by Dennis Rainey
Samuel was always the natural athlete in our family. Since I had played junior-college basketball and baseball, I hoped that our son might follow in my footsteps.
As a child, Samuel played Little League ball for a couple of years with older boys and did well. But when he turned thirteen, he really began to excel in tennis. We loved attending his matches and tournaments. We drove hundreds of miles, taking him all over the state to play singles and doubles in tournaments. He brought home trophies and ribbons, and he once battled the number-one player in the state in his age group to match point before losing in a tiebreaker.
Samuel was ranked seventh in the state when his game began to slide. His coach didn’t understand why he wasn’t getting to balls that earlier he had reached with ease. Thinking it might be his shoes, we took him to an orthopedic specialist for a proper fitting. The problem only got worse.
After Samuel’s fourteenth birthday, we took the entire family to a FamilyLife marriage conference in Dallas. That weekend we noticed that Samuel wasn’t keeping up with the rest of us as we walked to dinner and later when we hurried to catch a plane at the airport.
The following Monday morning we went to a doctor’s office with Samuel and were soon numb with disbelief as the neurologist announced, “Your son has a form of muscular dystrophy. He will most likely never be confined to a wheelchair, but he will never run again. His days of tennis and sports are over.” Months later a trip to the Mayo Clinic confirmed the earlier diagnosis.
Although Samuel’s disease was not life threatening, we felt as though a dream had died for a young man and his parents.
The next four months were tough because Samuel refused to quit tennis. Most matches he tripped and fell facedown on the asphalt, losing in straight sets. Many of his opponents, who had no way of knowing whatwas going on, mocked and laughed at him. (He and a partner did win a doubles tournament once, with a miraculous come-from-behind victory.)
Finally, Samuel hung up his tennis racket, admitting that his playing days were over.
Late one afternoon as I was driving Samuel home from a doctor visit, we were talking about what his disease meant to him as a young man. I was struggling to keep my emotions composed while trying to comfort him. I was battling my own feelings about a fourteen-year-old boy who would never field grounders again. Never play basketball with his brother. Never jog with his dad.
But Samuel ended up comforting me.
In the twilight of late afternoon, he turned to me and with a boyish grin said,
“Well, Dad, I guess you don’t need legs to serve God.”
I couldn’t talk. As I brushed away a stream of tears, all I could do was reach across the seat and give him a hug.
Samuel is not perfect. He’s still spreading his wings and, like all of us, learning constantly what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
But riding in the car with me that afternoon, he showed me that he was a young man whose identity went far beyond tennis, whose character was weathering a stiff challenge, whose relationship with God and family was sustaining him, and whose mission for God transcended any physical limitations he would face in his lifetime.
I had hoped that Samuel would follow in my athletic footsteps. I was delighted to realize that he was choosing a far more meaningful path.
Is anything more difficult for a parent than watching a son or daughter go through pain, whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual, or a combination of the three? You want desperately to take away the hurt, yet there is nothing you can do. Or is there?
It’s true that many of life’s difficult moments can’t be avoided. Times of crisis are inevitable. But you can equip your children to face the hardships to come. It’s the most important task you’ll ever undertake.