Grateful for Jehovah’s Unfailing Support
AS TOLD BY SHARON GASKINS
PARADISE on earth! I saw myself romping about the meadows, chasing butterflies, playing with lion cubs. It sounded so good! But there were doubts. How often my hope had ended in despair!
For as long as I can recall, the wheelchair has been my constant companion. From birth on, cerebral palsy robbed me of childhood joys. Other children had fun on skates and bicycles, but I sat alone, unable even to walk. So when Mother took me to one faith healer after another, we were earnestly hoping for a miracle. Time after time, though, she would just wheel me away. Disappointing for me but how heartbreaking for her!
Longing for a true hope, my mother began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses early in 1964. I was then about six and a half years old.
It was wonderful to learn that there had once been a beautiful paradise on this earth. Sadly, the first man, Adam, had thrown it all away, but I desired the closeness to God that he had once enjoyed. What would it have been like to enjoy a relationship with God? Or to live when his own Son walked the earth? My daydreams also carried me along to the future Paradise. Even at that early age, it was clear to me that we had found the truth.
Mother began taking the family to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their meetings were so different from what we had seen in the churches! The people and the surroundings touched me deeply.
Getting us to the Kingdom Hall was an ordeal for my mother. Besides me, there were three younger children, and we had no car. We took a cab when she could afford it. I still recall how she struggled one Sunday. There was no cab in sight. Then, seemingly from out of nowhere, a man drove up in his truck and gave us a ride. We were late for the meeting, but we got there. How thankful we were to Jehovah!
Before long our dear spiritual brothers and sisters who owned cars lovingly took turns transporting us. Mother’s encouragement never to miss meetings unless we were really sick impressed on my young mind the importance of ‘gathering ourselves together.’ (Hebrews 10:24, 25) Moved by what she had learned, my mother dedicated her life to Jehovah and was baptized in 1965.
By then I was old enough to appreciate meetings more fully. In the Cypress Hills Congregation in Brooklyn, New York, there were Europeans, blacks, Hispanics, and others worshiping side by side. It seemed so right that God-fearing people should live in such true brotherhood.—Psalm 133:1.
My mother taught me how to prepare for meetings. This was no problem mentally, but it was physically. Cerebral palsy turns simple tasks into major projects. It was, and still is, impossible for me to draw a straight line in order to mark answers in our Bible literature. With practice, however, my underlining improved.
My mind was brimming with things to say. But on their way out of my mouth, the words became jumbled. Relaxation was essential so that my muscles would not become tense. I also had to concentrate on pronouncing each word as clearly as possible. Frustration would well up inside me if the comment did not come out as it should have or when I knew that people did not understand my words. Once they got to know me, though, the brothers and sisters in the congregation were better able to comprehend my speech. However, I still have good days and bad days with this problem.
Six Upsetting Months
At eight years of age, I had a six-month experience that has affected me to this day. Despite all the physical, occupational, and speech therapy already given me, the doctors sent me to a rehabilitation hospital in West Haverstraw, New York. My mother and I were heartbroken. Years earlier, when doctors wrongly diagnosed me as mentally retarded, she told them that she would never put me away. So even a temporary separation was hard for her. However, she saw that my leading a productive life independent of her and my father meant being as physically self-sufficient as possible.
The facility was nice, but I felt abandoned. Crying jags and temper tantrums made clear my feelings about the place. My parents could seldom make the three-hour bus trip to visit me, especially since Mother was pregnant with her fifth child. When they had to leave, it upset me so much that the doctor said the visits must be less frequent. I was allowed to go home only twice.
Therapists taught me how to walk with the aid of braces and lead-weighted crutches. They seemed to weigh a ton. However, the weight helped me to maintain balance and kept me from falling over. This was the first step toward walking alone without braces.
Cutting up food, fastening buttons—any task requiring use of the fingers—had been difficult if not impossible for me. But to some extent I learned how to feed and dress myself. This later helped in my service to God.
My training over, it was back home again. Mother put me to work using my new skills. Doing so was an emotional battle, for though I wanted to do things for myself, accomplishing them was frustrating, time-consuming, and exhausting. Why, dressing myself for the meetings was a two-hour project!
When we moved directly across the street from the Kingdom Hall, I actually made the walk on my own. No small victory!
The Happiest Day of My Life
My mother made sure that the family had a balanced spiritual diet. She studied with me and expected me to read every issue of our journals, The Watchtower and Awake! There were meetings to prepare for and attend. Although my mind and heart eagerly absorbed this knowledge, serious thoughts of dedicating my life to Jehovah and symbolizing this by water baptism were in the background. Mother helped me to see that despite my disability, God held me spiritually responsible for myself. I could not expect to enter the new world on her merits, to ride into it on her apron strings.
I loved God, but my condition set me apart as different from others—a painful realization for a teenager. It was hard to accept my limitations. Anger would often overtake me, and this had to be controlled before baptism. (Galatians 5:19, 20) And what if I couldn’t live up to my dedication to Jehovah?
At my mother’s request, a congregation elder spoke with me. He cited the prophet Elijah’s question to the Israelites: “How long will you be limping upon two different opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21) Clearly, Jehovah wasn’t pleased with my indecision.
I woke up spiritually and prayed earnestly for Jehovah’s help and for the determination to dedicate my life to him. A sister in the congregation studied with me. She was younger than I was and had lost her mother at an early age. Nevertheless, she had made a dedication to God while quite young.
At the age of 17, my mind was made up. I wanted to serve Jehovah to the best of my ability. August 9, 1974—when I was baptized—was the happiest day of my life.
Joy in the Ministry
Participation in the ministry presented some mountainlike obstacles. The greatest challenge was to make myself understood. I would speak as clearly as possible. Then, whenever necessary, my partner in the field ministry would repeat my remarks to the householder. Some reacted negatively, viewing me as a victim of exploitation by the Witnesses. But preaching is my right and my heartfelt desire.
Walking from door to door for even one block can be completely draining. Many houses in our witnessing territory have stairs, putting them beyond my reach. In winter, icy streets make house-to-house work virtually impossible for me. (Acts 20:20) However, spiritual brothers have helped tremendously, and Jehovah has now blessed me with a motorized wheelchair, which makes the ministry much easier.
In time I began to witness by mail. Writing letters by hand wouldn’t do because my penmanship is illegible to most people. So the electric typewriter became my scribe. My typing is very slow because of poor hand coordination. About half the time, I aim for one letter and hit another key. It may take an hour or more to type just one page.
Despite a lack of stamina, from time to time I serve as an auxiliary pioneer, devoting 60 hours or more to the ministry in a month. This calls for a good schedule, extra effort, and the support of fellow believers. Their pioneer spirit encourages me. Mother has also set a fine example by serving as a regular or an auxiliary pioneer while facing hardships, poor health, and the challenge of raising seven children in a religiously divided household.
On My Own
At the age of 24, I decided to move out on my own. My move to the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn proved to be a blessing. The Marlboro Congregation was like a close-knit family. How faith-strengthening it was to be with them! Even with only two or three cars available in the congregation, spiritual brothers took me to all the meetings. Yet I did not live there long.
Feeling like an utter failure, I returned to my family and plunged into a three-year period of deep depression. Fits of anger recurred. Then came thoughts of suicide and several attempts to carry them out. Death loomed like a dark cloud. But I leaned on God and promised to show appreciation for his gift of life. Comfort and counsel came from the elders. This, along with prayer, personal study, patience on the part of my family, and some professional help, straightened out my thinking.
Through The Watchtower, Jehovah tenderly provided insight into severe depression. Yes, he does care for his people and understands our feelings. (1 Peter 5:6, 7) In time the deep depression subsided. Ten years later, Jehovah still helps me to deal with frustration and depression. At times feelings of worthlessness almost swallow me up. Nonetheless, prayer, Bible study, and my spiritual family are wonderful survival aids.
After a futile search for another apartment, I had reluctantly resolved to live with my family for the rest of my life. Then Jehovah answered my prayers. A place became available in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. By late summer of 1984, I moved in, and I have been there ever since.
Members of the very loving Lafayette Congregation kindly transported me to the meetings. Still fresh in my mind is the first Congregation Book Study I attended. It was held on the fourth floor—and no elevator! Only with Jehovah’s help did I make it up and down those stairs. In time a more accessible location was provided. And now Jehovah has blessed me with the privilege of having a Congregation Book Study in my home.
A splendid pioneer spirit permeates this congregation. When I came, there were about 30 pioneers, and some took me under their wing. The zealous atmosphere motivated me to be an auxiliary pioneer more often.
In April 1989 the Lafayette and Pratt Congregations built a new Kingdom Hall right down the street from my apartment. It was just in time too, for because of further physical deterioration, walking has again become a problem. With my motorized scooter and with spiritual brothers and sisters at my side, however, trips to and from the meetings are delightful. How deeply I appreciate such loving assistance!
Grateful for God’s Support
Though my legs are unsteady, my heart is steadfast. A good education made life a little easier, yet God has sustained me. At times I did not know where the next meal was coming from, but Jehovah has supported me and has been a faithful Provider. Dear to me, indeed, are David’s words: “A young man I used to be, I have also grown old, and yet I have not seen anyone righteous left entirely, nor his offspring looking for bread.”—Psalm 37:23-25.
Several times Jehovah enabled me to maintain a Scriptural stand by helping me to refuse to accept blood during surgery. (Acts 15:28, 29) Recently, my father died. Losing someone so close was truly a hard blow. Only strength from Jehovah has pulled me through this and other trials.
My health may continue to fail, but my trust in God and my relationship with him are my lifelines. How happy I am to be among Jehovah’s people and to have his unfailing support!