Alex and his family finally arrived. I had heard that they were veterans at Family Retreat. Great! I just hoped they didn’t notice I was still figuring out where the bathrooms were… I helped them out of their car, and my anxieties melted away as Alex greeted me with a huge smile and a kiss on the hand! Yeah… he’s quite the charmer. The first night at dinner Alex and I discovered that we share the same love for jazz singers like Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald. What 18-year-old do you know who falls asleep to Dream a Little Dream of Me?
That first night turned into the next day, and the next day ran into the day after that… Before I knew it, Alex and I were standing up on stage for the talent show on the last night of retreat. We had prepared to sing a duet from Disney’s Frozen as an act of true love to a special girl in the audience. As Alex and I sung on stage, under all the lights and above the cheers from the crowd, I realized how typical Alex had become. As he called out to his true love, in front of hundreds of people, his disability disappeared. I didn’t see a young man with Cerebral Palsy. He was an 18-year-old guy that cared so much and loved so deeply that he couldn’t keep it locked up inside. I saw a guy who’d throw his hands up in the air as we’d speed down the main road of camp, never allowing speed bumps to slow us down.
I thought back to the meals we had shared together. Alex loved reviewing the schedule of activities each day; asking who we would be meeting up with and wondering if they would be excited to see him. Typical teenager… Alex had learned everyone’s names, even our servers’ names. And he would look for them every time we reached the dining hall. His mom told me she would wake up in the morning and see him lying in bed, praying for everyone by name. Alex’s disability didn’t hinder his capacity to love and pray for others.
When I think about what it takes to be part of God’s kingdom, Alex meets all the requirements. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). I recently heard a sermon taught on this passage, and the pastor noted that the Greek word for “blessed” translates simply as “happy”. However, it was a word the Greeks reserved for the gods because it was a state that transcended human feeling. To be “poor in spirit” is a state in which one recognizes their need for God. I’d say this pretty much sums up Alex. If Alex is a representation of the Kingdom of God, then he’s as close as I can get to knowing heaven on earth.
After our performance in the talent show, Alex and I rolled off stage to the roar of the crowd. Alex’s happiness that night transcended all understanding. And it didn’t come from his love for attention or the affirmation of the crowd. It came from his knowledge of God’s love for him. Alex simply allows God’s love for him to overflow in the lives of people around him. Without God, he would be a guy suffering from CP. But with God in his heart, Alex is the most caring, affectionate, generous person I have ever met. Disability? What disability?
To read Part 1 of this blog series click here.
Rachel Roleder serves as the Supervisor to the Cause 4 Life, Global Missions and Internships Department at Joni and Friends. Rachel enjoys learning more of God’s design for His church as she leads teams of interns on disability ministry outreaches all over the world.