Do you wonder how you are set apart from everyone else? I know that my my life was set apart for a reason and I have learned that the light of Jesus Christ that shines through me everyday is what sets me apart. My name is Lauren Ashley Gray and I was born on February 19, 1999 with a disability called Arthrogradposis. This is my story and how God saved my life not only physically but also spiritually. Arthrogradposis is a word that you don’t hear everyday but, it is one that I have to live with everyday! This disability has many meanings but one of those meanings is poor or missing muscle mass and stiff joints.
A couple of days after I was born, the doctors told my parents they didn’t think I would survive. My parents were devastated. I spent most of the first year of my life in Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and had multiple surgeries. Mom and Dad says that year is kind of a blur. My family was surrounded by family and friends and lots of prayers. Thankfully, the doctors were wrong I did survive. I realize now that God put a hand of protection over me.
When I was almost 3 years old I had a severe allergic reaction to sulfa drugs which caused Steven Johnson’s Syndrome and almost died again. I had second and third degree burns inside and outside my body. As the burns spread, they threatened my internal organs and my eyes. Dr. Burt Bowden, the eye specialist that came into my hospital room, asked my Dad if he and his team could pray over me. After they prayed, he looked back at my Dad and told him that most people who have this bad of a allergic reaction usually loose their eyesight. For ten days I was connected to a morphine drip to control the pain and I was constantly surrounded by doctors and nurses keeping close watch. But I know that I had God putting his angels around me for protection. Dr. Bowden later told us there was no reason for me not to loose my sight except that God put His hands over my eyes.
I also got my first power wheelchair when I was three. My Mom would not let me go outside and play with my friends until I learned to drive my chair. In order to help me, she took me to the local science museum, SciQuest, where they had a tree house with a winding ramp. I practiced on it for two and a half hours until I mastered that thing like a pro.
When I was four, my Dad was diagnosed with Stage Four Kidney Cancer and the doctor’s told him that he only had a few months to live. He wanted to make sure that his family was taken care of before he passed away. It was a very scary time in our family’s life but, we kept our faith in God and the knowledge that no matter what happened, God would always be with us. People from my church and community started praying specifically that my Dad would live long enough to see my sister and I graduate from High School. After many years of fighting cancer, he finally saw us graduate this year. Dr. John Waples tells Dad he is one of his “miracle patients”.
All during school I had accommodations because my disability but I never let it stop me from doing what my other classmates were doing. I was always in regular classes and I always did well in them. The only thing that was different about me was I had an aide in the classroom with me and her name was Mary Gainey. We were together for thirteen years. Kindergarten to senior year. My parents always told me that even though I do have a physical disability, it does not mean that I had a mental disability and to anyone who thinks that, I need to prove them wrong. It is very sad when someone sees me for the first time, without even knowing my name, and automatically think that I have a mental disability based on my wheelchair and how I look. It always hurts my feelings when this happens. I know my potential and do not want to always be judged solely because of my looks.
I became a Christian when I was about eight or nine years old. All through elementary school I did a Christian sports program called Upward. I was a cheerleader and Hannah, my twin, played basketball. At the end of every season there was an awards ceremony where you could accept Christ if you wanted to. One particular night, I felt that I needed to accept Christ so I got my cheer coach and she waved my mom down telling her what I was doing. Little did I know that on the opposite side of the room, Hannah’s basketball coach was waving Mom down telling her that Hannah was also accepting Christ. Talk about creepy twin stuff. A few weeks later, after talking to our pastor about it, Hannah and I both got baptized and our Dad felt that he needed to get baptized too. It wasn’t because he wasn’t baptized but, it was because when he was baptized, he did it because everyone else was doing it. That moment was very special for us because not only did we get baptized in front of the church that we loved but,we had our Dad sharing the moment with us.
During my sixth grade year, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. We tried wearing the back brace but, it didn’t help. During that year, I was in the ER one night and my Mom and I were doing homework I looked up and there was no one in the hallway except for this man in a white robe with wings and he was glowing. He started waving at at me and I waved back. My Mom tried to see him but only I could see him. This particular angel has a history with my family. When I was little and I was very sick, my twin sister Hannah, would go out into the back yard and talk to the guardian angel Micheal. He would be sitting on one of our oak trees and tell my sister that he was looking after her very sick little sister. After they would talk, Hannah would run into the house and tell our mom what happened. When this first started my mom didn’t believe Hannah but, after a few of their conversations, my Mom started to believe her because after Hannah would talk about their conversation and she would come check on me, I would have a certain glow about me that wasn’t there before. We didn’t know this at that time but, that angel was there to comfort me and tell me that everything was going to be okay. I had a back surgery right before my 8th grade year. I ended up having to go back a couple of weeks later because of a staff infection in the last six inches of my incision. My hospital stay went from two weeks to fifty-six days. During that time my Dad had a heart attack and almost died. My Mom ended up having to leave me to go be with my Dad. Thankfully, we had many friends who volunteered to stay with me during that hard time and I can’t express how much that meant to us. At the end of the summer, my Dad and I got to come home.
The first semester of that year, I had a homebound teacher named Carolyn Creighton come weekly and she was a wonderful lady. The second semester I got to come back to school and it was great. It was during this period of my life a very special mentoring program called Adelphe was started in my youth group at church by a very special lady named Abby Stallings. This program has given me the opportunity to be a big sister to multiple girls within our program.
In the October of my freshman year I got elected to be on the Homecoming Court for the first time. It made me so happy. Eventually, I would make Homecoming Court all four years of high school. A couple of weeks after I was first elected to Homecoming Court, my best friend Darby died of her third battle with Leukemia. It was a very dark time in my life but, I learned that God has a plan and he really does have everything under control. You just have to learn to lean on him and he’ll take care of the rest. I just graduated with honors from high school. As I wheeled across that stage, I had my head held high with people who have supported me through my journey of life cheering me on in behind me. That was an amazing feeling. Even though I do have a disability. I also have dreams and I’m not going to let anything or anyone step in my way. I don’t know what God has planned for my future but, I know that what ever it is it will be amazing and I know that God will use all the things I have been through to influence other people and to Glorify Him.