Nick Vujicic’s mother was 25 when she became pregnant with him. She had been a midwife and worked as a pediatric nurse in the delivery room where she cared for hundreds of mothers and their babies. She knew what she had to do while she was pregnant, watched her diet, was cautious about medications, and did not consume alcohol, aspirin, or any other pain killers. She went to the best doctors and they assured her everything was going well.
But on December 4, 1982, as Nick was being delivered, something wasn’t right. “My dad recalled that his head was next to my mom’s as I was being born. When he saw my shoulder, he went pale. He was hoping my mom didn’t see me, because he saw that I had no right arm. My dad had to leave the room; he couldn’t believe what he saw.”
His mother asked, “Is my baby all right?” There was silence. Instead of giving him to her to hold, they summoned a pediatrician and moved off to the opposite corner, examining him and conferring with each other. When his mother heard a big healthy baby scream, she was relieved.
Then the nurses and doctors quickly wrapped him up. But his mother, who had participated in hundreds of deliveries as a nurse, knew something was very wrong.
“What is it? What’s wrong with my baby?” She demanded. Her doctor would not answer first, but when she insisted, he replied, “Phocomelia”. Because of her background, she knew what it meant. She simply could not accept it was true.
His stunned father was outside, wondering whether he had seen what he thought he saw. When the pediatrician came out to speak to him, he cried out, “My son, he has no right arm!” The doctor said, “No, your son has no arms or legs”.
Nick recalled, “My mother was a nurse and she did everything right during pregnancy but she still blamed herself. My father was a pastor, and the whole church was mourning, wondering, ‘Why would God let the pastor’s son be born that way?’ My mom, at first, she didn’t want to hold me. She didn’t want to breastfeed me. She just felt very uncomfortable for the first four months. It took them quite a while before they could trust in God that He didn’t make a mistake – that He didn’t forget them or me.”
Nick was one of the first disabled children integrated into mainstream school. He learned to write using the two toes on his left foot. During his school years, Nick had to deal with plenty of bullying, depression, and internal questions as to why he was so different. He felt alone and often wondered what his purpose was in life, or if there was any purpose at all.
Depression is 2 to 10 times more common in individuals with disabilities. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24 in the United States, and the 2nd leading cause in Canada. The prevalence of depression and potential suicide is higher among children with disabilities than among the general school population.
When Nick was 8 years old he started contemplating suicide.
“I challenged God. I said, ‘God, I know that I’m a sinner. I know I won’t probably have peace until You’re in my heart. But I will not let You in my heart until You answer me, why? Why did you take my arms and legs? Why didn’t You give me what everybody else has? God, until You answer me that question, I will not serve You.’”
“I wanted to end it. If God wasn’t going to end my pain, I was going to end it myself. I tried to drown myself in a bathtub with four inches of water. I told my mom and dad, ‘I’m just going to relax in the bathtub. Can you put me in the bathtub?’ I turned over a couple of times to see if I could do it. I couldn’t. The thought that stopped me from going through with it was the love for my parents. I loved them so much, and all they did was love me. I pictured my funeral. I pictured my parents, and all I saw was guilt on their shoulders that they couldn’t have done more.”
Nick’s parents’ greatest gift to him was their love — “It was so hard for them but right from the start they did their best to make me independent.”
After all, how could he drown himself, when it was his dad who put him in the water at 18 months and gave him the courage to swim?
That would be the last time Nick would attempt suicide.
Love gives wings to a boy with no limbs
9000 miles away in Ukraine, life unfolded differently for a boy named Lyosha. Like Nick, he was born without limbs. Unlike Nick, his mother abandoned him at the maternity hospital. The 9 months he had in his mother’s womb was the only time he shared with her. It was the last time he heard her voice or felt her heartbeat, and the last time he was embraced by her warmth.
After he was born, there was nothing to welcome him but cold, white, walls.
Like Nick’s parents, Lyosha’s mother experienced the same fright as her limbless baby appeared from inside her. But unlike Nick’s parents, she envisioned a nightmare she could not accept. Was this baby hers? How could she love a boy with no limbs? She could not afford it. She did not want to become the social outcast. She could not tie herself with all this. She was just a woman after all, not a saint.
Many children with disabilities in Ukraine are considered a curse and abandoned at birth. They are banished to institutions in the countryside, written-off as outcasts with no future in society.
And there – the unusually white walls of the maternity hospital. Lyosha lay there in bed just like millions of newborns do after they are born. He didn’t realize he was different. He only wanted what every baby wants: Mother… Mommy! Where are you?
Lyosha is now ten years old. His carers at the orphanage speak proudly of him, “He’s got a fighting spirit. No legs and no arms, but he holds his own.”
He grew up in a tough environment where the weak are bullied. He had to be tough — he learned to stand up for himself and watch his own back. He’s vocal and fiercely independent. He’s proud of the fact that he makes his own bed and won’t let the carers help him. He observes others and moves with determination and focus, always learning, problem-solving and stubbornly refuses to accept that he can’t do things on his own.
The nurses don’t treat him any differently. And he prefers it that way. They say, “No running with scissors!” Not a problem for Lyosha — he doesn’t have legs…
Jane George, a visiting volunteer, couldn’t believe one moment she witnessed in the kitchen, “A caregiver had brought them fruit tea — boiling hot fruit tea in a glass mug. They simply handed it to him. It was steaming hot, I cringed as it got passed to Lyosha… for real… you’re giving it to him to deal with independently!”
“He edged the boiling hot liquid towards himself and then drank it… by himself! My woolly hat flew from the building, he blew my mind, really I do not think this child ever thinks he can’t do things, you can see him working out ‘how to’ all the time!”
Lyosha didn’t have a mother, but he was cared for by the women at the orphanage… women who taught him to be independent. Women like Raisa.
Love can come from a stranger
Raisa is one of the newest carers at the new children’s home. She has two children — a 17-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter. Her daughter studies law in Berdyansk, where the children often make short trips to. Her son left for school last year. Her husband works as a tractor driver. According to her application, she is a seamstress. She doesn’t have free time because she has to care for her cow, geese, pigs and other animals. She also works on her big vegetable garden, which feeds her family and herself.
Raisa wouldn’t have a job caring for the children at Kalinovka, if not for people like Corbett in Illinois, USA. Corbett was the first sponsor in our “Guardian Angel” program, which funds caregivers for the children in their new home.
Love knows no boundaries
In 2009, Corbett and Josh Burick welcomed their first child into the world. Syrus was an
affectionate and spirited little guy with a gleam in his eye and an extra chromosome in his
genes. Though initially devastated by his diagnosis of Down syndrome, it was that very
diagnosis that compelled them to welcome their second son, Vlad, home from Eastern
Europe two years later.
“It wasn’t till after Syrus was born that my husband and I found out that in other
countries, children with special needs are often immediately given up for adoption and
live out the rest of their lives in adult mental institutions. I couldn’t imagine this being the
life that our son Syrus would lead if he had been born somewhere else. It broke my heart
– we had to do something. So we set out on a crazy adventure that required a huge leap
of faith and a major trip to the other side of the world. Our little guy, Vlad, who also has
that extra chromosome, was due to be transferred to a mental institution last summer, so
we got to him just in time.”
“People ask me all the time what made us adopt a second child with special needs. I have
to laugh because in many ways, it had nothing to do with us choosing this path. It has
everything to do with God writing a better story than I ever could have. You see, both of
my parents died in 2007, only 70 days apart. I was in shock and hurting and could not
see any purpose in it. But it was that experience of losing both parents, that put me in a
spot where I not only grieved the loss I experienced, but I began to feel drawn to others
who had too. I had this sudden interest in the orphan because I could understand that
hole in your spirit that yearns for a mom and dad. And interestingly enough, in between
the deaths of my parents, in those 70 days, on the other side of the ocean, a little boy
named Vlad was born who God knew would be my son.
“I just find it so beautiful that in the midst of all the pain and heartbreak of losing my parents, that God was already starting Vlad’s story and we are lucky enough to be a part of it. It has been painful and incredible, full of great joy and not always easy. I had no idea that part of the purpose of losing my parents was to drastically move my life to intersect with this little abandoned boy with Down syndrome in Ukraine. Sounds crazy, right? And I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Love always finds a way
Nick Vujicic says, “I have a choice… to either be angry at God for what I don’t have, or be thankful for what I do have. My mom said, ‘Nick, God’s going to use you. I don’t know how. I don’t know when, but God’s going to use you.’ And those seeds started penetrating in my heart. That’s when I started seeing that there is no point in being complete on the outside when you’re broken on the inside. I found out that God can heal you without changing your circumstance.”
“I read John 9 at age 15, where a man was coming through a village — a blind man from birth. People asked, ‘Why was this man born that way?’ The answer was, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.'”
“This peace came over me. I felt like God answered my question that I’d been waiting for. The question was: Why? Why did you make me this way? The answer was: Do you trust Me? That’s the question. When you say yes to that question, nothing else matters. There was nothing else I could find. There was nothing else that could give me peace. I knew arms and legs wouldn’t give me peace anyway. I need to know the truth of who I am, why I’m here and where I’m going when I’m not here. I haven’t found that truth anywhere else.”
“It’s so hard to be strong when people constantly say, ‘You’re not good enough. Go away. We don’t want anything to do with you.’ In life, if you don’t know the truth, then you can’t be free, because then you’ll believe the lies are the truth. But once you realize the truth of who you are, then I’m not a man without arms and legs. I am a child of God.”
I believe if God doesn’t give you a miracle, you are a miracle of God for somebody else’s salvation.
“I thank God He didn’t answer my prayer when I was begging him for arms and legs at age eight. Because guess what? I have no arms and no legs, and He’s using me all around the world.”
“I want to look right to you and tell you that God loves you. He hasn’t forgotten your pain. He hasn’t forgotten your family. Maybe while you’re watching this interview, you’ve compared your sufferings to my suffering, and that’s not where hope is. Hope is when you compare your suffering to the infinite, immeasurable love and grace of God. Isaiah 40:31 says, ‘Those who wait upon the Lord, who renew their strength. They shall mount up on wings as eagles.’”
“I didn’t need my circumstance to change. I don’t need arms and legs. I’m flying, because I know God is holding me up.”
“Don’t give up on God, because God will not give up on you.”
You are a miracle
We are lied to by the media. Celebrities are worshipped as larger-than-life idols — glorified in TV and magazines for having the perfect life, perfect house, perfect car and perfect dog; flawless skin, slim waists, and no wrinkles or stretch marks. The media loves to lead us to believe that successful people are lucky, gifted, or heroic. Truth is, the world doesn’t change because extraordinary people do extraordinary things. Change happens when ordinary people do good things.
A wise man once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” (Can you guess who?) Each person in this story is an ordinary person stretched by life’s challenges, but who also had faith that things were going to work out, and found a way to do good anyway–
Nick, a disabled boy so depressed he almost ended his own life, has grown into a man who inspires millions. The orphans in Kalinovka now enjoy the love of another carer. And, children like Vlad have a forever home and loving family.
No matter what you’re going through in your life or how bad you think it is, if you believe in God, trust that God has a plan for you. Life is short, and whether you know it or not, the simple things you do (or simply who you are) can be a miracle or blessing to someone else…
Thank you Corbett, Julie, Vivek, Anna, Lorna, Chersteen, Danielle, Janet and Sally for being Guardian Angels to the children in Kalinovka!
Submitted by Maya Rowencak.