My arms don't work. Neither do my legs - but I come from sturdy stock. Peter and Diana Chandler, my parents, are the strongest folks I know. Mom is the vocal one (God bless her) while dad is more reserved, but their tenacity is unparalleled. There are countless stories I could tell you about their strength of arm and heart, but here is my favorite - the one that matters most to me.
I have two older siblings. Andrew came first, Connie second. About a year after Connie was born, she was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. This came after several months of testing and research - a traumatic experience for a young family. When the doctors finally reached their conclusion, they gathered with my parents to give them the news, along with some advice. If they had any more children, the likelihood of this disease's accompaniment was great. The doctors suggested Mr. and Mrs. Chandler settle on two and no more. It was for the best, they said.
My parents took in the words, the concerns, the information. They sat there in a cold room, surrounded by doctors, and they decided to be strong.
Dad quietly took mom's hand and spoke with the kind certainty of a church deacon.
"If the worst thing you're saying could happen," he said, "is that we have another child like Connie, that would be okay with us."
A year and a half later, in May of 1986, I was born.
I was quickly diagnosed with SMA. Connie and I underwent physical therapy during our developmental years; we went through wheelchairs like sneakers; and we saw the inside of a lot of hospitals. But our parents lived life to the fullest, and they raised us to do the same. Growing up, every new day was a matter of asking, "What can we do? What do we want to do? And how can we do it?"
Notice, it's a question of we, not I or me. It is paramount to realize I have never been alone in life! Every challenge, every achievement, every hard fall, and every dust-off-try-again. Every step of the way, I've had my family, my friends, and my God bearing me up; carrying me along. You see, this is my strength -- the strength of everyone else! And I am (I hope) a strength to them as well, building them up in our interactions, because that's the point. To encourage one another. To carry one another. We were never meant to live this life alone. We make each other strong; we make each other brave; together, we take on the world.
So, my parents raised three crazy kids, and fostered in us creativity and an unquenchable sense of adventure. My brother grew up to be a Special Effects Artist. My sister grew up to be an English Teacher (the cool kind). And I grew up to be...a backpack. With the help of my friends (my strength), I've become a traveler and explorer, from sewers to mountaintops and everywhere in between. And I'm telling the story of it all. My hope is that this story will encourage those listening. I hope it will encourage them to be adventurous, but also to invite one another into the adventures.
A few years ago, some friends of mine planned a late-night trip into the sewers of North Carolina. The trick was that they wanted me to join them. That was part of the deal from the get-go. "We want to go urban spelunking (that's what it's called) with Kevan." They came up with a make-shift harness to carry me on their backs and away we went, deep into the heart of Greensboro, NC. It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before.
I remember, the next morning, realizing I now saw the world through new eyes. They were eyes that affirmed my wanderlust and my desire to experience the impossible - my gumption to take on the world. I'd always had it, but our delve into the underworld that night resurrected me with a new grasp on adventure. And I wondered to myself, as did my friends, what else can we pull off?
This summer, two of those same guys will be joining me and a few others as we backpack across Europe. We will visit the countrysides of France, England, and Ireland over the course of three weeks. And I will experience most of it on these dear friends' backs as we hike, climb, and walk through places otherwise inaccessible to folks like me. We are excited to see the sites and take in that external aspect of venturing to new lands. But what we're most looking forward to is how the experience of brotherly love and self-sacrifice will shape each of us as we rely upon one another for the strength to see us through.