No Excuses Good Enough

No Excuses Good Enough

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

No Excuses Good Enough

I thank God for my handicaps, for, through them, I have found myself, my work, and my God.

Helen Keller

Twenty-four years ago Jim Ritter was a typical, active high school student—into sports, involved with girls, the class clown, and always goofing off! He was captain of the high school football and wrestling teams, played baseball, and was gifted on the trampoline. He could do triple flips and one-and-a-half twists.

At age sixteen his life changed forever.

Jim was working at his father’s logging business one summer in the small town of Montesano,Washington. It was on a Friday. Jim usually never went in on Fridays, but his dad woke him at 4:30 A.M. and asked if he would go in with him.

After helping his father run the loader, work the power saw and drive the logging truck, Jim crawled into the grapple that picks up the logs for an after-lunch snooze. He laid in it like a hammock, with his feet on one side and his head resting against the other.

The next thing he recalled is seeing a flash of light and feeling as though someone had hit him in the back of the head and punched him in the nose. Jim’s father had started up the engines to move the grapple, not realizing that his son lay inside, asleep.

“Oh my God!” Jim’s father cried out. “I broke his neck!”

Immediately, Jim’s dad called for help on the C.B. radio.

A logging company helicopter happened to be in the area doing survey work. They heard the call for help and picked Jim up, taking him to the hospital in Olympia, sixty-five miles away. It was truly a miracle they were in the area. His father’s logging business was in the middle of nowhere, and helicopters hardly ever flew around there.

Jim’s third, fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae were crushed, and after surgery, the doctor told his parents he had no chance of living. They gave him three to five days at the most. All his vital signs had stopped except his heart. “He’ll be on a breathing machine the rest of his life,” the doctor told Jim’s family. “He’ll be a head with a stick in his mouth—a vegetable.”

But Jim proved everyone wrong. Although he was left paralyzed from the neck down, Jim’s kidneys and other vital organs began working. He was confined to a Stryker frame like a sandwich. The medical staff flipped him every two hours! After two months, Jim was very frustrated. Because of the respirator, he could say only five words at a time before being interrupted by the machine’s hissing sound. He was struggling to understand why God had let this happen.

Jim was in intensive care for nine weeks, then moved to an orthopedic hospital in Seattle, where he became an inspiration to the nurses and other patients with his quick sense of humor.

One day a volunteer came by Jim’s room and asked if he would like to try painting pictures.

“I can’t,” Jim told her. “I’m paralyzed.” But she wouldn’t give up. As far as she was concerned, being paralyzed was no excuse. She showed him a drawing a paralyzed girl down the hall had done by holding a pen between her teeth. Seeing the drawing convinced Jim to give it try: If a girl could do it, so could he!

Drawing with a pen between his teeth was awkward and difficult at first. Jim practiced day after day, and gradually his drawings turned from amateur scrawls into beautiful scenes. Prior to the accident, Jim had never drawn. He had never even taken an art course.

Jim’s mother cared for him for the next six years, until her death of lung cancer. All the people in Montesano were very supportive—they had fund-raisers for Jim and raised $2,000 for a van. A contractor donated his time and materials to landscape and cement his backyard for a wheelchair. His friends bought him a class ring and gave him surprise parties. A retired principal (who had been a real grouch and dreaded by all the students) volunteered his time to come by the house every day to tutor Jim in math, to help him obtain his high school diploma.

In rehabilitation, Jim met Joni Eareckson, a nationally known paralyzed artist who has written a book and starred in a movie about her experience. She was an incredible inspiration to him.

Today, Jim lets nothing stand in his way. He sings in the church choir, travels and speaks at various churches, schools and nursing homes. Jim is happily married to Sandy and they are the proud parents of a four-year-old daughter, Desireé. Jim has also become a highly talented artist. He has created several hundred pen-and-ink and watercolor scenes by holding the pen and brush between his teeth. He has a varied portfolio, including winter landscapes, religious scenes and whimsical characters, and he is able to support himself today by holding art shows throughout the country.

Jim has turned some of his inspirational drawings into beautiful Christmas cards and calendars. Inside each of Jim’s cards is a Bible verse, and printed on the back is the notice: “Mouth-painted by Jim Ritter. Jim is paralyzed from the neck down and draws with a pencil and brush held between his teeth.”

How easy it is to justify giving up on our dreams with a ready excuse. “It’s too difficult.” “I’m not that smart.” “I don’t have time.” Jim Ritter is living proof that no excuse is good enough.

Sharon Whitley

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