LOCK HAVEN-When Joshua Probst's rocking chair was stolen from his porch June 29, it wasn't just a piece of furniture that was taken-it was one of the mainstays of his life.
It was his independence.
Joshua has Fetal Hydantoin Syndrome, which includes autism and dwarfism. Although he'll be 33 in two weeks, his functioning is limited.
Joshua Probst sits on his brand new chair after friends replaced the one that was stolen from his front porch.
"He doesn't function like a 33-year-old would, but there's a lot he can do," his mother, Linda Probst, said. "I like to look at the positive side. He's happy, healthy and loved. What more could he ask for?"
Since Joshua requires total care, his independence is limited. His father, Gary, and Linda, along with a hired caregiver, look after him every day.
But his favorite part of the day is when he gets to go out on his porch at 336 W. Church St. and sit in his rocking chair.
"Joshua doesn't have a lot of pleasures in life, but one of them is definitely rocking in his chair. It gives him a sense of independence. He likes to watch people, he likes to hear the train," Linda said.
"What sound does the train make, Joshua?" she asked him.
"Whoo-whoo!" Joshua said, grinning.
Last Friday, his rocking chair, his mode of independence, was stolen from their porch. A few days previous, their living room window was shattered by a thrown rock.
It was the second time his chair had been stolen, and again they felt the loss of something the offenders probably didn't know they had created.
It's not just a chair.
"People don't realize how doing things like this affects people," Gary said. "It's not just stealing a chair-"
"It's Joshua's chair," Linda interjected.
When she awoke Monday morning, the phone rang.
"Today will be a good day. Go out on your porch," her friend Linda Hecker Forster of Lock Haven said on the phone.
On her porch, a brand-new white rocking chair gleamed in the morning sun, next to a vase of flowers.
Linda Forster and her other high school classmate, LuAnn Myers Pinelli of Two Rivers, Wis., had bought and delivered the chair.
They'd found out about the stolen chair on Facebook, and decided to do something about it.
The card they left with the chair said on the cover, "Courage, strength, hope." Inside they wrote, "So sorry someone stole your chair, but this one is filled with much more love. We hope you enjoy it."
When Linda took a picture of Joshua sitting in his new chair and posted it on Facebook, Linda Forster replied, "Feeling the love in that chair."
Their gesture of kindness overwhelmed Linda's and Gary's hearts.
"To do that, that takes someone with a big heart. Linda and LuAnn are two of the most kind people I know. I don't know how to thank them. Most people have a lot of acquaintances, but not very many true friends....
"They filled a void I could easily have done, but what they did means so much more. To do something like that takes a really big heart," Linda said.
To ensure the chair's permanency, they chained the chair to the porch.
They may also stencil "Joshua's chair" on it so it is truly a chair of his own.
Gary also expressed his gratitude.
"I thought it was a very nice gesture for someone to do that for Joshua. He's not able to give anything back. But Linda takes care of that very well, to communicate Joshua's feelings," Gary said.
"I couldn't do it without Gary," Linda replied.
Gary continued, "Joshua doesn't understand many things-"
"But through me, they're thanked. It's Joshua saying 'thanks' through me," Linda interjected.
And what began as a negative, her friends made it a positive.
"The best thing that happened out of this is something positive coming out of something negative," Linda said.
Initially, it was very difficult for her.
"I was so depressed, and I felt so violated, Joshua was violated; they took one of the things he enjoys most. And then to have two friends do what they did, I don't have the words, except thank you, and I love you.
"There are good people out there. Something good came out of something bad. I just pray no one tries to do it again-it wouldn't be good for them. Doing negative things, you're in a hole...and it doesn't make you happy," she said.
"Our friends really stepped up to the plate," Gary agreed.
"They said, 'You don't need to thank us; we love Joshua,'" Linda said.
Although Joshua brings much light and love into their lives, it hasn't always been easy. Very little was known about his syndrome when he was born.
"There weren't a lot of resources when he was born. I wondered, 'What am I going to do?' I played it by ear; I had family support, and I couldn't do it without Gary, and we had Keith and Todd (their other sons).
"The doctors never even told us what was wrong with him because Joshua's condition is so rare," she said.
Some doctors told her he would never walk or talk.
She was determined that would not be the case.
"It was very difficult when he was born. The doctors didn't expect him to live past seven or eight years old, and said he would never walk or talk. I was determined Joshua would do one or the other; I didn't know how I would do it, but we would.
"Today, he walks, runs, stands on his toes. He is limited verbally, so we have our own sign language we created. A pat on the chest means 'good boy,'" Linda said. As she spoke, Joshua patted his chest.
When he shakes his hands, it means, "all done."
"One day, when he was done with oatmeal, his spoon clanked and Joshua shook his hands. I did it again and again and again, and now it's the sign for 'all done.'" she explained.
His first word was Dada, and he often says Mama.
Though it's unclear if he can differentiate between his mother and father, "he knows we're the ones who are going to take care of him," Linda said emphatically.
Initially, the doctors suggested they put Joshua in a home to keep their family together.
"He's a member of the family, so he stays with the family," Gary said firmly.
One doctor's advice turned out to be very helpful, however.
"(He) told us not to treat him like a piece of China or glass like he would break, but to treat him like any other kid. Keith and Todd would rough house with him, which helped build his strength to do more," she said.
Keith and Todd are older by several years, and both live out of state. When they call through Facetime on the iPad, Joshua can see their faces on the screen. He knows it's them, but he can't figure out how his brothers fit on that tiny screen, Linda laughed.
"I know Joshua is loved by his brothers; he's so excited when they come home," she said.
As he got older, he became more aware of his environment. But Linda had to teach him to make eye contact.
"I know Joshua's doing good, especially considering the fact he wasn't supposed to live," she said.
What she sees in Joshua is not what the average person may immediately see when they meet him.
"He has such a big heart," she said. "He smiles at me, and when he smiles at me, my heart melts. Because most parents expect their kids to smile at them. I don't expect it, but when it happens, I think wow-I really appreciate that."
As she spoke, her face fairly glowed with tenderness and her eyes shone with tears. "He came from love, he is loved. Just a little glimmer out of the side of his eye, that's how he communicates...and he can because of determination."
Through all the difficulties, their life together is what has made it what it is.
When asked if it's been worth it, Linda instantly replied, "Every minute of it."
A conversation ensued between her and Gary about what it means to be challenged.
"You're a better person when you're challenged," Gary said.
"You learn more, you're stronger," Linda intoned.
"So maybe we'll be challenged tomorrow morning," Gary said wryly.
"We will be! Every day," Linda replied. "If God came down and asked if I would change my life, I wouldn't want to."
"I find that most people rise to the occasion," Gary commented.
"Most people are kind-hearted-except the people who took his chair!" Linda exclaimed, with a pound of her fist on the table.
After a moment, she was once again serene. "To not have him in my life after having him in my life...He's brought us so much joy."
As Gary fed Joshua from the plate of spaghetti they shared ("We always share a plate," he noted), he said they just make it work.
"We work out lives around him....Most kids leave home; we get to stay with this one!" he said.
"Joshua has a lot of abilities; he just needs help. You'd be surprised how smart he is," Linda added.
He attended Flemington Elementary. "I wish I could list all his teachers," Linda said.
As Joshua went outside to sit on his chair, Gary smiled. "You're back in the saddle now," he told him.
Outside, on his chair, Joshua smiles. A train can be heard going by, the whistle blowing. He's in his chair, rocking, watching the world go by. His mom kisses his cheek, holds him close. "You're happy, healthy, and loved," she whispers.