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O.C. RELIGION | GETTING RELIGION

Losing Her Mobility but Gaining Faith

May 06, 2000|WILLIAM LOBDELL | William Lobdell, editor of Times Community News, looks at faith as a regular contributor to The Times' Orange County religion page. His e-mail address is bill.lobdell@latimes.com

You want to feel sorry for Donna Boggess, you really do.

The relentless 30-year march of multiple sclerosis through her central nervous system has caused her body to mutiny. Her legs abandoned her long ago; her arms recently stopped working.

She now relies on others to get her out of bed, go to the bathroom, bathe, comb her hair, put on her makeup and eat. And that's before 9 a.m.

You've got to feel sorry for someone in that situation, right?

Wrong. Meet Boggess and pity is the last thing you'll feel. Try inspiration, awe and humility, for starters.

Sitting in a wheelchair, her arms frozen in the ever-tightening vise of multiple sclerosis, she tells you that--because of God--her life is great. And the weird thing is, right off the bat, you believe her. You can see the evidence all around her.

One, there are her friends. She has tons of them. The phone rings constantly in her Mission Viejo apartment, and her home is filled with guests and laughter. On some days, a girlfriend will come over, put Boggess in her convertible red Miata and drive, top down, all over the county, logging up to 150 miles in a day.

"The world gravitates toward Mom," said daughter Keri, 26, who lives with her. "She touches everyone she talks to."

Two, she has a budding career developing her own ministry. She gives Christ-centered inspirational talks, has produced a motivational tape ("A Walk to Joy") and is writing--with the help of a voice-activated computer--a book.

This is in addition to her part-time work for Saddleback Church, where she makes phone calls each evening to remind parishioners of meetings and offer encouragement. She also runs a support group out of her apartment for chronic illness sufferers. And she's most proud of the work she's done raising two beautiful daughters.

Three, she's just plain happy.

"I'm humbled because she has so many obstacles, and she handles them all with such grace," said Jan Muncaster, Saddleback's administrator. "She helps people with perspective. She literally never complains about her situation."

The obvious question: How can a wheelchair-bound woman--who has to have help even to brush her teeth--think life is so wonderful?

"God's given her this happiness," Keri said. "Maybe that's God's gift to her. People are drawn to that contrast--tragedy and happiness at the same time."

Boggess has a different thought. "My problems aren't any bigger than anyone else's," she said. "It's just that mine are right out there for everyone to see. Some people struggle with bigger problems that they hold inside."

*

When talking with Boggess, it's not hard to imagine that 31 years ago she was a song leader at Tustin High School. At 49, she's still cheerleader-cute (and her daughter wants any eligible "godly men" out there to know that Mom's single) and an extrovert who's half Rosie O'Donnell, half Mother Teresa.

Since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 19, Boggess has spent the past three decades battling the progressive disease and shaping her attitude toward it. She's gone from cane to walker to wheelchair to electric wheelchair. Each year, the illness chipped away at her freedom and made her increasingly dependent on God.

"I never know what my body's not going to do today that it did yesterday," Boggess said. "God's with me every minute of the day, and I don't know how I could do it by myself."

Her two greatest challenges are related: finding reliable caregivers and earning enough money to cover her special needs. For example, the daily help--when she gets it--costs $20,000 a year.

Between her part-time job and Social Security, there's not enough money. Her friends at Saddleback Church have set up a special fund for her called "Blessings From Heaven," which helps.

"I've learned to put all my worries at his feet," Boggess said. "And when I do, the heavens open up and the blessings come down."

Boggess does have other fears she battles with daily. The most persistent is that she'll wind up in a nursing home.

"But I used to fear that someday I'd end up in a wheelchair," Boggess said. "Here I am, and I'm OK. I know God will take care of me wherever I am."

Even after meeting Boggess, you still have to ask: With everything that's happened to you, do you ever wonder if there's really a God?

"How could there not be a God?" Boggess asked back to me. "How could I do all this without God? God is my hope, my joy, my strength. He's the love of my life."

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