Like many young boys growing up in Indiana, Joel had one dream and one goal. “I’ll be honest, I put a lot of time and effort into, you know, being the basketball player that I was, that was, in a sense, my god.”
By high school, he had achieved that goal, and had the admiration of coaches and fans. That despite fighting a degenerative disc disease in his back. “Took pain medicine and to help that I went to a chiropractor multiple, multiple times to readjust, which helps, but again, going back to you know, the-the lifestyle of just go-go-go when it came to basketball. And continuing to get worse and worse.”
Joel was recruited by Hope College in Michigan. But one day at practice his sophomore year, he heard something pop in his back. “I started feeling a little bit of numbness and tingling in my toes and I had never experienced that before.”
A trip to the ER resulted in a normal MRI and medication for pain. But when Joel woke up in his dorm room at 3am that night, the meds had worn off, and he was paralyzed from the waist down.
“Joel calls and says, ‘Dad, I-I don’t have any feeling and I can’t move my legs. And I-I don’t know what to do.’ I was praying, praying for Joel, asking God for wisdom. ‘Lord, what’s going on?’”
When his father Eric arrived at Joel’s dorm room he wasn’t prepared for what he saw. “Where it really, really hit was – so his four or five buddies were there with him in the wheelchair, and it’s when they go with me to the truck to put Joel in the truck. And they pick him up and his legs are dangling and uh that’s when it really hit my heart. Because it was like, ‘oh, crap, he can’t…’ I mean, to see his legs dangling, I just – I lost it.”
At St. Vincent hospital in Indianapolis, Joel underwent 11 days of testing. In the end, doctors found no reason for the paralysis. He went home confined to a wheelchair.
“I think the biggest thing was the-the questions that were uh actually going through my mind because there’s no diagnosis, what’s going to happen? It was immediate pointed the fingers at God. And it was His fault, He caused this. This is not what I was supposed to do in life. You know, why did He mess up my future? Why did he mess up my plans?”
Meanwhile, people from the Haler’s church were praying for Joel’s healing. His mother, Karen, remembers it well. “And the body of Christ coming alongside of us and just encouraging us and praying with us and uh just being there for us.”
One day Joel gave all his fears to God. “I think it really boils down to uh I-I felt worthless and not of value. I felt empty but then filled because I-I was beginning to empty out the garbage that was in my life and handing it over to him and then actually discovering truth and what I was looking for and that was actually in-in the person of Jesus. I felt a huge weight come off my shoulders.”
He also began to read the bible, pray and believe in healing. One Sunday, a fellow church member, Braxton Farmer, who’d been praying for Joel’s healing, told Joel something God had told him. “Like I was praying like ‘God, I hope Joel will get his legs back and that he won’t be hurt.’ And then I heard a voice say ‘He’ll walk on a Thursday.; You know, like a smooth voice, like that.”
“Immediately the Lord reminded me of a dream that I had had. I was running through my high school field house tunnel. And uh I was running through that paper banner. Instead of the cool artwork, mine said J-23.”
Joel checked out a calendar, j-23 or January 23rd was four days away – it was a Thursday. “I freaked out!”
At 3am that Thursday morning, Joel felt tingling in his toes.
“That’s where it really hit me of, here we go. And it started working it’s up my legs and it actually became very painful. So it took an hour-and-a-half to reach my hips and that’s when the pain died down, pinched myself, wiggled my toes, thinking, ‘This is the real deal. What is happening right now?’ I remember swinging my legs over the side of the bed for 20 minutes and just sitting on the side of the bed, kinda going through everything that had just happened these last couple months and what the doctors had said, and I just sat there and I said, ‘It doesn’t matter what doctors have to say.’”
Doctors had told him that he’d never walk again.
“And I got up and I walked. as if nothing was wrong. And to walk normally, was a miracle.”
“That was a day of great joy.”
“Oh my gosh. Did that really just happen?” You know? I was amazed.
Today, as Joel plays a pickup game of basketball with friends, he’s much more aware of God’s love and healing power.
“It’s one of those things that I get to enjoy the fact that I can actually play, and that it’s a gift that he gave me to actually glorify him.”
“It’s opened my heart more to the Lord And in more of the supernatural that God does want to do miracles and he does want to heal.”
“The love of God, the-the-the connection with him and just to believe him for bigger and better things.
“Jesus gave me my identity. He gave me a new mind, He gave me His mind, and He created me anew. Uh that was what He did. Jesus completely restored my life.”