Better Off Dead
The doctor thought the baby was better off dead.
I’m sorry. Your child has multiple serious complications and deformities . . . , he has a cleft palate, he cannot breathe on his own, he only has one arm — a deformed right arm and no hands . . . people who come into the world with his problems, come to suffer . . . I can unplug the machine and you don’t have to worry about it.
That is how the doctor introduced Carlos Lara to the world and his mother, Dina.
At the time, the Lara family made their home in Guatemala. Healthcare in the country was not to be envied. The challenges of having a child with multiple disabilities in a country with limited medical care are too many to list. The doctor, given the circumstances, thought he was offering the young mother his best advice.
But God had prepared Dina for this moment. Months before, God spoke to her in a dream.
“I remember the night of the dream so clear as if it was yesterday,” Dina says. “When I closed my eyes to sleep, I saw a light, with rays of lights, and that light spoke to me, saying: ‘The Lord says, you will have a boy, but he is coming with problems.’”
Thinking it was just a nightmare, Dina opened her eyes, not accepting what she had heard. But when she closed her eyes again, the light reappeared, but this time said the boy would be born with catastrophic problems. Then added if she trusted, the boy would be a blessing in her life.
“I knew at that moment it was God talking to me,” Dina says. But then she boldly made a pact with God, stating: “I will take care of your gift, no matter what the circumstances that come with him, but at the same time, I declare him as a servant of Yours. Not as a person that only sits on a bench and says I believe in God, no, I declare him as a servant that serves You. If You make him Your servant, I accept him as he comes.”
When Carlos was born, Dina was prepared. When the doctor offered to end the baby’s life, she responded. “You did not give him life; who are you to take it away?” From that day, she has lived faithfully by the pact she made with God and God has honored the pact.
“Ever since I can remember, my mom has talked to me about God and how He is so good if we obey Him and that He’s faithful,” Carlos recalls. “But when I was 5 years old, I looked at myself in the mirror and I realized I was different from other kids . . . I felt like I was worth nothing and couldn’t do anything.”
Carlos turned to God with a true desire to know Him even at that young age. He prayed that God would show him that He had a purpose for his life by allowing him to play the drums — a challenging request from a boy with no hands.
Expecting an immediate miraculous sign, Carlos was greatly disappointed. Nothing happened.
“I got angry at God,” he admits. “I told God He was unfair. Here, I wanted to serve Him, but it seemed impossible for me, while my friends, who had everything [physically] complete, they didn’t want to do anything for Him.”
This was a difficult time in Carlos and Dina’s life, who were both still living in Guatemala, as just a year before, when Carlos was 4, his parents divorced. But the answer to Carlos’ prayer did come in God’s timing.
When Carlos was 9, he was at church listening to music rehearsal when the drummer suddenly left. Carlos walked over to the drums, and using a leather strap that was wrapped around his arm for as long as he could remember, he secured a drum stick to his arm and began playing along with the band — no one realized it was Carlos now playing the drums!
When the regular drummer walked back in, people looked over at Carlos, stunned and impressed. When did he learn how to play the drums? The answer? Just that moment! A few months later, Carlos was playing the drums at church all the time — his prayer had been answered in a big way!
In 2005, Carlos and Dina immigrated to the United States, settling in Tampa, Florida. They began to attend a Church of God church, pastored by Jorge Caballero Sr. Dina would marry John Suarez in 2006. What was significant about the decision to attend Oak Grove Church of God was Pastor Jorge was an encourager and support for Carlos; his son, Jorge Jr. became Carlos’ best friend; and the church was recognized as a “friend” of the Assemblies of God — allowing Carlos to later participate in the AG National Youth Ministries Fine Art Festival.
“When we arrived in the United States, my mom and I didn’t know any English,” Carlos says. “But you can see how faithful God is, even though I couldn’t speak English and had to write with my feet and toes, no one ever bullied me at school — people were very understanding and supportive of me.”
Carlos would not only learn to play the drums, he would also play the trumpet – steadying the instrument with his right arm and pressing the “finger” buttons with his toes.
And then, when he was 13, Dina surprised Carlos by buying him a keyboard. Placing it on the table, it wasn’t long before he realized he couldn’t play chords, but only press one key at a time with his arm.
“I was really stressed out at the time, because I was planning every move I had to make during the day ahead of time,” Carlos says. “From how I would have to move my feet to open a door to picking up a pencil, or holding something, eating, what I would do if something new came along — my entire day. It became very stressful. So, I wanted a keyboard so I could go to my room and just play music for God and receive strength and peace from Him.”
The inability to do anything but ping away at the keyboard frustrated the young boy, causing him to feel defeated. For two weeks he wallowed in self-pity and depression until God clicked on the light, speaking into Carlos’ heart: “Why don’t you use your feet?” It worked!
The answer to his prayer and the ability to worship God in his room with music brought peace and happiness in many ways to Carlos. When he was 14 years old, he began sharing his testimony about how God saved him from certain death, if not for his mother, and how He has blessed him with abilities many would have thought impossible for a boy with no hands to do.
Pastor Jorge* was impressed with the young man’s dedication to God and recognized God’s blessing on Carlos’ life. “[Carlos is] a young man with a clear calling and an amazing provision of gifts and talents from God for the carrying out of his ministry,” he wrote in a letter of recommendation. “He is a man of God who is humble and responsible, a Christian of sound testimony, a honorable son, and a true friend."
Dina urged her son not to keep God’s gift of song and music to himself, so Carlos began leading worship while playing the piano with his feet. And with their church’s relationship with the Assemblies of God, he also began participating in the AG’s Fine Arts Festivals.
Edgar Rivera, 40, the district Youth Director for the AG’s Florida Multicultural District, became good friends with Carlos after meeting him at a Fine Arts event, explaining that Carlos also attended youth camps and conventions. Although he has nothing but admiration for Carlos, referring to him as “amazing,” he sees Dina as the quiet “behind the scenes” heroine who is deserving of the deepest respect.
Rivera explains that it began with Dina’s controversial decision to keep Carlos rather than let him die. “His mom is a prayer warrior, a supporter, an encourager for Carlos,” Rivera says. “She’s just an inspiration to me. She comes here from Guatemala, not speaking English, with a kid in Carlos’ condition . . . just amazing.”
Carlos, now 23, has a similar admiration for his mother and step-father. He says that it was just three years ago that he had his final operation to fully correct his cleft palate. And even though he could be considered a legitimate candidate to “live off the government,” Carlos is instead living as God has called him to live.
But it hasn’t been without a few battles.
“I told God that I never wanted to preach, I just wanted to play music for Him. I kept reminding God of that,” Carlos recalls, with a bit of a laugh. “Until He reminded me that I never wanted to be a teacher either — and God made it possible that I ended up teaching music for three years after high school!”
With that reminder, Carlos did a 180. It became clear to him that it wasn’t about what he wanted, but about God’s plan for his life. So, for the 2017 spring semester, Carlos transferred to Southeastern University (SEU) and began classes, with Jorge Jr. joining him.
“It was not easy for him, even taking a test was not easy . . . , but I couldn’t ask for a better student,” observes Dr. Charles Gaulden who teaches Old Testament at SEU. “I think the other students actually look up to him. He has a handicap, but not only doesn’t he lag behind, he’s ahead of most of them.”
His major? Practical Ministry.
“Carlos and I have witnessed miracle after miracle,” Dina says. “There is an endless list of supernatural happenings in our life. The way the visa was given, the way my job was given, the treatments for Carlos and a house given by the bank, and healing of illnesses at the very last moment. God has been everything for us!”
Yet despite the attention overcoming his disabilities has brought Carlos, his concern for others’ pain is real. He explains that although some may be able to identify with his struggles, other people face different difficulties in their lives and would benefit far more hearing from someone who has gone through similar circumstances.
“I’m working on starting a ministry called My Life His Plan,” Carlos says. “It’s a website that will launch at the end of August (www.mylifehisplan.com) for people to share their testimonies, their stories. This way people who have different problems can find something that speaks directly to them — I don’t want to be the center of this.”
Carlos also believes My Life His Plans will provide a sense of accountability to those who do post their testimonies to continue to live them out for God.
“God has given us this life, and if we live it to His plan, it will be the perfect plan,” he says. “I don’t want to go to heaven by myself. I may not have hands, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take people with me by following God’s plan for my life!”
Editor’s note: To watch Carlos play the keyboard, click here.
*Pastor Jorge Caballero Sr., who was a key figure in Carlos’ life, passed away two weeks prior to this interview with Carlos.