“Jimmy!” My words pierced the silence.
Hot tears began to roll down my cheeks. Deep sobs began to shake my body. The humiliation terrified me. I tried everything to prevent it. I crossed my legs, uttered psychological babble, prayed relentlessly, and pondered happy thoughts. I flopped like a fish out of water, squirming around to ward off what I knew to be the inevitable. My efforts did not suffice. To my demise, diarrhea exploded throughout the insides of my sleeping bag. My bowels, like firecrackers resounding, left nothing but filth to wallow in.
The struggle seized me with fear, put me further into seclusion, and locked me into a world of my own. Would anybody ever understand my brokenness? Clearly than ever before, I wanted to be somebody else. After all, who was I in this feeble, debilitating shell of a man? What was in store for my future? I stared into the darkness feeling utterly alone.
It had been a glorious day. Lake Shasta looked smooth as glass against the rustic orange, reddish hue of the dusk. Our two houseboats sat anchored upon the shores. The stars now painted the skies. The dim moonlight shined through the window. The crickets strummed an ambiance of stillness. The gentle wake slapped up against the hollow sides of pontoons.
Jimmy lay tucked away in a corner oblivious. It was 3 a.m. He wasn’t stirring. His deep sleep, among other things, was something I envied. Jimmy had known me since the 6th grade and had witnessed the progression of my muscle and nerve disease. Regardless, how could I tell him what happened? Would he think of me differently? My soul screamed rejection. My self-worth had already been tarnished, but now the pulsating loudness of self-condemnation continued to rip my spirit into two. Why had I agreed to go on this trip? Why didn’t I just stay at home?
It was a houseboat trip for high school seniors. As a youth group, it would be our last. We sat for hours sharing heart felt stories, laughing one moment, while crying the next. For me to look into their eyes, it was a group who had seen me in my darkest of hours. It would be difficult to part ways. The tears I had already shed at the mention of growing apart became paralyzing. Some of them were venturing off to college and moving in different directions. I, on the other hand, did not have that possibility.
“Jimmy!” I ventured again with a bit more urgency in my tone.
It seemed like forever. And then…a beacon of hope registered by a confident whisper. Jimmy’s voice was slurred and groggy from being awakened. He called back. My cue had come. I stumbled upon what seemed to be eternity. Jimmy was my rescue. And yet, I thought twice about uttering anything. How was he going to deal with this? Was it my pride making my comatose? Did shame play a role? Captive to a wheelchair by this point, I already felt victimized by the clutches of despair. This night only added fuel to the fire.
“Jimmy, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I…had a…an accident,” I managed to muster through intermittent sobs. The weight of emotion expressed in each syllable was a tumultuous wave crashing down, hitting the core of my being.
His voice rang with the assurance that everything was going to be fine. Jimmy and I were the only ones sleeping in the kitchen area of the houseboat. Everybody else slept up on the top deck outside, or on the front of the boat. It must have been the intensity of my alarm that sprung Jimmy into action. The realization for my emancipation came when I faintly heard his footsteps, barely making out his silhouette against the backdrop of a pale-lit moon. He walked to the front of the houseboat where my youth pastor, Rich, lay sleeping.
“Rich? Hey Rich! Rich…” Jimmy nudged a shoulder. “Rich!”
“Jimmy? What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Rich, it’s Chris! He had an accident. He’s not doing well. He is in there crying. He’s in a fit of rage.”
“I’ll take care of it. Jimmy, thank you.” Rich assumed the fatherly role. “You can go back to bed.”
“No!” Jimmy countered. “I want to help!”
“Do you realize what you are saying? Jimmy, I appreciate your heart. I like your attitude. However, I don’t think you will be able to handle it. I have washed Chris several times and it is not a pretty picture. It’s gross. It stinks. It’s going to be difficult for you. It won’t be easy.”
Jimmy never wavered. After a few minutes elapsed, he and Rich brought in my wheelchair. The stench brewing from within the confines of my sleeping bag rushed into open air when the top layer was peeled back. Inhaling that lingering stagnant smell was more than I could bear. I gasped like a person struggling for oxygen. They scooped me out of my soiled sleeping bag and wheeled me until we reached the door of a tiny bathroom. They dragged me from that point towards the shower stall with my limp legs trailing behind. And it was Jimmy, my peer, who volunteered to get into the shower with me to clean me up.
My head hung low. Words came up empty. A friend my age was washing me. I couldn’t look at him in the face. My lifeless body was propped against the shower wall with hands holding me up. Blanketed in mire so profuse, my legs were covered in slimy warmth, a soupy consistency that oozed down my sides. Jimmy’s nose never flinched. He did not say anything, yet his actions spoke louder than any megaphone could ever convey.
“Thank you!” they said as they put me into a clean sleeping bag later that night.
“It was a privilege to clean you up.”
I could not decipher the meaning behind their words. It countered anything but a privilege. I was stunned and in awe at such loyalty, love. I saw Jesus in their actions. It was a beautiful post-it note that I knew would serve as a constant reminder. I, indeed, would reference it in the days, months, and years that followed. My life transformed. It reiterated that I was loved. God would be faithful.