Whether they’re a football fan or not, I suspect most people enjoy seeing what the world of advertising has to show us during those thirty-second to two-minute breaks between downs and quarters. I still get chills when I think about Mean Joe Greene throwing his jersey to the “kid” who offered him a Coke, and who doesn’t remember the iconic “Where’s the Beef” ad that made Wendy’s a household name? Most of all, who could forget the clydesdales kneeling before the space that was once the Twin Towers? That still brings tears to my eyes. As does this one from Toyota that will air this coming Sunday during the Super Bowl…
The ad tells an original story. What’s that? Well, all superheroes have an origin story. Superman was a baby sent to Earth to protect him from the enemies/madmen who destroyed his planet. He was found and “adopted” by Mr. and Mrs. Kent, an older, childless couple who saw the baby’s mysterious arrival as the answer to their prayers. Wonder Woman was the daughter of an Amazonian queen and the god, Zeus, who wanted to use her powers to bring peace to the world. Spiderman was a unathletic high school genius and avid photographer who was bullied and ostracized, an orphan who, after being bitten by a spider, was transformed into a strong, athletic man who used both his muscle and his brain to defeat bad guys.
As far as I can see, Paralympic swimmer, Jessica Long is just as much a superhero as any Marvel Avenger or member of the Justice League, and her origin story is even better than the other superheroes because it’s true. Long’s real, true origin story, told in the Toyota ad, began in Russia twenty-eight years ago when a little girl arrived at an orphanage in Siberia, missing all of the bones in her lower legs. Both legs would need to be amputated at the knees. Her mother, a seventeen-year-old single woman knew she could not take care of her disabled daughter, Tatiana, and gave her up for adoption. But who would take this child who would face an uphill battle for her entire life?
Steve and Beth Long of Baltimore, Maryland, that’s who. Having trouble conceiving more children, the couple was looking into adopting a child from Latin America when they got the call about a disabled baby girl in Siberia who needed a home. They prayed for guidance and then decided to adopt not one, but two children with disabilities–Jessica Tatiana and her adopted brother Joshua. What the Longs discovered about their daughter was not the she would face a life full of hardship but that she was “driven and determined.”
Jessica never let her lack of legs slow her down – literally. She ran and played and participated in gymnastics, cheerleading, ice skating, biking, trampolining, and rock climbing. However, it was swimming that claimed her heart and drove her to become to the best in her field. Long has won twenty-three medals in the Paralympic Games, more than any Paralympian in the games’ history.
This story captivates me because there is so much more here than the origin story of a hero or the rise of an Olympian. It is a story of prayer and faith and trust and love. Most of all, it is a story of all that one can accomplish in life, no matter their circumstances, if they have faith.
The commercial ends with a line about Jessica’s life. Her adoptive mother in the ad tells the agency, “It might not be easy, but it will be amazing.”
And that is what gets me the most. From the beginning, it wasn’t just Jessica’s determination that made her what she is today. It was the determination of her family, the love of both her adoptive parents who saw to it that Jessica had everything she needed in life as well as her biological parents who knew that giving her up would be the best thing they could do for her at the time (they have since reunited). Determination, love, and faith (Jessica credits a large part of her success to her faith and prayer life) are the things that make Jessica’s life amazing.
Long was born into a single mother in Russia. She was given up for adoption. She needed surgery to amputate her legs. At thirteen months, she traveled across the world to a family who, at the time, were strangers, who lived in a strange place and spoke a strange language. She endured multiple surgeries as a child and had to relearn how to walk after each one. Yet her life was and continues to be amazing.
No matter what struggles you have, what difficulties you face, what hills you must climb, you, too, can have a life that is amazing.
One of my favorite lines in the Bible is the definition of faith given by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). How great the faith of Jessica’s parents to have believed that she could and would overcome the many obstacles she faced. How great Jessica’s faith became (even through years of doubt and anger with God) to enable her to hope for things she could not see, could not imagine, but realized could be hers with God’s help, with the understanding that He is swimming beside her, that she is not alone. How great the faith of all those who persevere and fight the odds and reach for the unattainable because they have faith that God will help them achieve it.
Jessica once said in an interview, “I want you to embrace who God made you to be. Love every part of yourself, flaws and all. Shine bright and never ever give up on your dreams.”
It’s simple advice, but advice that can make your life amazing.
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Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019), A Devotional Alphabet (2019), Desert Fire, Mountain Rain(2020).