“The name Owen means strength. He is strong.” — Eric Lakey
“My earliest memory is when I was 3-years-old when Watermark met at Lake Highlands High School,” shared Owen Lakey, now 11. “We were sitting on colored carpet squares. It was crisscross applesauce – legs crossed, backs straight. I was trying to sit up straight, but kept falling over. The teacher moved me so I could lean against the wall.”
Owen was born with spina bifida. His parents, Laura and Eric Lakey, learned halfway through their pregnancy that spina bifida would be a part of their second child’s story.
“Spina bifida is a birth defect that has impacted Owen’s physical abilities,” explained Eric Lakey, Owen’s father. “He can’t stand on his own and uses a wheelchair fulltime. We have wrestled long and hard with God about why this happened to Owen. Our son has wrestled with that, too. We don’t have a full answer, but God has shown us that He can be trusted in everything, even hard circumstances such as being in a wheelchair.”
Years before Owen was born, God began preparing the Lakeys to trust Him in all circumstances.
“Laura and I got engaged in 1999 and came to Watermark,” said Eric. “I wasn’t a believer, but would have said I was a Christian. I didn’t know I needed a savior. I learned there is truth in the gospel and accepted Christ the summer of 2000.”
“Friends pulled us into a small community group and modeled what a Christian marriage looked like, and God continued bringing other believers into our lives,” added Laura.
“We had just moved into our house a couple of months before Owen was born. We didn’t know our neighbors,” said Eric. “But God surrounded us with Watermark families in Lake Highlands, including Watermark staffer, Kyle Kaigler, and his wife Tresha, next door. He knew our needs before we knew them.”
“Halfway through our pregnancy we learned of Owen’s diagnosis, and people in the body of Watermark were involved in Owen’s life before he arrived,” said Laura. “When he was born, we had so many Watermark staff come that were officially clergy according to the hospital, we got to have many more visitors that most people…Owen was in the NICU for 10 days and had two surgeries before leaving the hospital.
“A friend suggested we make Scripture cards that we placed around Owen’s bassinet in the NICU. Eric and I were scared, but the Bible kept us focused on truth. We wanted Owen to be grounded in the Word because we knew hard days would come.
“Owen was 2½ before we knew he would be a in wheelchair. We looked around our house and saw thick carpet and steps. Renovations would be expensive. We went to Watermark’s prayer service, Raise the Mark, and prayed with friends. What did God want us to do? Apparently, the Lord didn’t want us to do anything. He wanted His people to do it, and the body of Watermark stepped up with donations of money, skills and time.
“The first floor got hardwoods and ramps. Lots of concrete was poured around the back yard so Owen could play outside. The work continued from December through April. It’s an amazing story of God’s provision. It was financial, but so much more than that. God doesn’t intend for us to face hardship alone. That’s why we are called to be part of a body of believers.”
Over the years, Owen has learned to maneuver difficult places. One of those was the unpaved streets of Haiti last February when Owen and his father were part of a Watermark family discipleship trip to serve with our ministry partner, Mission of Hope Haiti.
“We were in the village the first day and people were pushing my wheelchair through the rocky alley,” explained Owen. “I almost tipped over, but three Haitian boys ran to me and carried me like a chariot. We saw those boys several times during the week.
“A lot of the kids came to me because they had never seen a kid in a wheelchair,” said Owen. “They asked me why are you in a wheelchair? Are your legs broken? I told them my spine was broken.”
“With the help of an interpreter Owen explained a little about spina bifida and life in a wheelchair,” said Eric. “He shared that it is hard when other kids are playing sports that he can’t play. But he can have joy today because he knows that someday he will be in heaven with Jesus and be able to walk. Owen then explained that he knows he is going to heaven because he believes that Jesus died for his sins on the cross and has trusted Christ as his Savior.
“Owen’s wheelchair often makes him different from other kids,” said Eric. “But God used Owen’s wheelchair to build a bridge to a bunch of kids who have experienced significant challenges.
“People got to hear how an 11-year-old boy has joy in the midst of hardship because of his relationship with Jesus – and that this same joy is available to them through Christ. While others were asking why that day, I felt the not-so-soft whispering from God reminding me that Owen is God’s masterpiece. He has created him anew in Christ Jesus, so that Owen can do the good things the Lord planned for him long ago.” (paraphrased from Ephesians 2:10).
For information on the February 2016 Watermark Family Discipleship Trip to Mission of Hope Haiti go to watermark.org/international-trips.