Today, I’d like to introduce you to two people.
Meet Parvin and Nathaniel.
One of them is real. One of them isn’t. But they’ve both been through something most people don’t even consider.
left her home, her family, her friends when she was forced outside the wall surrounding her country because she was different. On the other side of the wall, she was expected to die—but she defied expectations and survived. Thrived, actually, and began to change the lives of those around her, because in her narrow escape from death, she understood what it truly meant to live. And she learned about this God-man named Jesus, who defied death himself, and gave everyone a chance to live forever. However, the only way for her to escape the terrors on the other side of the wall, was for Parvin to give up a part of herself. She had to lose her arm, right above the wrist. Without a hand, she had to learn anew how to do so many things most of us take for granted, or survive without them. She constantly battled her own doubts and despair.
Grew up in the middle of the jungle. In an extremely remote tribal village, with no electricity or roads. When he was only a few years old, Nathaniel’s family had to leave the village where his extended family, his friends, his whole world was because his father knew something was happening in a nearby village. He’d heard that there was a strange man who’d come there, telling of this Jesus person. Nathaniel’s family walked for days to get to the neighboring tribe, and spent years learning all they could about this God-man. Then, when Nathaniel was about twelve, his family moved back to the village of his birth, so that they could tell their own people about the God who sent his own son to give his life for them. One day, Nathaniel was playing with his friends, and they were watching a tractor—this strange new device that was used to cut the grass on their makeshift airstrip. Nathaniel’s father told him not to get too close—but Nathaniel was too excited. Too curious. In a horrible accident, Nathaniel was thrown under the slasher deck of the tractor, the blade raking across his body. He was rushed by airplane to the nearest hospital—his first time ever flying, let alone leaving his remote village. And even though the doctors did their best, they had to amputate Nathaniel’s leg. Now, this little boy would never be able to run, or hunt, or swim like all of his friends did. Without the necessary resources to give prosthetic leg, Nathaniel would have to learn anew to do so many things most of us take for granted, or survive without them. He’d constantly battle his own doubts and despair.
WHO THEY ARE
As you’ve probably guessed, Nathaniel is a real boy. His family came to Siawi when he was only a few years old, the tribe where my family and I spent sixteen years learning the language and bringing them the hope of the God-man. Only a few months ago Nathaniel lost his leg. At that time, we had already moved out of the tribe, and could only try to help from a distance. Several of our missionary friends checked in on Nathaniel and his father, Malachai. My Grandparents, who work with a mission shipping agency, were even able to send a hand-cranked wheelchair to Nathaniel recently. Pictured is Nathaniel right after the amputation, in the hospital, with his dad and a missionary friend–look at that huge smile!
Parvin is a fiction character created by Nadine Brandes, the heroine in her Out Of Time series. To be honest, when I first read of Parvin losing her arm in the first book, and the continued effects into the second book, A TIME TO SPEAK, I didn’t really get it. I didn’t understand why Nadine would place a character in her story who had such a massive, physical loss. I hurt for the character, and knew it made sense for the sake of reality, that most people don’t come through a battle unscathed, but it still perplexed me. What was the point?
Why purposefully give a character a kind of handicap? Where was the hope, the good that came out of that?
WHY THE BROKEN?
I recently asked Nadine that very question. Her answer was astounding…
“I spent six years earning my Master’s Degree for speech therapy in college and then working with children, adults, teens, etc who all struggled with communication or speech on some level. I watched these people battle with broken communication. I watched them grow self-conscious because they knew others perceived them differently. My friend who had a stroke was treated as “less intelligent” because of his slurs. My friend with Asperger’s Syndrome was viewed as dangerous because he wore black and didn’t talk much, but he was actually one of the kindest teens I’d met who strove to protect his friend with Downs Syndrome from bullying. My friend with a stutter was considered “nervous” and was frequently interrupted because people lacked patience to hear him out, yet he’s one of the smartest men I know.
It goes on and on.
Since I was their therapist, I noticed when they were around me they felt understood. They knew that I knew their struggles with communication didn’t define them. And when they came to therapy they seemed more encouraged. More free from the judgment they encountered each day. Because someone was on their side, looking past the disability. And I wish the world could see these people — and any other person who is stigmatized — for their heart, and treat them as whole people. Because we are all broken in some way or another because we live in a broken world.
But when we focus on the heart instead of the brokenness, it frees us. It frees others. And that’s why I included physical disabilities and albino skin color, and different cultures. Because we can still be shalom in the midst of it all.
(Sorry for such a long winded answer. Can you tell I’m passionate about this?)”
I’m so glad for her long winded answer, aren’t you? 🙂
Although Parvin’s loss of a limb didn’t make me angry or disgusted, I continued to feel strangely sad about it. Why would a character, who trusted in a powerful God with all her heart, a God who promised shalom—peace—have to endure a loss so crippling? Why would she have to be so broken?
I think, in many ways, Parvin’s loss scared me because it hit too close to home. I’d heard of people will many different kinds of brokenness, and reading about her pain, made me question my own. Could He really bring shalom from these deep sufferings?
When I found out about Nathaniel’s accident a short time ago, I finally began to understand. To know why it is so important to show the bittersweet tragic alongside the courage and inspiration. Why we need to have characters who aren’t flawless. Who hurt. Who’ve lost. Who’s lives will never be the same. Who’ve learned to live in ways I’ve never had to.
It’s for Nathaniel. For people like him—and for people who know him. For me. For you. Because we all will be crippled, be hurt, be broken in one way or another. We will all have to learn to see the world through new eyes. We will all have to find the strength to pick ourselves up—or, better yet, to cling to the arms of the One who allows everything, and uses each heartache for our good. Who can bring us perfect shalom in the middle of the chaos.
We must know of those who have lost, and yet somehow kept fighting. And eventually won—even if its not in the way we expected. It teaches us how to have courage, how to see every day and every breath as a gift. To appreciate everything we have, everything we can do. And to make a difference with our differences. Because without our brokenness, we could never see the need for shalom. For a savior who can mend us, hold us. Who can show us a deeper healing far more important than any outward perfection. Our broken pieces are what will let His light shine through.
So, thank you, Nathaniel, for being one of the bravest little boys I know. And constantly inspiring me to be courageous.
And thank you, Nadine, for being one of the bravest authors I know. For not being afraid to Speak, and for inspiring me to speak out, too. To have courage. And to trust that no matter what happens, His shalom will carry us. Every broken part of us.
What about you? What ways have you seen your differences or the differences of others given you courage? Made you stronger? Helped you to speak? Comment below!