Greg was stared at his whole life by kids and adults because he has a hook for a hand. He learned to be determined and creative as a result. One of the first phrases that came out of his mouth was “I can do it myself.” As he went through his life his journey was discovering who really strengthens him.
Movie: God’s Not Dead
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Greg Otterholt: For you created my inmost being the Bible says you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made your eyes. Saw my unformed body all the days ordained for me were written in your written in your book. Before, one of them came to be that’s the beginning of each of our stories.
Narrator: We’ve all experienced it. You run into a friend from the past, but there’s something different. They are changed. Maybe there is a calm where there once was a storm. Maybe there is gentleness instead of harshness. There’s a new passion, a new life. What changed? Welcome to Brought Back To Life, a podcast where we explore stories of ordinary transformation.
Greg Otterholt: Hi, I’m Greg Otterholt, and I think I’m the newest member of the CRISTA on-air family. I’m on PRAISE 106.5 weekday mornings on our show called A New Day. And my life verse is Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Enjoy life is proving it to be true that you can do weekend through Christ, who strengthens you. That’s my song, and that’s my story. And I’m sticking to it. Now, evidently that’s a lot of people’s life verse Philippians 13, but it wasn’t until I was an adult and started writing this song that I actually looked at the verse a little differently. I can do all things through Christ. Yes. But what if I looked at the last part of the verse, not as a statement, but as a question. Who strengthens you? Well, it turns out that’s the question that has and continues to reverberate throughout my life. Which started a little interesting. I was born with one arm, so I had to invent my own ways of doing things. So, as an infant, how do you crawl with one arm? Then as you get older, how do you zip a coat, or tie shoes, or ride a bike with one arm, or play piano, or the drums with one arm?
How do you drive a stick shift to ride a motorcycle with one arm, or be in broadcasting right here with all these knobs and buttons and sliders on this soundboard in front of me that I have to move simultaneously with one arm? So, you have to get a little inventive. I do have a prosthetic. I it’s called a hook.
That’s basically what I call it. So, when you look at me the first impression was, oh, captain hook at least was the first impression of a lot of the kids when I was growing up. And I was stared at my whole life. You get used to it after a while, but stared at, by kids and adults, because obviously a hook is a unique thing. You can totally understand. And kids they’ve never seen that oftentimes. And so, it’s something new and completely different. And different people react in different ways. Some kids look in confusion, some kids look in sadness that maybe it’s broken or hurts, or sad that I don’t have an arm, or some kids and adults will say things like, oh, what happened to you?
That’s so weird. And these are rare, but first time, first impression remarks that I’ve gotten my whole life, now I can understand if they got to know me and then would say that after knowing my personality, but yeah, it happens, but it’s rare. Most people show concern and care and curiosity, which I totally understand and respect because I’m the husband of a teacher. I go into schools, and I talk about differences and how people look and all of those kind of perspectives that people have. As I get older, I continue to see how God intercedes as my story intersects with other people with children, siblings, or maybe they themselves, their story is similar to this story.
There’s another story in the Bible where there was a man born blind, and the people around were asking who’s at fault. Was it this man’s sin or his parents’ sin? And he said, Neither, Jesus said, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. Not to give away the whole story, but that’s in John nine if you want to read the rest. It’s also the story behind the song I sang at the beginning, and it’s what inspired my parents wondering why God, why was our son born with one arm? We’re still trying to figure out the answer to that. But little by little God continues to reveal his plan through our story.
Now, when you’re in the midst of it, especially as a little kid, that’s kind of easy to forget sometimes as people are reacting oddly or rudely, or sometimes teasing and trying to get under your skin. But as my parents said, maybe your parents said this when it comes to teasing that it usually means that they’ve got some issues of their own, which is why they’re teasing other kids.
And most of us have to deal with some sort of that at some point in our life. And not to excuse it, my feelings of course would get hurt sometimes, but it did give me a different perspective because my mom and dad taught me to think of others, and what they might be going through. What, what is it that causes them to say that?
So, that was kind of a different thought for a kid to try and be mature enough, even though it stings to hear those words, to recognize that they’re probably going through stuff that is more difficult than just words. So, there I was this little kid with a hook for an arm. In fact, I was one of the youngest fit with a prosthetic arm at nine months old at Seattle’s Children’s hospital.
And they tried to get me to wear it and I didn’t want to wear it. And I figured out ways to get around it and throw it off, and still play with toys that I was supposed to need two hands to play with, but kids are inventive. And when you have one arm, you have to be inventive. Because you’re not seeing other kids demonstrate that for you.
So, from the very start it was trial and error. Fall on your face. get up, try it again. This time, I’m not going to fall on my face. So, try, fail, adapt, improve, try again, and again, and again. So, from a very early age, I learned to be self-reliant. In fact, my parents say one of the first phrases that came out of my mouth was,
I do it myself. okay. Stay outta that kid’s way. He’s got a mean attitude and a mean left hook, at that height that could do some damage, and I’m sure a lot of people kind of cleared the path out of this kid’s way. But from the very get go self-reliant, self-determined, strong willed, little kid. Yeah. So, who strengthens you?
Well, at that point, the selfish answer was kind of me. That was my life for a long time on my own path, a reprobate for years, then at the ripe old age of seven, turning it all around at a vacation Bible school. Now that’s the, that’s kind of the story of a lot of people I know. They don’t have this gutter to God type of testimony.
And if people do, that’s amazing, but a lot of kids who grew up sort of in the church or with some sort of faith background, feel like they don’t have the gritty testimony. And so, it must not be as good of a story, but really that’s an amazing story. All of them are amazing stories when God meets us where we’re at, despite what our background is, or may have been, because God can make beauty from ashes and turn our lives around if we just ask.
Well, I asked multiple times at eight years old, I thought, what did I know as a seven-year-old? So, I asked God to be Lord of my life again at 8 and 9 and 10, 12, and 14 and so on. And then finally realized, you know, what, that seven-year-old decision was every bit as legit as the other ones that I continued to make.
As I guess you could say, I re-dedicated my life as I continued to grow. Still made plenty of foolish decisions through middle school and high school, but I was tired of making those decisions. And I remember listening to music before I would go to school, and I insisted that I did not listen to the lyrics. I just enjoyed the music and the beat and all that stuff.
I was in the school band and loved music, but I really wanted to hear good music because of that. And like I said, I just insisted I didn’t listen to the lyrics. And then I caught myself hearing the lyrics in my head during the day. Lyrics that I did not want swimming in my head. I did not want those lyrics to define me.
I did not want to live out those lyrics. And I heard this term called G I G O and computer class. It meant garbage in. Garbage out. Whatever you fill the computer with, whatever programming you give the computer, you get the same quality of programming out, or lack thereof. Garbage in garbage out. Well, the same is true of the good stuff.
And so, I wanted to fill my mind and my heart and my soul with good lyrics, good music. And I didn’t wanna sacrifice the quality of the music, but everything that I could hear out there on the radio at the time just seemed so sleepy. And so, I had to do some real digging to find some good stuff out there. And I did. In fact, Keith Black, who you hear on KCIS, our sister station in Seattle, through his eternal rock show on the radio, he introduced my whole generation to all kinds of amazing bands and songs with good lyrics and quality music. Rez Band, Darrell Mansfield, Steve Taylor, one of my all-time favorites.
A lot of you were going who? What? My parents did listen to cool music as well, love song and Keith Green from their era, but I took it to the next level. I was listening to striper and blood good, Christian heavy. Also, everything in between Brian Duncan, Take Six, BB and CC Winans, Russ Taft, Matthew Ward, Michael W. Smith. The list goes on and on anything that was good music with a message that I could resonate with, that’s what I gravitated toward. I wanted to live those things out. And also wanted to make that kind of music and put together bands. And we played at youth groups, young life, different church events and functions, and had an incredible time sharing the love of God through music.
This helped to answer the question of who strengthens you and convicted, but also inspired me to want to live it out. The problem was that I was sort of trying to do that on my own strength, rather than leaning on and relying on God to pull me through and to carry me through each circumstance.
One of those circumstances that I didn’t have diagnosed, that I never had been tested for, but recognized that was very different from the rest of the students of, of course, along with having one arm which was pretty different, but I recognized that the other students seemed to be able to remember things much easier than me. They seemed to be able to read and remember what they read. I’d get halfway down the page, not even know, oh, what, what did I just read? And as much as teachers tried to mask it by, oh, these are the blue birds and these are the Eagles I was always in the Bluebird, right?
The Eagles were like soaring way beyond us, but I was always grouped with the special ed kids, and always needing extra help with academics and always seemed to need twice or three times the amount of time to study to get half the grades of my friends, who just seemed phone it in with hardly any effort.
So, I figured it out. I, I knew how to adapt. right. I had a little practice so far in life, so, I learned that I needed to do classes that were, do classes. In other words, classes that were activity based, you know, like band or PE, DECA was a class like that, which was basically marketing. I was the school store manager, had to deal with money and finances and was also the AV crew geek that would set up your films and roll those into your classroom. And what do you know? It worked out, my GPA went up, but it didn’t quite prepare me for college. And somehow this former special ed Bluebird was now finishing high school with a GPA that soured with the Eagles. Problem is that made the college admission staff think that it would be a good idea to put me.
In the freshman honors class. Okay. Had no business being in that class, at least. So, I thought, and then what happened? God provided. If you’ve ever seen the God’s not dead movies, one of them has the classroom atheist professor, who’s just drilling these Christian kids, and basically trying to destroy their faith.
That was basically my so-called honors class. That was the experience day after day. And I thought to myself, I can’t let this happen. Well, about the same time I got a job at a Christian bookstore. I’d go to work at night and after work, read all these books and tracks and try to figure out how to defend my faith and go back to school the next day.
And just get pounded again by this professor. Now my background being a poor student, my whole life, I, I did not want to raise my hand in class. I wanted to stay under the radar. I was a quiet wallflower, but God, as you see throughout the Bible, he takes people who are not comfortable, people who are not qualified, and pushes us way beyond our comfort zone. And this was definitely the case. I’m sure the students heard the tremble in my voice and saw me shaking. I felt like I was having tremors as I’m trying to verbalize what I probably learned the night before. And once in a while, something would happen, and something would click. All of a sudden, I had the students behind me and supporting me, and then my friends would come up to me after class and say, thank you for saying something. I wanted to, but I wasn’t sure what to say.
Then I’d go back to the bookstore each night and learn more and then come back the next day and try and state my case. And basically, it was a, a way of strengthening my spiritual muscles, because muscles grow with resistance, and I had to grow my knowledge of the faith that was kind of something I just grew up with, but now I had to make it my own.
And so, the question comes back, who strengthens you? Well, Christ, who put these people, these friends in my path who put this job opportunity in my path to work at this Christian bookstore, and even allowed this difficult professor to be in my path, to help hone and refine what I believe. Talk about feeling unqualified. Found out my last quarter of college, that I had dyslexia. Found out after that, that I had ADHD. And then all of a sudden thinking that I was just stupid as a kid, as a student with some teachers that, you know, thought the same thing, I’m sure. And then realized the reason behind it. It wasn’t a matter of being stupid. It was a matter of a so-called learning disability.
That word disability had kind of haunted me for a long time. In fact, society had called me a defect from birth. You think kids calling people names as bad, being socially defined as a birth defect, or labeled as disabled or handicapped… I just never easily accepted those labels. And my parents taught me not to be defined by those labels, but to redefine them and the assumptions that go along with them.
So, now to have another label of learning disability, But how much of a disability was it really? It definitely impacted some of the ways that I had to learn, but I had to learn my own learning style for the way my brain was wired. Just the same way I needed to learn how to adapt having one arm, as opposed to most of the other kids who had two arms. One challenge could it have been to prepare me for the next one? Only God know. But that kind of wiring those so-called disabilities that we look at negatively. I was thinking this morning, you know, the Bible talks about looking at the spec, the negative in somebody, and that could mean ourselves as well. But when we stare at the spec, could we be missing God’s perspective?
Maybe there’s a bigger context, more than meets the eye. Maybe there’s a bigger picture that we can’t even conceive of. You know, just in the time, since I was diagnosed with this, they found a whole bunch of positive aspects of these so-called learning disabilities. One of them being perseverance, one of them being creativity, another one being athletics.
And God doesn’t make mistakes. Psalm 1:39, this was one of the verses that my parents held onto having a kid born with one arm and then also finding out later he has dyslexia and then everything else going for him, right? For you created my inmost being, the Bible says you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made later on it says, your eyes saw my unformed body all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. That’s the beginning of each of our stories. Well, the next chapter in my life story was actually happening simultaneously with all this other stuff through school and beyond, and it was athletics.
I loved growing up playing soccer and riding bikes and skateboards and motorcycles and just being active. That was something that just was a passion of mine. And still to this day, that’s where I resonate best with God, in his creation. And competition, well, I, I kind of like that too. Just a little bit competitive sometimes too much. But it was one of those things that was a challenge in life. Especially starting out the kid with one arm. Of course, he’s the last one picked on whatever team; baseball, soccer, basketball, you name it. Now my confession is that the competitiveness had some definite negative aspects to it, but I kind of enjoyed showing the players and teams that their preconception, their prejudice, their profiling of the one arm kid was going to maybe turn into their loss and some regret, and there was. Unhealthy competitive streak in this kid, as he embarrassingly speaks in the third person. And it drove me to go to great lengths to prove people wrong, which is not the right incentive.
Now, on the flip side, though, there were times that were positive. There were team building experiences that were self-betterment. Is that a word? Ways to improve myself and continue to hone my skills at whatever the sport or challenge was hitting a one-handed hole in one, getting a golf digest for that. Getting to compete in national ski championships and playing with an interesting group. It was the U.S. Amputee soccer team. It was all one-legged guys that played on the field with crutches, and one arm guys like me that were the goalies. And we got to actually be a featured team at the ’94 world cup soccer tournament in LA, which was one of many incredible experiences. And then when you start to look at all these puzzle pieces coming together, It’s almost as if God has a plan and is putting all these things together for whatever challenges the future might hold.
Wow. I think the Bible talks about that too, but this kid he’s working with is a little bit of a different kind of learner. So, what does God do? He meets us where we’re at and he speaks our language. For me, that was creativity, and it was also music and technology. My dad was the first one to get the Camcorders, the computers had the sweet stereo system. So, from middle school on, I was recording my own radio shows. Of course, I was the only one in the audience, but it also started an interest in recording music and writing my own music and performing. And then with the camera, I would make music videos fast forward to college, went from a music major to becoming a broadcast major. Graduated from Western and actually started with this company part-time, and also was working at a television station.
Well, The television station eventually became a full-time job. And what do you know? All the other experiences in life that had happened prior to that, led me from behind the scenes and playing with all the equipment, to being in front of the camera and on stage. And God took this shy wallflower of a kid who didn’t even want to raise his hand in class, to becoming comfortable on stage and in front of cameras and mics and audiences. That would’ve been about the last place I ever would’ve envisioned this path going, but every confrontation with the challenges of life might just be God’s preparation for the next opportunity in life. Bringing us right back to the same question. Now, the question is clear, god wants to hear who strengthens you. Who strengthens me? Christ, who had a perfect plan for this imperfect person. With amazing and encouraging parents, but like all of us, an equally imperfect family that he also designed to simultaneously be grown and refined and equally miraculous ways. God strengthened me with an incredible wife who was gifted to look past a person’s imperfections and showed me the genuine love that God gifted her with.
He strengthens me with children that are an amazing blessing, that I absolutely adore. And with friends, teachers, and mentors who have poured their lives into me. Altogether, strengthening me with an impact beyond what I ever could have asked for or imagined. So, the question for the past, the present and the future, who strengthens you?
Narrator: We’re telling these stories of transformation so you can know and understand the power of Jesus in your own life. If you’d like to learn more about Jesus and how he can bring you back to life, visit us at onpurposely.com/whoisJesus.
And if you like Brought Back To Life, please give us a five-star rating and a review. You can follow Brought Back To Life podcasts on iHeart radio or wherever you’re listening right now. You can also just tell your smart speaker, play Brought Back To Life podcast. I’m Sam Kelly. Rebecca Beckett produced this episode. Our audio editor is Scott Karow. And thanks for listening to Brought Back To Life from Purposely.