There’s not a day that goes by that Kristy Yokeley isn’t reminded that she has cerebral palsy. This condition, which affects the way her brain controls her body’s muscles, limits her mobility and her energy levels. In the fast pace world we live in, Kristy is ever mindful that she has to take things a little slower.
From the age of five until she reached middle school, Kristy called the hospital her home. Through extensive treatment and therapy, Kristy learned to manage her condition. Her parents and other professionals caring for Kristy thought it would be best to integrate her into the public school system during the middle school transition.
It wasn’t until this time that Kristy recognized she was ‘different’. In her memory, she was the only child with a physical disability in her school. She was placed into a special classroom with children who had various learning disabilities.
Because of her physical disabilities, the school administrators made assumptions regarding Kristy’s mental capacity. Unknowingly, the administrators communicated their inability to distinguish between physical and mental disabilities. While Kristy knew the law required her to attend school, the teachers put little expectation on her participation and did not care if she slept the majority of the school day.
Kristy’s class time primarily consisted of playing games. Even at that time, she was aware that she should be learning more, but teachers didn’t provide her with opportunities.
On top of this abrupt transition into the school system, Kristy was introduced to the social stigmas associated with her condition. In hindsight, she recognizes that people misunderstood her condition and became afraid. Parents would tell their children not to talk about it. She couldn’t go to sleepovers because it was too ‘risky’. As the years passed through high school, Kristy became all too acquainted with solitude.
Life is different for Kristy now. Having made the courageous decision to move from her home in North Carolina to join the community of G.O.D. Int’l in 2010, Kristy now finds herself being challenged to participate with our organization in ways that she has always wanted and needed.
She has accountability to ensure that she gets exercise and is consistent with doing her physical therapy. She is a consistent volunteer in our community café. She has found an inviting home in our ladies’ dormitories. Kristy takes classes at our Institute every semester to ensure that she is learning the Bible. Through this education, she is also reminded that she is a very capable person whose story of courage to overcome life’s obstacles can inspire those she encounters. From the Psalms to the story of Jesus healing the hemorrhaging woman, Kristy has found a great deal of comfort in connecting with God’s word.
In addition to her academic opportunities, Kristy is spending this summer in El Salvador participating in our organization’s mission efforts. She will be learning the ins-and-outs of life in another country, and volunteering with an organization that works closely with children with mental disabilities.
When I asked Kristy what has been most impactful for her about participating with the community of G.O.D. Int’l, she quickly answered that what had affected her the most was people’s willingness to take the time to understand her as a person, to challenge her to continue learning and developing, and reminding her that she has a powerful story that others need to hear.
Such consistent investment into Kristy has allowed her to begin to trust people after being isolated for many years. She has recognized that she has a voice, that she has a perspective worthy of being heard.
What is there to learn through a story like Kristy’s? Perhaps more than anything, taking the time to understand a person and then encouraging them from whatever place they are in life is a powerful demonstration of love. For Kristy, this kind of love has made a world of difference.
A long time friend of Kristy’s, Matthew Parker, says this about her journey:
“Over the last 10 years I have seen Kristy continually overcome obstacles that people in various parts of her life told her were impossible. She has a strong, stubborn will that propels her into situations seeking meaning, enjoyment, and a way to participate. Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus helping people he has healed find a way back into society, so that they are no longer on the fringe. From seeing Kristy repel down a climbing tower for the first time to writing her first college paper; I have seen Kristy defy expectations and even surprise herself. I know that this summer in El Salvador is another opportunity to see God move in her life. “
This past year, Kristy stood up at one of our community gatherings and shared - in her thick southern drawl - how grateful she was for coming to be a part of the G.O.D. Int’l community. After giving the crowd a picture of the road she has traveled over the past few years, she concluded with five powerful words, “Here, I found a home.”