Do you ever feel that ‘nobody knows the troubles you’ve seen’? Writing stories of people who have overcome obstacles has opened my eyes to see happiness beyond handicaps.
Words from 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 teach: Troubles nobody knows are known by God. He knows our hearts.
“And this small and temporary trouble I suffer will bring me a tremendous and eternal glory, much greater than the trouble. For I fix my attention not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. What can be seen only lasts for a time, but what cannot be seen lasts forever.
My niece, Katy, has suffered with pain and problems from birth abnormalities all her life. While anyone could see her physical handicaps, few saw the emotional hardships Katy endured. Yet, her positive attitude and precious sense of humor kept her in the game; her wit and ways were contagious. Katy never met a stranger; people were drawn to her. She accentuated the positive and put people in her presence at ease with powerful comments like… “I’m okay – you’re okay; let’s be friends and help one another on our way”!
Katy loved people and playing sports, excelled in academics and attitude, and enjoyed life in spite of her situation. She had lots of friends at school, was voted Homecoming Queen her senior year at Southwest Guilford High, and was active in church and community activities. Yet, Katy longed to belong and be her best while being understood. God sent blessings to replace the burdens Katy and her family handled faithfully.
Katy’s path shows God’s providence when one perseveres through problems and heartaches. Her Dad died when she was 16. Another surgery came shortly afterwards. Graduation was grand when Katy walked across the stage at Greensboro Coliseum instead of using her wheelchair. College at Saint Andrews was a nightmare, even though she had been assured it was top rated for students with handicaps. Our family prayed for a miracle in Katy’s life but wondered how and where and when God would work it out.
Katy packed up and headed home during second semester, saying ‘I just can’t do it anymore, Mom.”! Her mother, my saintly sister, stood firm that Katy could do anything she set her mind to and giving up was not an option. Katy dealt with depressing days and sleepless nights, needing more pain medication to get through the ‘back home from college – what now?” chapter. She confessed that her love for living was waning. She reached a dead end that threatened to prematurely end His plans for her life and love story.
In her darkest hour, Katy called out for help while home alone. She made a decision to live and not die, to stop taking pain meds, pursue her love of people and sports, get up – get going, and trust the Lord wherever He led. Flushing all pain meds down the commode, she rose up with determination to find her way in a world that is often unkind to those dealing with handicaps and hardships. She decided to move forward, refusing to stay stuck in neutral or regress in reverse.
Katy was back in the saddle again when her mother came home from work that red letter day in March of 2014. Katy told how she flushed her pains meds and researched colleges with handicapped sports programs. When The University of Illinois popped up as number one in the nation, Katy knew she was onto something good…God’s grace and guidance. Her mother cried tears of joy.
She called her brother, Andy, who was in his second year of his doctoral program at The University of Illinois to share what was up her sleeve. Andy supported his sister. She called the office of admissions. They were thrilled to have her apply, so Katy headed to Illinois to check things out and spend time with Andy. Three months later, Katy was accepted and plans were in place for a new chapter in her story of survival and success.
In August of 2014, Katy’s mother and brother helped move her into a dorm designed for students with handicaps on the campus of U of IL. Katy was in her element and loving it! When classes began and the coach of Illinois Handicapped Basketball Team invited Katy to join the team; she was on top of the world. Katy’s story was filled with new characters in a setting that did not limit possibilities but propelled students to success… whatever their handicap. Rigorous early morning work outs, daily weight training, respect for a caring coach, and sisterhood with team players helped Katy ‘shape up’ physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially. She was in hog heaven.
The unseen details of His perfect plan make the hairs on my arms stand at attention. This story has been in the works with favor, protection, and blessings from God. We just could not see it all happening for a reason as the Master was putting the pieces in place.
Andy, Katy’s brother was invited to attend MIT, Princeton, Cornel, Duke, and Illinois after graduating from Virginia Tech. He visited each campus, met with department heads, and researched carefully before making a decision. My vote for Duke seemed logical, since Andy would be closer to home. My sister stood tall with loving support for her son and his choice to go wherever he felt led. Andy picked Illinois, a decision that made a difference in his life, and his sister’s…spot on Savior! Lessons learned: ‘give your children roots and wings’ ; ‘keep believing in your dreams and trusting God’s guidance’!
Another unseen detail came when Katy, then a sophomore in high school, made her first (and last-so she said then) trip to Illinois when Andy moved there. Katy threw up in a bag the entire trip and spent a day in the hospital. Driving home to N.C., she vowed never to return to Illinois again. Three years later, she returned as a freshman and red shirt member of the Handicapped Basketball Team. Truths: ‘Never say what you will or will not do’ and ‘God’s plans pan out’!
My sister and I enjoyed a recent trip to Illinois to witness Andy’s research and watch Katy play in the Handicapped Basketball Tournament. Watching Katy and her teammates play basketball from wheelchairs kept me wiping tears and screaming cheers. This amazing experience changed my life. I was in awe of how God’s plans were in place all along …even when we could not see it.
The joy of seeing Katy and Andy sharing seasons together at the same University, passionately pursuing their dreams, and writing their stories with purpose and pleasure: a miracle!
Lessons learned: God sees our troubles, is working in what cannot be seen, and has a plan for happiness beyond handicaps!
Becky Spell Vann is a long-time columnist for the Sampson Independent’s Faith & Family section and owner of the outreach ministry Tim’s Gift.