A few years ago, I met a young man named Joe. Joe is one of my best friend’s nephews, and we went to a Toby Keith concert together. Joe loves country, and Doreen (my friend) asked him to come with us seeing as we had an extra ticket. She said to me, “I can’t wait for you to meet Joe. He’s my hero.” It was a fun night, but I didn’t fully understand her “hero” comment . Then last spring, I had the opportunity to work with Joe on a project, and got to know him as a person, and not just as “Doreen’s nephew”. It changed my life, and Joe is pretty much my hero now, too.
The next three blogs are about that experience. Yesterday I was talking to my sister about how I tend to jump first, and ask questions later, and that when I buy in, it’s at a dead run. At jump time, I usually don’t realize I am making a life changing decision. Getting married, having kids, giving my life to Christ, changing jobs, signing up to run a half marathon… Doreen says it’s because I jump in heart first, not head first, and I think that is a pretty good description. My project with Joe was exactly one of those times.
On the outside it seemed pretty straight forward. Joe and I were going to run the Bellin 10K together with a couple of his other friends for a really good cause. Before I get into that, though, I want to tell you a bit about Joe.
Like many of us in Northeast Wisconsin, Joe lives in a home town community within minutes of family and friends. He has a mom, dad, step-dad, two sisters, a brother, and a whole slew of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews-all of whom he loves and they, of course, love him right back.
Joe has a best friend yellow lab named Tyson and a best friend human being named Tyler.
Joe’s favorite food is wings, and he also won’t turn his nose up at Butterfingers, ice cream, pizza, and anything his Grandma Marge whips up (I have been blessed with sampling some of Grandma Marge’s culinary delights. God sure loved me that day!).
Like a lot of men, Joe has an unhealthy relationship with the remote control. Did you know the average American spends 5 hours a day watching TV? Joe spends his 5 hours with Judge Judy, Pat Sajak and the boys from the Nerd Show (The Big Bang Theory for those of you not in the “know”). He is also a diehard WWE fan, catching WWE Raw every Monday and WWE Smackdown every Friday , and will shell out for the Pay Per View specials as well as documentaries. (On a side note – it’s kind of fun to say the word “Smackdown”. I’M GONNA PUT THE SMACKDOWN ON YOU, BRO!)
Seeing as Joe always has a smile on his face, it’s only fitting that his favorite types of movies are comedies. He likes silly humor along the lines of Austin Powers, Dumb and Dumber, and Ace Ventura, but the Rush Hour series, The Hangover and Ted are his current top picks.
As I said in the beginning of my post, Joe is a country boy at heart. Shuffle his iPod and you’ll get a mix of Toby Keith, Zac Brown Band, Bryan Adams, Brad Paisley, Sugarland, Dierks Bentley, Darryl Worley and even a little Bon Jovi for good measure. Bon Jovi isn’t country, but hey – a little Bon Jovi on anyones iPod is a good thing, right? Plus he’s cute. Not that Joe cares. Just sayin’ though…
When I asked Joe what his favorite books were, I figured he would be like a lot of guys, mostly reading internet articles or magazines. But he surprised me by coming back with a couple of unexpected titles: Max Lucado’s Outlive Your Life and Nick Vujicic’s Life Without Limbs.
Joe loves to write, and has aspirations of becoming a journalist. He has written for his hometown newspaper, and feels his strength lies in freelance.
Joe has a couple of bad ass tattoos. A ginormous one on his back, and a smaller one on his arm.
Joe would like to travel someday, and the first place on the list to visit is Italy. He and his family talk about going often, but like most of us, his cash flow doesn’t have Italy in the budget. Knowing Joe, he will get there someday, though.
Taken all together, Joe seems like an ordinary guy, living in an ordinary town, with an ordinary family. Pretty much just like the rest of us. So why am I focusing on Joe? Why the ordinary? I did so because I left out one important detail about Joe. Joe has cerebral palsy.
Like many people with disabilities, Joe has lived his life in the shadow of what he can’t do and has fought hard for normalcy in his life. It’s sad and frustrating to Joe that some people can’t see past the wheelchair to the person sitting in it. He refuses to be victimized by his circumstances and strives daily to make the most of his life. In fact, even the word “disabled” bugs Joe. “I’m differently-abled, not disabled,” he told me. Hey, Joe – me too! The world shudders at the thought of Sue The Brain Surgeon. God knew what he was doing when he put a pen in my hand, and not a scalpel, and He knew what He was doing when He created Joe, too.
That’s why it was important for me to spend this first post telling you how much Joe is just like the next guy. I wanted you to see him as a living, breathing, feeling, thinking, loving, worthy, person – with friends, family, ambitions and desires, and not defined by the first impression you may have gotten if I had introduced him as a young man with cerebral palsy.
So what about this ordinary guy? This “average Joe”? What makes the ordinary extraordinary? What is it about Joe that changed my life and reminded me to be true to myself? Check back with me next week for the rest of the story!