I’ll only share a small part of J.B. McWhorter’s testimony. His journey is told best by him. It was, however, the public sharing of his faith that brought us together.
J.B.’s grandfather, Bland Brooks, was a fellow student and friend of mine at Unadilla High School in the 1960s. Bland’s father, the late Billy Brooks, was our principal and coached various sports.
I saw Bland recently and he told me about his grandson’s testimony being shared at a Fields of Grace event. I learned that J.B.’s life and faith have been shaped through more than 15 years of cerebral palsy, and I asked if I could meet him.
It’s a struggle for J.B. to speak, so a friend read what he had written for the occasion. When I visited in his home, J.B.’s mother, Lacey, helped relate their compelling story.
J.B. was born in Macon on March 2, 2004, and weighed only two pounds, one ounce. He had a brain bleed and multiple complications. A month later he was transferred to Children’s Healthcare in Atlanta due to a severe stomach infection. Lacey said, “We prayed for life and God answered our prayers.” She’s still praying and gives God credit for guiding them on a path more difficult than most.
When I arrived at their Rochelle home, J.B. was lying flat on a rubber mat rolled out on the floor. Stretching will always be a part of his necessary daily routines. He soon joined me on the sofa along with Christy, a sweet-tempered service dog who graciously welcomed me into their den.
Bland nodded admiringly toward his grandson. He said, “I’ve learned more from that man than anyone on this earth.”
That’s a high compliment coming from a seasoned teacher. Bland was an exceptional athlete in high school and made a career in education and coaching. Yet I had no doubt that what he has learned from J.B. goes beyond the scope of traditional lessons.
Lacey grinned and added, “I’ve learned from J.B. too. He’s taught me patience!” She and Bland both laughed as they acknowledged that patience is not a strong trait in the Brooks family. Bland and I sidetracked the conversation when I mentioned his dad’s renowned folding chair.
One of the sports coached by Billy Brooks was girls’ basketball. His usual calm demeanor was easily disrupted by a low tolerance for poor officiating. The temptation to step onto the court was often overwhelming. Men in striped shirts would point him toward the sidelines as they routinely awarded him with technical fouls.
Coach Brooks asked Mr. Ottis Beard, Unadilla’s ag teacher, to attach a seat belt to a folding chair. It seemed like a good plan for restraint, but it failed before halftime in its debut game. Coach didn’t waste time with the buckle. He ran out on the court with the chair swinging back and forth behind him. As the referee blew his whistle the students cheered wildly in fervent admiration. That moment cemented the legacy of Billy Brooks in the hearts and history of Unadilla High.
If Coach Brooks were alive today, he’d be cheering for J.B. now. That’s what Lacey does, and Bland, and other family members and friends. Every day is a challenge. J.B. moved to a metal stand as I was leaving. Bland lifted him into an upright position as Lacey secured the straps to help support him. It’s a change of pace that’s also good for his circulation.
J.B. attends public school and joins Lacey when she teaches classes at the Wilcox Christian Learning Center. They are faithful members at First Baptist Church in Rochelle, plus Lacey hosts a Monday night Bible study in her home. J.B. is a celebrity at local ballgames where he’s been recognized as the number one fan of the Wilcox County Patriots. He’s a sociable young man who enjoys getting out in the community and loves having friends stop by his home.
I wish that writing a column could somehow make J.B.’s life a little easier, but I realize that’s not the case. What I want J.B. to know, however, is that my life is richer from meeting him. J.B. helped me understand that we can be thankful in all circumstances. He helped remind me not to take even small blessings for granted. When I tied my shoelaces the next morning, I felt a gratitude I’d not had before.
Lessons of faith sometimes come unexpectedly. God’s perfect love can shine through imperfect situations if we let it. I know that to be true, because it’s the testimony of my friend J.B. McWhorter.