had to work, so I didn’t even see the car before they got it. It didn’t matter, though. I was so thrilled that I didn’t care what it looked like. I just wanted a car.

At work that weekend, that was all I could talk about. I could hardly wait until Mom and Dad got back with the car. Everyone assumed I would need special equipment on the car. They were surprised when I told them I didn’t need any modifications. Everyone was thrilled for me — mostly because they would no longer have to chauffeur me around — but they were genuinely happy for me.

Finally, after walking on clouds all weekend, I heard Mom and Dad pull up behind my apartment. I was so excited. I ran outside to greet them. I kept walking around the car, my face brimming with pride. “Awesome,” I said again and again. “It’s awesome.” It was white with a red strip down the side.

I wanted to jump in and take off. But I couldn’t. Not yet. There was one hurdle I hadn’t counted on — one that almost kept me off the road permanently. Insurance. I was a high risk, and no one wanted to take a chance on me.

The man at the insurance office was frank in telling me that because of my disability, it was going to be hard to sell me to the insurance company. The policy would cost more, too.

I was angry. I thought he was trying to swindle me. I was sure he was taking advantage of me because I was handicapped.

To make matters worse, I couldn’t even drive the car until the insurance company approved my application, and that would take several days. I had to leave the car sitting in my parents’ driveway and go back to Amarillo while I waited to see if the company would accept me.

I was crushed. I had bragged to everyone at work that I would be driving to work when I came back. I went so far as to tell them not to pick me up anymore. I was so sure I would have a car when I went back.

I was heartbroken when I had to call them back and ask them if they could pick me up awhile longer.

The insurance agent assured me it would take only a few days to process the paperwork and I would get a letter in the mail. What’s three or four days, I thought. I had waited 10 years, but those days were the longest three days of my life.

Each day, I rushed out to the mailbox hoping to find a letter. When it didn’t come, I flew into a tantrum. I became angry and kicked my bicycle in fits of rage. A week passed, and the papers still hadn’t arrived. I called Mom every day, yelling and screaming. I demanded that she call the agent and find out what was going on. I was convinced he was trying to hustle me, and I wasn’t going to be cheated.

The agent assured Mom the papers were in the mail. Two more days passed, and I didn’t get the papers. I grew more incensed each day. Finally, the agent got tired of dealing with me. He issued me a temporary card so I could at least drive the car. I didn’t understand why he didn’t do that from the beginning, but at least now I could drive the car.

When Mom and Dad brought my car to me later that evening, my anger turned to jubilation. I was on top of the world.

After my parents left, I just sat in my car reveling over my latest achievement. That night, I cruised through the neighborhood, driving up and down the streets. I felt like I had been released from captivity. At last, I was free.


New Day Dawning

Soon after I got my license, I started working the day shift at the paper. It was a welcome change from working nights and the long hours, and I had more time to go out in my new car in the evenings.

I worked with three young women on the copy desk — Beth, Laura and Larri Jo — along with Bruce, the assistant city editor, and Raenell, the desk clerk. There was also a sports copy editor, Greg, in the early-morning crew. Everyone made me feel welcome. They made me feel like I was a part of the team, and I came to count them as some of my best friends.

Before, I always had felt like an intruder. Everyone was nice enough, but I really didn’t fit in. It was different working with the Missies, as the three girls were known around the newsroom. They made me feel like I was part of them. They included me in their morning runs to the bagel shop and sometimes invited me to go out with them after work. I finally felt like I belonged.

We rotated jobs on the copy desk, and I was expected to take a turn at all the jobs, even the ones I didn’t particularly enjoy.

They didn’t pity me. They treated me the same as everyone else, which was how I wanted to be treated but how many were afraid to treat me.

It was still lonely sometimes, but now that I had a car I became more outgoing. I went out more, even if I had to go alone. I went to movies or just drove around. Anything was better than sitting and staring at those four walls.

In my search for company, I joined a disabled advocacy group. The Panhandle Action Center for Independent Living was a welcome refuge. They had classes to help people with disabilities find jobs, budget their money and take care of themselves. There were also social activities, which was the reason I went.

I thought it would be easier making friends among the people who came to the center. Most were like me. Many had disabilities; others just needed a helping hand until they got back on their feet, but we all shared a common goal. We strived for independence.

I thought they would be more tolerant of someone with a disability. I was sure they would accept one of their own and that I would make friends in no time.

But I didn’t find the one thing that I was desperately longing for — a true friend, the kind of friend I had found in Nate. I continued to struggle with communicating with others. I knew if I wanted to make friends, I had to be a friend. I had to open up and share with others — something I just couldn’t make myself do.

I met a lot of new people at the center. I even met up with the girl that I had rode to camp with years before, Alisa Burns. She was all grown up now and quite different from the young girl I met at the Lions Club camp when I was a boy.

I had seen her at the center but hadn’t really talked to her until one night I saw her at a singles dance. Neither of us danced, but we had a good time reliving our days at camp.

A lot had changed in the years since we’d seen each other. Alisa left home when she was 16. She moved to Amarillo after high school. She worked when she could find it and took classes at the community college. It was a struggle for her just to get around some days, but she made it. Like me, she depended on God’s goodness to provide a way.

We started going out and quickly became close friends. We had many of the same struggles and shared many of the same beliefs, mainly about God.

It helped having someone to talk to. It gave me hope in a world of isolation. I felt a special closeness with Alisa. I understood her struggles, and she understood mine. I could tell her things no one else could understand. I had never met anyone like her.

We dated for nearly two years, and I thought I had found the right girl for me. We even planned to get married. I never thought I would ever get married, but Alisa had given me something no one else could — true companionship.

A few months before we were to be married, something happened. It was as if God showed us a mirror of our future lives, and they didn’t match. Like me, Alisa had dreams. She had dreams of being a missionary and sharing God’s love with others. She also wanted children, something I wasn’t sure I wanted in my life.

When we went our separate ways to pursue different dreams, I was devastated. Alisa would always hold a special place in my heart. I knew I had to let go, and I had to look ahead, too.

The loneliness returned, and troubles began to flood my life like waves. I was unhappy at work. My life seemed to have no meaning. I was depressed. I wanted to run away. I thought if I could get a job in another place, if I could move away from Amarillo, that the troubles would disappear.

But that wasn’t the answer. Instead of running away, I needed to run to God. And when I ran to him, I felt him put his loving arms around me. God began to teach me a lesson — that he loved me and would always be with me.

I knew God had a reason for me to be where I was. God had a plan. He was also teaching me to be content with what I had.

All my life, I always felt if I could just have something else, I would be happy. When I was young, I thought if I just got healed, I’d be happy. Later, I said if I had a good job, I’d be satisfied. Then, I thought if had a better job, I’d never want anything else. But the truth was that I would never be satisfied.

It’s all right to have goals and dreams, but somewhere along the way I had to accept what I have and be happy with that.

I had to learn to be content with my station in life — whatever that station is. God knows my deepest hopes and dreams, and he has a plan for my life that is better than anything I could hope for. I just had to let go and trust him.

I didn’t know if I would ever find the right girl and settle down. I didn’t know if I would be healed. But I believed in God, and I began to live life one day at a time, looking to God to satisfy me rather than earthly things.

Like a child being led by the hand, I knew God was directing my path. I knew that he knew the plans for my life, and I only had to look to him. In his timing, he would reveal his perfect plan for my life.

I continued to struggle with the unanswered questions. I continued to have doubts, uncertain of what the future might bring. I had many unexplored dreams and hopes still before me, but I knew that through the eyes of faith, all the obstacles would be removed. And all I had to do was believe.


Fast Forward 20 Years

The year is now 2018. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since this book was first published in 1998. People have asked me over the years if I would ever write another book, and I always said ‘no.’ Writing a book and then getting it published is a huge undertaking, and I’m not sure I could do it again. I will be turning 50 this year, and with the popularity of e-Books and the ease of self-publishing on the Internet, I believe there are a few more lessons in faith I can share in an update to this book.

As the ’90s came to a close, much of the world was focused on the year 2000. It was a tumultuous time. Many feared that the Y2K virus would cause computers to shut down and lead to the collapse of financial systems around the world.

The Y2K scare turned out to be nothing, and America’s attention then turned to the hotly contested presidential race between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore. The final result of the election remained up in the air for weeks as lawyers on both sides pored over hanging chads and ballot recounts. The recounts went all the way to the Supreme Court before George Bush was declared the 43rd president of the United States.

For me, I had a much calmer life. I had found my groove, it seems. I was working full time at the newspaper. I went to church every chance I got, and, for the first time in my adult life, I had somewhat of a social life.

I had become friends with several of the people I met through the independent living center. We started meeting once or twice a month to go out to dinner together and then we usually went to a movie or to play table games.

We were a small close-knit group. There were about five regulars who came every month, and then occasionally one or two others from the center would come.

We had varying types of disabilities. Ray was a stroke victim. He had been a nurse in the operating room for several years before the stroke and remained very active. Debbie, who had a form of Down Syndrome, came with her boyfriend, Steve. Then there was Claire Christal. She had cerebral palsy, so we had a lot in common right from the start.

Our group was called Saturday Night Live. Not very original but it was a catchy name. Mainly, we just enjoyed each others’ company.

Ray was the only one in the group who drove besides me, so he usually picked up the others in his van, and I would meet them at the restaurant. We received quite a few stares and strange looks when we came waddling in together. People were always surprised to see a whole group of disabled people out on the town together.

It wasn’t our intention, but our group did raise awareness and showed others that those of us with disabilities enjoy dinner and a movie out like everyone else. I like to think we helped change the attitude some people had about the disabled at that time. We showed others that we’re really not that different than themselves.

Over time, we all became good friends, learning to help and support each other. I especially enjoyed spending time with Claire. Claire was a spry little woman who loved to laugh and have fun. She was athletic, too, participating in Special Olympics bowling leagues. With her cerebral palsy, we found that we had a lot in common. We discovered that we probably were taking treatment at the Children’s Rehabilitation Center at the same time as kids.

Claire volunteered at the library and lived with her parents. She always liked to be on the go. I remember when I traded in my Chevy Cavalier and bought a pickup. I drove it to meet our group at a restaurant one night. As we were leaving. Claire noticed the shiny new truck and fell in love with it. “Take me for a ride!” she exclaimed.

I drove her home. After that, Claire wanted me to pick her up and take her home whenever our group went out, and, of course, I was glad to do it. On weekends when our group didn’t go out, I’d pick up Claire, and we’d go out to eat.

Claire’s parents, Pat and Yvonne, were understandably nervous about her riding with me at first. After they were around me more, their fears were put to rest and they let her go with me. They took me in and treated me like one of the family, inviting me into their home for meals and buying me gifts on my birthday and Christmas.

Life was good. I was enjoying my independence, and everything was humming along beautifully… until the unexpected happened.

Tests often follow triumphs.

With work and my social life in full swing, I thought I had it all together. I stopped praying as much, thinking I could handle things all on my own. But life has a way of sending us subtle reminders to show us we’re still vulnerable. Sometimes, those reminders are not so subtle.

I was on the computer at work one afternoon. I moved my chair back to stand up when I felt a sharp pain shoot down my back. It was excruciating pain. I slid back down in my chair and waited for the pain to subside. The pounding in my back was constant. I’d never experienced pain like that before. I kept trying to stand up, but the pain was relentless.

Some of my co-workers helped me over to a couch in the break room, so I could lay down flat. I was having muscle spasms every few minutes. When the pain persisted into the late afternoon, a co-worker finally called my mom and dad. I didn’t want to bother them, but my co-workers knew, and I knew, there was no way I’d be able to drive home that evening. I could hardly even move.

My parents rushed over from Pampa, about a 60-mile trip. Even though I was nearly 35, I was still a little boy in my parents’ eyes, and they were going to take care of me. They wheeled me out to the car in an office chair and slid me into the back seat. Mom drove me back to my apartment, and Dad followed in my truck. My back was still racked with pain. They tried to make me comfortable. That’s really all they could do for me for the moment.

The next morning, my parents got me in to see the doctor. He examined my back but really had no explanation for the sudden attack. The doctor surmised that it could be just a pulled muscle, but the intensity was heightened by my cerebral palsy. He prescribed a muscle relaxant and sent me home.

It took about a week before I could stand up and walk. Mom stayed with me the entire week. She had to do practically everything for me. I wanted her to know how much I appreciated her even though I didn’t always show it. I took Mom and the things she did for me for granted. I didn’t show her the respect she deserved, and I regret that now. I loved my mom, and I couldn’t have made it that week without her.

I did a lot of thinking and praying during that time. I questioned God. Why did this have to happen to me? Hadn’t I been through enough? Things were going so well. Why now?

If I learned anything from this bout with my back, it was that I needed to put my complete trust only in God Himself. No matter how independent I became, I would always need the Lord. More and more, I was realizing I would always be dependent on Him. I can’t rely on others. I can’t even trust my own abilities. I can trust only in God.

God knows exactly what I need when I need it.

Throughout my life, I have trusted in God, and he has always provided — many times in ways I never expected. The Bible says, “The steps of a righteous man are ordered of God.”

I have seen this play out in my life. From small details to big decisions, God has gone ahead to prepare a path for me. I’ve learned to rely on this verse: Romans 8:28, “Everything works together for GOOD for those who love the Lord.” It may not seem like it at the time, but over time we can look back and see God was working things out for our good.

My pastor, Lynn Hancock, once said, "If we understood everything, we wouldn't have to walk by faith." That really stuck with me. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:7 "For we walk by faith, not by sight." If we understood everything that happens to us, we wouldn't need to trust God. We would depend on ourselves instead of putting our complete trust in God. Walking by faith means we may not understand everything in the here and now, but we know God's plan is always perfect and He will bring us through any trial.

Even after my back pain eased and I was able to return to work, my walking wasn’t the same. It was more difficult to walk even short distances, and I was falling more. This bout with my back was the beginning of a series of setbacks with my balance and walking.

All these problems began to crop up not long after I turned 35. That’s when I started using a three-pronged cane and later a walker to make walking easier.

Cerebral palsy is a non-progressive condition, meaning it doesn’t worsen as I get older. But I learned later that people with cerebral palsy sometimes have worsening mobility problems and often includes premature aging.

I read one study that said between the ages of 20 and 40 people with cerebral palsy have some form of premature aging due to the excess stress and strain our bodies go through to do everyday activities like walking, The study showed that people with CP use up to five times as much energy as able-bodied people do when walking or moving around.

This caught be completely off guard. No one had ever warned me or my parents that these kinds of problems were possible, Mom said, “I just thought Chris would always be Chris. No one ever told us he would have these problems when he got older.”

It was about this time that I had to make the hard choice to reduce my work hours. It became hard to work all day, and I began to make editing mistakes because I was tired all the time. My supervisor at the newspaper was helpful in allowing me to work six-hour shifts rather than the full eight hours a day. He was very understanding and even let me work earlier in the day when I had more energy. I hated having to work fewer hours, but it was the only thing I could do if I wanted to keep working.

I remember praying one time and saying, “God, I wasn’t expecting this. This is not part of my plan!” I had to learn that my plans weren't always God's plans, but God's plans are always best.

Pastor Lynn Hancock said, "We have a limited view. We need to realize that our momentary judgment on the situation is colored by our own human limitations. We cannot see what God can see. He sees not only today, He sees tomorrow, too. He doesn't do things the way we think He will, but His plans are always best."

Those words helped me realize that God really does know what's best for me. No matter what I go through in life, I just need to put my hopes and trust in God. I am not alone. He is for me. He will never disappoint me.

I need to remember that the hard times are only temporary. They won't last. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, it says, "So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal."

I want to learn to be like the apostle Paul when he said, "I’ve learned to be content in whatever situation I’m in." That's hard to do sometimes, but in the end, we will achieve an eternal victory if we keep our trust in God. I've come a long way, but I'm still learning to find that place of contentment. In the meantime, I'm going to keep my trust in God. He will see me through.


The Abundant Life

John 10:10 says, “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life and life to the full.”

I have leaned on that verse. I’ve trusted in that verse. I’ve claimed that verse. The devil may try to steal and even destroy parts of my life, but God wants to give a full and abundant.

We have such a short time on Earth. We have to make the most of the time we have. That’s why I’ve always said you have to do all you can while you can. That has been my mantra. You have to go and do while you have the ability and the opportunity. You never know when life is going to deal you a blow and suddenly everything changes.

I have tried to live by that advice. I wasn’t consent to sit at home. I wanted to be out and on the go as long as I could. I told Mom time and time again that we needed to go while we were both still physically able to do it.

One of my bucket list dreams was to go on a cruise. Whenever I mentioned it to Mom, she’d say, “we’ll have to see… maybe someday.” I knew there would come a time when neither Mom nor I would be capable of making such a big trip. We had to seize the day. We had to do it while we could still travel, so I took matters into my own hands. I booked us on the 2005 K-Love radio Christian music cruise!

I did it without telling Mom. I had told her we should go but, as usual, she said we’d have to think about it. I knew the cruise would sell out fast, so I secretly sent in a deposit for both of us while Mom was “thinking about it.”

Mom eventually came around to my side. She realized if we were ever going to do it we should do it then. She forgave me for going behind her back, and in January 2005, Mom and I boarded a Carnival cruise ship sailing to the Bahamas. It was truly the trip of a lifetime. We had five wonderful days of fun, extravagant dining and great Christian music concerts. It was one of the last trips Mom and I got to share together. I will always hold those memories in my heart.

It was only about a year after the cruise that our family experienced another great loss. In the spring of 2006, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. It was already quite advanced when it was discovered, and doctors didn’t give him long to live. Our family was devastated by this news.

Although our relationship was somewhat strained during my childhood, Dad and I came to have a special bond later in life. He was a great husband and father who led our family through quiet strength.

He taught me many faith lessons without a lot of words. He taught by example. I’d see Dad reading and studying the Bible, and it made me want to go deeper in God’s Word. One of my most treasured reminders of him is one of Dad’s Bibles. It’s marked up with underlines and many handwritten notes in the margins. The pages are well worn, and it’s coming apart, but I love to read from it and see my dad’s thoughts in the margins.

Dad also taught me the value of money. He was very frugal. Sometimes, I thought he was too thrifty. It wasn’t until years later that Mom told me the reason he always tried to save money is because he wanted to have enough to be able to help me if I wasn’t able to work or had medical expenses related to my disability. He sacrificed for me so my future would be secure. Dad did many other things to make sure Mom would have enough and could help Karen and me if we needed it.

diagnosis was unexpected and shocked us all, but he seemed strangely at peace. He had lived a hard life, but he knew he was about to go to heaven. After a short battle with cancer, Dad passed away on Aug. 18, 2006 at the age of 72.

We all struggled to find a new normal, but it was especially hard on Mom. After 42 years of marriage, she was lost without him. She said she found herself wanting to go tell him something only to remember he wasn’t there. But Mom was strong. She held our family together with her love, and Karen stepped up to take care of both Mom and me.

I found myself needing more and more help as my walking continued to decline over the next couple of years. I went from using a walker to an electric mobility scooter. I had a lift installed on my pickup. I could load the scooter in the back of the truck by myself and take off. I used the scooter at work or anywhere I needed to go. It allowed me to keep my independence a little longer.

I would be fine for several months and then the muscle spasms in my back would start again, sending me to my bed for days or weeks at a time. Mom was dutifully by my side every time. She came and stayed with me in Amarillo for a week or more at a time. She cooked for me, cleaned for me and drove me to doctors’ appointments. I couldn’t have made it without her.

When Mom went back home, I still needed some help. I arranged for a home health aide to come a few times a week. She cooked meals for me and put them in the freezer so I could easily heat them up during the week. The aide would help me with anything else I needed her to do. Even though it took away some of my independence, I gladly accepted this assistance. But I resisted when she said she could help me take a shower, too, I balked at the idea of having someone I hardly knew give me a bath. I had fallen in the bathtub a couple of times, and Mom said I needed to at least let the aide help me get in and out of the tub. I knew Mom was right, and my safety came first, I had to put my pride aside and let the aides help me.

I still tried to do as much as I could for myself. But it took so much energy to do even simple things like bathing and dressing, I needed to conserve as much energy as I could so I could function at work. It was tough some days to get my work done in my shortened work shift. My co-workers pitched in to help, but I was determined to pull my own weight. I stayed late many times to finish editing and designing my pages for the morning edition of the paper. It was draining, but God gave me the strength to keep going.

I had another decline at the end of 2008. This time, it was different. It felt different. Besides my back, it was my legs, too. I’d try to stand up, and my clumsy legs would lock up. I couldn’t put weight on my legs. It scared me because this had never happened to me before.
I went to doctor after doctor, but none of them seemed to be able to give me any definitive answers. One said it could be a pinched nerve; another said osteoarthritis, and the next one said degenerative joint disease. Truth is, no one knew.

It was my neurologist, Dr. Milligan, who determined I had a strained hamstring. He explained that I had a pulled hamstrung due to an excessive stretch or tear in the muscle fibers and related tissue. Unfortunately, he said this kind of injury is very hard to treat and rehabilitate, Physical therapy might help, he said, but it was really just a waiting game.

I became discouraged. I just couldn’t understand why this had to happen. After all I’d been through that year, this was one more thing to set me back yet again. Mom would stay with me for a few days at a time and then go home a few days. Back and forth, she tirelessly took care of me, and the home health aides helped when Mom was gone.

I took an extended leave of absence from the newspaper. I loved my job and hoped I’d be able to return to work sooner than later, but my future was really up in the air until I could at least put weight on my legs.

Dr. Milligan gave me injections to try to strengthen the muscles in my leg. I’ve been to quite a few doctors in my life, and Dr. Sean Milligan is one of the kindest and most caring doctors I’ve met. He took the time to listen to me. A lot of my doctors had trouble understanding my speech, and they’d just nod their head and quickly move on. Dr. Milligan took the time to understand me. If he still didn’t understand my questions, he’d tell me to go home and write my questions and send them to him in an e-mail, and he would write me back — usually the same day. One time, Mom was with me, and she expressed her worries about my future (Mom worried about everything). Dr, Milligan assured her if something ever happened to her he would make sure I had the best care possible. He promised her that he’d watch over me. That comforted both Mom and me.

Dr. Milligan was a man of faith, too. He always encouraged me and told me not to give up. He said we’d get through this together. This new problem with my hamstring might take some time to heal, but he reminded me that God had brought me through worse trials than this. It may take time, he said, but I was going to make it.

Over the next three or four months, I continued to see Dr. Milligan for injections, and I had extensive physical therapy twice a week. Slowly, my calf muscles loosened up, so I could at least stand on my feet. I wasn’t walking yet, but it was progress.

I was anxious to return to work. After three month, I was tired of staying at home, and I was ready to resume normal activities and get back to my job at the paper. Yet, in the back of my mind, I wondered if I’d be able to keep up with the demanding deadlines. I had to try. I had to step out in faith.

I started slowly. My editor assigned me to work on the business section, which was done in advance so I wouldn’t be under the gun of constant deadlines. I could work at my own pace. Some days, I had only one page in my section, but the weekend edition had five or six. I really had to hustle to finish on time.

It took so much energy to complete my pages. I was exhausted at the end of the day. It was all I could do some days to get to my truck, load my scooter and then drive home and fall into bed.

After only eight months back at work, I had a relapse. It was my hamstring again. The muscles tightened up, and I could hardly transfer from the bed to the scooter. The editors at the newspaper had been flexible in allowing me to work fewer hours, but I was missing more and more days and sometimes weeks at a time. I always knew the day would come when I wouldn’t be able to work any more, but I was hoping I could work three more years to complete 20 years at the Amarillo Globe-News. But it was becoming clearer to me that that tine had arrived. It wasn’t fair to the paper or my co-workers to leave them in a bind.

I told Mom, “I think it’s time to quit.” Mom nodded, “I think so, too,” she said.

I didn’t want a big farewell or a lot of fanfare. I went to the newsroom very early one morning, before anyone else was there, to pack my things and clean out my desk. I had a few tears as I looked around the newsroom one last time. So many memories ran through my mind. It was hard to leave. Before I left the building, I went up to the overlook for a final look at the massive printing presses below. And with that, my 17-year journalism career came to a tearful end.


A New Start

With my time at the Globe-News in my rear-view mirror, it was time to turn the page and start a whole new chapter in my life. I faced the daunting question of what to do next. Mom wanted me to move out of my apartment and come back to Pampa to live with her. The problem was Mom’s house wasn’t set up for someone in a wheelchair, and it would’ve been almost impossible to move around the house in my scooter.

Karen urged me to move back to Pampa, too, where I could be closer to her and Mom. She made some calls and found a small apartment a short distance from Mom’s house. I didn’t want to leave Amarillo, saying I needed to stay there to be close to my doctors.

I knew Karen was right. It would be better for me to have her and Mom nearby where they could check in on me more and help me.

In February 2010, I packed up and headed back to my hometown. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I had made a good life for myself in Amarillo for nearly 20 years, and I had made some good friends like my Saturday night group and especially Claire Christal. It was hard to say goodbye and start a whole new life in Pampa. Deep down, though, I knew I was making the right decision and this was where God was leading me for the next chapter in my life.

It took a little time to adjust to my new surroundings. Mom came to check on me nearly every day, and Karen helped me unpack. She arranged all my shirts according to color and alphabetized the spices in the kitchen cabinet.

It was beginning to feel more like home. One day, I drove around town looking at the town and how much it had changed. It seemed even smaller than I remembered. The city's population had dwindled over the years, dropping to less than 18,000 today.

With the decline in population, many stores and businesses had closed. Gone was the Pampa Mall, which used to be packed and where I would often hang out on Saturday afternoons. Downtown streets, which used to be humming with activity, were now lined with boarded-up storefronts.

Some big name stores had closed up shop. Alco, Dunlaps and M.E. Moses are just memories now. It was sad to see that the town had lost so much of its retail business. But it wasn’t all bad news for Pampa. I did see some new construction as I drove around town.

A new junior high school was built on the north end of town, and the high school had just completed a major renovation and addition. Two new hotels had opened across the road from each other.

So Pampa had undergone many changes, but one thing that hadn't changed was its friendly people. When I went to the store, I had people offering to help me with my bags, help me with my scooter, and everyone was so friendly.

I guess that's part of the appeal of a small town. People look out for their neighbors. And that's a nice thing in this day and time.

I caught up with my classmate Greg Bullard. He was a good friend to me in school, and we had kept in touch through the years. When he heard I had moved back to town, he came to see me. He told me he had been praying for me every day. Once I got settled in my new place, Greg came by regularly. We would watch movies and eat pizza. It was just like old times. Greg was a loyal friend and a lot of company to me during a very lonely time.

With all my extra time, I started writing again. I never seemed to have time to write while I was working. Now, I had plenty of time on my hands. I started a blog, writing about politics, religion and everyday happenings.

I took a chance and sent one of my religion articles to the editors at The Pampa. News. They printed it the next week. I submitted another one the following week, and they printed it, too. Soon, I became a regular contributor on the religion page alongside the columns of several local pastors, It made me feel productive to be writing for my hometown newspaper. This was the same paper that had turned me down for a job after I graduated.

I received good response to my column. I had included my e-mail address in the tagline, and I would occasionally get letters from readers. Most of the feedback was positive. Some wrote and told me that my writing was making a difference and helping them in their walk with Christ. That encouraged me to keep writing. I was writing every week, and it felt good, I was just happy to still be doing something in journalism even if I wasn’t getting paid for it.

I thought my life was over when I had to give up my job. But I started to believe that God still had a purpose for me and everything I’d been through. This was part of God’s divine providence.

God always has a plan, and His plan is made in advance. That crisis that caught me by surprise didn't catch God by surprise. He doesn't always tell us what it is in advance, but God has a plan, and it's a good plan. Nothing we go through catches Him by surprise. God doesn't need our help, only our obedience and trust. He knows what's going to happen to us tomorrow. He sees the end from the beginning, and He will lead us through life if we’ll just keep our trust in Him.

Once I got settled and accepted my new circumstances, I was at peace and time passed quickly. Everything was going well until the unexpected happened yet again. I was hit with another crisis, and it would perhaps be my toughest crisis yet.

In mid-2013, I started feeling weak. I wasn’t worried about it at first. I thought I was just tired and needed to get more rest. After a couple of weeks and I didn’t get any better, I went to the doctor. He ordered a blood test and told me I had the flu. He gave me a prescription and sent me home, telling me it sometimes takes a long time — a few weeks — to recover from the flu.

The flu? I’d had the flu before. This didn’t feel like the flu. This was different.

Days and weeks passed and I wasn’t getting any stronger. If anything, I was getting weaker. I went back to the doctor, and he told me to give it more time. Bur I knew something was seriously wrong with me. I was so weak. I was having trouble lifting my arms to put my shirt on. I couldn’t pick up heavy items like a carton of Coke. I couldn’t do simple things like dressing and even feeding myself. This scared me.

I went to another doctor, hoping and praying he could give me answers. He did more blood tests, but the results came back normal. He dismissed my worries, saying it was just the reality of the combination of getting older and having cerebral palsy. He said he was sorry, but there really wasn’t much he could do for me. He suggested I try taking some vitamins and then sent me home.

I was pretty discouraged when I went home that day. There had to be something they could do. I prayed, crying out for God to heal me. All the while, I was getting weaker by the day.

In November of that year, I went to see Dr. Milligan. He was very concerned. When he heard my symptoms — the weakness and unable to raise my arms — he had his suspicions, He said he wanted me to get an MRI and then we’d know more.

It was nearly impossible for me to lay completely still for the 45-minute MRI screen of my back and neck, but I felt God’s peace with me. He helped me through the daunting ordeal.

When the results came back the next day, Dr. Milligan’s suspicions were confirmed. I had spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spine. Dr. Milligan said my case was at a critical stage. If I had waited any longer, the condition would’ve only gotten worse and possibly caused paralysis. He said I needed surgery as soon as possible and sent me to see a neurosurgeon.

Dr. Milligan tried to get me in to see prominent surgeon Dr. Michael LaGrone, but the earliest he could see me wasn’t until after the new year, which was still three weeks away. In the meantime, I had started falling more when I tried to transfer myself from the scooter to the bed. Mom, Karen and I all agreed it wasn’t safe for me to stay by myself any longer. Mom said she would come stay with me, but I knew she wouldn’t be able to lift me if I fell.

The only alternative was for me to be admitted to the nursing home while I waited to see the surgeon. It was a hard decision, but I knew it was the right thing to do at the time. At least I would have people around to help me, and I would be safe there. Coincidentally, the nursing home was only a block away from my apartment. I could look out the window in my room and see the apartment complex. I hated to give up my apartment and my sense of independence, but it was the only realistic option.

The wait was almost unbearable. I kept imagining all kinds of dark scenarios. What if I didn’t wake up after the surgery? I prayed more in that three weeks than any other time in my life. I knew I had to put my complete trust in God and then leave it in His hands, but it wasn’t easy. Finally, the new year rolled around, and it was time for my appointment with Dr. LaGrone in Amarillo.

I met with Dr. LaGrone’s assistant first. Strangely enough, the assistant said he remembered seeing me when I came to Dr. LaGrone about my back pain years earlier. I only saw him for my back once, and I barely remembered the visit.

When the doctor came in, he was all business. Looking at my MRI scans, he showed me the narrowing in the space in my neck. He would have to put steel plates in my neck to prevent further narrowing. Surgery was the only option, He said there was no time to waste. He didn’t know if it would reverse the damage already done, but he felt sure it would prevent any more damage and even paralysis.

My surgery was the following Monday at BSA hospital in Amarillo. I was strangely calm in the days before the surgery. I had already turned it over to God and put all my faith in Him.

One of the nurses who prepped me for surgery could tell I was nervous. She tried to reassure me, telling me Dr. LaGrone was one of the best neurosurgeons in the country and that I would be in good hands. Little did she know that there was another pair of hands taking care of me. I was in the Lord’s hands.

I was wheeled into the O,R. a few minutes past 7 and was in surgery nearly five hours. The damage was even more extensive than the doctor first thought. He joked later that I had enough steel plates and screws in my neck to open my own hardware store. The good news was that the surgery went well and the doctor believed I had a good chance to regain the use of my arm. But it was going to take time. It was going to take time and a lot of therapy. The surgery turned out to be the easy part for me. The hard part would be the long road of recovery that followed.


One Day at a Time

So how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That's a cute saying, but there's really a lot of truth in that. To accomplish anything in life, you have to take one day at a time and one small step at a time.

I found that to be especially true in my recovery from surgery. After my surgery in January 2014, I still could hardly even move my right arm. I couldn't do anything with that arm. Even simple tasks like picking up my water cup was nearly impossible. I could hardly change the channel on the remote or type on the keyboard like I'm doing here. While Dr. LaGrone was confident I would regain some use of that arm, he said it could take up to a year before I began to see any improvement.

I stayed at BSA hospital’s rehab unit for nearly three weeks to begin extensive physical and occupational therapy. I had three hours of therapy each day. It was exhausting, and my progress seemed almost non-existent at first, but the therapists at the hospital encouraged me to keep trying. “Don’t give up,” they told me repeatedly. I had to wear a neck-and-back brace until the soft tissue in my neck healed. I’d done well keeping my emotions in check until they put that contraption on me, Then, I just broke down, The brace was heavy, hot and very uncomfortable to say the least, and I had to wear it day and night. It was torture. I’d beg them to leave it off me for 30 minutes to give me a break.

After my stay at BSA, I went to Kirkland Court Rehabilitation in Amarillo to continue my therapy. I took an instant liking to the nurse who admitted me. She joked and said she was “an ornery cuss.” I joked back that “I am too!” We hit it off perfectly after that.

I also felt a connection with the therapy team there. They were a bunch of caring Christian women. The occupational therapist often began our sessions with prayer, asking God to help me move my arm. She came up with some creative exercises to try to strengthen my muscles. She put weights in a shoe box, and I had to use my arm to try to push the box across the table. As an added incentive, she taped a picture of Barack Obama on the box. That made all the difference. I knocked the box completely off the table!

The therapists all knew I was a writer and I needed to be able to use the keyboard. They worked tirelessly with me to make it easier for me to type. I started out typing only a few words at a time. I slowly progressed until I could type a whole page in one sitting. That was a great feeling!

I liked the staff there, but I was so lonely. Mom came to visit me twice a week. It was hard on her to make the 60-mile trip to Amarillo, but she wanted to come and be with me. I also felt isolated there cooped up in that small room. They hardly even let me take my scooter and go outside.

I made many lasting memories there. I met some special people, too. They were like angels that God put in my life to help me through that difficult trial. I met one such angel during my three-month stay at Kirkland Court Rehabilitation Center. One morning I was sitting at the breakfast table while the aide fed me a bowl of Fruit Loops (one of the few things that still tasted good to me). From the other end of the hall, I heard this really loud voice, someone singing "JESUS LOVES ME, THIS I KNOW...."

"Who is THAT?" I asked. I quickly found out THAT was Kathleen, a spunky 93-year-old who loves the Lord and isn't shy about telling others about her savior. The first thing she asked me was, "Do you know Jesus as your savior?" She always wore a big cross around her neck and carried her Bible with her in her wheelchair. Kathleen seemed to take an instant liking to me. Actually, I think she felt a little sorry for me. I was quite a sight. I often sat by myself in the dining room. I had lost 45 pounds, and I had to wear that awful neck-and-back brace. Every morning, I'd hear her coming down the hall singing as loud as she could. One morning, though, she was singing a different song. It was, "HEY, GOOD LOOKIN' WHAT'S YA GOT COOKIN'?" It made me laugh, and Kathleen loved to make people laugh!

Kathleen always knew the right thing to say to cheer me up. One night after I'd been there only a short time and was feeling pretty low, she came over to me and said, "This is a good place. We're going to take good care of you!" After that, she did her best to look out for me. I think she was even a little jealous. If another woman tried to talk to me, she'd say, "He's mine!"

She could also be mischievous at times. I remember one Saturday when I was having a really bad day. My neck brace was so hot and uncomfortable. I could hardly stand it. Some of my family was there, and the nurse wheeled Kathleen into my room. She came over and gave me a little kiss on the cheek, and we talked for a few minutes. Then, the nurse turned to take her out. When they got to the door, Kathleen suddenly turned around and hollered out, "CAN YOU STILL PERFORM?"

So much for the sweet little old lady image! As you can imagine, the whole room erupted in laughter. My mom and sister as well as my aunt and cousin all were rolling in the floor laughing. I'm convinced Kathleen did it for the shock value. She knew how to work a crowd to get a laugh. It sure brightened my day, and it turned a really bad day into a memory I'll certainly never forget.

God used Kathleen to show me that I could still be happy despite bad circumstances. Any time I was sad or feeling low, I would think about Kathleen coming down the hall singing "Jesus Loves Me." If this spry 93-year-old could be so cheerful and happy all the time, then I could too!

I still think about her often and how God used her to bring some light into my life during a very dark time. For that, Kathleen will always be my special angel!

When I finished my 90-day treatment program at Kirkland Court, I decided to move back to the Pampa Nursing Center. At least I would be closer to Mom and Karen and maybe I’d get to go out more. Karen joked that she hoped that was the last time she had to move me. She had moved me from my apartment to the nursing home to the rehab hospital and back to the nursing home again — all in less than six months.

Karen was such a big help to me during that time, and she still is today. Like Mom, Karen is a kind-hearted, caring woman who gives her time and talents to help others. Besides her busy job as the administrative assistant to the school superintendent, she helped Mom and me with all our records and paperwork. She tackled the mountain of paperwork involved in filing for Medicaid when I was admitted to the nursing home.

Karen is also a loving sister. She bought a mini-fridge for my room and kept it stocked with sandwiches and homemade frozen dinners for when I didn’t want to eat the nursing home’s bland food, which was more often than not, She also brought my favorite candy and sodas.

I relied on Karen for a lot of other things, too. Mom would try to do something for me, and I’d say, “Karen can do it.” I don’t know what I’d do without her. Still to this day, she makes sure I have everything I need.

Someone once told me nursing home care is a lot like herding cattle. The aides have to rush around to get everyone up and dressed, prod them down to the dining room for breakfast, poke food and meds down everybody, then corral everyone back to their rooms. The cycle is repeated at lunchtime and again at supper. It sounds so impersonal, but that's the system.

My transition into the nursing home got off to a rocky start. I had disagreements with the director of nursing over riding my scooter around the neighborhood as I had done when I lived in my apartment. I thought I should be allowed to go out on my scooter and ride around town. The director vehemently opposed the idea. I might get hurt, she insisted.

Mom didn’t want me to stir up trouble, but I was stubbornly determined to go out on my scooter. We had round after round over it. I knew they were only concerned for my safety, but sometimes you have to take risks in life. I was willing to take the risk, and I refused to budge. The director finally agreed to let me sign myself out when I wanted to take a ride or go somewhere.

I was free at last. After months of being cooped up in a hospital room and rehab room, I enjoyed my new-found freedom, and I wasted little time in getting started. I would go out in the mornings and ride to the park, or I’d ride to the video store or to McDonald’s — anywhere to get away from those four walls of my room for a little while.

I also insisted in riding my scooter to church. Mom would have taken me in the van, but it was important for me to do it on my own. People in the neighborhood noticed me riding to church. One man stopped me on the street and told me that he admired my faithfulness to church. He lived near the church and said when he saw me riding to church every Sunday, it made him think he could make more effort to go to church himself. That made me more determined to keep doing it. If I could encourage others to get in church, it was all worth it.

There were many heartwarming moments at the nursing home like when you see a staff member walking hand-in-hand with one of the residents in the hall. It takes a special kind of person to do this kind of work, and the nurses and aides are a caring, hard-working bunch. They became like a second family to me. Even though most of the nursing home residents were older than me, they accepted me and watched over me. It was like having a bunch of grandmas and grandpas. I loved to sit and listen to their stories about life and all they’d been through.

I formed an unexpected friendship with the rehab director at the nursing home. We got into a good-natured prank war, It started when I made a less-than-flattering remark about Hillary Clinton. Nicole responded by plastering pictures of Hillary all over my room. She put them on the door, on the walls and some even on the ceiling. They were everywhere. Not to be outdone, I put a Donald Trump yard sign in Nicole’s office. Nicole also toilet-papered my room, and one time she filled my room with hundreds of balloons. Then, I put a ‘For Sale’ sign on her car. It was such fun and made me feel good, knowing that I was loved. I was even asked to produce a monthly newsletter for the nursing home. I was glad that I could use my newspaper skills and be useful in the place where God put me.

I never expected to be living in a nursing home by the time I was 45, but I came to accept it and even cherish my years there. There were hard times, but in the end, I had the best of both worlds. I had the help I needed and still held onto my sense of independence. I thank God every day for guiding my steps and leading me on an incredible journey.


Saying Goodbye

I always knew the day would come, but I didn't expect it so soon. No one did.

I lost my dear mama on March 23, 2017. She passed away peaceably after a month-long struggle. She had fallen in her house on Valentine's Day. She passed out in the kitchen and fell. When she came to, she found two paramedics standing over her. She asked how they got in her kitchen. Thank God her life alert system notified authorities when she fell.

Mom had a broken hip and a badly broken shoulder. She underwent a five-hour surgery the next day to put rods in her leg and completely replace her shoulder.

She was in pain. A lot of pain. Mom was moved from the hospital to the Pampa Nursing Center, which is where I also lived. Our rooms were across the hall from each other, and Mom began physical therapy.

Mom tried to do the exercises, but she was just in so much pain. The pain medicine made her sleepy and confused. She did NOT like going to therapy. We nearly had to force her to eat. She insisted that she wasn't hungry. She tried to eat and do the therapy, but I guess you could say her heart just wasn't into it.

I could see Mom was tired. She was 81 years old, and she had spent nearly 50 years of her life devoted to taking care of me. I remember Mom saying she hoped she'd be here for me as long as I needed her. During the four weeks that she was at the nursing home with me, she was able to see how the nurses and aides took care of me and that I was in good hands. Besides the nursing staff, I had Karen and my aunts and cousins to watch out for me. I think when she saw for herself that I would be taken care of, she decided it would be all right to go on ahead to heaven.

In her last few days, Mom had a lot of anxiety, still struggling and worrying about those of us she'd leave behind. Finally, her heart of gold just gave out. They called it broken heart syndrome. It's a real condition and is basically a temporary heart condition that's often brought on by stressful situations or anxiety.

Mom broke a lot of our hearts when she left because she was so loved by many. But while her heart condition was fatal, our hearts will recover physically but emotionally we will always miss her.

It all happened so fast. I never expected it to happen this way. I've just tried to accept it as God's timing. He has a master plan for each of us. The Bible says we walk by faith. Sometimes, it takes a whole lot of faith to accept the unexpected. But if we'll hold on to Him, God will see us through.

Psalm 39:5 says, “You, indeed, have made my days short in length, and my life span as nothing in Your sight. Yes, every mortal man is only a vapor.”

Life is short, and it can change in an instant. Life really is a walk of faith.

The late Dr. Charles Krauthammer was a brilliant writer and political analyst. He became permanently paralyzed from the waist down after a diving accident when he was in his 20s. Before he passed away in 2018, he penned these words: “I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”

I would echo those sentiments and add these words. When my life on Earth is done and I leave this world. I want to look into my savior’s eyes and hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”



Epilogue

If you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you have the promise of eternal life. You can find hope in him, just as I did. God desires to give us the desires of our heart.

Yet, until we recognize our need and put our faith in him, sin separates us from his promises. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:2324).

We must first confess our sins and acknowledge that without him, we have no hope for eternal life. “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Then, we must put our faith in Jesus Christ and invite him to be our personal savior. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

Faith is trusting in God to help us become who he wants us to be. Once we accept Christ as savior, his spirit takes root in our hearts.

It is the spirit of God that will lead and direct us, and it is only through faith that his spirit dwells in us. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:89).

Through faith and a relationship with Jesus Christ, I overcame adversity. Without him, I could do nothing. If you have not accepted Jesus and put your faith in him, I invite you to say this simple prayer and ask him to come into your life:

“Dear Jesus, I need you. I believe you died on the cross for my sins. Forgive my sins and come into my life. I put my faith in you and receive you as my savior. Thank you for dying for me and giving me eternal life. Help me to see with eyes of faith to become the person you want me to be. Amen.”



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