One year, back in the 1970s when my sons were little, my parents got a huge washing machine appliance box, decorated it and brought it to our house on Christmas morning. They acted as if it was really, really heavy. They struggled to get it out of the car, and when the boys offered to help, they pointed to the caution stickers all over the package and said thank you, but it would be best if they stood back.
Finally, Mom and Dad made it up the driveway and the front steps, really hamming it up by breathing hard as they ‘rested.’ WHAT was in the box? Nothing had been said, so it was just as big a mystery to me as it was to my children.
They maneuvered the box out of the way and we proceeded to have our Christmas Dinner. All the while, the boys eyed the beautifully wrapped box with the big bow in the corner of the living room.
After dinner, Scott and Chris asked if they could open the mystery box first, but they were told it should be opened last. The minutes ticked by and of course their anticipation grew. Santa was pretty good to them that year, and they enjoyed watching the rest of the family open gifts that they had made. There was a pair of wooden lap trays my father helped them cut, stain and varnish that I have to this day. My eldest son wrote out a favorite recipe in calligraphy for my mother, and the younger one painted a picture for my dad.
“Okay, boys, you can open the box now.” Being mindful of the stickers pasted all over, they carefully peeled the paper which had an overabundance of tape on it. (My mother always did that. It drove me mad, but she loved suspense.) Finally, the two of them peered inside and smiled.
I was praying that they didn’t find a little puppy or kitten inside. The way they were acting made me suspicious. So my husband and I looked in and found a pretty sign my artistic father had suspended with thin wire to float within the box.
“Merry Christmas!” the sign read. “Contents are filled with love.”
I think that was the best gift ever!
But here’s the magical part: This morning, our Unchained Writers group was asked what the strangest gift we ever got for Christmas was, and I mentioned the story of this box. Instead of working on my manuscript during our writing time, something ‘led’ me to open one of a number of file drawers that I have not even touched for decades. Within THAT drawer was a collection of papers that included the two signs from that Christmas!
What are the odds? I wondered.
I sometimes believe people will think that I make this kind of stuff up. But it is true. What I am feeling at this moment is very hard to express, but it is the very best kind of gift I can imagine: to feel as though the people we have known are still with us in spirit, guiding us if we just listen.
I first heard of an Australian by the name of Nick Vujicic at a Tony Robbins Seminar in 2003. Although I was impressed, all the other astounding things I learned that weekend somewhat diluted Nick’s message.
But I saw his photo this morning and vaguely remembered. Being the ‘retired researcher’ that I am, I went down the rabbit hole – or rabbit ‘warren’ as my friend pointed out. Little did I know the many tunnels and passages my investigation would uncover.
As I listened to Nick’s story on YouTube, I couldn’t help but compare his saga to every other person, myself included, who had ever complained about anything. I thought about my own struggles throughout life of inadequacy and esteem, and my fights with procrastination, self doubt and fear.
After learning about this amazing person, I am greatly humbled.
You see, in 1982, Nick Vujicic was born with a rare syndrome that resulted in him having – or rather NOT having – any arms or legs. Doctors couldn’t explain it. He had normal siblings, but all he was given were two little toes on something he calls his ‘chicken foot.’
That description may remind some of the 1989 movie,”My Left Foot,” about Christy Brown (b.1932-d.1981) starring Daniel Day Lewis. Both men had parents who supported their physical independence, however that is where the similarity ends. The cause of their infirmity and how they lived lives differ greatly from one another.
Christy became an artist, author, and abusive recluse.
On the other hand, Nick Vujicic has helped millions of people suffering not only with disabilities of the body but also handicaps of the mind and soul.
His family loved him and challenged him to keep trying. “Stop complaining. Figure it out!” his father would say. Because of their support and insistence on treating him like a normal boy, he became the only child in Australia to attend regular school in a wheelchair. That was just the beginning.
We all know how mean children can sometimes be, but I can only imagine how hard it must have been for him to go to class every day and to withstand the teasing and laughing and to watch with longing the other children with two arms and legs at play. The fears he must have had about never getting a job, having a family, being a burden to his family, and being alone for the rest of his life are not hard to imagine.
He tried to do his best, but understandably, he suffered despair and depression and often wished he was dead. At the age of only ten, he attempted to drown himself in the bathtub. What stopped him was the thought of the grief his act would have on his family.
His parents loved him without reserve and told him that God had a special purpose for his life. Nick wanted to believe them, but it was hard to accept what he learned in Sunday School: that he just had to pray. Praying would not grow arms and legs, and if God was a loving Father, how could he have allowed this to happen?
He would look into the mirror and say to himself, “There’s got to be at least one thing that’s good about me!” He wished people could see who he was on the inside.
Nick didn’t know it at that point, but his character was being annealed in the fire of his adversity.
His relationship with God grew, and he cried out that he needed God to help him heal his broken pieces. He began to understand that he was enough, just the way he was.
The person who faced him toward his purpose was a 61-year-old janitor who was cleaning his high school bathroom. “You’re going to be a speaker,” the older man told him.
It didn’t happen overnight. The old man egged him on and he resisted again and again. But Nick finally promised that he would speak in front of just six people. He did, and his transformation began. He learned that if God doesn’t give you a miracle, he can use you to be a miracle.
A harder lesson for him was that in addition to diligence and persistence, he needed to be patient and ‘wait upon the Lord.’ He discovered that, “You don’t know what beautiful things can come from your broken pieces until you give your broken pieces to the Lord.”
That became his mission: To show what God has done in his life, and to give hope where there is no hope.
I found happiness when I realized that as imperfect as I may be, I am the perfect Nick Vujicic. I am God’s creation, designed according to His plan for me.
Nick not only finished high school but earned a college degree in Commerce and a double major in accountancy and financial planning. After graduating, he became a motivational speaker and developed a charming and unusual form of humor that can make even the hardest-hearted men laugh and cry. He is engaging, and his story is so filled with positivity and hope that he has brought his message to over 3500 audiences in 70 countries, and spoken to kings and presidents and the poor and heartsick alike.
He’s published six books and is worth an estimated half-million dollars. He funds worthy projects. He is joyous, eloquent, accomplished and energetic. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and doesn’t think his pain is more painful than yours. As he says, “Brokenness is brokenness! Fear is the biggest disability of all and it will paralyze you more than being in a wheelchair!”
I watched several videos of him before beginning to write this blog. One was a speech given in Dubai, another when he was inspiring prisoners in a jail, and a third was as a guest speaker at Rock Church in San Diego. He tailors his expressions and metaphors to his audiences, but the bones of the message are the same.
What would I have done with my life if I had possessed just one tenth of that man’s focus and faith? What would I have accomplished, completed, overcome? What would I have done differently? His limbs were his limits, and he pushed through them. What are mine? Even now?
One video about him lists his hobbies as ‘unknown,’ as if only a person with hands and legs can have a hobby. But Nick spends his time swimming, fishing, surfing, boating, golfing, writing, painting, canoodling with his wife (love that word) and cuddling with his children. Because, yes, he married a beautiful woman and has two sons and a set of twin daughters. When he met his future wife, he realized he “didn’t need to hold her hand, [he] just needed to hold her heart.”
I always assumed the phrase cited above was something from the Bible, as my very wise mother was fond of quoting to stress a point rather than going into long explanations. Yet after an Internet search for its source, I could only find references to a legendary Japanese swordsman and to Steven Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Both links were excellent for their particular situations, but it didn’t really satisfy the meaning Mom wanted to impart.
As it turns out, demonstrating examples and lessons was a talent she learned from her own father, and as time passes I realize that her succinct method of using aphorisms was a smart strategy.
Let’s face it, teenagers hate to be lectured to, and in fact I know of no one who does. Participating in discussions – well, that’s a different matter. Mother could talk a blue-streak on almost any topic under the sun, but she was also a master of what she called, ‘verbal shorthand,’ or to quote another aphorism, ‘One picture is worth a thousand words.’ Because of its impact, I recall the discussion in vivid detail.
“That’s stupid,” my teenage self shot back. “they should do it before the battle.” She just smiled, and I’m certain she realized that I considered everything she did or said to be stupid or embarrassing. “You need a sharp sword to fight, so it should be done beforehand.” I added with the kind of annoyance sixteen-year-old girl seem to possess in abundance.
“Very true,” she agreed. “But how do you know who your enemy is or when they will strike again?”
I couldn’t understand where the conversation was headed because it began in response to chatting on the telephone about winning a writing competition. In the days before cell phones and Ma Bell Princess extensions, most people had only one phone in the middle of the house. Ours was in the kitchen / dining area, a place where I could usually find Mom reading or cooking. It was really hard to have private conversations without hiding in a closet, and besides, there was no closet in our kitchen.
“I wasn’t listening to your conversation, but I couldn’t help but hear you say to your friend that you had won first place.” She asked cagily.
“I didn’t think I was boasting, but maybe it did sound that way,” I replied, hedging my answer. She smiled, and I was afraid she was going to drag out her “Pride goeth before a fall” pitch. But she surprised me.
“Darling,” she began, and I then I knew that I wasn’t in trouble, “sometimes after you do something wonderful, people can become very jealous.” I sat down and joined her at the table as she continued. “They are very happy for you, but at the same time, they wish it was them doing the celebrating.”
I thought for a moment, “She was kind of quiet when I told her, but I was just so happy and I wanted to share the news with my best friend.”
“I know, dear, but sometimes it’s better to have a few successes before you tell people things. Envy can cause people to remarks that wither your joy and stop you from succeeding.” The puzzled look on my face made her continue, “They don’t do it on purpose, of course. But just like with a plant, you have to nurture those tender little sprouts until they’re strong enough to make it on their own.”
That sounded rather ominous to me at the time, but because mother did have eyes in the back of her head, I was sure she had reason to believe what she was saying was true. Still, I had been talking to my best friend. How could she wish me any ill will?
If I initially thought I was going to get away without some Biblical euphemism, I was wrong. “Mary pondered it, and kept it in her heart,” mother explained, “because she needed to protect the Promise.”
I recalled how a neighbor had just announced that she was expecting, but the due date was only five months away. “We wanted to keep it a secret until we were sure everything was O.K.” she had told us, barely masking her excitement.
I was just learning about the birds and the bees, and I didn’t realize that having a baby wasn’t a ‘slam-dunk’ thing. “You mean like Suzanne not saying anything when she first found out about the baby?” I was starting to understand.
It’s been over fifty years since that conversation, but I have come to see the truth in her admonition. It is often best to have a few successes under our belt so that our confidence is firmly anchored or ‘protected.’ Mom was my biggest supporter, but I realize now that in this instance she was speaking from experience. There had been people who had come between her and her own ‘bliss.’ What she didn’t recognize was that people can also project their own fears onto others – even onto people they love.
When we celebrate a victory, we should remember that nothing is a guarantee–not the next touchdown, the next novel or the next business deal. A stray comment may delay our success – even for decades. It may erode our confidence and diminish our purpose.
But as long as we remain prepared for action, weigh the validity of thoughts that may come to us either internally or from others, we will be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
And when the battle finally comes-and it will-we will be ready.
“When the battle drum beats, it is too late to sharpen your sword.” —Winston Churchill