Breathe

My daughter-in-law, Jaclyn, recommended that Sharon and I watch a movie last weekend. I usually take her recommendations with a grain of salt because she’s a big fan of “Grey’s Anatomy” but it sounded like a good story, so Saturday afternoon we took the plunge. The movie is titled “Breathe” and is the story of Robin Cavendish.

He’s not a well-known historical character but was of interest to me for obvious reasons. He was paralyzed by polio from the neck down at the age of 28 and required the assistance of a respirator for every breath for the remainder of his life. His experience resonated with mine in significant ways and it was a painful movie to watch.

He was a pioneer in many ways in dealing with his condition. He lived outside the hospital against his doctor’s wishes. He developed a means of getting out of bed and traveling with a breathing machine. He accomplished a great deal against all expectations and odds.

I had polio as an infant, age one. I avoided an iron lung by a matter of a few days when my condition leveled out. I was almost paralyzed entirely, but I was able to regain the use of my body to a limited extent. I always relied on a wheelchair and crutches to get around. As I’ve aged, my strength and mobility have decreased.Breathe

One of the qualities of Cavendish was his refusal to let others discourage him. Everything he wanted to do he was told that it was not possible. I frequently faced the same. Every school I ever attended, from grade school through graduate school, I was the first student they had ever had in a wheelchair. When I sensed God’s call to be a church pastor, I was told countless times it would never happen.

However, I was taught that anything was possible. I remember my father forbid me from using the word “can’t.” He always insisted that I try with the promise that he would pick me up if I fell. One of the few times I remember Daddy being angry was when a man from the Cub Scouts sat in our living room and told my parents I couldn’t be a cub scout because of the wheelchair.

When I was a pastor, we had a man make a presentation to our church and ask people to join him on a mission trip to Brazil. As I thanked him for coming, I expressed that I thought some of our folks would go with him. He quickly asked if I was going. When I told him that I couldn’t go, he asked if I had prayed about it. Not until then. We did, and a few months later Sharon and I found ourselves in Rio de Janerio. I had to keep learning not to say, “I can’t.”

Another essential quality of Cavendish was the people who surrounded him. Everything he did was made possible by his wife who would not let him waver. He also had numerous friends and family members who made his life possible.

As I watched the movie, I thought of all the people who have passed through my life and made it possible. Of course, Sharon has gone far beyond what any man should expect of a wife. My story would have come to an end a long time ago without her.

I’ve always been amazed how God has placed special people in my life along the way to make my life possible. When I went off to college, I met Keith the first day in class. We became best friends, and he looked after me for several years. At seminary, it was Fred who latched on to us before we even moved into our apartment. In the little town of Morse, our neighbor Alan was always there for more than a decade.

These men are all in addition to the many friends who looked after me throughout school days. Many of them are still Facebook friends. My wheelchair and I were pushed and carried to places we should have never been, just because they refused to go without me.

When we moved to Fort Worth, I began looking for that person God would send my way to help. He never showed up. However, I realized God had given me three sons who were now old enough to do what needed to be done—and they have and still do. Jeremy traveled with me when I was preaching every Sunday. We would often head out on Saturday evening and drive for a couple hours. Get up on Sunday morning to preach and then travel to another church on Sunday evening. Jeremy would drive me home that night because I was too tired to do it myself.

All three of my boys have picked me up, carried me over obstacles, and done things for me that I couldn’t do for myself. In order to meet a challenge, all of us need help.

The end of the movie came as a surprise. Cavendish’s health was deteriorating further, and he was weary. He decided it was time to die. He discussed it with his wife and then recruited a friend to help make it possible. The final ten minutes of the movie were painful for me. I did more than shed a tear; I had to leave the room for a minute.

I’ve lived nearly 67 years with a body that barely works because of polio, but I’m not ready to quit. I’m prepared to go if it should happen, but I’m not eager to force the issue.

In case you haven’t heard me say it before, there are three things I know for sure – life is hard, God is good, and we all need to laugh more. After that movie, I needed to find something to laugh about because it was hard.

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