NEVER, EVER, GIVE UP!
25-year-old Zuly may be smiling now, but it’s been a long, hard road to happiness. She was born without arms or legs due to a rare Tetra-amelia syndrome genetic condition, which prevents limbs from developing properly inside the womb. She was one of six children her father and mother took care of.
Sadly, Zuly’s father committed suicide when she was only two years old, leaving her mother to care for all her children alone in Bogota, Columbia — a country that does not provide any financial assistance to people with disabilities. But Guillermina kept insisting that her daughter could live a normal life and do anything she put her mind to. She encouraged her daughter to learn how to do things on her own, and Zuly credits her mother and God for being the source of her independence. Obviously, Guillermina undoubtedly taught her daughter the meaning of determination by example.
“Mum taught me to do basic things like making the bed, brushing my teeth, and changing clothes using my mouth and stumps to grip things,” says Zuly. “She wanted me to do everything any able-bodied person can do,” Unfortunately, in her neighborhood and school, her peers were not as supportive. Zuly was mercilessly bullied. She was called an alien, and some kids would even steal her snacks. She tried switching schools, but the taunting continued. “I’d go to sleep at night crying and wishing I could just wake up and be like everyone else. I felt pushed aside at school and didn’t have any friends. I thought there was no hope for me. Thoughts of giving up kept taunting me, even when Mum tried to keep my spirits up, but I felt so hurt and low,” recalls Zuly.
The abuse only got worse, and Zuly became the victim of rape. By fifteen, she hit her lowest point and truly believed life was not worth living. So, she climbed up to the fourth floor of her building and was preparing to jump to her death. But God had bigger and better plans. Her mother showed up just in the nick of time and pulled Zuly back from jumping.
Zuly says that it devastated her mom to find that things had gotten so bad for her daughter that she was prepared to take her own life. With tears streaming down her face, Guillermina wrapped her arms around Zuly, hugged her tight, and told her that one day she would go on to shine and show other people that she was able to live a normal, happy life with a disability. “She was my guardian angel,” says Zuly, “the angel that is always standing by my side, and I am thankful to God for her because she was always there when I needed her.”
With encouragement and support from her mother, Zuly worked hard to build up her confidence. After hitting rock bottom, Zuly realized she’d spent too much time focusing on her disability. “I don’t have any arms or legs, but I won’t let that hold me back,” she exclaimed to herself one day. Despite having no arms or legs, God blessed Zuly with incredible artistic talent. Using her mouth to hold a brush, Zuly is able to create incredibly beautiful paintings.
At age eighteen, Zuly went to art college and was later asked by the local pastor to join him on community visits where she could share her story. “My first talk was speaking to 400 college students and parents about bullying in schools,” Zuly recalled. “I was really nervous, so Mum came with me for support. But half-way through, I began to cry uncontrollably because it was so painful reliving what I’d been through. But everyone in the audience started clapping, and that gave me the strength to keep going.”
Zuly now speaks regularly at businesses, prisons, and schools. She has come to realize she didn’t suffer in vain. A very special calling has been placed on her life. God took all her brokenness and strife of years of abuse and turned it into something beautiful.
The impact Zuly is having on others today, combined with the love and support she’s received, is the reason she’s smiling. By sharing her story of perseverance, Zuly is not only inspiring others, but she’s also changing lives. “It gives me so much happiness to know I’m helping people. One boy was about to take his own life with a gun when he saw a TV show I was on. He realized he had to be brave and decided not to take his life. He wrote to me, and we’re now really good friends. I get letters from lots of people who say I’ve helped them through difficult situations.”
Zuly has been able to overcome the trauma of sexual abuse and hopes one day to marry and have children. She also aspires to extend her motivational speaking abroad, as well as to one day open an orphanage.
Satan aims to weaken us by distracting us from what we can do, so we focus on what we cannot do.” But Zuly’s story is a testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit. “I’m proof you don’t have to let a disability hold you back. I went through such a dark time, but now I’m in a good place, and it’s given me a sense of purpose of helping other people.”
The Apostle James said, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12). We, too, have a great role model in preservice, Jesus our Lord and Savior. We are told that despite all the rejection and criticism He went through when it came time to face His accusers and suffer the pain, suffering, and death that lay ahead, He was resolutely determined to carry on and headed straight for Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)
There may be things in life we count as handicaps. Perhaps we’ve used that in the past to excuse ourselves from doing things we believe we can do or accept responsibility for ourselves instead of always leaning on others. Let the brave girl, Zuly, also be an example for you. In the words of the great British leader, Winston Churchill, “Never give up! Never, never, ever give up!” Jesus didn’t, Zuly didn’t, so why should you? – Dr. Robert R Seyda