Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Baker Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Everything Is Possible
Finding the Faith and Courage to Follow Your Dreams
By Jen Bricker, Sheryl Berk
Baker Publishing GroupCopyright © 2016 Jen Bricker
All rights reserved.
The Baby Born without Legs
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
— 1 Samuel 16:7
I came into this world with no name — literally, a "nobody." My Romanian birth parents essentially abandoned me, leaving me behind at the hospital. And yet, I don't hate them. As hard as that is for people to understand, I have no anger toward them. Instead, I'm thankful. Thankful that because of what they did, I wound up in a loving home with my parents, the Brickers, who supported me and taught me that my life — every life — has a purpose.
Sure, it was a strange way to start a life. In a tiny hospital room in Salem, Illinois, my biological mother, Camelia, delivered me by cesarean section. I was born with big dark brown eyes, a head of thick black hair, dark brows and lashes, and very tan skin. I was also born with my heart on the right side of my chest instead of the left (many nurses got a scare when they tried to find my heartbeat with a stethoscope!). I measured a whopping thirteen inches, one inch longer than a ruler. Ironically, the hospital closed shortly after I was born. My family teases that after I was born, no one could top me, so they had to close up shop!
Camelia never actually laid eyes on me. That's because my birth father, Dmitry, didn't allow it — not even for a split second. A relative says the doctor who delivered me (also Romanian) told him I would die. Maybe he thought it would be too painful. Maybe he was trying to spare her pain or grief or regret. Maybe he just hit the panic button or felt ill-equipped emotionally and financially to care for a child who had special needs. Maybe he thought he was doing me a favor?
I don't know, and I don't pretend to know what was going through his head at that time. All I know is that he took one look at this tiny infant with two appendages where her legs were supposed to be and decided she'd be better off with someone else.
So no, I'm not angry, as crazy as that sounds. I don't blame my birth parents or judge them or hold any grudges. How could I when they gave me the greatest gift of all — a family that needed me as much as I needed them? My parents were honest with me from the start about my adoption. They didn't want me to feel hurt or abandoned or to hate my birth parents. They told me, "Jennifer, you have to understand, your biological parents were from a different country with a different mind-set. You didn't walk in their shoes, and you don't know the real reason why they gave you up. Whatever it is, it doesn't matter. This was exactly how God planned for it to be. You were an answered prayer, a miracle, for us. They gave us a gift; they gave us you."
It took a while for my adoptive parents to find their little gift though. A social worker first placed me with a foster family — a kind, loving couple whom I called Nana and Papa (I was with them for three months, but we stayed in touch for several years until they passed away). They named me Holly Ann. Papa worked on the railroad and always wore overalls, so I fit neatly in his bib in front, like a little baby kangaroo in a pouch. We would watch ALF (a weird little "alien life form" puppet for those of you who were not around in the late '80s!) on TV, and I had a little ALF figurine I carried around everywhere with me. They made sure I was secure and content, and months after I became a Bricker, my parents still took me back to visit them. They were the first people who loved me, and they truly had the biggest hearts. They fostered kids who were "hard to place" and saw a lot of sad, unfortunate children over the years. I wasn't one of those, despite my obvious "health" issues. Given my "specialness," you'd have thought that placing me in a permanent home would have been tough. But it wasn't — more than three hundred couples wanted me. I think about that sometimes: I could have been three hundred other Jens. It's almost like a math probability equation: If Jen went with x and y, what would she equal? The way I was raised helped make me the person I am today. I am grateful, so grateful, that God had this plan.
Praying for a Miracle
At the time of my birth, Sharon and Gerald Bricker — my soon-to-be parents — were living in Hardinville, Illinois, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere on the eastern side of the state. They already had three boys: Greg, Brian (aka Bubba), and Brad, who were fourteen, twelve, and ten years old. Nonetheless, they desperately wanted a baby girl. My mother had to have a hysterectomy because she had cysts on her ovaries, and she knew she would never be able to give birth to any more children. So she asked God for a miracle. She kept her faith, believing all along, There must be one little girl in the world who needs this family. The woman seriously has the patience of a saint!
One day a friend who was adopting called her to say she'd heard about me. My mom knew at that moment her prayers had been answered. She told my dad, and he was as excited as she was. Then they both ran it by my brothers. My parents asked Greg, my oldest brother, "How will you feel about bringing your date to the house and introducing her to your sister who has no legs?" Greg didn't even have to think about it. He said, "If someone can't accept her, I wouldn't want to date her." They went through every scenario with my brothers to make sure they were okay with it. Then, when the whole family was on board, they put the plans in motion.
My mom said she was 100 percent honest. She told the social worker all the reasons why our family didn't need more children and all the reasons why, in her heart, she knew she had to have me. It took two and a half months before my parents could actually meet me. During that whole time of waiting, they never saw a single picture of me, which was on purpose. The adoption agency and social workers wanted to be sure how the prospective new parents would react after meeting me and how they'd handle changing and feeding me.
My mom says she was a nervous wreck the night before, tossing and turning in bed and worrying about how I'd take to them. All those worries melted away as soon as they walked in the door of my foster family's home. My face lit up in a huge grin. My mom says that at that moment, she knew it was meant to be. It felt like she'd found the missing piece to her soul, and the smile on my face said, You're finally here. It was an instant connection, and taking care of me came to my parents instinctually. While my foster parents had struggled to change my diapers (I was a slippery little thing!), my mom was a pro. "It's so easy!" she exclaimed. "There are no little legs in my way!"
From that day on, I was Jennifer Bricker. My brothers were allowed to name me, but there was a catch: they had to agree on a name. They argued over it for hours until one of them said, "Jennifer," and they all kind of nodded in agreement. My mom tells me I went through a bit of an adjustment period while getting to know my new family. For two weeks I refused to crack a smile. Then one day one of my brothers sneezed and I burst into hysterical laughter. So he kept sneezing over and over so they could get their first picture of me smiling! That was it; I was a jolly little baby from that day forward. My brothers each had their own thing that they would do with me. Greg liked to rest me on his chest when he was doing homework; Bubba would stick me in the front of his bib overalls and carry me around; and Brad always fed me my bottle. They were so excited to have a little sister — I was like a shiny new toy!
The social workers made an appointment at the Cardinal Clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, for my parents to take me for a comprehensive medical evaluation. The prognosis was bleak: the doctors wanted to make me a "bucket" to sit in. In their opinions, I would never be able to sit up, crawl around, or move from place to place at all without being carried. My mom sat in the doctors' office and cried her heart out. But my dad did not agree with their prognosis. "No," he insisted. "That's not what she's about. We don't accept that."
So they took me to a new set of doctors, this time at Shriners Hospitals for Children in St. Louis. "I want to know," my dad asked them. "Will she be able to sit up? What does her future look like?"
This time, the news was encouraging. The doctor smiled and said, "Mr. and Mrs. Bricker, this little girl is going to do things you never even imagined would be possible."
But yes, they could imagine it. And from then on, we all had the attitude of Let's go for it. Nothing would stand in my way. My parents never held the reins too tight, but they also didn't let me fly in the wind with no rules. What went for my brothers went for me. Just because I had no legs didn't mean I received special privileges or treatment. I was going to grow up a normal little girl, and my parents would never accept anything less. They didn't coddle me or speak to me in baby talk. I was a talker — and very vocal about what I wanted — from the moment I opened my mouth. It started with me pulling myself up in the crib. "Hold you, Mommy!" I would call, meaning, "Hold me!" Not only could I sit up, but also I could move — fast! Faster than my poor parents could keep up with me. My mom called me "mouse" because I would scoot about with lightning speed. I used to pull myself along with my little arms and leave a trail of pink Pampers shredded on the ground behind me. My brothers had me practically jumping off the couch from the moment I could crawl around. They put pillows down to break my fall, but they'd egg me on. I never could turn down a dare. I was fearless.
Before I was five, I needed two surgeries: one to remove a growth plate, a partial bone growing down from my hip, the other to remove the two appendages so I could better tolerate my prosthetics. My family nicknamed the appendages my "flippers." One had the cutest big toe and a little arch and a heel, and the other was a little more unformed. As a baby, I loved music and would use them to keep time with the beat. Because I was so young, I don't remember much about those times going into the hospital. But my parents tell me I was never afraid, never sad to spend time there. The nurses all loved me, and I assured them, "Don't worry, I fine!" I was a tough one.
I Can Do That
As I got a little bigger, my personality really started to shine through. I was trouble with a capital T! Growing up with three older brothers certainly contributed to this. Greg taught me to rock out to Garth Brooks. He also took me on many of his dates, probably because I was such an up-front little squirt — I'd give him my honest opinion! All my brothers would brag to their friends about how strong I was, and as a result, few would ever take on the challenge of arm wrestling me. They didn't want to get whipped by a little girl. As an adult, I can see that growing up with brothers helped me understand guys a lot better. To be totally honest, they're easier to get along with than most girls — less drama. Most of the friends in my life now are guys, and almost all of my roommates have been as well. I guess I miss living in a house filled with men!
I also have a sister, Jodi, my dad's daughter from a previous relationship before he married my mom. She's about fifteen years older than I am. I didn't get to see her very much growing up because she lived a few states away. But she would always try and remember my birthday. She would also come to see us for Christmas, which was always awesome. As I've gotten older, I've been able to see her a bit more because of my travel, and I try to let her know whenever I'm in Colorado so we can meet up.
As a kid, anything physically challenging — a sport, a game, a tree to climb — had my name on it. My parents tell this funny story about how, when I was a baby, I loved water and they wanted me to swim. They put little pool floaties on my arms, and when they lowered me into the water and let go, my butt floated straight up and my head went underwater. It scared my parents to death! Clearly, regular floaties weren't going to work, so they got me a one-piece suit with a little inner tube attached to it. That managed to keep my booty underwater. But when I was about six, I decided I'd rather dive down deep than float up top. I jumped in, sans floaties, and my parents let me go. It turns out I was a natural swimmer! In fourth grade, my school held swimming classes at the local college, Lincoln Trail College, in Robinson, where I placed into advanced swimming. I loved holding my breath underwater, and one day while I was swimming at the city pool in Robinson, I decided to challenge myself: How long could I stay at the bottom and not bob up for air? Reggie, the lifeguard, thought I was drowning and dove in to rescue me. I remember he dove in, lifted me up, and then held me above the water.
"What are you doing?" I asked, laughing.
He was embarrassed, but I didn't mind one bit. I had a huge crush on Reggie, and anytime he wanted to "save" me, I was fine with it!
My parents trusted that I always knew what I could and couldn't handle. They let me leap into the pool — and leap into my life. They treated me like a person instead of a child, even at an early age. I think that's why I learned to talk and spell and read so quickly. Everyone in my family did, so it was expected of me as well. I loved Dr. Seuss books and could recite Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now and Green Eggs and Ham by heart. When my kindergarten teacher asked if I could read them to her, I declared, "Absolutely!" But really I had just committed them to memory from my family reading them to me over and over. I've kept this secret until now — my teacher thought I was a genius!
My parents also never worried about what people would think of me. Initially, my mom said this little prayer: "God, please let her face be pretty so people don't notice that she has no legs!" For the record, she says God came through on that as well — but she's a little biased! And I guess I hadn't learned humility yet. When people would stop and tell me, "Oh, aren't you so cute!" I'd answer back, "I know it!"
My mom would turn twenty shades of red.
"Jennifer!" she would tell me. "We don't say that! We say thank you."
So then I would reply, "Thank you. I know it!"
People simply forgot — literally — that I was missing my lower limbs. In fact, my mom's best friend since high school has a daughter three and a half months younger than I am, and she was always sending clothes that her child had outgrown. One day my mom received a box of these hand-me-downs and opened them up to find an entire pile of socks and shoes. She called her friend, laughing, and asked, "And what am I supposed to do with these?" Her friend was shocked and embarrassed; she'd completely forgotten I didn't need them. But that's how it always was. People in my small town were so comfortable with me that they quickly forgot I was different. And because they forgot, I did as well.
I got my first set of prosthetic legs when I was a toddler — sometime around two years old. At first I screamed and hated how they pinched and poked and weighed me down. They were so foreign, so heavy and bulky, and I was too little to understand why my parents were pinning them on. As I got older and became used to them, I loved them. I could wear fancy socks and shoes, and I wore them to kindergarten. One day I went to the bathroom and left them there by accident. A classmate went in after me and returned to the classroom white as a ghost. "There are legs in the bathroom!" he cried to the teacher, who promptly took me aside and reminded me not to leave them lying around. As I got older, I became more active and didn't want to wear the prosthetics much at all. Eventually, I wore them solely for dress-up.
The first sport I participated in was softball, which I played in first through third grade. I had so much hair that the helmets barely fit my head because of my giant ponytail. My brothers and coaches taught me to hit to the third baseline to give myself more time to reach the bases. But we all soon realized I was lightning fast — all you really saw was a trail of dust in my wake. I remember one time I hit the ball right to the first baseman. No one thought I would make it to the base in time, but I kept running. I didn't take my eyes off that base, and as the first baseman was trying to pick up the ball, I dove and touched the bag. Safe! It was a great lesson and a reminder for me: I should never take my eyes off my goals or God's promises for my life. Even when something looks absolutely impossible — game over — in that very last second, things can change.
Excerpted from Everything Is Possible by Jen Bricker, Sheryl Berk. Copyright © 2016 Jen Bricker. Excerpted by permission of Baker Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Nick Vujicic 11
1 The Baby Born without Legs 23
2 A Bundle of Energy 41
3 Can't Is a 4-Letter Word 57
4 Sticks and Stones 69
5 Keeping the Faith 81
6 Breaking Down Walls 95
7 Secret Sisters 105
8 Sky High 119
9 This Heart of Mine 133
10 Ordinary Heroes 153
11 Endless Possibilities 165
12 The Me Nobody Knows Questions, Answers, and Tidbits 175