I’ll Push You: A Story of Faith, Friendship and the Camino de Santiago
LIFE Today featured Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray on August 7, 2017 to discuss their book and documentary titled I’ll Push You.
The Stream‘s Nancy Flory sat down with Skeesuck and Gray to talk about their enduring friendship and the message of community that they share with others.
Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray are lifelong friends. They’ve always done everything together, from attending the same church and school to taking camping trips together. So when Skeesuck was diagnosed with a debilitating disease, Gray did what any other best friend would do — he prayed for a miracle, then he stepped in to help. Now, they’re sharing what they’ve learned about the power of community.
‘From Day One’
They were born 36 hours apart at Holy Rosary Hospital in Ontario, Oregon. The friendship started long before that, however. Skeesuck’s and Gray’s parents were friends in college. And Skeesuck’s great-uncle was Gray’s grandfather’s best man in his wedding. “We’ve been connected since day one,” Gray said.
Then, when Skeesuck was 16, he was in a serious car accident. The accident triggered a dormant progressive autoimmune disease called Multifocal Acquired Motor Axonopathy. The disease, similar to ALS, caused weakness in his legs, then progressed to his upper body.
Skeesuck continued to do as much as his body allowed. He went to college and got married. He and Gray continued to have vacations together. The disease continued to progress and soon it was hard to deny the toll it was taking on Skeesuck’s body. Eventually, Skeesuck lost the use of his extremities.
Hands and Feet
Accepting Skeesuck’s disability wasn’t easy. Gray said he prayed for healing and answers. “I became angry with God,” he told The Stream. “I was obsessed with a miracle.” He said he struggled with the unanswered prayer for two years. Then one day someone asked Skeesuck if he could have the use of his hands and legs back would he take it. Skeesuck said no.
Gray realized at that point that Skeesuck wasn’t fighting a battle for healing — he was graceful in his acceptance of the disease and carried himself with dignity. “I was looking for a tangible miracle,” he explained. Skeesuck’s “grace and dignity was the miracle.” It opened his eyes to the realization that more often than not, God’s provision is experienced through the hands and feet of others. Heaven and earth intersect through the hands and feet of others. “Whatever we do, unless love is the motivation, our actions are meaningless. But when love is our motivation, that’s when God’s love is known,” Gray said.
He thought of Matthew 25:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
“I have a gift to be his hands and feet,” Gray said.
And he has. Gray has helped feed Skeesuck when he could no longer use his arms. Gray has been there to help with bathroom duties. Gray “jumped in, all in, all there, without hesitation without reserve, without guilt,” Skeesuck said. Although their friendship was always close, the intimacy has deepened their relationship.
I’ll Push You
Then, in 2012 Skeesuck saw an episode of Rick Steve’s Europe that featured the Camino de Santiago. The Camino de Santiago is a network of roads that stretch across 500 miles, ending at Santiago de Compostela cathedral in Northwest Spain. He knew instantly that he wanted to go. When he approached Gray about going, Gray didn’t hesitate. “Our friendship has always been about adventure — the big ones, the small ones,” said Gray. “This relationship is just — it’s a gift. We’ve done everything together so far, why not have one more adventure. Let’s make it a grand one, right? There was just no other response in my head than, ‘Yeah, I’ll push you.'”
Skeesuck moved to Idaho to be closer to Gray and so the men could train. Two years later they completed the Camino de Santiago. Gray and other pilgrims along the way pushed and pulled Skeesuck in his modified wheelchair. Skeesuck called it a “three-wheeled baby jogger on steroids.” The climb took them over three mountain ranges and down deep muddy trails.
It was difficult, especially when the front wheel came off and they had to find someone to fix it. Or when they faced a mountainside and it took six people to carry Skeesuck over. The men say their friendship grew along with their faith during the 35-day journey.
The Power of Community
“The pilgrimage has taught me for sure, when you do step out in faith, watch out, because amazing things can really happen,” said Skeesuck. He said he may not be able to do a lot, “but through the power of community I climbed mountains.”
Since the trip, the two have written a book and made a documentary about their journey, both titled I’ll Push You. They founded Push, Inc. They keynote conferences and events where they equip audiences and organizations with the skills needed to do more together.
“We’re trying to share that you can achieve more together with the people around you,” said Skeesuck. “I’ve had to learn how to let people in,” he explained. It’s not easy for anyone to ask for help. “But being vulnerable in the context of community is one of [our] greatest strengths. When we let people in,” Skeesuck said, “The sky is the limit.”
The men found that most people offer to help but don’t want to receive help. “When you deny someone the opportunity to help, you deny them joy,” Skeesuck said he learned. But if you let them help, “you can do pretty much anything you set your mind to do.”
“We have people that surrounded us, that carried us up these mountains,” said Patrick. “They’ve given so much and I want it to be a testament to how we’re supposed to live our lives. Whoever we come in contact with, whatever their walk is, the greatest gift we can give them is to love them.”
Skeesuck’s and Gray’s book, I’ll Push You, was released on June 6, 2017. The documentary by the same name will be released Fall of 2017.
LIFE Today‘s show on Skeesuck’s and Gray’s Camino de Santiago journey and friendship aired on August 7, 2017. Watch the show: