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Growing Up With Polio: a faith based story from the Story Powerline
Thursday, January 9, 2020 by Laura Jane Cerling

“My leg hurts, Mommy,” whimpered 2-year-old Lewis Brown. His crying sounded like the fussing of a tired boy to busy Thelma Brown, shopping for groceries in Hazard, Kentucky with a new baby and her toddler Lewis. Later, though, as she put the children to bed, she noticed that Lewis was still complaining, and now he was limping, too.

Does my child have polio?

This was during the polio scare of the 1950’s, and thoughts of polio plagued Thelma’s mind as she fell asleep. The next morning, she made the long drive into Hazard to take Lewis to the doctor.

“Mrs. Brown, unless I make a painful spinal tap, I can’t tell for sure if the boy has polio,” the doctor told her. “Your family has already been exposed, so keep him away from others and make him walk. If he’s got the disease, that muscle must be kept exercised or he’ll lose it.”

”Probably”

Thelma guessed from the doctor’s words that he believed her son had the disease, but he felt Lewis could get better care at home than in the hospital in Lexington, 500 miles away where he would have to go if he was definitely diagnosed with polio.

It was a time of fear. Hospitals were crowded with polio patients, and people were afraid of catching the disease from them. Polio wards were so understaffed that polio patients had to care for each other. Those who were better, cared for those who were the most helpless.

Hard training for a toddler’s weak legs

For weeks Thelma forced Lewis to keep walking, crying inside herself as she did it. She hoped her seeming indifference to his pain would not leave a lifelong impression on her little boy.

Eventually Lewis was able to walk normally, but when he reached high school, the family realized that the polio had affected his arms. He was tall and fast and appeared at first to be a good candidate for playing basketball. His arms hurt too much, though, when he lifted them over his head, and he never was able to gain normal strength in his arms.

Years later, Thelma asked Lewis what he remembered about his illness. His only memory was about “the nice black man with the same name as mine who carried me up the doctor’s stairs in my stroller.”

A loving God and hard things

As Thelma reflected on this hard time in later years, she realized that God requires her to do hard things sometimes to exercise her spiritual muscles and develop her character, just as she made Lewis keep walking to exercise his physical muscles and avoid becoming crippled.

What the Bible says

"Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:7,10,11NIV)

Today’s prayer

"Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me enough to discipline and train me through life's difficulties. Help me to understand that You are using the problems in my life to exercise my faith in You and to make me a stronger and better person. Amen."

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