Throughout January, BaptistLIFE is featuring articles written about or by Arundel Baptist Network (ABA) pastors, staff, and lay leaders.
As a little girl, I was a March of Dimes poster child. Now I am a poster child for God!
I was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus in 1970. The doctor turned to my parents and told them they had a choice to feed or not feed me. I was valuable, and they loved me. My parents decided my life meant something.
So, I began my life with significant challenges. I learned to walk at Kennedy Krieger Institute using a bar on the wall. And throughout my younger years, I used canes. In my late 20’s, I moved to a wheelchair and suffered continually with lymphedema, which caused massive swelling in my legs.
I attended “special” schools throughout my early years, but I didn’t feel that I was part of that community. I begged my parents to send me to public school but discovered I was not accepted. A few children befriended me. Most children just ignored me. Others rejected me, and some were just cruel. But my parents always encouraged me to push myself to the fullest, and I obeyed. One of my fondest memories is going to a school dance in the seventh grade. The girl on crutches danced the evening away! I was the talk of the school on the following Monday.
When I was 13, The Holy Spirit convicted my soul at a local church in Linthicum, and I responded, going forward during an altar call to make a confession of faith. I knew God was by my side, and I clung to Him. I began serving almost immediately, helping with bus ministry and caring for kids with special needs while their parents had a respite.
My husband Raymond “Wolfie” Gayleard and I married in 1990. Wolfie always looked beyond my crutches and a perpetually swollen leg, and he loved me. We had three children, Raymond Jr., Blaine, and Kaitlyn. I learned to hold my babies while pushing a wheelchair. In 2020, Wolfie died from cancer, and my father passed away shortly afterward. Late last year, my leg became severely infected, leading to an amputation.
Challenges? Yes, I’ve had many, as we all do, but many of mine are visible. People see me in my wheelchair, and they’ve seen me severely swollen. Yet, God has used me as I am. I was made – an image-bearer of Christ.
Perhaps you are dealing with challenges that feel overwhelming. Let me encourage you. You can persevere, and you can allow God to use you for His glory.
- A physical challenge gives you an audience. Sometimes that’s great, and other times it’s terrible. I’ve been at Walmart and had people stare openly and point at me, especially when my leg was severely swollen before the amputation. Often people sneak pictures. Once, while shopping with Kaitlyn, someone grabbed their phone to grab a photo. I said, “Hey, you should have told me you wanted a picture; we could have smiled.” Another time I put sticky notes on my leg and wrote, “Pictures with the leg: $5.” I make jokes to make it OK, but sometimes the tears just fall because it hurts. I could stay home to avoid the embarrassment, but you know what? Being “out there” is encouraging others.
- Children are desensitized to being around people who have physical challenges. I am a children’s minister at North Glen Community Church (NGCC) in Glen Burnie, and “my” kids, who have been coming for years, quit seeing my wheelchair. It’s non-existent to them. One little boy comes in, and he just jumps on the back of my chair and holds on, and I like that. He’s totally comfortable with me. When sharing with the youth, I’ve seen some kids squirm or look away. But I openly share my stories, and I challenge them to wheelchair races. I also surprised one boy when I asked for the basketball and, in my wheelchair, scored before he did.
- I strive to encourage compassion. As I work with others, especially children, I share stories about how often strangers are unkind to me. I’ll never forget one day in school in the ’70s. That morning, I especially loved my new outfit — white jeans and a pretty top. It was raining, and as we got to school and crowded into the foyer, my cane slipped, and I fell. It took me six times to get up. Some kids were laughing, and no one offered to help me up. I try to help people learn to love and respect others and themselves. Children and teens often have very poor self-images. Even young teens without obvious physical challenges, who most believe “have it all together,” are cutting themselves to deal with stress. By living my life with joy, I strive to help them see that their worth is in God, that Jesus wants to have fellowship with them.
- God uses me to give people hope and to challenge others. Even on a good day, it takes me three hours to get ready just to go to church. I tell people that God gives me the strength to persevere. I purposely push myself to keep up my strength and be an example. I’ve participated in multiple 5K races. (The hardest was on Ocean City’s boardwalk). I did the Polar Bear Plunge for many years to raise money for Special Olympics. My sister pushed me into the freezing water on a sand chair. The last time I did it, I hurtled myself out of the chair.
It’s not easy to keep going, especially after my husband’s death and the recent amputation. It’s hard. But I lean on God. I see people online who will not go out of the house due to conditions like mine, especially lymphedema. They are intimidated and won’t live their lives.
If you have a special challenge, I want to encourage you to trust God and move forward.
Step out of the boat — live, serve to your fullest until your dying breath. Take that step, and don’t look down. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He will sustain you.
Kim serves as an administrative assistant to the senior pastor, children’s ministry director, and special needs ministry leader at NGCC.
Cover photo:Kim Gayleard as a child (photo submitted)