Put the flag up

Many people are crippled in various ways.

I once knew a barren crippled one who stood strong and straight and tall
A bitter, heartless, loveless man, with no pity and no soul
But because his limbs were strong and clean no one turned aside their face
He was a perfect shining mirror for a perfect human race                                  
(Eric Bogle. Sydney, Australia)

Some are crippled by bitterness, some are crippled by guilt, and some paralyzed by fear. For some there are painful memories that they cling to, allowing the pain to define them. In this condition, we are the first to criticize, and the last to forgive. Some, crippled by lies, run from relationships, fearing the honesty that they demand. But that's not who you really are, friend. God created each of us with the ability to give and receive love (1 John 4:7; 2 Cor. 7:2). There is One who can strengthen our spiritual arms and legs, and heal our crippled conscience. 

Here's a story about a crippled man who illustrates this:

He was born in 1932, and married in 1954. An athletic young man, he was known for being able to climb a silo faster than anyone else around.  After an April marriage to a beautiful young lady, all was well for three months, until he caught the polio virus serving his 1-W term, working at a hospital in Michigan. His journey from the bathroom to the sofa that July night in 1954 (when he collapsed in the middle of the living room) was the last time he would ever walk on the strength of his own legs.

He spent five long months in the hospital, recuperating from one of the severest cases of Polio in his state, a recuperation that included twenty-five days in an iron lung, followed by six weeks on a rocking bed.

Nearing the end of his stay in the hospital, a chaplain visited him and asked “Are you bitter about what has happened to you?” The man thought for a moment. “I…don’t think I am” was his reply. Unconvinced, the same chaplain came back the following day and asked him again “Are you sure you are not resentful or bitter in any way about the drastic turn your life has taken?”  “No, I’m really not” the answer was more certain this time.

He was finally released from the hospital, ready to resume life with his wife and start a new chapter—one drastically different from the three normal months that they enjoyed before he got sick. He found ways to provide for his family, in spite of the loss of the use of his legs and only minimal use of his arms.

He soon became aware of something stirring within him, the desire to help others. But how could he do that, when he could barely help himself? Well, one thing he could do was write, as long as it involved hunting & pecking on a mechanical typewriter.  Grateful for ways that he had been helped, during that long polio saga, he set himself a goal to write a letter a week to someone who was discouraged, or a person going through one of life’s tough experiences. Unable to walk, he often handed those letters to his oldest son to carry out to the mailbox. “Put the flag up, son.”

Along with four other families, he also started a charity organization in 1966 to help people in need. He was chairman of the Brethren Charity Fund for 41 years, and they helped hundreds if not thousands of people who were in need. Sometimes they would buy new shoes for all the boys in the Shawn Acres orphanage in Dayton, Ohio, sometimes they would buy braces for a child whose teeth were in terrible condition. As the standards of poverty slowly changed in America, this charity group also began to look outside of our country for needs they could fulfill. They started collecting and sending large bales of compressed clothing to poor people in Romania.

Those were good things, real good. But that wasn’t all.  In 1977, this man and his wife (along with five other families) started a Christian school in Covington Ohio. I am told that at one time the school had over 100 students. Not bad for a crippled man.

I write this story to illustrate the love of Christ, and the power of gratitude.  If Jesus can inspire a crippled fellow to reach out to hurting people, He can certainly awaken compassion in those of us who have the use of our arms and legs. Whatever your circumstances in life, there are people who need your kind words. If your arms are broken, speak to them. If your legs are useless, find a way to encourage those who walk by. This man—over the course of 54 years— mailed out almost 900 letters to people who were hurting. Years later they would talk about how much it meant to them, to receive these “words fitly spoken” during a tough time in their life. If all you have is a mechanical typewriter, or even a pencil and paper, send a note of encouragement this week to someone who is struggling. Keep “putting the flag up” dear ones, and just do what you can, like this man did. You might make a lasting difference in the lives of others (Galatians 6:9-10). 

I should know. He was my father, Gerald C. Wagoner Sr.


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