Jacob and I spent Saturday in Dallas at a Friends of Hope Day Camp for brain injury survivors, sponsored by Baylor Rehab. Jacob attended as a camper. I’d agreed to speak and sing.
When we arrived I looked at the schedule. They’d given me the last thirty minutes.
Public speaking is supposedly one of the most stressful experiences known to man. I read survey results once that ranked it up near the death of a loved one. If I remember correctly, it ranked higher than being torn limb from limb by wild animals. I’m not kidding.
So I must be strange, because I like to talk. And once I get going, I tend to think of more things I want to say. Knowing this, I took a carefully crafted speech to the Day Camp–just so I’d be sure I didn’t get carried away.
However, I didn’t end up sticking to my notes at all. As the day unfolded, the things I felt I should say presented themselves to me. It was as though God handed me one flower after another until I suddenly realized I’d collected a beautiful bouquet.
Dr. Carlile had asked me to share a little about our journey with brain injury, and I did. A little. But mostly I talked about what I’d observed since I walked in the door that morning.
In the past nine years I’ve seen Jacob have a profound effect on many people. It’s not something he does or says, and it’s certainly not on purpose. Somehow, simply by being, he touches hearts. When I walked into that fellowship hall, I entered a room full of Jacobs. All of them were brain injury survivors. Some of them also had devastating physical injuries to overcome. Quite a few were in wheelchairs. Others needed canes or braces or human assistance to walk. But everywhere I looked, I saw radiant smiles. Joy emanated from their faces. Laughter erupted here and there, like a spring of water that can’t be contained.
It was as though a cloud of peaceful patience filled the room. They accepted themselves. They accepted each other. And they were thankful. I saw no bitterness. I heard no complaining.
I noticed one woman with a lovely countenance. She was tall and elegant and used a walker or leaned on a companion to move slowly across the room. Every time I caught her eye, she smiled. Later someone plugged in a CD–a demo she’d recorded only a couple of months before a horrific car accident several years ago set her on a long, long journey to recovery. She’d been a jazz singer with plans to move to LA. Her voice was smooth, her technique flawless, and her band excellent. She could have been the next Norah Jones or Diana Krall. Now she can barely whisper. But when she does, her words are gracious. Her smile is like a benediction.
Each person in that room had a story. Each had suffered deeply. And all throughout the day, I sensed a Presence. A Beauty. The same Fragrance that accompanies Jacob wherever he goes.
There’s so much more to tell. We saw Joan, the precious Jamaican woman who ministers to bodies and souls as an aide at Baylor. She cared for Jacob nine years ago when he was in a coma, her melodious voice soothing him as she met his body’s most basic needs. Saturday they played Jenga together, and Joan’s joy at watching Jacob was palpable.
We spent time with Dr. Carlile, the woman whose persistence to treat Jacob in the face of a hopeless prognosis meant the preserving of his hands and feet from contracture that would have prevented his ever walking or feeding himself. The possiblity of his playing Jenga was the farthest thing from everyone’s wildest dreams back then.
At the end of the day I spoke. I picked the flowers from my bouquet one by one. I mentioned the camper, Adrienne, who sang Amazing Grace. Or, more importantly, who knows Amazing Grace. I spoke of faith perfected through suffering. Faith–the one thing Jesus said He will look for when He returns. Not fame or fortune or worldly success, but faith. I spoke of prayer–the greater work. Access to the very throne of God, yet available to the smallest child. And I spoke of God’s goodness. That brain injury isn’t what any of us would have chosen for ourselves or our loved ones, but when we look at who we’ve become, we can see even the pain itself is God’s good messenger.
Then I sang Jacob’s Song–the song written for Jacob when he was still in a coma. I looked out at a sea of loving, smiling faces, and I dedicated it to all of them.
And I ended right on time. Several campers approached me with compliments and hugs. I gave a copy of Jacob’s Song to the woman who’d planned to be a singer. She wants to use it in her music therapy.
And then it was over, and we went our separate ways.
A sense of awe accompanied me on the 2 1/2-hour-drive home and lingers still. I know I spent Saturday in the presence of greatness. Kingdom of God greatness. Overcomers living their patient joy one slow step or whispered word at a time, while beauty crowns their heads and breaks the hearts of the proud around them. Hearts like mine.
I’m sure there were big things happening in the world Saturday. Important people taking care of important business. Sports events. Celebrity sightings. Kings and rulers changing the course of human history. Maybe I’m crazy, but today I can’t make myself feel too impressed. The Beauty is still too fresh. The Fragrance hasn’t quite dissipated. I hear a song–a feeble voice singing Amazing Grace–and I can’t help but think that our concept of greatness is way off. And Heaven is going to surprise us all.