Skip to content


John Wheelchair 2“True love does not only encompass the things that make you feel good, it also holds you to a standard of accountability.”
– Monica Johnson 

Have you ever experienced the joy of feeling like you finally made it (perhaps it was graduating, landing your first job, or getting married) only to discover that the difficult part of your journey was about to start? For me that experience was coming home after being burned. I was nine-years-old, had just spent almost five months in hospital, endured a couple dozen surgeries and lost my fingers to amputation. The painful experience of being away from family, in the hospital, continuous procedures and constant pain was finally over. The celebration was on!

Earlier in the morning my family arrived at the hospital with a wheelbarrow full of Lifesaver candy and bottles of champagng for the staff who worked so tirelessly and faithfully for so many months. Mom pushed my wheelchair down the hall, onto the elevator and out the door.

We pulled out of the parking lot, made the five minute drive home, turned onto our street and were overwhelmed by the cars, fire trucks, balloons and friends lining it.Sitting under an awning, a line formed of family, friends, classmates, neighbors, first responders and community members welcoming us home. Music played and people cried; the miracle happened.Eventually, though, our friends went home, the cars pulled away, the front door shut and we were left to decide how we’d move forward as a family.That night Mom made my favorite meal: au gratin potatoes (I was a strange kid!). We sat around the kitchen table in our reconstructed house as a family for the first time since the night before the fire.

The food smelled and looked delicious, but because of wrappings, splints and the inability to hold a fork, I could not partake. My sister, Amy, thoughtfully grabbed my fork, speared a few potatoes and elevated them toward my mouth. Mom said to her, “Put that fork down, Amy. If John is hungry he’ll feed himself.”

That night I cried at the table. I got mad at my mom. I told her I could not do it, that it wasn’t fair and I’d been through enough. The night shifted from celebration and laughter to upheaval and contention.

And yet, eventually, I wedged the fork between my two hands, awkwardly stabbed at the potatoes, brought them to my mouth, chewed on them and stared angrily at my mom.

My friends, true love not only encompasses things that make you feel good, but also holds you to a standard of accountability.  [Tweet this.]

It’s impossible as a child to fully grasp the pain suffered by those that act out of love you for your benefit. How much easier it would have been just to feed me the potatoes, to put a movie into the VHS and get back to life.

Love never takes the easy way out. [Tweet this.]

And the invitation we have today is to be on fire with love. Yes, it’s hard and sometimes unpopular, but it wakes us up to the absolute gift of being fully accountable to a cause greater than self. It frees us from excuses, blame or being stuck in yesterday. And ignites us to own our words, actions and possibility of our lives.

So pick up your fork. Enjoy those potatoes. The best is yet to come.

Can you think of a time in your life when someone challenged you to do something that seemed hard, felt unfair, but ultimately lead to amazing growth for you? Share in the comments on my blog.

If you liked this blog, get it in your inbox every Monday.

0 replies on “Pick Up Your Fork”

I love your messages! I have a daughter with physical limitation and other medical issues related to her caudal regression syndrome (similar to spina bifida). We have an amazing support group called Hope, Inc. that gives these kids the opportunity to participate in sports and other activities at their own level. I find great encouragement from others who understand your challenges and can help in small ways. Would love for John to meet these kids!

Teresa — I am so glad you have found such a great support in Hope, Inc. Thanks for your note and for ALL you do for your daughter and everyone you meet. Continue boldly — J

John, oh what memories this story brought back to me….too many to share here, but in short; I gave birth to my first child when I was only 5 months and 3 weeks pregnant, in 1968 a time when medical technology gave him only a 10% chance to live. His prematurity caused him to have ‘no useful vision’ for all practical purposes blind. It also caused a minor case of Cerebral Palsy. The story that first comes to mind was when he was about eight months old and just beginning to learn to sit up…he could get sitting up, but couldn’t figure out how to get down again. I kept helping him when I couldn’t stand his pitiful crying any longer. My husband kept telling me that if he could get himself sitting, he could get down. So when I got up to help him down one more time, my husband asked me to check on what the noise was in the backyard and as I went out the door he locked it. Would not let me back in until Shane had figured out how to get himself down and was happy as a lark and so proud of his new accomplishment. Not one time since then have I considered him incapable of doing anything he wanted to do. Today he is 45 years old, was married in October to a wonderful young lady who is also blind. They live in their own home unaided by attendants and are totally independent. By the Grace of God!! Tough love is TOUGH, but so worth it in the long run. Lynette

Very true john,
My son had a was born with a metabolic disordervthat limited his diet severely. Almost no protein. BTW you would be surprised what foods priotein hides in. As he grew we learned very quickly that life was not going to be fair for him. Nonetheless it was the life he had. He could either learn to focus on what he could do and enjoy life or focus on what was wrong and be miserable. I cannot tell you how hard it is to tell a 5 year old I am sorry you cannot have the nuggets, fries, cake or ice cream but you can have soda and play if you’d like. In time he learned to manage his own disease. Today he is a healthy young man that loves life, is a great vegetarian cook and exceeded all the dr.’s expectation. Most of life is not about the situation you find yourself but your response to that situation!

I was living in California on my own and at the time I had a very harsh, terrible boss at my place of employment. I had reported to work that day and my boss had moved my desk and put it right next to the bathroom door. This doesn’t sound like much but at the age of 20 I was devastated. People came and went all day; opening and closing the entrance to the bathroom as I sat right there. It was humiliating and embarrassing. I drove home in tears. My very irish mother was visiting at the time and she said to me, “well, what are you going to do about it”? Again, “what are you going to do about it Carol?” That’s really all she wanted to know. So instead of wallowing in my own tears I stopped, gathered my thoughts and made a plan. Focus….there is a solution Carol. It was a teachable moment for me. Like picking up the fork.

I remember going through this when I had to go through the ashes of a 2nd broken marriage that I held onto hoping it wouldn’t slip through my hand. God did what was hard so I would grow in ways nothing else would cause me to grow! He let me experience pain to that depth. He wanted to be #1 in my life & knew He wasn’t with my husband in the way. Thank God He made beauty from ashes. 🙂

Thanks for sharing, Jenn! Remember “true love not only encompasses things that make you feel good, but also holds you to a standard of accountability.” Continue boldly — J

That was very strong “Mother Love” to make you pick up that fork and I’m sure her heart was bleeding inside. Aren’t you glad you did pick up that fork. My heart went out to you though.

Yes! Picking up the fork absolutely changed my life. Thanks for sharing and remember to pick up your fork too. Thanks for ALL that you do. 😉 J

John,

This post brought me to tears. As a mom, I question sometimes whether I’m being too hard on my kids. And Lord knows it would be so much easier just to say “yes,” do it myself, etc. Your words have reignited my strength – much greater than my writing and my career, the most important goal in my life is to raise good people. Thanks for sharing this story. Little did I know when I met you many, many years ago how your words would affect me! Keep on…

Thanks for your sweet words, Beth! Thanks for being the strong mom that you are, for ALL that you do and for staying in touch all these years. The best is yet to come — J

As a senior in high school, I had applied for a ROTC scholarship. I had an interview at the office downtown. Having grown up in Florissant I had rarely been in the City and was always accompanied by my father. I asked him how to get to the office on Tucker. (This was in ancient times before GPS!) He said, “you know where the map is…” I felt so abandoned. He knew where it was and how to get there but refused to tell me. After I found it on the map, navigated there independently and completed the interview, I had a sense of accomplishment and autonomy. It is still one of my favorite stories of how my father encouraged me to be an independent woman!

Love this! So hard to do as a parent…I just want to do it for them so to get it done & not have issues. I tell my kiddos, “If you show me you are truly trying & then can’t seem to get it, then I’ll help you, but ONLY until you’ve showed me your all.” 🙂

Peggy that is an awesome story and your father sounds like an awesome man! Thank you for sharing, serving and for all that you do — J

Two good examples showing that love takes many forms…your sister trying to help you physically eat your meal, your mother trying to help you mentally prepare for your changed life…thank you for sharing!

Thank god for you John. You are doing the Lords work. Maybe it will help me to figure out how he wants me to do his work. Take care and may God bless you and guide you through the tough times here on this earth, if you believe, he will have a place prepared for you in heaven.

Carrie — thanks for your note. Yes, we are servants on earth — and our lives are rich when we serve others. Thanks for ALL that you do and for being part of the Rising Above Community. J

Another definition of true love that encompasses all the good and not-so-good things that happen to us goes like this (and I’m sorry, I don’t know the author to give credit to): “True love is neither physical nor romantic. True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be.” Sometimes it’s hard for us to accept those things that will not be – the limitations, the loss, the broken dreams – but true love gives us hope and courage. As you say, John, Love Always Wins!

Love this, Diane. Thanks for sharing. “Love accepts all that is and will note be” — beautiful. simple. true. J

John, thanks for sharing another great story from your journey. I know my parents shared the same attitude of not letting me be defined by my limitations. They may have been told that I would be a cripple but could not bear to believe it. So they never shared with me why my legs did not work like other kids legs worked. It has been extremely beneficial for me to have taken time to revisit my experiences as a child, when I struggled to understand, by writing about it. It has taught me that telling my story means I no longer have to carry it. I can see my pain as a messenger, informing the path my life took, rather than a passenger. Blessings, Mary

Blessings to you too, Mary. Thank you for sharing your story — it is true that once we own our own stories, we are able to more fully share our lives and gifts with others. Continue boldly — J

John, i remember this first day with the same skepticism that you shared. In my case ‘OK nw it all begins as I carried you up the stairs, wondering when (not if) you were going to walk again I am so proud of you. DAD

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Live Inspired Together is a community of friends changing the world together, starting with their own. In a world that often focuses on negativity, John O’Leary - Live Inspired shares the other side of the story through his member-supported channels (essays, Live Inspired Podcast, video, webcasts, social platforms) to connect our community and share inspiration and actions to live it. Support now.