By Rick Charbonneaux
“I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me.” Philippians 4:13
Here is a story of a man who befell what the nation had dreaded the most would happen to their loved ones, and who was given strength through his weakness by turning to help others in the same situation. A strength that stayed with him all the way to the White House.
Franklin Roosevelt was man who was going places. Married with five children and touting a powerful family name and fortune, he had even been nominated as candidate for Vice President for the 1920 National election (losing to Coolidge and Harding). He was the current Assistant Secretary of the Navy and was highly regarded and favored in the public’s eye.
It seemed that all was coming into position to assure him a promising future. Almost..
Although he had contracted the Spanish Flu in 1918 and had survived, during August of 1921, he was stricken with poliomyelitis, for which there was no cure.
To become one of what society called “the polios” was a major set back to any further political ambitions, because the voting public of the 1920’s did not want any “weakness” in its duly elected officials, and polios were seen as someone to pity and not as leaders.
Coming to grips with his new situation, he looked to an old treatment center located at Bullochville, GA in hopes of strengthening his weakening leg muscles.
What he found there in those “healing waters” was to restore his confidence in himself through his helping of others in his same situation.
Further, he did not feel ashamed there to have his dwindling legs exposed during therapy, nor did he have to wear his leg braces inside his slacks as he had in order to keep them hidden from the public.
Franklin could even stand on his own two feet in the pools, unassisted for the first time in three years, and only needing to hold onto a rope handrail to do so.
He felt great, re-energized and re-purposed, and he felt normal for a while. From his new found “strength from weakness” he personally helped a great many of his “fellow polios” to regain their self-respect and confidence and to accept their situation.
So taken with place was he that he decided to buy it and to develop it into a first-rate clinic. With his energy and vision, and with the greater share of his inheritance (sold for $195,000.00), Franklin did exactly that* and renamed the little town: “Warm Springs”. When fully staffed and functional, the modernized therapy center became a welcoming harbor of hope for people all over the nation.
Aside from receiving therapy himself, Franklin gave as much of his time and energy to other patients as he could and was soon to be called “Old Doctor Roosevelt”. It was a title which he gratefully accepted and was also known as the “Vice President of Picnics and Fun” for the many outings he hosted for all who to come along, especially those who needed encouragement.
Franklin lifted a lot of spirits and hopes and accomplished much very meaningful good in helping so many others. In turn, they had made him feel whole again and good about himself. He wanted the best for them and had made that the goal of every member of his large staff of therapists and orderlies.
When divine destiny started its events that placed Franklin as President of the United States in 1933, he had already created a foundation for Warm Springs in 1927 (The Georgia Warm Springs Foundation) and visited whenever he could, enjoying every minute with his fellow polios.
As he later led a nation as President through the Great Depression and World War Two, Franklin tried to give a suffering people a new sense of self worth too, just as Warm Springs had done for him.
Franklin Roosevelt was just one of the countless individuals who are placed to help others, but his story is our story too, for when we help and encourage others, we in turn help ourselves, and together we bring hope to each other (and the Gospel and a little fun too!). For those who walk by God’s Word and Will, it is a story that never ends.
Note: Franklin Roosevelt’s death at Warm Springs – Franklin returned to Warm Springs for the final time while President, to get some “good rest and sleep”, as he had become extremely exhausted. During the afternoon of April 12, 1945, while resting there in his cottage, he suffered a extremely painful and fatal cerebral hemorrhage, passing away at age 63.
Reflection: There are few powers as restoring as the “strength in weakness” that is bequeathed of God upon those He favors for His purposes.
Quote – “Physical strength can never permanently withstand the impact of spiritual force.” .. Franklin D. Roosevelt, US President and lifelong Episcopalian and member of the vestry.
* “THE ROOSEVELTS – An Intimate History, by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns, Knopp Publishing – 2014, p. 258
Rik Charbonneaux is a retired NE Iowan who loves all of God’s creatures.