Today I’m starting a series on people whose lives have most inspired me. I’m excited to share their stories with you.
I have a new favorite verse: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
As I approach age sixty, I’m finding that things are falling apart. The most recent issue is foot pain that has required lots of physician attention with little progress. But the good news is that a recent visit to Disney World resulted in Benny pushing me around in a wheel chair. I’ve never come home after a long day at a theme park with so much energy! (Poor Benny; I can’t say the same for him.)
As the day progressed, however, I found myself feeling self-conscious. People were extra nice. We were bumped to the front of some lines while others waited patiently for much longer. And we were able to effortlessly move to the front of the parade line where we had a front row view. I felt undeserving of the special attention because others deserved to be in a wheelchair. I just have a bad foot! Throughout the day I thought about Randy. My older brother of six years traded a chopped Harley Davidson and a peppy Camaro in for a wheelchair at age 21. He broke his neck in a tragic swimming accident on the same day in the same general area as did Joni Eareckson Tada. The similarities were stunning, but the difference is Randy died just six years later while Joni continues to live. (Her book “When God Weeps” is one of those that has most taught me a biblical perspective on suffering — I highly recommend it!)Randy’s years in the wheelchair were full of sorrow and suffering. There were times he wished he had died the day he dove into that quarry near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. But after long and trying months of healing and therapy in three hospitals, he came home. Home was a handicap-accessible house in Burke, Virginia to which God sovereignly led he and my parents; a home that Benny and I raised our children in before our move to Orlando in 2000.
Randy with us at our wedding in March 1973.
Once Randy was home I laughed and cried more than I had in my previous 17 years combined. One morning I heard his voice over the intercom: “Sheree, you home?” Mom had left early that morning for an appointment so his normal morning routine had been delayed. “Yeah, I’m here; what ‘cha need?” “I need some help, sis. Can’t seem to get one foot in front of the other this mornin’,” he responded. I chuckled and told him I would be right there. Then I sat on my bed and cried. My big brother couldn’t even get out of bed alone…Then there was the day he asked me to take him to the mall. Me, the little sister who had only been driving a year, was now transporting him around in a large converted van with a wheelchair loading ramp. We made it to Springfield Mall and I rolled Randy onto the ramp, then into the mall. Not long after we started looking for the stores Randy wanted to visit, laughter broke out and it was coming from HIM! With his head leaned back and his mouth wide open, guffaws were flowing. But the laugh wasn’t his. It hit me. Randy had brought the laughing box!In a successful attempt to embarrass his baby sister, Randy had asked Mom to tuck a small box he found in a toy store into his jacket pocket. Because he could move his arms (but not his hands) Mom positioned it perfectly to allow him to hit it with his elbow at just the right time.People stared enough back then when a teenaged girl pushed a paralyzed guy not much older than herself around in public. (This was before handicapped access and parking spots allowed wheelchairs to move freely in public places.) But then the laughing started. Loud laughing. Hilarious laughing. Laughing that went on and on. Needless to say, the stares increased. But before long, onlookers were chuckling. I don’t know if they were more humored by Randy, or by the clear embarrassment of the girl pushing him. But I cherish that memory to this day.
That day my laughter once again turned to tears. I went home and cried again. You see, Randy had pleaded with God to heal him. He even made a costly out-of-state trip with Mom to have a well-known evangelist pray for him. But his healing was not to be on this earth.
Rather than become bitter and angry at God’s apparent unresponsiveness to his suffering, Randy chose another road. He applied for a training school and became one of the first quadriplegic computer programmers hired by the Navy. He invited a fellow “quad” he met in the training school to come home with him to share his room in our basement. Eddie became a beloved part of our family and is one of my Facebook friends today. Randy learned to “do wheelies” on the sidewalk in front of our house; contributed generously from his hard earned money to help Benny with church youth group projects; hosted lots of parties in our basement; and mentored and became a hero to our younger brother, Jon.
The day he died was one of the saddest of my life. I lost a brother and friend; someone who knew how to make me (and everyone!) laugh through suffering and perplexity. But I didn’t lose his godly example, which remains with me till this day. Randy was far from perfect. During his young adult years he did things he regretted that left Mom facing many sleepless nights. And there was the time when I was about eleven that he demanded I iron his pants — then nearly thrust my head into our aquarium when I refused. I did end up ironing those pants.
His suffering ended on September 27, 1975. I’m grateful that my brother had a relationship with Jesus Christ that was tested and proven during the six long years he spent in a wheelchair having to rely on others to do everything for him.
I was surprised to find THE laughing box on google images. Brings back great memories.
Today I ordered something online. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone in my family. Who knows when and where it’s gonna show up?
It’s in honor of Randy. The first person to teach me that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5: 3-4).