I recently was blessed to be the Lay Director on Walk 86 of the Brazos Valley Emmaus Community. Here is part of the talk I gave to the pilgrims.
In 1963, my mother, Betty Wetterman gave birth to my older sister, Stephanie Denise Wetterman. Stephanie was born with a major birth defect called Spinomeningoencephalocill. That big words means that her skull did not form properly in the womb and that there was a hole about the size of a .50 cent piece at the base of her skull. Her brain had partially formed outside the skull and there was a sack-like bag of flesh on the back of her head. Very few babies ever survived such a birth defect. The Doctor was blunt to my 19 year old mother, “Mrs. Wetterman,” she said, “forget this baby. It is going to die. You are young, you can have more babies.”
Stephanie was given two weeks to live, though the doctors believed it probably wouldn’t be that long.
The family prayed for help to come, but the neurosurgeon in charge waited for several weeks, expecting the child would die. She did not.
Eventually another neurosurgeon became involved. He offered to attempt a radical surgery to replace Stephanie’s brain into her skull, take off the excess skin sack, and to cover the hole in her skull with a wire mesh. The brain’s swelling could be controlled with a shunt that would funnel excess brain fluid into her stomach to be reabsorbed into her body. The prognoses for her surviving the surgery was very low, but there was hope, and the family: the parents, grandparents, and their brothers and sisters in blood and in Christ, prayed. She survived the surgery.
Tom had worked as a mechanic at the time, and Betty had been a legal secretary, but quit her job to stay with the baby at the hospital. Tom took a second job and worked long hours, but it was impossible for the young couple to pay the mounting bills. The family prayed.
A hospital administrator called Betty into her office one day and told her that if she didn’t have anymore insurance, or the money to pay the bills, she would be asked to leave the hospital. The young mother, distraught and overcome with the burdens she faced and the prospect of her baby being kicked out of the hospital and dying due to lack of medical care, was sobbing as the neurosurgeon entered the room to check on Stephanie. He asked her what was wrong. She told him what had happened. He told her not to worry about it anymore, that there was no way the hospital would kick them out, and that he would take care of it.
The administrator never again spoke to Betty, and they were never charged for the surgery or the hospital stay.
The baby suffered through 13 surgeries the first 9 years of her life, 10 of them before she was a year and a half old. The first saved her life, and she was the first such child to live with that birth defect. Unfortunately, the brain had to be separated from the skin it had become attached to, and the scraping of the brain left her profoundly retarded and subject to grand moll seizures, one of which left her paralyzed on half of her body.
Many will hear her story and say for what purpose did this child live? What possible effect could a profoundly retarded child have on our world?
My sister Stephanie had many problems. To control the frequency and severity of seizures she has to take some very hard drugs including Phenobarbitol. She can do little for herself now, but I remember when we were both young, and how she would try to walk in her physical therapy class, how she would laugh at her little brother’s antics, how she would radiate God’s glory as she belted out songs such as “Jesus Loves me this I know” and other children’s songs. She loved her papaw, and he loved her. He had lived a very hard life, but three heart attacks and his love for his grandchildren, especially Stephanie, greatly affected him, and he died a good, Christian man.
I remember our parents in the choir of our church, while Stephanie and I would sit in the pews listening and watching. She would move her hand to the time of the music and smile the greatest smile. She touched many lives including the pastor of our church, many ladies who have had to care and look after her as she got older, extended family members, and many others.
However, the greatest impact she had was on me. From her I learned empathy for others. I learned to see the pure love of the Lord reflected in her. I remember being called a “retard” because she was my sister, but I always loved her and as a child dealt with such teasing the best way a young boy could.
Eventually, as an adult, I became a special education teacher, knowing that I could make a difference in the lives of not only my students, but their families as well. It means so much to have a teacher that has seen such handicaps in their own lives.
In August of 2001, my youngest son, Kevin was born. I knew from the beginning that something was wrong. He could not ever get comfortable or be comforted. He could not look me in the eye. He did not speak more than a few words by the time he was 3, and he was lost in his own world for most of the time. I suspected Autism, but the Dr. continued to say he as only behind developmentally delayed. I remember losing it one day. Yelling at him, begging him to speak to me, to let me know he understood that I was his father. That I loved him. Finally, he was diagnosed as a high functioning autistic. My wife read many books and developed a plan of action. We placed him on the gluten free/casein free diet and used some behavior modification techniques with him. Miraculously, and I do believe it was a miracle, Kevin began talking in days, and stopped many autistic behaviors like hand flapping and screaming underneath tables at school. Everyone saw and were amazed at the difference.
What do these two stories have in common? Faith in God, familial love, and perseverance.
My name is Ed Wetterman and the title of this talk is Perseverance.
What is perseverance?
To persevere may be defined as “continuing with an undertaking in spite of difficulty, opposition, or discouragement. To remain steadfast in purpose.
How can we persevere in the Christian life? We must feed on spiritual food to grow, develop, and function as Christians. We must persevere in the life of grace. Because we have shared in the Christian banquet, we see the need for a continued diet of God’s grace. We must learn how to live in God’s grace and keep it in our daily lives.
A better life is possible. The treasure of a life lived in grace is ours to have. Matthew 13:45-46 compares the “life of grace to the pearl of great price.” It takes effort on our part to receive and maintain that life in grace. Christians cannot live in a vacuum, but must maintain a relationship with God and others. To persevere involves maintaining contact with Christ and contact with other Christians.
How can we maintain contact with Christ? We do this through prayer, meditation, the sacraments, and the living Word. Total security comes from encountering Christ, surrendering to His will, and accepting the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. This is a life-long process, achieved through perseverance and the hard work of remaining open to God’s persistent love. However, there is a difference between the feeling of security and the state of being secure. Only that which is absolute can give absolute security. We, as Christians, have that through Jesus Christ. He is the source of our eternal life (John 15: 1-11). In a personal relationship with Jesus Christ we strengthen the life of God in us. It is by His power, His love, His Holy Spirit that we may persevere and follow His will for our lives.
How can we maintain contact with other Christians? First, we do this by being active in our Church, being Hands reaching out, being His feet willing to go where is needed and to spread the Good News that Jesus lived and died so we may have eternal life in grace. Secondly, in the Emmaus movement, we do this by attending group reunions. Group reunions are a way we help each other live in grace. The groups provide mutual support, encouragement, and accountability. We need mutual Christian-centered sharing. As Christian men we are faced with so much in our daily lives, be it alcohol, sex, or some other addiction or idol, as well as those dark days when those we love are suffering, lost, or in pain. We need to fellowship with others to grow in our understanding and to gain strength to face the difficulties in our lives.
No battle is ever won without cost. The more valuable the prize, the more costly the effort to achieve it. The weekly reunion group meeting is the premium we pay to persevere as disciples.
My accountability group has supported me many times when I have faltered and failed, and there is a lot of wisdom and unconditional love in their words. Perseverance should be our aim, to help one another continue the journey in the life of grace.
Finally and most importantly, stay connected in your local church. Your church is the primary Christian Community in your life. The Emmaus activities are meant to supplement and enliven, never to replace, your local Church.
A few years ago, I attended Walk 60 as a Pilgrim. That Thursday night, I feared that I had been dropped off in some kind of cult and thought of how I might escape. By Saturday night my Christian life had forever been changed. I have the treasure of God’s grace. I have a personal relationship with Him! I have worked several teams as Assistant Table Leader, Table Leader, Assistant Lay Director, Outside team Coordinator, in the kitchens, and on the Brazos Valley Board of Directors. It has been a most worthwhile journey. My understanding of God’s love, that great gift of Grace, came from my Walk and service. However, it was never me. I never felt so inadequate as when I was chosen to be Lay Director for this Walk. But one of my reunion group said to me, “God doesn’t chose the equipped, he equips the chosen.” That’s a fact, my friends.
Keep the love flowing through friendship and association with fellow seekers; participate in a group reunion and in your local church.
As for my sister, Stephanie, she is now 47 years old, and the pure love she and others like her radiate, are lessons for us all. I have had her caretakers tell me about how she continues to astonish them and how her simple smile can help them through a difficult day.
Stephanie has been one of the greatest influences on my life. Would I be the person I am today without her? Because of her I became a teacher. Because of her I know empathy and understanding for those who live daily with various ailments and disabilities.
As for Kevin, my son, he is a smart, talkative, fun-loving boy who has recently started the 5th grade in regular classes. He loves everyone, and my favorite memory was when he asked me to go to the altar to pray with him one day at my church.
I am blessed.