A few years ago at ESPN.com, I read an article about a pretty amazing person: Craig Deitz (you can read the article at this link). I don’t know Craig, and I’ve never met him, but read the article for yourself and you will see that he’s a pretty amazing guy. Born without arms and legs Craig didn’t realize that he wasn’t ‘supposed’ to do certain things: Like swim fast. He rides a bike, he bowls, he cooks, he cleans, he dates, he...pretty much does it all and has a lot fun in the process, even when others are staring in disbelief. He seems pretty humble, too. To Craig, he’s just participating in life like everyone else.
Or is he?
You hear a story like this one (or you may have seen the story of Joel, the preacher born in a similar condition)[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7vFvU6a8CY&feature=player_embedded#at=164] and you have to ask yourself: Am I pursuing the richness of life like these men? I can assure you, Craig Deitz doesn’t have it easy. He has had to learn to do things in ways that you or I could never imagine but his desire to enjoy the life that has been given to him has exceeded the ‘disability’ that could have been a stranglehold on his passions. Craig doesn’t ignore his disability...he just doesn’t seem to care!
It’s humbling to be around people like Craig, people with an incredible passion for life.
When I was in high school I had the chance to visit Shepherd’s Home in Wisconsin. Its an incredible faith-based community for mentally disabled people. In one ‘home’ on the campus, there was a man named Gary. Gary was in his late 30s or early 40s when I met him, but had “topped out” with the social skills and mental capacity of a nine or ten year old boy. He is in a home where almost everything that could be done for him has been turned into a learning experience. Little by little, Gary has learned to cook, clean, do laundry, and hold down a job at the local Dairy Queen.
Gary loves life and while you would only need a few moments with him to detect that something isn’t “quite right”, it might take you a lifetime to figure out what that thing is. So let me give you a hint: Gary doesn’t care about his condition, he just intends to enjoy the life God has given him. So Gary sings, and sings with heart and soul. Gary laughs, and his laugh is contagious. Gary puts on a nice suit and serves as a greeter at formal events for the home and Gary will remember your name the next time he sees you. Even if it’s been more than five years. Trust me.
After high school, I didn’t make it back to Shepherd’s home until I was in college. When I made my return visit, I found my way down one of the wings and right to Gary’s room. There he was, memorizing verses from God’s Word (more on that in a moment). I popped in and said, “Gary...do you remember me?” He looked up, smiled, gave me a big hug and said, “Joe, how are you doing? By the way....how come you didn’t write me last week?” You see, when I left Gary 5 years ago, we exchanged letters three or four times, but being an arrogant and largely uncaring high school kid, I let the letter writing drop.
Ouch. Gary knew. Thankfully, Gary had only thought a few weeks had passed (not the 260 weeks that had actually gone by!) and so I was able to redeem myself from my waywardness and had a great visit with him. What was he most excited to tell me about? The verse he had memorized just that morning. That was followed by a question that still stings me today: “Joe, what verse did you memorize this morning?” I don’t have any learning disabilities (besides an intense desire in high school to avoid the class room), and while my social skills may resemble the average middle school student I work with, I’ve actually grown quite a bit over the years, mentally, socially etc... But I had to stand there in shame and tell Gary, “sorry Gary, I didn’t memorize a verse this morning.”
You see, Gary was too thrilled with the life he did have, to care about the life he couldn’t have. I guess, too often I find myself more troubled by the life I wish I had, instead of just taking in the life I do have. I complain to God more about what is ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’ according to my standards, instead of just living life according to HIS standards. When HE gives so much, I open my hands and ask for more without ever realizing everything HE just poured into my life. I can be an ungrateful swine when I’m at my worst, a condition that people like Gary and Craig don’t seem to possess (Gary is a believer, I know nothing about Craig’s spiritual condition). I want to be more like Gary and just “suck the sweet nectar out of life” rather than be like Joe who complains that he has to reach too high to get the fruit.
After my response to Gary he turned and put his arm around me and said, “Joe, that’s all right....you can just memorize two, tomorrow.” Then he laughed. Next time I pop in to Shepherd’s Home, you can bet I’ll be visiting Gary again. You can bet he’ll remember me after these past 12 years (I did see him once since then) and you can bet he’ll still be smiling and enjoying the life God has given him.
I love that Jesus came to give us full lives, lives He wants us to live to the fullest. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Greg, Gary and Joel drink life in big gulps, savoring every drop. Not just because they’re “having fun” but because they are living out the strengths God has given them -- not complaining, whining or skulking-about the strengths they don’t have. They don’t make life a comparison between themselves and others. At least for Gary and Joel (and I hope Greg!) they make life about pleasing the One who gave them a life worth living. The One who gives them “life to the full”.
If you are going to live the Overboard life, you are going to have to live it according to God’s design and not yours. You’ll have to get out of the comfort of the boat where there is usually a lot of complaining, a lot of fear and a lot of comparing and get out on the water where Jesus is building His Kingdom. When you get there, you’ll find you were actually made for that life -- you were designed to be part of God’s Kingdom building. And if you live how you were designed, you will find the most fulfilling life imaginable; one focused on strengths and “cans”, not weaknesses and “can’ts”
In the next summer or two, I hope to get back to Shepherd’s and see Gary again. You can bet your bottom dollar I’ll memorize a verse right before I walk in and when I see him, I’ll say, “Gary, how are you? I wanted to share my memory verse from this morning......do you have one to share, too?” I’ll be ready!
More importantly, I hope I’ll be living the Overboard life so I can tell Gary all about the things God is doing in my life, just as Gary will tell me all the things God is doing in his. What life will you be living when you meet the next ‘Gary’, a ‘Joel’ or a ‘Craig’?
Go ahead and take the plunge -- life is better on the water!