Hope
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Volume V Issue XXXVII

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Seattle Washington USA

 

GREG BUELL: JUST AN OBSTACLE ILLUSION
by MARKREIMAN

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Even as a small child, Greg was determined to do all the things "regular" kids could do, including baseball, football, and soccer.

Things seem to be falling into place pretty well for Greg Buell now, but 9 months ago he was afraid they might fall apart.

The front window of his small, neatly kept apartment looks out over a gorgeous Seattle postcard-like vista featuring boats on the water and distant snow capped mountains. A large, beautiful, framed poster of waves crashing around a lighthouse hangs over the brick fireplace. Written below the lighthouse and the ocean spray are nine words which eloquently sum up the faith and perseverance of the young 22 year old man who lives here.

"With a guiding light all obstacles can be overcome."

Buell graduated magna cum laude ("with special honors") from Seattle Pacific University in June of 1999 with a major in communications and a minor in business administration. He works in downtown Seattle now as an account coordinator at The Domain Group, responsible for many aspects of direct mail fund raising for a nation wide Christian prison ministry.

He’s on the phone...typing correspondence on his computer...checking items off an official account To Do list...writing email...the phone again. A normal day in the work life of a young college grad just like many others across the country. Sometimes Greg carpools to work and home from his Queen Anne Hill apartment, sometimes he drives himself. His friends describe him as fun to ride with even though, like many other male 20-Somethings, he can be an impatient driver. He gets a kick out of working some evenings during basketball season as an usher at the Key Arena for the Seattle SuperSonics of the NBA.

Music is an important part of Buell’s life as well. He began singing in his church and school choirs and doing duets with his dad. By the age of sixteen he was singing solos at church and belonged to the Kennewick High School concert and jazz choirs. He is now frequently invited to area churches as a guest soloist.

Partway through his senior year at SPU Buell had what he terms an "emotional crisis". Graduation, along with starting a career and making a living in the world of work, loomed on the horizon. "Where am I headed?" he worried. "How will I cope?" Maybe just the normal worries of a normal college senior who doesn’t know how the next big step of life will materialize?

Maybe not.

---------------------------------------------

The date: March of 1977. The place: Kennewick, Washington. Debbie Buell was in labor and about to give birth to her second child. She had been taking a morning sickness medication called Bendictin, made by the same company which had marketed Thalidomide (outside the U.S.), also made to counter severe morning sickness, twenty years earlier.

Jerry and Debby Buell’s first son, Scott, had been born 8 years earlier with a mild case of cerebral palsy and, while the doctors assured the young parents that Scott’s problem was "one in a million" and highly unlikely to repeat itself, they remained apprehensive.

Shortly after Greg was born his father came out to greet all the family which had assembled. "We have a beautiful baby," Jerry Buell reported.

"He’s got all ten fingers and ten toes?" asked one of the new grandmothers, expecting the usual, rhetorical, affirmative response.

"Well, he’s a healthy 7-1/2 pound boy," he replied. "But he doesn’t have any arms."

Greg’s left leg was also severely deformed, a condition which would require several surgeries by the time he was five years old and more during his early teens. Understandably, his mother, Debbie, lay awake that entire first night wondering and worrying about how her new son would cope in a world designed for people with arms and hands.

"She was worried that I’d be helpless," says Greg. And in the first months of Greg’s life the hospital doctors told the Buells they doubted that Greg would ever be able to walk or even attend public school, let alone one day drive or graduate from college.

Jerry and Debbie Buell took their son to Children’s Orthopedic Hospital in Seattle for another opinion where they heard a very different story. Doctors there recommended to his parents that they let Greg try to do everything and, "...if he can’t do it he’ll tell you was their message," Greg shares.

Four years at the Benton-Franklin Developmental Center, beginning when he was six months old, helped Greg develop skills with his feet and toes. And being encouraged, even pushed, to do all he could by his parents, especially his father, wasn’t always easy on anyone.

Greg recalls, "I remember crying in frustration when I was trying to learn how to do something that was hard and my dad wouldn’t come to help me when I wanted him to. Basically, he was a normal dad. He’d say, ‘Here you are...try this for awhile and if you can’t do it, let me know and I’ll help you. But for now you’re on your own.’ He wasn’t overprotective...he’d tell me to just figure it out." When he was in high school Buell said, "I just think about how a person does something with their hands and do it with my feet."

Buell remembers a story about himself when, "...I was about two years old and I was out on our front cement steps practicing going up and down. I guess my mom was hovering and after a little while I got frustrated with her being right over me and told her to go inside...that I was going to do it by myself. She went inside and watched through the front window while I went up and down, falling and getting back up."

"I was pretty independent at a young age, learning to do things by myself, which I think definitely became an advantage for me. I was a pretty stubborn little kid and determined to do what all the other kids could do."

There were lots of kids in the neighborhood all about the same age growing up together and from the beginning Greg joined in the baseball, football, and soccer games, needing only occasional adaptations. "In football, if the ball hit me it was a completion and then I could start running without the ball. I also learned to carry the ball between my shoulder and my head. I learned how to swing a baseball bat pretty good, too."

The neighborhood kids were always really nice, but occasionally other classmates would give Buell a hard time, especially during the junior high years.

"I had a special friend who, I think, got suspended about five times over the course of our school years for fighting with other kids who said or did cruel things. Once in awhile somebody would push me from behind or intentionally trip me on the soccer field. I remember once a kid that was kind of a trouble maker stuck his foot out and tried to trip me when I was walking back to my desk. I saw him do it and just kicked his foot away. But as I sat down my friend asked me what happened and, when I told him, he leaped over about two rows of desks and went after the kid who did it. My friends got more upset about that stuff than I did."

It was also as a young teen that Greg had several more operations on his left leg requiring him to spend extensive time in a wheel chair and leaving him clinically depressed. Those early teenage years had Buell wondering where his life was headed and asking God why He would let this happen.

"Those were some of my most difficult years," Greg says now.

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An excellent student and stand-out vocalist in high school, one teacher praised Greg for having the best penmanship in the class.

High school brought increased maturity and spiritual faith, both of which have helped give Buell an incredibly positive attitude. "I knew that there would be challenges ahead that I (wouldn’t be) able to handle on my own. I knew I needed God’s help," he says.

Buell got his driver’s license when he was 16, using a specially modified car that allows him to steer a "floor wheel" with his left foot and operate the brake, gas, and shifting with his right foot. "His classmates," said his high school math teacher at the time, "...grew up with him and treat him just as they would anyone else - and he likes it that way." He kept score for the Kennewick basketball team and, a teacher once remarked that the penmanship on his term paper was the best in the class.

Two years at community college, then on to SPU where he continued to thrive. "I always just wanted to be treated normal," Greg emphasizes.

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When Thanksgiving came during his senior year it all seemed overwhelming. He didn’t know if he could continue at Seattle Pacific. Maybe he would go home to Kennewick and come back to finish the following year.

"I don’t think I was feeling sorry for myself," Buell says, "...just scared."

He had four deep, heart-to-heart talks with four of his closet friends: first his best friend, Jamie; then his roommate; then his older brother, Scott; finally his parents.

"My friend Jamie said something that really made my head spin," Greg remembers. "She listened to me for a long time as I poured out all my worries. Then she said, ‘Have you ever thanked God for your disability?’ And I told her, ‘That’s not something you thank God for. I’m not bitter about it, but I can’t thank God for this." Buell says that he’ll never forget what Jamie told him next.

She said, "You’ve faced things in your life that I will never have to face. You have some personality and character traits that I absolutely admire in you that have come about because of your disability. That makes your "disability" a positive thing in your life. What you consider a disability may be exactly the opposite - a special ability - to God."

"You’ve always tried," Jamie continued, "to be the same as everyone else - just a normal person. But there is something different, something special about who you are. In many ways, (your disability) has been a blessing from God."

"I was stunned," Greg said. "I had never thought of it that way. And then I heard the same basic message again from my roommate, then my brother, and finally my parents."

"Why me?" Buell asks rhetorically. "I don’t think there will ever be a final answer to that because every day it’s different. God has put me in this place and given me this special circumstance. What can I do to use this special circumstance for something good? I know that every day God has a purpose for me and I’m open to whatever He shows me."

"My mom told me about a time when I was two or three years old and two women came to our house and asked her if they could pray for me to grow arms. Mom said, ‘Go ahead, knock yourself out. I surely don’t think that will ever happen, but if you want to, go right ahead’."

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Greg graduated summa cum laude from Seattle Pacific University in 1999.

"You know," Greg says in his most matter-of-fact way, "I will probably never grow arms. But that’s not what the real obstacle is. It’s really about attitude."

I look up at the lighthouse poster over the fireplace again.

 

"With a guiding light all obstacles can be overcome."

*You can email Greg at: GregBuell@wa.freei.net

 

mark(staff).jpg (11747 bytes)Mark Reiman is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Incredible People Magazine. You can email him at: mark@IncrediblePeople.com

 

  

Hope      Courage     Determination      Compassion
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