Finding Joy Despite My Disabilities
As told by Paulette Gaspar
Although I weighed a good six pounds [about 3 kg] at birth, the doctor knew that something was seriously wrong with me. During the delivery, my bones had fractured. You see, I suffer from a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, better known as brittle bone disease. I was rushed into surgery, but the doctors held out little hope. They expected me to die within 24 hours.
I WAS born in Canberra, Australia’s capital city, on June 14, 1972. Against all odds, I lasted through that first day. But then I contracted pneumonia. Because they thought I would die anyway, the doctors did not give me medication of any sort and decided to “let nature take its course.” Well, nature did take its course, and I survived.
I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for my parents during that time. Because my chances for survival seemed very slim, well-meaning medical staff advised my parents not to become too attached to me. In fact, during the first three months of my stay in the hospital, my parents were not even allowed to touch me. The risk of injuring me was too great. When it became obvious that I would survive, doctors suggested that my parents put me in a home for disabled children.
My parents, however, decided to take me home. You see, my mother had just begun to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. What she learned heightened her sense of obligation to care for me. But it must have been difficult for her to bond with me, since all her emotional and physical strength was spent on the intensive care that I required. I was frequently taken to the hospital. My bones would break from something as simple as being bathed. Even if I just sneezed, a bone could crack.
My Slide Into Depression
As I grew up, the wheelchair was my constant companion. Learning to walk was out of the question. Despite difficulties, my parents cared for my physical needs exceptionally well.
In addition, my mother tried her best to teach me the Bible’s consoling message. For instance, she taught me that in the future, God will make the earth a paradise in which all people will enjoy perfect spiritual, mental, and physical health. (Psalm 37:10, 11; Isaiah 33:24) However, my mother frankly admitted that she found it difficult to imagine any pleasant kind of life for me until that time arrived.
Early on, I attended a school for the disabled. My teachers held out no goals for me, and I set no goals for myself. In fact, just enduring school became a major challenge. Many children there were cruel to me. Later, I attended a regular school. I found that learning to get along with others took all my physical, emotional, and mental strength. Nonetheless, I was determined to complete my 12 years of education.
Especially during my high-school years, I thought about how hopeless and empty the lives of my fellow students seemed to be. I also thought about what my mother had taught me from the Bible. Mentally, I knew that what she said was the truth. But Bible teachings did not at that time reach my heart. For a while, I decided to try to fill my life with fun and laughter, without any thought for tomorrow.
When I was 18, I moved out of my parents’ home and into a house with a group of other disabled people. I found this move both exciting and daunting. New freedoms, independence, having friends and a great social life were all very appealing. Many of my friends married. I also felt a yearning for a marriage mate and love. Because of my disabilities, though, finding a marriage mate was highly unlikely for me. This realization made me sad.
However, I never blamed God for my condition. I had learned enough about God to know that it would be far from his way of acting ever to do anything unjust. (Job 34:10) I tried to accept my life as it was. Even so, I slid into deep depression.
The Long Road to Recovery
Thankfully, my mother became aware of my situation and contacted one of the congregation elders who lived near me. He called me on the telephone and invited me to attend Christian meetings at the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Additionally, a sister in the congregation began studying the Bible with me each week.
As I was reminded of the Bible truths my mother had taught me years before, my outlook on life began to improve. I enjoyed the company of fellow Christians. However, I had learned to guard my feelings because I was afraid of being hurt emotionally. I think this made it difficult for me to feel a deep love for God. Even so, I knew it was right to dedicate my life to him. So in December 1991, I was baptized in symbol of my dedication.
I moved out of the house I had shared with my disabled companions and into an apartment by myself. This change brought both benefits and problems. For example, I was very lonely. And the thought of male intruders frightened me. Soon I again slipped into deep depression. Although I put on a brave face and a happy smile, all was not well. I desperately needed a good, stable friend.
I feel that Jehovah God provided just such a friend for me. The elders in the local congregation kindly arranged for Suzie, a married sister, to continue studying the Bible with me. Suzie was more than just my teacher. She became my close friend whom I love dearly.
Suzie trained me to share what I was learning with others—both in the door-to-door ministry and informally. Now I began to appreciate more fully God’s qualities. However, although baptized, I had not yet developed a deep love for God. On one occasion, I even contemplated giving up my service to him. I confided in Suzie, and she helped me through the crisis.
Suzie also helped me realize that much of my unhappiness stemmed from my associating with some who did not have a strong love for Jehovah. So I began to make friends with spiritually mature people—especially older ones. Also, my relationship with my mother was strained; hence, I began to rebuild good relations with her and also with my brother. I was surprised to experience a feeling of happiness that I had not felt before. My spiritual brothers and sisters, my family and, above all, Jehovah became to me a source of joy and strength.—Psalm 28:7.
A New Career
After attending a convention at which I heard a discourse that stressed the joys many experience in the full-time Christian ministry, I thought to myself, ‘Why, I could do that!’ Of course, I realized that this would be a real challenge physically. But after prayerfully considering the matter, I decided to submit an application to become a full-time Bible teacher, and in April 1998, I began my career as one.
How do I share in the preaching activity in my physical condition? I am very independent by nature and hate to be a burden to people, depending on them for transportation and other help. So Suzie and her husband, Michael, suggested a solution: Buy a motorbike! But how could I ride a motorbike? As the accompanying picture shows, my motorcycle is custom-made just for me. And I don’t even have to lift my tiny 42-pound [19 kg] body out of the wheelchair!
My newfound independence allows me to visit people and to study the Bible with them at times suitable for them and for me. I must admit that I love riding my bike and feeling the wind in my face—one of life’s little pleasures!
I enjoy striking up casual conversations with people on the streets, who on the whole are polite and respectful to me. I take pleasure in helping others learn about the Bible. I fondly recall one occasion when I was in the house-to-house ministry with a tall companion. He greeted the householder who, in turn, just stared at me in amazement and then asked my companion, “Can she talk?” Both of us just burst out laughing. When I finished preaching to her, the woman knew for sure that I really can talk!
I enjoy life now and have learned to love Jehovah God. I am so grateful to my mother for teaching me Bible truths, and with confidence I look forward to the near future when God will ‘make all things new,’ including my little body.—Revelation 21:4, 5.
[Blurb on page 30]
“I tried to accept my life as it was. Even so, I slid into deep depression”