A miracle in Joplin
After they left, I shared with Karen what Chase had told me on the way over. We left the calendar out to share with people as they visited our booth. Many hearts were warmed by Chase’s story. The front page of the calendar explains that Chase was diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis at his birth in 1994 and Juvenile Diabetes at the age of 7. It further tells that Chase has had seizures since he was 11 months old. Chase’s seizures are under control when he draws. He decided to create the calendar from his drawings to help raise money for research at Vanderbilt University Medical Research facility in hopes of finding cures for both of his diseases. Karen and I were deeply moved.
That evening, as we were preparing to dismantle our booth and pack up our truck, we were surprised to see Chase and his dad return to our booth. I felt an overwhelming joy come over me that I couldn’t explain. I asked Chase if he had the opportunity to look inside any of the show trucks. His dad tried to answer, but I stopped him and said, “I wasn’t talking to you. I asked Chase.”
When I found out that Chase had not had the opportunity, I told him that I knew the driver of the Harley-Davidson Peterbilt on the corner and asked him to accompany me. He quickly joined me and began talking about all the lights on the trucks and trailers. He never looked back, and we never said anything about it to his dad. Luckily the driver’s door was open, and after the driver asked Chase to wipe his feet, he climbed up into the seat, put his hands on the steering wheel and looked all around. For the first time, I saw a smile on his face. He was where he’d only dreamed about being! He reluctantly climbed back down and stared down the long row of trucks with the smile still on his face. He asked if I knew any other truckers. I took my cue from that, and we continued on. As we walked down the row, Chase pointed out all the different models of trucks, telling me about air cleaners, tandems, axle spreads, LED lights, gear ratios, engine models, flatbeds, reefers, cattle trailers and vans. He was greatly anticipating the fast approaching dusk as the drivers were beginning to turn on their lights.
I didn’t know what was happening back at our booth, but I was ready to check on progress. I didn’t want Karen to have to clean up alone. I was surprised to find the displays, tent and everything almost all packed up. Chase’s dad, John, quickly pulled me aside and gave me a huge hug.
Through tears, he whispered over and over in my ear, “Thank you! You will never understand what you’ve just done. This has never happened before.”
I jokingly called him a liar. He’d told us earlier that Chase didn’t talk much, yet for the hour we were gone, Chase talked nonstop about trucks. John informed me that never before had Chase left his side willingly, yet with me by his side, Chase walked away and didn’t even look back.
Karen filled me in on the conversation that went on while Chase and I were off checking out trucks. She shared with John what Chase had told me earlier about not talking. As a mother who lost a special needs child at an early age, Karen understood the turmoil John was feeling. Earlier, she had reassured John, as Chase and I walked away, that he was safe with me. She informed him that I had years of experience working with people with special needs as a Special Olympics coach and volunteer and have a brother with Down’s Syndrome. John shared much with Karen about his role in Chase’s future. John and I had a small conversation about this little miracle we just took part in, but I stopped it short so we could finish packing up and get Chase back to the trucks now that it was fully dark.
Chase and I helped Karen and John finish loading the pickup, locked it up, left it right where it was and took off toward the music and more trucks. Karen and John took off in one direction and Chase and I went all over, checking out the trucks. We were an inseparable pair for the rest of the evening. I introduced him to dozens of drivers, got permission for him to climb up in about 15 trucks, and just enjoyed the time looking at them all lit up. He continued to talk about the trucks, but now he was beginning to open up about school, his best friend, his diseases, his thousands of drawings and his family. Not only was he smiling, but on several occasions he was laughing out loud and making Three Stooges noises. At one point I tripped and broke my sandal, and he laughed hilariously and shared that story with strangers along our walk. By this point, we were both beaming with big smiles. I was overjoyed that one little act of kindness had turned into what could possibly be a life changing experience for Chase and his dad.
There were three trucks that Chase had been eyeing up. One was his favorite color — a black Peterbilt. I approached the family that owned the truck and introduced them to Chase. We asked if he could sit inside. At first they said no, as it had a painted floor. But when I told them that Chase wasn’t able to ride in the convoy earlier that day, they quickly jumped up from their chairs and said if he took his shoes off, he certainly could climb in the driver’s seat. Chase eagerly agreed and raced to the front of the truck. Before I could look back, his shoes were off and he was wiping his socks off as he stood on the step. The owner started the truck up and Chase’s eyes widened. I cannot explain the look on his face when the owner encouraged him to step on the throttle. Chase was so very excited as his stocking foot stepped gingerly on the pedal. The owner told him to push harder. What a joy to see his face beaming with pride! I had to walk away to thank God for allowing me to witness this miracle. I left Chase sitting up in that truck talking to the driver as if they were old friends. There were tears in my eyes — tears of pure joy!
Saving the best for last, near the end of the evening I introduced Chase to two of the winners of the truck show. Chase had talked about these two trucks parked side by side several times already. He liked the big shiny tankers behind the beautiful trucks. I first introduced him to my friend, First Gear driver Brad “Nut Nut” Aldridge. Brad helped him climb up in the truck and I shared with my friend just a few of the amazing moments I’d spent with Chase. Brad hugged me and gently closed the door with Chase up in that truck. The interior LEDs were on, and Chase looked like he was glowing. It was indescribably beautiful. Again I had to wipe my tears and thank God for using me to make these moments possible. Brad told me he wanted to hear more about this awesome young man currently sitting in his truck. As Brad heard details of Chase’s story, he called his teammates over and I continued to share bits and pieces of my experiences with Chase and the trucks.
As I stood there with Brad and the others, Chase climbed out of the truck and walked off talking to a woman from Brad’s team. After a few minutes, I left Brad and went in search of Chase. I caught up to him as he was explaining to Karen and his dad, John, what he just experienced. John was once again in tears and thanking Karen and I for opening his eyes and helping his son to actually live his dream. John informed us that he had given up a lucrative career for something that would allow him to spend more time with his son. Chase called his grandmother and tried to explain to her all that just happened. We could hear the thrill in her voice from several feet away. A bit later he called his mother and he was literally pacing in circles as he tried to get all the words out.
He came up to me after the last phone call and clearly and loudly proclaimed, “This is the best vacation ever!”