When a disabled man felt called to hike 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago, 3 words from his best friend made it all possible.
Posted in , Mar 3, 2015
What would it take for you to believe in the impossible?
For Justin Skeesuck, all it took was watching a television show about the Camino de Santiago—a network of ancient pilgrim routes in Spain, also known as the Way of St. James—for him to hear the still, small voice of God saying: Take this journey.
Never mind that Justin had been in a wheelchair since 2010, unable to move his upper or lower body. The self-described “Disabled Traveler” has a rare progressive autoimmune/neuromuscular disease called Multifocal Acquired Motor Axonopathy (MAMA) that functions similar to ALS in that it attacks the muscles and stops them from functioning correctly. How could he possibly hike a 500-mile stretch of the Camino?
A couple of weeks later, Justin’s best friend since childhood, Patrick Gray, and his family, stopped by for a visit. Skeesuck had recorded the show on the Camino and re-watched it with Patrick. At the end, he asked if Patrick would complete the trek with him. “I’ll push you,” Patrick said. “We’ll figure it out.”
Those three words, “I’ll push you,” were the validation from God that this journey to Spain was meant to be, Justin said. But just because God says, “Go,” doesn’t always mean He’ll let you in on the details of how the plan will work. Justin and Patrick decided to get a film crew to document their trek and sought funding for the entire experience—none of which actually came through until the duo had landed in France to begin the hike. They also didn’t know how much help they would need on the trail until they encountered significant challenges, and God allowed special strangers to cross their path who were happy to lend them a hand. As Patrick told Guideposts.org, the two quickly learned, “God has a habit of doing as much as He can with as little as possible.”
The 34-day hike was no easy feat for the best friends. Patrick not only had to push and carry Justin along the way, he was also Justin's total caregiver, a responsibility Patrick considered an honor.
“I never really thought about it as what I’d have to do; it was more about what I get to do, which is a fundamental difference in thinking. Certain things in life should be seen as a privilege and not an obligation. This was a gift that I was very much privileged to experience, the gift of experiencing someone’s complete trust in me. That was pretty amazing. Justin put a lot of trust and faith in me.”
Justin’s amazing faith extended not only to Patrick but to strangers God placed in their path. Parts of Justin’s wheelchair fell off on the journey through hills and mountains. Strangers they met along the way literally carried him through different parts of the rocky terrain, Justin told Guideposts.org,
“There’s no way we could have gotten over so many obstacles without divine intervention. And I’m glad we were obedient to God by going on this journey. The lives that were intersected before, during, and after have been absolutely mind-blowing,” Justin said.
He’s talked to people on the phone he’s never met, who cried sharing their stories with him, as well as people that they met on the Camino. “People are telling us their life stories that are just heart wrenching. I don’t think God sent us there to preach to people. He sent us there to be an ear, to be a friend, and to love the people we came in contact with. In return, we got back so much love, happiness, and joy. That’s God at work.”
God’s work for Justin and Patrick didn’t end when the two returned home. They believe the media attention they continue to receive is an opportunity to share their faith in God with many more people. They are raising funds to edit the footage of them on the Camino into a documentary aptly titled, I’ll Push You. They want to continue to share the message that, despite your personal or physical limitations, all things are possible with God.
It can be difficult to know exactly what God is calling you to do, particularly when it seems as impossible as hiking through Spain in a wheelchair, but Justin told Guideposts.org that there are some tell-tale signs that something you desire is also what God wants you to do with your life.
“For me it’s always been the tug on the heart. The inner voice that comes from within that is usually calling you and urging you to do something. What I think is difficult for us to do is to listen to that voice because it gets trumped by fear, other people’s influence, your background or your history, whether that be good or bad. All it takes is that ear to listen and step of action to move forward in that direction and as soon as you make that first step, it becomes easier to follow God’s will.”
Patrick said that when you’re seeking God’s will, God will take care of the rest. “If you’re seeking God and you’re going the wrong way, He’s going to close doors. He closed doors for us. We were seeking Him in the greatest ways and a lot of stuff didn’t pan out the way we thought it would. In hindsight, we’re so glad it didn’t. But when you’ve got the unity of that tug at the heart, people praying around you and doors opening, that’s when you know you’re on the right track.”
Though totally unable to move himself, Justin desired to complete the 500-mile Camino hike across Spain and his best friend Patrick said, "I'll push you".
Patrick pushes Justin over a bridge in Spain
It took Patrick and Justin 34 days to complete this popular stretch of the Camino de Santiago.
Patrick and Justin visited a monastery while in Europe and both credit their faith in God for getting them through one of the most grueling and amazing experiences of their lives.
The Camino is full of hills and valleys, mountains, but the two got help from strangers who quickly became friends along the way.
Many people helped Patrick carry Justin to the finish line.
Patrick tells Guideposts.org: "Having all those individuals that helped carry us to the finish line was a demonstration of the power that God has when people respond to those they see in need. That's the beauty of community and the need that we have to live in community with others. We’re all God’s hands and feet. His spirit is alive and well through those who are obedient and want to see the Kingdom intersect with lives, right here, right now."
Justin and Patrick reflect on the glory of God as the sun rises over the Camino.
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