My beautiful wife, Karen, has supported me with her love and prayers through nine intubations because of my rare auto immune condition of mastocytosis. It is diagnosed through a skin biopsy two years ago. Doctors tell me I have had the disease all of my life. This means I have too many mast (immune and systemic) cells. Karen calls it allergy on steroids. I tell people it is a neighbourhood block party out of control. I keep telling these nasty mast cell party crashers to behave themselves. They don’t always listen to me. That’s when I have to get the mast cell regulator police after them. Sometimes it takes the big guns to keep them in line.
Karen sees beyond my challenges. She encourages me to share the talents I have been given by God. Please always remember God takes our perceived inabilities and shows us how they are really abilities.
I have memory problems. I write things down. I will write down point form notes to prepare me for phone conversations. It keeps me from my thoughts wandering, especially if I’m having one of those brain fog days.
I have the ability to summarize large volumes of information. God uses a learning challenge for me to write an executive summary when I am a Board Member of a service provider, in supportive housing. I am just doing what I use to cope with a problem remembering things. I take a seminar I attend based on a manual of a few hundred pages on marketing for non-profits, and summarize it into two pages. When the executive assistant sees it, she does not let me leave the Board meeting until I give her my copy. She makes copies for the Executive Director and all the Board members. She tells me I have saved the service provider almost $3,000 because of how well I did the executive summary. They did not need to send any other Board members to the training. I am surprised by this! I have only done what I did all through my school years. I have no idea what an executive summary is until I am in my early forties.
I miss out on a lot of the fun my friends are having. Most of my free time is taken up with studying. I am put in the turtle group as a child because I don’t grasp concepts quickly. My parents take me to doctor after doctor. They are told, “Don’t worry. Kevin will grow out of it. He’s just slow and awkward.”
I don’t crawl like other infants. I have a staggered gait when I am a child. I am always the last chosen to participate in any sports teams.
I do a 100 yard dash when I’m ten. I place fourth. I am asked by many, “How many were in the race?” I reply softly, “Five.” No one except my mother thinks this is a great accomplishment.
In high school and through my post-secondary education many students would ask to borrow my notes. They tell me my notes are thorough. I had to make them that way because I would forget a lot of what I learn in class. I will be 52 when an occupational therapist assesses me as having a poor memory for what I hear. I will also learn I have a strong visual memory.
It takes me three times as long as other students to study and get good marks. I would stay up often after 2:00 a.m. in high school studying. I would pound facts, figures, dates in history and mathematical formulas into my head until I know them.
My brother is much better at sports. He is four years older than me. My mom would tell me not to compare myself to my brother. She tells me God has a plan for my life. She says, “Kevin, don’t give up. You have a beautiful mind. It really doesn’t matter you’re not athletic. God is going to use you to touch many lives. You have a special calling. The Lord has given you challenges to prepare for it.”
In my ministerial training in my early twenties a nurse says, “Kevin, I know it’s hard for you to see this now, but one day you’ll see how God uses you with all your weaknesses, to touch many lives. She quotes Scripture to bring me comfort. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27, NIV). My grandmother says the same thing. Often, God has to hit us over the head with a two by four before we start to get the message we are too blind to see.
I am teased because I wear glasses. I am called names like Four Eyes and Professor Piddle Face. I cannot see well. I have a high degree of astigmatism in both eyes. The strength of the prescription for my lenses is so strong it causes me to tire easily when reading.
My mother approaches one of my teachers to give me a specialized reading program. I read about people like Louis Braille and Helen Keller, who accomplish great things in spite of their perceived inability. One of Louis Braille’s eyes is injured while working in his father’s workshop. The infection spreads to the other eye. He becomes blind. Instead of giving up he invents the Braille system with raised dots representing letters, so blind people can have the gift of being able to read. Helen Keller graduates with honours from Radcliffe College. She is the first deaf and blind person to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She uses the deep insights gained through being deaf and blind, through her writing and public speaking, to inspire many with her overcoming story.
It takes me 13 years to get my Bachelor of Theology degree. In 1997 I graduate with it from Canada Christian College and Graduate School in Toronto.
In 2001 after over a year and a half of medical tests I will be told I have pernicious anemia, which is also known as B12 deficiency. My form of it is genetic. I will require B12 injections for the rest of my life to combat how the disease compromises my immune system and affects my energy.
At age 39 a gerontologist I see at Scarborough Grace Hospital says I most likely have a rare neurodegenerative condition called oliviopontocerebellar ataxia. A neurologist did not know what it is. He had to look it up. Basically, it means there is a degenerative process going on inside my brain affecting things such as speech, mobility and memory. There is no known cure. I believe in God’s ability to heal. I rest myself in the healing hands of Christ, our Great Physician.
In 2009 a top neurologist will conclude in a report he believes when I am born I have a mild form of cerebral palsy.
I have done many things with my life in spite of my challenges. I have been a pastor, church planting ministry worker in the Jane/Finch area of Toronto, family services worker, ESL teacher and Assistant Professor of ESL in South Korea, counsellor in correctional services, teaching missionary in South Korea and journalism intern.
Currently, I am doing volunteer work as a policy advisor and social advocate.
I am training to become a minister, chaplain and Christian psychotherapist.
I enjoy writing, song writing and singing.
In my wheelchair God slows me down to listen to people’s lives and do what I can to help them.
I share this romantic experience to illustrate how God takes a perceived disadvantage and turns it into an advantage. Karen and I are on the steps of her home in Simcoe, Ontario. We are heading off to church. My right leg decides it is going to dump me. I am angry at how my right leg is failing me. Karen goes in front of me. She kisses me as she holds me in her arms until my leg stops shaking. That day I learn there is yet another blessing to my challenges.
I pray this reflection upon my life has inspired you. When God guides your life there is no limit to what you can do. Do I have my difficult days when I’m ready to give up? Yes. I think many of us do if we are honest about it. Not all challenges people have are seen. Many are invisible such as with those who suffer silently with post traumatic stress, anxiety, depression or a learning challenge.
We are all fearfully and wonderfully made by God. There are no mistakes or defects in any of God’s creation. Our Father takes what many regard as an inability and if we are willing to take time to listen and learn from Him, He shows us how it really is an ability.
You are not a mistake. You are a beautiful child of God. He loves you with an everlasting love. He has an amazing plan for your life if you follow where He leads you. If your life is not beautiful now, if all you can see is the ugliness of it, be patient with God. You will see how beautiful it can be. You will feel how loved you are in His eyes.
Kevin Osborne is training to become a psychotherapist, priest and chaplain through St. James the Elder University in Jacksonville, Florida. He and his wife, Karen, plan to open a counselling practice. Karen is taking graduate divinity studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. Kevin is planning on taking additional graduate studies there. He is a member of The Word Guild, a Christian writer’s group in Canada.
Our greatest calling is to be servants of our Lord wherever He calls us to go.