Editor’s note: Tammy Real-McKeighan has been out of the office this week. This is one of her favorite previous columns.
Leonard Nielsen is an inspirational guy.
I recently interviewed Leonard, who’s been a friend and mentor to hundreds of young men and women at Midland University.
Leonard, who lost the use of his limbs due to multiple sclerosis, lives in a house at the campus. For years, various students — mostly members of Kappa Phi fraternity — have run errands and done household chores for him.
In return, Leonard has been like a big brother and even a father figure to the students. He’s been there when they want to talk about common stuff, like school, or even personal issues — all of which he keeps in confidence.
Leonard says the kids know where he stands as far as his faith, which is deep.
And Leonard says something that amazes me.
“I’ve told a lot of people that I wouldn’t trade the MS and the wheelchair and everything else for what could have been my former life,” he says.
Leonard doesn’t think about how life could have been.
“This has been an incredible experience,” he says. “I’ve met so many neat people and had a lot of fun and have grown in my faith and feel that I’ve been able to help some others also.”
Leonard, who uses a mouth stick to dial a phone or control his TV’s remote, concentrates on what he can do. He laughs about good times shared with students and friends. He talks about the importance of trusting God.
Listening to Leonard reminds me of the Apostle Paul who said he learned to be content in any and every situation, adding that, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13).
I’m also reminded of a Tribune story that reporter Jane Campbell wrote about Leonard years ago. In her story, Jane inserted the lines of a literary piece attributed to an unknown Confederate soldier.
I first read this piece as an eighth-grader. I tried to memorize part of it. I even scribbled it in a book that one of my dogs later chewed up — but I’ve never forgotten it.
That piece, called “A Creed for Those Who Have Suffered,” says:
“I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey...
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things...
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise...
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God...
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things...
I got nothing I asked for — but everything I had hoped for;
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among men, most richly blessed!”
When I think of this creed, I think about the inspirational people God’s brought across my path, especially in recent years.
They include Stacey Wonder, injured a debilitating vehicle accident in 1994. After the accident, she launched and ran a wheelchair dancing business, before returning to college, earning a degree and teaching art in an Omaha school for about four years.
Stacey continues to use her art to help and inspire others.
Other inspirational people include Barbara Mitchell. She and her husband, John, founded the Tabernacle of Faith Church in Omaha, where he was pastor.
In 1994, John, who had high blood pressure, died unexpectedly at age 44. His successor also died. Barbara then accepted the call to become senior pastor of that church.
There have been other overcomers like Hope Frey of Hooper, whose dad died on her parents’ 15th wedding anniversary. Hope’s mom died 10 years later. After her grandmother died, Hope became a hospice volunteer — later earning a “Volunteer of the Year” award from what is now called Gentiva.
I would be remiss in not mentioning Stan Naydo, who was a baby when his parents were placed in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. After the war, Stan faced prejudice, but graduated from college and became an engineer and later a stockbroker.
Stan, who lives in Fremont, has survived a brain hemorrhage and cancer. Stan says he doesn’t regret the tough times he’s faced in life, because it’s made him appreciate the good ones.
Besides these incredible people, I’ve interviewed organ transplant recipients and many cancer survivors — each with their own story of courage and strength.
I hate to mention just one, because they’re all inspiring — especially the children, who are as cute as they are tough.
Chapter 11 of the New Testament book of Hebrews features what many call the Hall of Faith.
Within these precious Scriptures are listed Bible times heroes like Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and prophets, “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” (Hebrews 11:33-34).
I’m sure the people who inspire me would be the first to say they’ve never conquered kingdoms nor shut the mouths of lions.
Yet they’ve won battles against some scary hardships and discouragement. They can tell you it hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it to persevere.
They are endurance personified.
And to me, they’re heroes, too.
What’s more, they’re overcomers.
How are overcomers rewarded?
Jesus answers that question in the book of Revelation.
“Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God,” Christ says. “Never again will he leave it. ….” (Revelation 3:12)
When we get to heaven, I think we’ll recognize some of these overcomers.
And they’ll be — as the creed says — among men (and women) most richly blessed.
A postscript: Do I think God causes bad stuff to teach us a lesson? Absolutely not. We’ve lived in a fallen world ever since Adam and Eve munched on that forbidden fruit in the garden, but I believe God brings good out of tough situations. I also believe overcomers can be wonderfully blessed even before they reach heaven.
Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She may be reached at 402-721-5000, Ext. 1431, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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