When You Cannot Walk – A Gait Trainer Faith

Our daughter, Gwendolyn, cannot walk. She cannot even sit up on her own for very long. However, we have a device called a gait trainer to help her practice walking and strengthen her legs and torso. It has a saddle and a wide, chest belt to hold her upright. There are supports to keep her legs in line and rests for her arms. Finally it has wheels that make motion possible.

Last night I was helping her walk. I push her gait trainer along as she moves her feet and holds some of her weight. She is pretty good with her right leg, but she usually lets her left foot drag. Normally, she walks between the foyer and the kitchen, but we tried something new. We walked to her bedroom, which is down a fairly long hallway with a turn. She started giggling as we made it about halfway. She seemed to be excited about the journey. She did a good job of trying to keep her feet moving and holding up her weight. I was so proud of her that I gave her claps and kisses and cheers. Why? Because she did it all on her own? No, because she did what she could. I understand her weaknesses, and I want to help her along.

That made a Scripture come to mind: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus, our high priest, is well-acquainted with my weaknesses. Weakness, in the original Greek, is astheneia. Helps Word Studies defines it as “an ailment that deprives someone of enjoying or accomplishing what they would like to do.” For Gwendolyn, her mitochondrial disease deprives her of mobility (among other things). Spiritually speaking, my weakness is sin, and it deprives me of the life I really want to live.

Jesus did not come to mock my weakness or to leave me in it. Instead, He came to walk me through it, with the power that He can provide. I certainly have my part to do, but, similar to Gwendolyn, my ability to walk the Christian life is severely hampered. I must have help. Thankfully, the indwelling Holy Spirit is there cheering me on: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). I may not even understand why I am struggling, but the Spirit knows exactly how to set my feet for the next step I need to take.

A gait trainer is designed so that the person using it may gradually walk on their own. Supports and restraints can be removed. The wheels can be loosened from a single direction to allow movement in all directions. However, it may also remain to allow for a degree of movement and freedom that someone like Gwendolyn might never achieve on her own. Paul saw this same dynamic at work in his faith. When God would not remove the “thorn” from his flesh, He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul, instead of wallowing in his weakness, proclaimed: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul is not boasting about sin as his weakness here, yet, I think the principle still applies. It is when I accept God’s help with my weakness that I can fully understand (and proclaim!) His powerful grace toward me.

Disease and weakness are part of our world for now. And, they are actually important factors in shaping our faith. But, for the believer in Jesus, there is an even greater hope — resurrection: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power” (I Corinthians 15:42-43). Gwendolyn and I will both be able to walk unaided in God’s presence one day!

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There is Nothing Like a Daddy’s Love

I see my daughter, Gwendolyn, standing at the top of a staircase. She is dressed in a flowing white gown. Her strawberry blonde hair is swept up into teasing tresses. The aroma of fresh flowers drifts down to me. My heart is about to burst with love. It is her wedding day, and she is about to descend the stairs one last time before leaving her mother and me to start her new life and marriage.

Except that it won’t ever happen that way.

Gwendolyn has a mitochondrial disease. She can’t stand or walk. She can’t say, “I do.” Dresses are not wheelchair-friendly, especially when she wants to pull her legs up. She is nine years old, and it is likely that she won’t live to marriageable age. That’s the brutal reality I’ve had to mourn. But, even as I have let the wedding day dream die, I have discovered something greater from the heart of that dream — there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

I can’t fix Gwendolyn. I am not going to discover the cure for mitochondrial diseases, no matter how many articles I read or doctors I meet. I can’t figure out what will motivate her to do something new in her therapy. I have no idea what tomorrow might bring for our family. But that’s OK.

There are times when Gwendolyn will only calm down if I take her in my arms and hold her close. She snuggles into my left shoulder just a certain way. At night, she needs me to sing her a hymn or two and whisper, “Daddy loves you” before she goes to sleep. Sometimes when I come home she just smiles and giggles. On fall Sundays, there is no place she would rather be than watching a Steelers game with me (before napping). I can bathe her, change her, brush her hair, and make her do her therapy. I can navigate a wheelchair, make her daily food, start her feeding pump, and administer her medications. I’m Daddy, after all. And there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

My wife is tired. The daily grind is exhausting. I have a full-time job that pays the bills but demands my energy. Our other
children need Dad, too. I don’t know how we will pay for a wheelchair van or home modifications. I still don’t have that special needs trust in place. Our vacations are tougher, if we can take them. Life could be easier, right? But I am here to stay, for my children and my wife. They need me because there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

My strength is sapped. I wonder what God is doing. Does God really care about what is happening to us? Then I realize I can climb into my Heavenly Father’s lap. He comforts me when no one else can. Even though I am broken seemingly beyond repair, He can fix my deepest needs. He provides our shelter, food, clothing, medicine, jobs, caring doctors and therapists, a fantastic church, and even occasional respite! If I stop to listen, through all the doubts and fears and questions, I can hear Him. He sings over me and whispers, “I love you.”

There is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. 1 John 3:1a

(Previously published in May-June 2013 FOCUS newsletter. Some editing done here.)

Daddy Gotcha!

Lincoln (age 1) and Daddy

My youngest son, Lincoln, turned two this past week. He is a delightful and expressive little guy. We have a new phrase to describe some of our adventures – “Daddy gotcha.” It started when I was holding him over the sink to wash hands. He was feeling a bit afraid of falling and was protesting and fussing a little. I said, “Lincoln, it is OK. Daddy has gotcha.” We were able to finish washing hands.

Later I was helping him put on his clothes. I said, “Lincoln, lean on Daddy. Daddy has gotcha.” He leaned his full weight on me and we finished getting his pants on.

Just yesterday, I had him up on one of those restroom changing tables at the circus. He wanted to sit up or stand or something seemingly dangerous. I said, “Lincoln, you need to lay down and stay still.” He said, “Daddy gotcha.” That’s when it hit me.

“Daddy gotcha” is his statement of absolute trust in me. He can lean on me, let me hold him precariously, or expect me to catch him before he falls. He has complete faith in Daddy’s love and protection.

Shouldn’t we have an even greater confidence in our heavenly Father? Read these familiar words again, and realize how safe Christians really are:

“Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you. Therefore, we may boldly say:
The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

Daddy gotcha!