|October 10, 2016 • VOL. 54, NO. 17 • Oakland, CA|
Respect for Life
Josh Burger: 'What I do with my life is my gift to Him'
Speaking to several hundred eighth-graders might strike fear in the hearts of many.
While an introduction like that might have rated a drummer's rimshot for an ordinary speaker, it opened the door for the extraordinary young man to deliver a serious message.
He wasn't expected to survive much past birth, if he made it that far.
His mother's 20-week ultrasound showed a large head and malformed bones.
"I looked like a Pokémon," he told his audience, who listened attentively.
Medical personnel had advised an abortion. His parents chose to give him life, even if they would share that life with him for just moments after his birth.
"I believe my parents couldn't give up hope," he said. "Their hope was that God had a plan in this hopeless situation."
A Stanford doctor who diagnosed his disease — Atelosteogenesis Syndrome Type III — said he would live six months.
He has exceeded expectations.
"Nine thousand days later," he pointed out.
Others diagnosed with this syndrome are age 4 and under.
"You're looking at the world record holder," he told the audience, which burst into applause.
"Every bone in my body is misshapen," he told them. An oxygen tank had been his constant companion.
But nine months ago, that changed.
"God healed me," he said. "My strength comes from God," he said.
His faith is strong. "I've almost died seven times," he said.
"My future is unknown," he said. "But that's the way it is for everyone."
The young man who didn't speak until he was 5 years old found his public-speaking voice when he was 18, invited to a rally at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
He has put that voice to work in many ways, speaking on the precious nature of life.
Burger's speaking schedule that week included the 40 Days for Life campaign kickoff in Walnut Creek as well as a talk at his high school alma mater, Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton, in the same week as his address to the Catholic school students.
"My small body is God's gift to me," he said. "What I do with my life is my gift to Him."
What he was doing with that life on these two September mornings was offering perspective to young teenagers. He told of his experiences as a counselor at Painted Turtle Camp, a Southern California camp for children with life-threatening illnesses.
These children, he told them, are worried about staying alive, which makes the usual teen angst pale by comparison.
"They'd be so thankful to be you," he said.
"Listen up: Everybody at school is different," he said. "God put us together. God has never, ever made a mistake."
But the world is not perfect. There are bullies out there.
"Don't be a bully," he said. "God didn't put you here to hurt others. He put you here to love and serve others."
Burger said he knew the protection of friends who would stand up for him. He encouraged the eighth-graders to "stand up for others."
He finds it "very fun to give back," noting his efforts in the walk and roll to benefit the Valley Pregnancy Center, and Vacation Bible School efforts that led to the donation of 50 wheelchairs to be distributed around the world. As an eighth-grader himself, he helped raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
He shared some of his avocations with the students. He plays on a top-level power wheelchair soccer team — "It's fast, it's wild" — and hopes it will become paralympic.
Recently he has begun driving a van he can control with his hands.
On the cathedral plaza, during a break between his talk and the 12:10 p.m. Mass, the eighth-graders weren't shy about approaching Burger, asking questions, and gathering around him for group photos.
"I'm making the most of my time," Josh Burger said. "Life is precious."
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