With his dark blue walker standing behind him and wearing his craftsman white apron, he carefully moved the woodcutting blade with his good right hand, carving out the pieces for his next birdhouse.
Patrick Kimbrell and his father Ray have made 39 birdhouses for family and friends over the past four years. What started off as a fun pastime project quickly turned into a passion for the 24-year-old. Patrick has cerebral palsy and remains undeterred by his disability.
“That’s my hobby,” Patrick simply stated. “It’s just what I do. I would do it every day if they let me.”
After buying the wooden planks, Ray outlines the cuts and designs needed on the wood once the birdhouse itself is assembled. Patrick will cut the wood and paint the designs with Ray’s help and supervision.
Patrick’s mother, Nancy, helps out occasionally. Self-proclaimed as “The Birdhouse Man,” he’s also made individualized birdhouses for his two sisters, Katie and Nikki, who are both in college.
“He has some motor difficulties,” Ray said. “[Building the birdhouses] is a little bit of a challenge, but one of the reasons why he loves it so much is because we do it together.”
He turned to Patrick for confirmation.
His son smiled happily in agreement.
When Patrick was two days old, a strep B virus caused spinal meningitis, which affected his body’s ability to produce oxygen, according to Ray. He went into septic shock, which deprived his brain of oxygen, causing him to develop cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is a variety of permanent movement disorders that result from childhood brain trauma to motor control centers. Every person who develops it is affected in different ways. In Patrick’s case, he uses a walker for mobility, his left hand is impaired and he has a speech impediment.
Doctors told Nancy and Ray their son had 48 hours to live. Nancy remembers she was in denial when doctors first told her. She asked them to keep working on her son and prayed with a chaplain in the meantime, not knowing what exactly to pray for given the uncertainty of the situation.
After falling into a coma to protect himself, and doctors administering a regimen of IV and antibiotics, Patrick recovered, but with permanent physical disabilities. Doctors told his parents his quality of life would depend on how active he was, which would depend on them. The more engaged he was, the healthier he could be, Nancy explained.
“We never really looked at it as a disability,” Ray said. “Obviously we help him, but never to the point where he feels like he’s helpless. We always encourage him to do stuff.”
Ellen Weaver, a long-time friend of the family, received a birdhouse for her birthday this past spring. She said she felt pure joy when she saw her gift.
“[Their craft] is unique,” Weaver said. “It’s perfect for them to do together.”
When Patrick and his sisters were younger, they would visit Ray’s father, who would have birdhouses at his home. At a family function, the kids picked up wooden planks and began playing with them, eventually building birdhouses.
The first birdhouse they made out of kindness was for one of Ray’s close co-workers. When it was done, they posted about it on Facebook. People’s positive reactions encouraged them to keep going with the project.
The second birdhouse they made was for their pastor from Faith Lutheran Church in Lewisville, Rusty Sullivan.
Sullivan said when he got his, he was speechless.
“They’re extraordinary,” Sullivan said. ““Patrick has learned to use his gift and he doesn’t let his disability hold him back.”
While they’ve had many ask for a birdhouse, the father-son duo prefer to work at their own pace.
“All the birdhouses are always thought of,” Ray explained. “We try to customize each birdhouse to the person so we try to find what school they went to, what are their hobbies, what they like to do, etc.”
They also don’t take payments. Instead Ray will encourage others to donate toward cerebral palsy related charities in Patrick’s name, suggesting organizations like the Special Olympics, which Patrick actively participates in.
Patrick is also involved with his church, as faith is deeply embedded in the Kimbrell family. His favorite verse is Matthew 22:37-39. He serves as a communion assistant, sitting in a chair while carefully holding a goblet of wine. He sits in the front row during service, making it easier for him to energetically engage with Sullivan.
“Are y’all ready?,” Sullivan asked before he began his sermon.
“Yes!,” Patrick yelled out excitedly at a recent Sunday service.
Patrick loves going to church and he loves being “The Birdhouse Man.”
“We do it just for the joy of giving somebody something,” Ray said, as Patrick eagerly nodded along.
Patrick said giving loved ones birdhouses is his way of “[giving] back to God.”
Or, as he would also say, it’s a way to “love God and love people.”