December6 , 2022

    I’ll Push You: A Journey of Friendship, Community and Faith


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    It would seem Justin and Patrick were destined to be friends — their parents were friends in college and Justin’s great uncle was Patrick’s grandfather’s best man in his wedding.

    So, naturally, when Justin and Patrick were born 36 hours apart at the same hospital in 1975, the family tradition carried on.

    “We’ve been connected since day one,” Patrick said.

    Justin and Patrick at graduation from high school

    The two boys did everything together: family activities, church activities, school, and sports.

    Over the weekend, the men shared their story at HDC’s Victorville campus to more than 12,000 attendees of the multi-site church. After a brief introduction by one of the pastors, Paul Gostanian, Justin rolled onto the stage in his wheelchair, with Patrick following close behind. Justin introduced Patrick as his “BFF” and their comedic banter back and forth created a positive energy in the large auditorium, filling it with laughter while giving a glimpse of their unique friendship.

    “When you have that much history, you share lots of stories,” Patrick said. “Especially when you’re hanging out with this guy ‘cause he’s got some pretty crazy ideas.”

    But the lively room quieted as Justin began to tell the part of the story that explained why he spoke from a wheelchair.

    The Disease

    When Justin was almost 16, he was in a serious car accident. The accident triggered a dormant progressive autoimmune disease called Multifocal Acquired Motor Axonopathy (MAMA). The disease, similar to ALS, caused Justin’s autoimmune system to attack his nervous system, which sporadically shuts down, causing his muscles to atrophy. The disease itself doesn’t cause pain, and he still has full sensory awareness — and a full sense of humor — in spite of it.

    “Justin has always been a glass-half-full kind of guy or what I think of as annoyingly positive,” Patrick says.

    For a while, Justin could still do most things using a special brace. Over a period of years, he lost function of his feet and legs. His torso and arms remained unaffected.

    Wedding photo

    Justin went to college and got married. He and Patrick remained close and continued to vacation together. Justin continued to do as much as his body allowed. Because his atrophy had been contained to his lower body, he could maintain a career as a talented graphic designer. But in 2010, he noticed a weakness in his right shoulder. It only took 45 days to lose over 70 percent of the use of his right arm. Eventually, Justin lost the use of all of his extremities.

    ‘The Deep Dark Hole’

    “I’m not going to lie,” he said. “It sucked … what was left of my positive nature and my resilience was gone.”

    At this point, the only sound in the room was coming from the stage. All eyes were on Justin and some people were even sitting on the edge of their seats, as Justin shared what he calls “the deep dark hole.”

    “I realized I had two roads I could go down. I could take the easy route and take my own life and my wife and family wouldn’t have to deal with me anymore. That’s the easy way. Or I could make lemonade out of lemons. I could do the best I could every day, focusing on the blessings. I could keep moving through life and focus on the light,” Justin said. “I have never leaned so heavily on Christ and those around me. Slowly I was able to pull myself out.”

    “I realized I had two roads I could go down. I could take the easy route and take my own life and my wife and family wouldn’t have to deal with me anymore. That’s the easy way. Or I could make lemonade out of lemons.”

    Despite Justin’s return to his usual positive outlook, Patrick was still struggling. He was angry and bitter toward God.

    “For two years, I fought a battle that Justin wasn’t fighting. I was praying for what he wasn’t praying for. I wanted a miracle. But sometimes the miracle isn’t divine intervention and healing, but the ability to face the unknown future with grace and dignity. Justin didn’t need a healing. He needed me to be his hands and feet. Now I see the privilege and honor it is to do this for my friend,” Patrick said.

    Patrick says this revelation transformed and cemented their bond in friendship, bringing with it new possibilities in life.

    The Wild Idea

    Patrick and Justin had been looking for the perfect “guy trip” for quite some time. Justin described a lazy day in March 2012. He’d been channel surfing the TV when he landed on a travel channel story about the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage beginning about five miles across the French border, and ending at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. He knew immediately this was “the one.”

    Justin then called to his wife of 17 years, Kirstin, to see what he was