A couple of years ago, I had fallen into a slump. I was about six months out from my most incredible overseas experience to date, and had seen the Lord move in unbelievable ways.
But I had come home to a church environment that seemed less than interested to hear about what God was doing in my heart and in my life. My bitterness towards the institution of the Body of Christ was palpable, and I started to push myself away from the traditions of my youth.
I questioned the beliefs I had once valued so dearly. I severed relationships with people who had become a discouragement. I quit writing about the things that convicted me.
That’s when I get a Facebook message from a man named Jeff York.
The message wasn’t long. It wasn’t complicated. It was sweet, simple, and pointed.
I’m ready for you to blog again.
I had never met the man. I didn’t know anything about him, other than a few pictures I had seen.
I played along, anyway.
Hi, Jeff! Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll blog again this week just for you.
So I did. I pulled my little fingers to the keyboard and hashed out my thoughts and frustrations on a web address for anyone to see.
And he read it. And supported it. And responded in true Jeff York form.
Remember this – the most effective tool the devil has is discouragement. He can use it to tear down Christians like you with a thousand cuts.
Over the next year, as I worked through much of my religious baggage through blogging, Jeff read every word I wrote. He encouraged me to push through when I felt completely uninspired. He connected me with new readers all over the country. He forced me to accept a gift I wasn’t initially sure was God-given.
I was thrown off by his incredible amount of kindness.
Who would invest so much time in a young writer he had never met? Who would go out of his way to encourage a stranger? Who would give so much energy to following a person’s faith walk?
I had to know who this man was.
So last Christmas, during my family holiday, I took my first trip to meet this Jeff guy.
What I found humbled me to the point of tears.
Jeff was standing in his bedroom, leaning over a desk cushioned by several pillows. He wasn’t relaxing, though. He was stuck there.
He told me about his condition.
About how he suffers from a disease called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (Stone Man Syndrome). About how he had to drop out of school because he could no longer perform the basic duties of a student. About how his muscles calcify any time he’s injured, or any time the disease flares up.
About how he wasn’t expected to live past his teen years—maybe his early twenties. But now he’s 54 years old and frozen in place…a human statue…every day confined to the same four walls.
About how he stands at his desk for twelve hours and then is helped to the bed to lie on his side for twelve hours. About how his jaw is locked and his nutrition must come through a straw. About how he can no longer go where he wants because riding in a car is next to impossible.
AND about how he refuses to let any of this stop him from living a life sold out for Jesus.
About how he is thankful for the internet, because it keeps him connected to his church. About how he loves using Facebook to encourage. About how he stands at his desk each day, typing away with the back of his knuckles, fighting to stay involved in the lives of people.
About how even in his limited capacity, he hopes he can still have influence.
I had seen a man’s stature before I saw his heart. And I have been forever changed because of this tragic mistake of humanistic perception.
I have to tell you now, Jeff. YOU STILL HAVE SO MUCH INFLUENCE.
Those of us who know you are just in awe of your perseverance and faith. We take note of your attitude, and fail miserably to reproduce it in our own lives. We are amazed, inspired, and motivated by your unwavering positivity and indescribable strength.
We see you, Jeff, as a true man of God. One who has not blamed the Creator for your quality of life, but rejoices that the Creator has allowed you to improve others’ quality of life.
The ultimate servant.
The ultimate model.
We don’t love you because your body is tangled. We don’t visit you because we feel sorry for you.
We come to you because you teach us. You disciple us. You correct us.
We take a seat in the room with you because, really, we all wish we were more like you.
You fill our cups. You make us brave. You push us on in the race of life.
My fear is that sometimes we wait until people are no longer with us before we talk about how much they mean to us. We fail to celebrate the beautiful people they are while we can still shower them with our love.
Today is Jeff’s birthday, so could you help me out? Let’s flood his Facebook (Jeff York), Twitter (@chewallabc), and Instagram (@chewalla60) accounts with the stories of why we love him. You can leave him a message in the comments below, too!
Every day that he is blessed with health is a day we all reap the benefits of his service to the Kingdom.
Are you just now meeting Jeff? Share his story! Maybe someone else needs to hear about a man who refuses to make excuses to walk a life of faith.
Thank you, Jeff, for encouraging me constantly to use this space to glorify the Maker. You have taught me so much, and I love you lots.