The sun glinted off the windows, making the inside of the studio hot and humid. Parents lined the walls cheering for their children as they demonstrated their skill. All our faces were bright red like a tomato. Sweat trickled down my face as I waited for my turn to demonstrate that I could break a board.
“Morgan, it is your turn.” I tightened my hands and glared at the board from across the room. Everyone had gone before me and had broken the board. I was the last one. Two boys were kneeling, waiting for me to jump over them and hit the board.
“Morgan, it is your turn,” Master Peter stated again. His pristine white attire contrasted with the six degree black belt tied around his waist. His bald head glistened with sweat.
Everyone’s eyes were on me. I ran and jumped. I veered to the side instead of jumping right over the boys. I heard the groans of sympathy when I didn’t hit the board.
“Morgan, you can do it,” I heard a shout from the crowd. I felt my face flush redder as I took my stand again. Everyone had hit the board the first time.
I ran, the blood pounding in my ears. I missed the board by a millimeter. Dead silence. Nobody misses the second time.
One of the assistant instructors came up beside me. “Morgan, you need to hit the board in the middle.”
I wanted to tell him that I knew. I wanted to tell him that I quit. I wanted to tell him my secret, but I remained silent.
I ran back to the start. My sweating face hid the tears that were quietly making their way down my face. I clenched my fists, one arm pulling slightly up. I pushed the arm down before anyone noticed. I felt their eyes burning holes in my back as I took my stance.
I ran again. The two boys tried to crouch even lower, but they were too big to make a difference. I veered off and hit the board to the right, not in the middle.
It didn’t break.
My foot throbbed. By now the tears were moving faster down my face. I wiped the tears away. I could hear the whispers spreading through the studio like wildfire. Will they guess my secret?
Two factors cause cerebral palsy—being a twin and being born premature. I was both. At three years old, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy on my right side. I had and still have difficulty walking, holding a cup, or picking stuff up with my right hand. Most of my growing up years, my parents and I had to work on my physical skills that normally came naturally to kids. Growing up, I tended to stumble from one embarrassing moment to the next without seeing the bigger picture. I asked myself questions such as: why could I not break that board in Taekwondo at fifteen years old? Why couldn’t I swim in straight line right away? Why couldn’t I be just like my younger, more athletic sister?
Some days I was more depressed than others. Days when I had to walk around the block stomping made me mad at my parents.
“Morgan, pick up your feet,” Daddy told me for what seemed like the umpteenth time.
“I am.” I worked my feet as best as I could. My right foot dragged across the pavement.
I picked up my feet and started to march past the sedate houses like a fool. My little hand was clasped in Daddy’s much larger ones.
“Why can’t you tell Andrea to march?” I pointed at Mommy and Andrea up ahead who were having a lot more fun than me.
“Because she is walking the right way.”
I glared at my sister. “But I AM walking the right way.” Daddy shook his head at me without responding.
As if to prove Daddy’s point, I stumbled and Daddy had to catch me from falling.
“Pick up your feet,” commanded Daddy.
I sighed at the command, angry that I could not be like my sister.
Now, I know that my Mom and Dad were trying to help me be normal. At five years old, I didn’t realize that I was so different than everyone else. I didn’t realize that people didn’t have to worry about dragging their foot, or falling randomly, or even not being able to play their instrument like everyone else. I was different.
Cerebral palsy (CP) can manifest in different ways in a patient’s life. In my case, I have it only on the right side, for others it could affect all their limbs. There was no cure for CP. Therefore, life would always be a little more challenging for a patient with CP. I was no exception.
When I was sixteen, I was in orchestra. I loved playing in the orchestra—in being part of something bigger. But today, I didn’t like it.
I yanked the car door open and threw myself into the car.
“What is the matter?” Mommy asked.
I felt the tears falling down my cheeks. “He—he—” I sobbed.
My Mom waited for me to answer. I was too mortified to answer. My Mom pulled out letting me digest what just happened.
I thought back to what happened. I swiped my tears from my eyes and stared out the car. Why did I have to be different?
Today had been different because none of the other cello players had shown up. There had been a massive car accident that had closed off the whole 5 Freeway. I had been late, very late.
We pulled out from the community college parking lot and I let the tears silently flow. My mom gripped the wheel. It wasn’t the first time that I had broken down over something in my life.
I loved playing the cello, but I couldn’t pluck. Plucking required dexterity in your right hand, something I didn’t have. My teacher and I had worked for hours to get a particular passage down, but we eventually concluded that it wasn’t possible—after hours of practice, I couldn’t play it.
“What happened?” Mommy asked again.
I glared out the window letting my shame fill me.
“The assistant conductor was subbing today.” I gulped. “He played that piece that I was having so much trouble playing.” I looked at the slow moving traffic outside. It was going to take us a while to get over the hill.
My mother’s silence let me know that she knew what was next.
“I couldn’t play it, Mommy. I couldn’t play it and he stopped the whole orchestra to ask me to play the passage by myself.” My tears were falling and I swiped at them angrily. “Everyone was looking and I couldn’t play it.” The snickering and whispers that I heard kept replaying in my head.
I sounded like a broken record. I knew it too. The mortification of that day has worn off, but the question still stands—why would the Lord let me go through something like that?
Over my high school years I grew bitter and never talked about my disability. Anger burned inside me against my parents for forcing me into various sports. Jealousy ate at me for having a more talented, younger sister. Ultimately, I believed my life wasn’t fair.
In community college, I met a woman who struggled in speech class because she was dyslexic. She was frustrated over the barriers that her disability forced her to deal with. I sympathized with her and shared my own disability. She was ecstatic and encouraged.
“Morgan, you should speak about this,” she stated once.
“No.” I smiled at her. “I’m nothing special.”
“So many people struggle with disabilities, Morgan. They have no hope.”
I shook my head. I wasn’t ready that day to tell the world my story. The class ended and I never saw her again.
I don’t remember her name, but she encouraged me to tell others about who I was—all of it. She told me that the Lord had placed this disability in my life for a reason. That day she planted a seed, a seed to not be ashamed of the way the Lord made me.
I realized that my parents had been helpful to me. Because of their hard work, people don’t recognize that I have a disability. My parents were successful in helping me become normal. Today, I use the perseverance that I had honed as a child to work hard in school, at work, and in sports. No, I will never be ‘normal’ like my sister, but I can use CP to glorify God.
That day in Taekwondo was like any of the other embarrassing moments in my life, but for my decision to preserver.
It was my fourth time setting up. I breathed in and out. I dared not peek into the audience to see the disappointment of my parents. I glared at that barrier. I could’ve taken the easy way out and made an excuse about my disability, but I didn’t.
I ran and sailed through the air. I felt the rough board give way under my throbbing foot.
I was happy, not because of the cheers of the crowd, or my parents congratulating me, or even because I passed the test. All those sensations dim and eventually fade from memory over time. I was happy because I won the struggle within myself. The barrier was not just the board. The board represented the barriers that I placed in my life. Yes, CP will be with me until I die. I still have embarrassing moments, I still have a hard time telling my secret, I still have moments of frustration, but my disability is not a horrible secret. The Lord made me the way I am so that I can glorify Him through all the trials in my life.
Life is always more exhilarating when you have to break through a barrier. Just like that board that I broke so long ago, anyone can break through a barrier.