“What do I like to read?” My friend looked at me, repeating the question I had just posed to him and then looked away to think for a moment. “I don’t think I’ve read an entire novel since the ‘90s…”
It’s no secret—I love to read! With February tagged as I Love to Read Month, I’ve been considering the reason why I’ve been drawn to books ever since I sounded out all the words in Jan and Stan Berenstain’s Ready, Get Set, Go! I think the answer lies in the fact that books have always given me hope.
As a child… My parents needed to find a way to explain the hospital environment to me so that I could prepare for the experience of undergoing major surgery. One afternoon, while spinning the wire rack at the local drug store, I came upon a book entitled A Visit to Sesame Street Hospital where Grover needs a tonsillectomy. I learned from the illustrations that I too would soon be encountering friendly adults wearing masks and gowns and eating food off of tray tables. While different from life at home, I had nothing to fear! As memory serves, I entered the operating room with a smile on my face!
In fourth and fifth grade… My self-esteem began to plummet as I struggled to make friends at school. One evening my dad came home with an article published in Newsweek written by a sophomore at Wayzata High School named Angie Erickson. Her twin sister Stephanie was born with no birth defects, but Angie has cerebral palsy. Angie spoke to the tenacity, resiliency, and determination it was taking to endure people’s comments, actions, and exclusion towards me because of my disability. Then she posed an interesting thought: perhaps those who are acting this way are hurting more than I am….
In middle school… A courageous woman named Gianna Jessen was interviewed on Focus on the Family telling her story of her mother who chose to have an abortion at age 17. When the saline injection she was given forced her into labor, Gianna was born alive and, as a result, lives with cerebral palsy. The book sat by my bedside and I read it over and over again, intrigued to hear the story of another girl with CP, fascinated with the fact that she knew exactly why she had a disability, because the exact cause of CP, for so many people, is unknown.
Shortly after the Columbine High School Shootings… I sat at my own high school, reading Frank Peretti’s Wounded Spirit. This book was written partly in response to this tragedy, but also to share Peretti’s own story of pain and healing growing up with a highly visible condition called cystic hygroma. At the end of the book, Peretti makes an audacious claim: Adulthood may actually bring some relief to the awkwardness of being a teenager. I held on to the hope that there was life after Physical Education class, I wasn’t going to be swimming in a pond where I was being constantly compared to the physical abilities of others forever!
Towards the end of graduate school…. I wrestled with the reality that I was going to have cerebral palsy for the rest of my life, and wondered what its implications were going to look like as I began to journey into adulthood. While reading the book Waking, I felt as if it’s author, Mathew Sanford, (fellow Minnesotan and quadriplegic) pulled up a chair and began to mentor me on healthy living as an adult with a disability. I learned that I didn’t have to feel pressure to see my disability as something that needed to be conquered or overcome, but rather a reality that can simply be accepted. With every step I take my body is working as hard as it can, even in the midst of challenge, to move exactly as it was designed. This unique grace is in itself, beautiful.
Today… I am working on my own manuscript, telling of my with cerebral palsy. Someday I hope my story can offer hope to someone else the way so many others have already done for me. Why do you love to read? What books have you read which have offered you hope? Have you ever read a book where the characters helped you understand your life from a clearer perspective? Has your own reading journey ever compelled you to write?