As the many background stories of the Olympics unfold, it is hard to choose which is the most powerful. So today I want to pause to share a different kind of background story. This week my family celebrated ‘Happy Feet Day’ at our house. And this is the background story of about one of our family’s Olympians and about the God who brings triumphs over great adversity.
On August 8th each year my family celebrates ‘Happy Feet Day’. It is our own special celebration created to remember, reflect and rejoice.
Remember : My oldest daughter, Jessie, was born crippled with severe bilateral club feet. She got her first set of casts when she was one week old and we began what has been a long and difficult journey. Each week, for three months, my husband and I would soak off the current casts and the next morning I would take her in to be recasted. In the later days of this, Jessie sometimes took a short cut and kicked one of the casts off! The doctor nicknamed her Houdini and we have souvenir casts.:) Then at only nine months old, she underwent extensive surgery on both feet leaving her in casts again until after her first birthday. While other children were crawling, Jessie had found a way to scoot on her bottom while sitting up. Lifting the heavy cast and heaving it forward, first one then the other. Before long, she was scooting across the floor at record speed! Jessie had perseverance.
Once out of the casts the real challenge began. Could she walk? Two months, three months, four months passed and still no sign of her even trying to get up to walk. If you learn one thing from watching the Olympics you learn that sports are as much a mental game as anything, and that having spirit is an important factor to winning. Jessie had spirit. What we didn’t know, was that she was working on her mental game. Watching, studying, waiting for the right time to make her move. Then it happened. On August 8th, 1992, while we were getting ready to attend a wedding, Jessie suddenly stood up walked unwavering across the floor and picked up a small umbrella! After that, she never scooted, rarely fell, never held onto anything for help, and quickly learned to pivot, turn and run on two happy feet. But the story doesn’t end there.
Reflect: By the time Jessie was 14, she had chronic pain in both feet and was unable to spend anytime on them without paying a high price. The orthotics they prescribed were like braces – bulky, unsightly, and ineffective. When she was 18, we were referred to an amazing orthopedic surgeon. In the last four years, Jessie has had 5 surgeries. During this time, we discovered she was allergic to many pain relief medicines. So pain management became a nightmare. Each surgery was followed by up to eight months of casts, air casts, and physical therapy. All while struggling to control the pain. But Jessie had spirit and Jessie had faith. Faith in the surgeon, and more importantly faith in God. In fact, she came to know God in an intimate and wonderful way. Drawing strength from Him when she had nothing left to give. Those who saw her regularly during these years have found it hard to believe the kind of pain she experienced because she was always smiling. She smiled, not because it was painless, not because it was easy, but because…well, because of who God is. Sovereign, Loving, Majestic, Creator.
Rejoice: So many Olympians say they have an army behind them. Well, Jessie certainly has an army behind her, praying, encouraging, and accommodating her. Thank you, you know who you are. There is another surgery scheduled this month. Game on. We hope it is the last one. But either way, today Jessie walks with much less pain. And every August 8th we celebrate the miracle that she can walk at all. We remember the beginning of her story, we reflect on the hard journey, and we rejoice at the outcome. We celebrate our great God who enabled her to rise above her adversity to become an incredible young woman. Next month, Jessie plans to walk a 5k to raise awareness about Human Trafficking. She’s training hard for it, but will probably still suffer pain in the days to follow. Jessie doesn’t care, the event is too important. So she and her happy feet will cross the finish line.