Some stories are meant to make you laugh. Some are meant to make you cry.
Others are simply meant to make you get out of bed, look in the mirror and recite to your reflection, "How Lucky Am I?"
I told of the "Pebble In My Shoe" in the opening piece, which chronicled my battle with situational depression (the loss of my wife, my kids, my house, my job, and my self esteem left me cowering like a baby most mornings).
My informal introduction to Roger Crawford saved my life. I read Roger's story in "Chicken Soup for the Soul" every day until I committed it to memory. Each day I'd rise licking my emotional wounds and think of "my imaginary friend, Roger" immediately realizing that my plight in life isn't so bad.
Each day I'd find the strength to turn "I can't" into "I might be able to" and eventually into "I can."
You see, some people take the lemons that God gives them and makes lemonade. Then there is Roger Crawford, who takes the same lemon and plants a tree, a grove, and ultimately a factory to allow everyone to have a glass.
Roger was born with ectrodactylism, a rare birth defect which effects one in 90,000 children born in the United States. The disease left Roger with a thumb-like projection extending directly out of his right forearm and a thumb along with a finger sticking out of his left forearm.
He had no palms and his arms and legs were shortened. He had only three toes on his shrunken right foot and a withered left leg which would later be amputated.
The Crawford's doctor informed them that Roger would probably never walk or care for himself.
Fortunately, Roger's parents didn't believe the doctor.
Roger's true life story of becoming "The Worlds Greatest Physically Challenged Athlete" as named by Sports Illustrated, is truly an inspiring story. But even more than a tennis player as well as an unknowing inspiration to just me, Roger has taken the world upon his athletic shoulders and has turned his personal lemon into lemonade for many.
Roger was flattered when I caught up to him by phone last week. "Todd, your story is so amazing. I'm flattered that you'd hold me in such high regard", Roger said after I told him that speaking to him was my personal equivalent of 'talking to a God.'
"I'm always thrilled to have the opportunity to tell my story. I'm really honored to help others and have a role in others' lives," said the gifted role model to so many.
I asked Roger what made him pick up a tennis racket for the first time.
"I was a shy kid partially because of my challenge," he explained. "We had just moved from Ohio to California and I hardly knew anyone. My parents and I went into a sporting goods store and I got my finger caught in a racquet. I saw that as a sign from God."
Once Roger found his special racquet, he realized that tennis was the perfect game for someone of his unique ability.
"Tennis was great for me because I could practice by myself hitting the ball against a wall. Once I learned how to play a bit, I focused and attacked it with a vengeance."
Roger credits his perseverance and his unwillingness to give up to his parents and, specifically, his Dad.
"My Dad used to tell me that I don't live in Pity City. He taught me to be proud of my abilities and not to be ashamed of the parts of me that make me unique."
Roger told me the story of the time he asked his Dad to write a note to a teacher requesting a two day extension on a paper he was having difficulty typing. His Dad refused to write the note and taught Roger to start each assignment two days earlier moving forward.
"Dad, taught me to take my hands out of my pockets and to be proud of what I have, not to be ashamed of what I don't have."
"We all have invisible challenges, Todd. Some are simply more challenging to overcome than others."
Roger quickly learned that playing tennis isn't about being physically challenged or not. It's not about having one leg or two. "The winner is simply the player who hits the ball over the net one more time than the other guy".
Roger used analogies like this throughout his life to help him rise to all of life's challenges.
"Isn't this what life is all about? The person who tries a little harder and perseveres a little longer is the person who wins the match. It's not about the person with the most talent or whose body is the most gifted. It's about hitting the ball over life's net one more time than the other guy."
"I'm so blessed," he said to my hardly-believing ears. "I'm blessed to have had the right coach. He taught me about commitment. The commitment to never quit. He taught me about persistence. I talk to people every day and that is truly my message. Don't ever lose hope."
I asked Roger if there is anything that he cannot do.
"Todd, everyone has things they cannot do. We are all handicapped in some way. The difference between mine and theirs is that you can see mine. Some poeple's handicaps are just more difficult to see."
"I could be the most positive person in the world and I'm not going to grow seven more fingers. That is a fact and I accept it. What people need to do is find the things they are good at and become passionate about them. Find your strength and excel. Everyone has a gift."
"We need to focus on things we can control and spend time and energy at that. It is wasted energy and time for me to be concerned about things for which I cannot control."
I asked Roger if he believes in God despite having been dealt such an unfortunate hand.
"Of course I believe in God and I thank him every day for all my wonderful gifts. I have a wonderful wife and wonderful children. My daughter Alexas, 16, was diagnosed with cancer. I watched her walk through this and it is now in remission. I'm so proud of her."
"God works in many ways. He gives us so many gifts and always reminds me that every life has a purpose. He has taught me to believe that with adversity comes opportunity."
I repeated Roger's words as I scribbled on pages and pages of notes I was taking as he spoke.
"With adversity comes opportunity."
I remembered this phrase from my own life and the day Roger became introduced to me on the pages of "Chicken Soup for the Soul." I got lost in thought for a second or two before Roger slapped me into the present with more of his own chicken soup for the soul.
"When I see parents with a challenged child or when a parent loses a child, there is nothing you can really say. I encourage them to look at examples of what others have done and to keep the memory alive. Every situation has a purpose. Every person has a reason for being."
Roger went on to speak to me about his thoughts on political correctness.
"I think people are way too sensitive. It is what it is. I don't see people as being handicapped. I tell people it can be an inconvenience. That's all. Is my challenge greater? Perhaps, but maybe not. Everyone has challenges."
I wrapped up my conversation with my new real-life friend. I asked him if he had to do it all over again is there anything he would change?
"Maybe my own stupidity. Aren't there things anyone would change?"
He made me realize that he doesn't see himself as being special-needs. He considers himself to be a special person. A person like you and me. A person with challenges every day, not everyday challenges.
"My Dad taught me that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it."
"I recently sat down with a soldier who had returned from Iraq after having lost both of his arms. Todd, he looked down at his missing limbs and told me, 'I wonder what God is going to do with this.' Here is a man who truly sees what he has lost and knows that in turn he has found something much greater."
I hung up the phone with a tear trickling down my cheek and off of my chin. I thought about my dwindling checking account balance and the pimple on my cheek. I thought of the guy who cut me off today and the fact that I have a mile-long list of things I need to get accomplished. I thought of the pebble in my shoe.
And none of my problems seemed bad all of the sudden. Thanks Roger. You did it for me yet again.
Roger Crawford's books "Think Again, Discovering the Possibilities in Plain Sight", "How High Can You Bounce?" and "Playing from the Heart", as well as, his video "Take Your Best Shot" can be found on his website at www.rogercrawford.com.
I've read each and they are must-haves for any home or classroom library.
Roger on You Tube is enjoyable, humorous and inspiring.
Roger can also be hired to speak at your corporation, graduation or organization. I would imagine that your audience will be forever inspired.