My brother, Jon, was born with a birth defect called – Spina Bifida. It is among the most common birth defects in the United States. It is caused by the incomplete formation of the spinal cord during pregnancy. In my brother’s case, it left him with almost no feeling in his feet and no control over his bladder. When I was little, I confess that sometimes I prayed to God that Jon would be cured.
Even though my brother walked with leg braces, many times in our childhood I pulled him around in a red wagon. I remember a bright sunny day when we were young. The preacher’s kid ( in his typical Sunday best – on a Tuesday) was on his way to his father’s church. When he saw my brother and I, he stopped. “I’m sure it’s God’s will that you were born a cripple”, he said to my brother after some brief chatter. I had already learned to see the hidden pain on my brother’s face from these types of all too common insults. “Oh really?” I questioned. “My brother may not walk right, but you don’t think before you speak, which is the worse handicap?”
It’s easy to judge and to justify and fear the parts of life we don’t understand.
Later, while in his teens, my brother Jon developed a large skin ulcer on the heel of his foot. Because my brother couldn’t feel pain in his foot, he had kept walking until he literally wore a hole in his heel.
After that, I learned to thank God for pain. Pain is a heavenly gift– it is a message that healing is required. Without pain, there can be no healing.
Years later, (ten years ago now) the effects of my brother’s Spina bifida problem took an even more devastating toll. When you and I sit in a chair we subconsciously shift our position – as subtle feelings of discomfort insure that blood flows to our varying pressure points. People who are bed-ridden can’t shift their weight and get bedsores. With my brother’s birth defect, the nerve cells were damaged so the subtle pain that makes us shift our weight wasn’t there. Over time he developed similar (at first unseen) sores that worsened. This time, the wounds were far too severe to be patched with a skin graft. The lower half of my brother’s body could no longer serve him. When my brother was forty years old, the doctors literally cut him in two. My childhood prayers had been answered, Jon was finally cured of his Spina bifida.
After that, I learned that missing even the subtlest subconscious feelings of discomfort can cost us to literally lose half of ourselves.
Today, when I read about war, and hunger and disease I ask myself: “Isn’t there enough pain to go around?” Then I think of my brother Jon and I realize. Pain is a heavenly gift. Healing can only begin when we get the message. This I believe.
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