Do you have someone who is forced to live life differently? Someone who can’t do many of the things that most of us can in the same way that we do them? I do and I’ve learned significant lessons from him.

My cousin Mike, paralyzed from the waist down since birth, has spent most of his life in a wheelchair. As such, everything is more challenging, whether it’s getting a shower, getting dressed, or transferring in and out of his wheelchair…onto a couch, into bed, or into his car.

Now 48, Mike has lived on his own for more than 2 decades. He works, drives a car, and has an active life, but nothing is ever easy. And at the same time, Mike never complains, never gives up, and is always concerned about others. Let’s look at each individually.

Never Complains

With Mike living in a suburb of Detroit and me outside of Pittsburgh, we don’t see each other as much as we’d like. That said, we speak by phone frequently. Not unlike anyone else, Mike has struggles, most of which are bigger than what most of us deal with. But he never complains about his circumstances or other people, instead most often finding the good in each.

Never Gives Up

Mike had open heart surgery a couple months ago and it’s been amazing to watch his recovery. Day by day, he makes progress, and always with a smile on his face. Beyond this and the other recoveries that he’s had to endure for his numerous, previous surgeries, he’s always striving to live life to its fullest, whether it’s his work life, playing keyboards, learning new things, or socializing with family and friends. He’s always moving forward. He never gives up.

Always Concerned About Others

Mike is always talking about the needs of his family members, whether his parents, brothers, their wives, or kids. He’s equally concerned for friends, in addition to those suffering from disease and disaster, whether he knows them or not. On a constant basis, he shares his concerns over others with me while not making mention of his own situation. It’s not infrequent when he asks me to pray for someone with him, whether a friend or family member. He’s always showing concern for others, wanting to always help whoever he can.

I am incredibly blessed by my relationship with Mike. Not only am I regularly reminded of the above by watching him live his life, but he helps me grow in my faith. What often begins with him asking me questions about the Mass or Scripture or some teaching of the Church, turns into me learning through our discussion. He shares his heart. He expresses a raw vulnerability that few do. It’s the real Mike, all the time.

Learning From Others

If we slow down enough to take notice, we can learn lessons from many in our lives. All of us have struggles and challenges, some handling them better than others. My oldest daughter, Danielle, likes to remind me that God never gives us anything that we can’t handle. While I believe that’s true, it’s certainly not always easy. Walking with others is incredibly important. We’re not meant to go through life alone. We can learn from them and them from us.

As Jesus told us in the Great Commandments, second only to loving our Lord with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Love them and learn from them. I’ve watched Mike do that with so many. He’s my role model. Who’s yours’?

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May God continue to bless you on your path to Peace, Joy, and Fulfillment.

Mark Joseph