The sunny, smiling face of Jack Duffy being piggy-backed by his equally smiling and sunny-faced father Chris is a wonderful picture of parenthood.
I’ve been following his story – maybe you have too.
Jack, eight, has cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia and can’t talk or walk. This small detail has not stopped his parents from imagining new adventures that any kid would marvel at.
Last year Jack did the Ross Marathon, pushed in a buggy by his mum Erin and Chris.
In 2009 they kayaked 600km from Launceston to Hobart along the East Coast, raising $70,000 for St Giles Society.
And in April next year Chris will carry Jack in a special backpack along the 65km Overland Track, this time raising funds for Life Without Barriers.
Makes me feel exhausted just writing about it!
Parenting a child with additional needs must be one of the most difficult gigs, and my hat’s off to every person who has marched that path.
You. Are. Legends.
When these sorts of stories surface – of parents doing extraordinary things to enable their children to experience a heightened quality of life – there is a consistent response buried within their stories.
It speaks of life change – and it was there in a recent article on Jack Duffy too.
“He’s made Erin and I prioritise on what we used to think was important,” Chris told the reporter.
And don’t we all wish for that sometimes? To be able to pare away the detritus and just exist in our simplest, most honest form.
As I have followed the Duffy family’s story, a few verses have come to mind that, at first glance, won’t appear very PC. It’s the part where Jesus used the symbolism of the cross to describe the Christian mission.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26, ESV)
I’m sorry Chris… you’re probably going to hate me for this… but I’m going to liken you to Jesus. And for the record, I’m not for a minute suggesting Jack is a ‘cross’, or ‘burden’ in the popular understanding. This verse and the ‘take up your cross’ adage is typically misunderstood.
The cross means death: brutal and torturous.
First-century onlookers to Jesus’ death would not have considered the crude cross he shouldered as being symbolic of a burden He must carry. It meant death in the most painful way known to man. That’s what they were thinking when they saw Him struggling with its weight.
Death to self.
Jesus allowed it for a greater vision – the saving of many lives.
I know that Chris and Erin have sacrificed significantly for a greater vision within their family – for unity, fulfillment and joy. Perhaps they wish their son was spared the disabilities of his birth. But perhaps their lives are enriched because of it too.
They are one example of people prepared to ‘lose their life’ for a vision greater than themselves. And in the death to self they have gained a life that fluoresces in a way that us of average plodding lifestyles couldn’t begin to grasp.
We have the choice of a spiritual equivalent, through Jesus.
When we stop striving for the temporary liberties in wealth, success, power and fame, when we are literally prepared to put every selfish desire to death and follow Jesus, the result is life eternal.
After all, what’s the use in gaining the world only to leave it with an empty soul?
It leads us to that big, enduring question: what is the meaning of life?
I know my answer.
And if my ramblings prompt you to search deeper for your own answer, or to discover that you don’t have an answer, then all the better.
(You can support the Duffys’ fundraising by visiting the Overland Jack supporting Life Without Barriers Facebook page.)
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday October 27, 2014.