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Bound but determined

By Kirk Noonan

Michael P. Cook sat in his electric scooter alongside the hospital bed. The prognosis was bleak for Linda, his wife of 23 years. She had fallen into a coma and was not expected to live more than a few hours.

Tearfully, Cook held her limp hand in his and answered the test questions administered by the proctor. It was a strange place to take an exam, and the timing could not have been worse. But Cook desperately wanted Linda present when he completed his last requirement to become a chaplain with the Assemblies of God.

“I had wanted to be a hospital chaplain since I was a child,” says Cook, who was born with cerebral palsy — a neurological disorder that affects body movement and muscle coordination. “Linda wanted to be a part of it when it happened.”

Earlier that day, Cook had begun the oral exam at the AG’s national offices in Springfield, Mo., but midway through the test he was informed that Linda was near death.

An hour later Cook completed the test at the hospital and the proctor announced he had passed. Suddenly, Linda’s eyes fluttered open. Though too weak to speak she mouthed, “I love you” to Cook.

A few minutes later she was dead.

Bearing a cross

Born on March 9, 1957, in the tiny town of Underhill, Vt., Michael Cook weighed only 2.5 pounds and had a host of medical problems. Because of his dire condition doctors warned his parents he would not live more than a few days.

They were wrong.

During Cook’s toddler years his parents were told he would probably never walk. Instead of accepting the prognosis, his parents fought the odds and forbade Cook to feel sorry for himself or live a sedentary life.

At 4 a.m. each day they put him on the kitchen table and performed physical therapy on his body. The early morning regime included grueling stretches and icing treatments that doctors promised would help build nerve pathways from his muscles to his brain which might allow him to walk one day.

His parents’ determination rubbed off on him. Before learning to walk Cook became mobile by using his elbows to lunge, then pull himself across the floor like a mountaineer uses ice axes to scale a peak. He also endured some 40 surgeries and accepted his mother’s words: “Whatever you can do for yourself you’ll do.”

When Cook was 5 years old his parents dropped him off at the Vermont Achievement Center for Training. There, he learned how to take care of himself, endured more therapy, and was forged with a spirit of independence.

“My parents showed me tough love, but they were my greatest advocates,” says Cook, now 50. “That kind of love helped form me into who I am today.”

Even as a child, Cook was adamant his physical limitations would not rule his life. With the help of a therapist he learned first to stand on his own, then to walk. He demanded to be mainstreamed in the public schools.

After graduating from high school, Cook went to college where he toiled relentlessly to stay in step academically with his classmates. Following his college graduation, he embraced a call to ministry.

Cook joined the pastoral staff of a church and helped start a homeless shelter. In his free time he skydived, became a hunter and got married. Though he was satisfied with being a minister he longed to be a hospital chaplain.

To make that desire a reality, he and Linda moved to Springfield so he could attend Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. While taking courses, Cook volunteered as a part-time chaplain at St. John’s Regional Health Center.

He also became an advocate for physically disabled people, lobbying for the federal Ticket to Work Act, a voluntary program that offers disabled Social Security beneficiaries support and services needed to help them go to work and achieve their employment goals.

After completing his course work at AGTS, Cook began the process of becoming a chaplain with the AG. But as he neared the apex of his dream, Linda became seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. Though she died before Cook was commissioned as a chaplain, he does not feel cheated.

How could he?

Giving up or feeling sorry for himself has never been an option. Cook says his parents’ tough love shaped him, but the trait was birthed in an encounter he had with God when he was 5 years old.

“I said to God, ‘You made a mistake. Come and fix me,’” he recalls. “But I felt like God said, ‘You are wonderfully and fearfully made. I did not make a mistake and if you will place your life in My hands, I’ll use you for My glory and honor.’”

God has.

Cook motors from room to room at St. John’s Hospital on his shiny, electric scooter. His smile beams and his disposition is one of quiet acceptance and hospitality.

As a chaplain he is afforded opportunity to pray with people during some of their most difficult moments. Serving people in need is Cook’s passion as he can empathize easily with them.

“Chaplain Cook is a man with great compassion because he understands pain, disappointment, loneliness and fatigue,” says Al Worthley, director of the AG’s Chaplaincy Department. “Out of his own struggles he is able to effectively minister to others.”

Cook relishes his place in life.

“I think of myself as a cross-bearer of other people’s pain because so many people have helped me carry my burdens,” he says. “In many ways, my disability is a gift from God to the Church.”


KIRK NOONAN is managing editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

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