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.
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.”
“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
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
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
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
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
One by one, students crossed the stage to
receive their diplomas. I waited for him to call
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
“Yes,” I said surprised they had recognized me.
“We live on the seventh floor. You’ll have to
“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
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
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
“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.
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
I was shocked. “Who’s going to be the editor?” I
“We have to hire someone,” he said. “I think you
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
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
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
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
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
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
“I wouldn’t get it. You’ll get it. I know you
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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!”
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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’
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
“Are you enjoying your summer?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Are you ready for it to end?”
“Very much!” I said, anticipating her next
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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,”
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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.