“The closer you are to God, the more likely He is to listen.” The past couple days I’ve been reflecting on this statement by Reverend Robert Alden from Little House on the Prairie. Yesterday I went to have lunch with a very special friend of mine, who works at a restaurant a couple miles from where I work, and this statement was on my heart so I drove to the top of Kennesaw Mountain, about 20 minutes north of Atlanta. When I got to the top and got out of my van, I couldn’t believe the view. I’m usually scared of heights but yesterday I felt this calming presence come over me, almost surrounding me with a safety net, letting me know I was safe on the mountain top and wouldn’t fall.
If you’ve followed my journey, you know the past several years dating back to 2005 have been really tough for me personally and emotionally with my grandmother’s passing in March 2005 and my grandfather’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s shortly thereafter. I’ve really struggled with myself knowing there is so much more I could do to help my grandfather forget about his Alzheimer’s and try to remember the great times he has had with his family, and the fact I could have spent more time with my grandmother when she was alive, or called her on the phone to talk for a couple hours every week. Some of these memories I will never get back, and this breaks my heart knowing I will never see my grandmother again or get to go fishing with my grandfather or get to see him drive his tractor, plowing his garden in the spring.
As I was up on Kennesaw Mountain yesterday, and all day today, I’ve really been thinking about what else I could do differently to cherish the time with my family and friends, and more than once I’ve asked, “Why me, Lord?” Why has He placed all of these situations in my life, knowing I am not prepared to handle them? Why has He allowed my grandfather to slowly die in front of me when I can’t help him? Why did He take my grandma away from me before I could give her another hug and tell her how much I loved her and how much she has helped me become the man I am today? Why did He let me be born with spina bifida, unable to walk or feel my legs and confined to a wheelchair all my life? Why did He bless me with a wonderful job with the city of Marietta’s communications office, when I knew nothing about writing articles for a website, how to take pictures and upload them to Flickr or when He knew I am really nervous and stutter a lot when I meet someone new or am out in public, talking to strangers about what my office does?
As I am sitting here writing this, and over the past couple years, God has answered all of these questions and so much more. I know God would never give me more than I can handle and that He will be here with me, guiding me in every decision and problem I face. He has been with me in the operating room every time I have had surgery and has healed me completely from my operations. I remember several years ago I was asked to give my testimony at a local church, and when the preacher asked me if I would share my heart with the congregation, I was scared to death. But God calmed my worst fears and I heard Him say, “Jason, you need to share your testimony. You will inspire so many people just by getting up and sharing your heart. Who cares if you stutter or forget to mention something? The congregation doesn’t care if you’re nervous or scared. They love the man you are today and they see a man who’s overcome so much in his life. I love you, Jason, and I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
I think the same can be said about why I was given the chance to share my talents and abilities at the city of Marietta. I’ve met so many people in the community and at work who come up to me, wanting to know about my story. They always pat me on the back or give me a hug and tell me what an inspiration I am to them. While it’s true that I am there to work for the city, I think I am serving a higher calling by being in the position I am. I firmly believe there is someone out there, God only knows where, who may be having a rough day or need a word of encouragement or a comforting word of advice, and God has placed me on a course to one day meet them, take them aside for a few minutes to talk and hear their story and share what He has done in my life. Maybe they just need to know they aren’t alone, that there is someone who understands what they are going through and will be there for them when they need a helping hand. Maybe I am the person who God has chosen to minister to a lost soul or a single parent with a special-needs child and let them know that God loves them and will always be there to comfort their worst fears.
God has also given me several key verses in the Bible that I carry with me every day of my life. One of these is James 1:2-3, “My brethren, consider it all joy when you face various trials and tribulations, knowing that the trying of your faith brings patience.” This verse means so much to me that I couldn’t possibly share it in this post. I will just say that I am a better man because of the situations God has placed in front of me, particularly my grandma’s death, my grandfather’s Alzheimer’s and my disability. Every day I wake up amazed by how much I have grown as a man, personally and professionally, thanks to the challenges I’ve been given. I would have given up long ago but my faith is as strong as ever, and I don’t think it would be this strong if I hadn’t forged ahead and worked my butt off to get through the tough times. A weaker man would have surrendered, but God has been right beside me, holding my hand and has led me to bigger and better things I never would have had the opportunity to receive had I surrendered. I’ve also become much more patient and have learned different ways of doing things because of my disability. Now some of the ways I get things done have taken some time to think through to come up with the best possible solution, but I’ve stuck with it and have overcome so many limitations it’s unbelievable. I just hope one person sees how much I have overcome and understands that they can do anything they set their mind to if they just believe in Christ to carry them.
This reminds me of the verse I’ve built my life on, Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Growing up, I used to depend on my parents to do practically everything for me, including help me get a shower, get dressed, make me something to eat or drink or drive me to school or a doctor’s appointment. Now I am very independent and am doing things I never would have dreamed of. I’ve been honored as the best ambassador for the city of Marietta and have helped update a large three-panel display at work. I am in charge of creating Marietta’s weekly e-newsletter and am out two or three times a week in the community taking pictures and writing articles for our website. I’ve attended several three-day weekends hosted by Marietta’s Gone With the Wind Museum and have met some of the actors who played in the movie including the beautiful and amazing Ann Rutherford, who played Scarlett O’Hara’s sister, Careen. I’ve had the honor of meeting legendary Georgia Bulldog’s head coach Vince Dooley, the “Voice of the Dawgs” Larry Munson and current Top Dawg Mark Richt.
Recently I applied for a promotion with the city of Marietta, and one verse that gives me a glimmer of hope is Romans 8:28, “Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God.” This verse is so powerful and so very true. I never would have dreamed I would be working with the city of Marietta after five and a half, almost six years. I never would have imagined I would have the amazing self-confidence I do from working with the city. Now, I hardly think twice about going out in public and talking to someone over the phone. It’s almost like breathing that it’s become second nature. I’ve made so many wonderful friends and have formed so many strong relationships with my co-workers and people I’ve met in the community that I feel like the richest man in the world. It’s pretty remarkable to think that the once scared to death, nervous, stuttering kid in a wheelchair who was afraid to see his own shadow is now a very successful man with the best job in the world and has surprised himself by how far he has come.
Now instead of asking “Why me, Lord?” I just say a prayer of thanksgiving, smile and thank God for everything He has given me. Thanks God!!