I remember the first time I met JD. His real name was Jack Douglas Rader, but everybody called him JD.
I was attending my first ever "handgun silhouette" target match. That is a form of target shooting that involves using .44 magnums and other even more powerful handguns to try to knock over steel targets at ridiculous distances for a handgun. In this kind of competition, you need a "spotter" to stand or sit behind you to use a spotting scope or binoculars to tell you where your shot went when you miss. As a beginner you miss a lot. I was a beginner.
So, there I am at this target match, by myself, a stranger in a strange place. All up and down the firing line there are very loud noises coming from the .44 magnums and such, and I needed to find someone to be my spotter. I saw a group of people sitting on some benches under a shade awning, and walked over.
"Hi, this is my first match here, and I was wondering if there is anyone who would spot for me?"
They looked at me for a moment, sizing me up the way a group will check out a stranger who approaches them, then one fellow stood up. I say "stood up" because that’s what he did, but it was apparent that the process wasn’t easy for him. His right arm flopped around barely under control as he gyrated it to keep his balance, struggling to stand up on one good leg and one bad leg. I didn’t know what was wrong with him at that moment, but I soon learned that he had Cerebral Palsy.
"I’ll spot for you" he stammered. It was hard to understand him, because his speech was also slurred after the way CP does to its victims.
What was I to do? I needed a spotter—but this?Reluctantly I accepted his offer, mainly because it would have been rude to say "no thanks," not because I had any confidence that this apparition could actually help me.
An uncertain beginning, to be sure, but before I realized it, in just a few weeks, JD and I had become firm friends. He was quite a man. In many ways, a far better man than I was, except that I had the full use of my arms, legs and speech. I’d like to try, now, to introduce you to JD and help you come to understand why he was so special.
The first thing anyone would notice about JD was the fact of his Cerebral Palsy. You couldn’t miss it. His right arm, mainly his hand, was all twisted, and barely under control. His right leg was similarly affected, but he could walk on it, albeit slowly and with a heavy limp. He had to have a special shoe to fit his foot and the way the foot made a funny angle with the ground.
Cerebral palsy is what is called a "congenital" disease. That means it is caused by some sort of complication during gestation or birth. It is not hereditary, and it is not contagious. For JD, it was not anything to be ashamed of, but it was a da*n nuisance.
Cerebral palsy does not affect the brain, either. JD’s mind was sharp and keen. He had a degree in Education, with a minor in Geology and a Masters in Spanish. He was Phi Beta Kappa. It had been his plan to be a school teacher, but that dream vanished like a vapor to the prejudices of school hiring practices that seemed to think that a teacher with a speech impairment would not be effective because some students would have a hard time understanding them.
For those who have observed handicapped people, JD’s academic accomplishments would not be that surprising. When circumstances make physical activity difficult, an energetic person will often find outlets for their energy elsewhere, such as in their studies, and this had been the case with JD. He was also a fair hand with a paintbrush and an artist’s palette. Several of his paintings decorated his home, and they were a far sight better than anything you’ll find at those "starving artists" sales.
But JD wasn’t your ordinary "physically challenged" person. He loved the outdoors and related activities, and he was one of the most avid outdoorsmen I’ve ever met. Not just the target shooting that brought me into contact with him, but fishing, hunting and wilderness backpacking.
At first JD was a better long-range shot than I.Eventually I surpassed him by a fair amount, but it took a lot of hard practice. JD practiced constantly – almost every day when he could. He hated cold weather and to be cold, but I remember being out with him on one of the rare snow days around our area – practicing.
JD wasn’t one to let his own comfort or convenience, or lack of either, stand between him and a goal he had set. Today, when I think of JD and his practicing, I’m reminded of the admonitions of Paul, and Peter:
Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble. (2 Peter 1:10 [NKJV])
You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 2:3 [NKJV])
He was also a better hunter than I’ll ever be.He was more patient, more tireless, more of a "woodsman". He preferred a pistol to a rifle because he could manage the pistol easily with one hand, but a rifle required the help of his uncooperative right arm. But I remember opening day one year when JD was determined to try out an antique Sharps rifle he had bought the previous summer.
Very early in my own hunt, I heard a shot from the direction of where I knew JD was hunting. I figured he had at least seen a decent size deer, and hoped he had managed that rifle that was so hard for him to deal with well enough to bring home the meat. When I got back to our cabin around mid morning (empty handed), I fully expected to see JD there with a deer hung up on our skinning tree, and just about finished with the job, but there was no sign of him.
By noon, we were getting worried. No JD. This was very unusual for him, because if there was one thing he hated more than the cold, it was missing lunch. Finally, around 1 o’clock that afternoon he came in. Empty handed. Or so we thought when we first saw him.
JD was anything but empty handed, as we soon learned. He had come back for help getting his deer out of the ravine where he finally found it. As JD told it, the deer had dropped the instant he shot, but then jumped up and ran off. JD had done what any true hunter will do – he trailed that deer into terrain that the fittest of us had trouble with, and stuck with it until he found it.
It took all 4 of us "able bodied" men to get that deer out of there. It was the biggest buck that had been taken on that lease in years. A lot of people would have given up finding that deer, but not JD. When I think back on that aspect of JD, I’m again reminded of some things about how I should be conducting my own Christian life.
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:9 [NKJV])
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.. . . how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. (Hebrews 2:1,3 [NKJV])
As much as I enjoy reflecting on the times JD and I spent target shooting and hunting, the times I remember with the greatest fondness are our camping and backpacking trips. I had never even thought about going backpacking, but JD soon convinced me to try it. After one night in a tent pitched on the edge of a meadow in the Sawtooth wilderness in Idaho, waking up in the morning to find deer in the meadow, I was hooked.
JD was no RV camper. No candy campgrounds for him. He wanted the wildest places where there would be the fewest people. That meant rough trails, difficult terrain, and, for JD, frequent falls. His physical handicap made him unstable on his feet even on flat ground. An escalator was almost beyond his capability. A small rock, or even a pebble on the trail would turn his boot, and down he would go.
By this time we were close enough friends that we began to joke about it. "Well JD, it’s been about another half mile now. You about ready to fall again?" And sure enough, some little slight, careless step and down he’d go. He seldom asked for help at those times, but he always got up. He always got up.
He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. Revelation 21:7 (NKJV)
We almost lost touch after I was called into the church. The new life to which I had been called somehow didn’t leave time for the activities we had shared. But God provided for JD though, by sending him a wife who shared many of his tastes – especially backpacking and the outdoors. He was married a few months before I was baptized. Then he was my "Best Man" at my wedding, but after that we drifted apart.
JD was killed in a car accident a few years later – returning from a wilderness camping trip to Alaska, one of the things we had talked many times about doing together some year.
When we are called, we are given a new nature that wants to obey God and grow in grace and knowledge. But all of us are handicapped. We have our own CP – Carnal Personalities. Our human nature. When faced with some of my own spiritual challenges, I sometimes think back on JD, and I wonder how he would have dealt with them.
I still remember JD.Out practicing in the snow.Trudging into our hunting cabin to ask us to come help carry out that big buck. Falling and always getting up. Overcoming.