When Bryon Sparks and his parents stand up in the Pasadena Church ofGod this morning and tell people they understand God's love through suffering, they won't be speaking platitudes.
As ordained ministers and Church of God evangelists, Lillian and Stephen Sparks travel around the country with their four children, telling stories they consider miraculous.
The biggest miracle isn't just that their 17-year-old son, Bryon,is alive, although he was born with a disease that is usually fatal in infancy.
Bryon has lived in constant pain since his birth with a skin disease called epidermylosis bullosa dystraphica recessive. Among other things, the condition causes his skin to blister and peel at the slightest touch. The disease has rendered his fingers immovableand produces open sores that must be bandaged several times a day.
It isn't only that he has the determination to travel with his parents, singing and speaking, or that he rides a bike and is learning todrive the family van.
The amazing part, say church pastor Glen Morris and his wife Portia, is the joyous spirit of the Sparks family, the total lack of self-pity.
"When you meet Mrs. Sparks, you're changed for life," says Portia, who met the Sparks while attending ZionBible Institute in Rhode Island.
"She's such an example of godliness and perseverance, and discipline. She's an incredible person."
Lillian Sparks, who has written two books, "Tough Cookies" and "Parents Cry, Too," is one of the most sought-after speakers in the Assemblies of God, says Portia.
"They're such an example to young couples. If they can make it with someone with Bryon's problems, anybody can make it. They have to administer such extensive care to him every single day. It's a horrible disease, for him and for them."
Practically speaking, adds Portia, "Bryon should be dead many years now, as most kids with this disease die early. But he keeps traveling with them and singing. He's a great kid."
The other children in the family -- Leann, Jenell and Brent -- help with Bryon's care, too, and 13-year-old Leann just completed a missionary tour in Africa with her mother.
The Sparks have traveled to Germany, Italy and Spain for special medical treatment and hand operations. The surgeries have not been successful, but their story of faith has been, says Portia.
"There are times when you look into the face of an impossibility and yourown helplessness pierces your soul . . . that you discover . . . parents cry, too," wrote Lillian Sparks in her book.
People often question how the family can retain its faith in God, despite Bryon's illness, say the Sparks.
"I guess what we've learned is that bad things can happen, and any situation you face in life can make you bitteror better," says Stephen Sparks.
"A crisis can cause you to blameGod, or to turn to him and rely on him as your only source of strength. For us, faith in God has made a difference."
The Sparks will speak at services at the church today at 10:45 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday services will be held at 7 p.m.