Currently, I am not doing well at all. Another severe knock down... I am too weak to reach up to Jesus. I will... after my bruises and broken bones heal. My heart is shattered into infinite pieces... let me rest. Jesus is holding me. I am in His lap. Until then, here's a blog entry from a few years ago.
Since I was born with cerebral palsy, being viewed as ‘different’ by those who do not know me is the only life I know. Throughout my life, I’ve heard many comments about how tragic my disability is including a visit to Disney when I was about 8 years old. A couple walked by, pointed at me and said, “They should’ve let that one die.” At the time, I was too young to understand what they meant, but I never forgot that and many other comments suggesting I was a burden to society. As I matured and socialized in various groups, I realized that I was viewed not only as different, but as damaged and blemished.
So many times I have written in my journal about how confusing it is to be seen as lowly yet to feel the complete opposite. I would write, “If they only knew the trouble I have with pride, with knowing I have a special relationship with Jesus that I would not have if I did not have a disability. Jesus took extra consideration with me, not creating me like the norm… how cool is that!” He only gives us what we can handle, and considering He has given me multiple disabilities, that tells me He has extraordinary confidence in me… confidence that I must use with others to glorify Him.
Jesus placed great value on individuals with illnesses as evidenced by the fact that they were involved in most of the miracles that He performed. The crowds and skeptics believed only when they witnessed a blind man see, a paralyzed man walk, and a deathly ill child healed. Scripture describes numerous lives that were changed through God’s use of individuals with disabilities.
Even Jesus Himself became afflicted as prophesized by Isaiah and faced the same issues that individuals with disabilities are confronted with on a daily basis. “Just as there were many who were appalled at Him- his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and form marred beyond human likeness” Isaiah 52:14. It goes on to say that people looked the other way when He walked by, and He was familiar with suffering… a man of sorrows. That pretty much describes feelings experienced by people with disabilities.
Think about it: the Savior, God’s own Son, the King of the universe was scorned and persecuted because of His ‘different’ appearance. They completely missed his being the Messiah because they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see past His appearance. To state the obvious, preconceptions can be detrimentally inaccurate. How many people have I passed over because of their ‘differences?’ How many times have I insulted Christ by looking over someone with a disability, discounting their worth to society? And how often do I forfeit being blessed by someone’s gifts because of my busy time schedule or mere discomfort?
Granted, because I have literally spent my entire life around people with disabilities, I don’t have the anxiety that most people have with the disabled. Yet I am still amazed at how much more I am blessed by people who I reach out to serve. I could write pages of how God has used individuals who the world overlooks to dramatically impact my life, but I will only share three examples from forming this ministry.
With the intent of serving as Jesus did and to follow a stirring in my heart, I offered to sit with a young lady named “Mandy” while her parents went out on “date nights.” I had no idea how much I would be the one blessed and served by Mandy instead of the other way around. Mandy doesn’t verbally communicate and is fully dependent on others for basic needs including needing medication to tell her brain to go to sleep and rolling over in bed. Yet Mandy is always smiling… and she knows what is going on around her. She laughs at jokes on TV, she gets excited when she hears her parents walk in the door, and she looks into my eyes intently when I confide in her. Personally, I believe Mandy is always smiling because she has the joy of Jesus inside her, and I just know that she and Jesus share an incredibly intimate relationship. How else could she be so happy knowing she has lost all the friends and freedom she had before her accident? I find myself jealous of Mandy and the joy that she has… I want to know her secret. Isn’t that how we bring others to Christ, by exhibiting ‘something different’ that makes people want to know our source of joy?
I’ve also recently met a new friend named Mac who, like Mandy and myself, the world views as ‘blemished.’ Mac loves to worship Jesus and doesn’t care what people think about him when he claps and dances at church. Again, I want to know Mac’s secret of how to put aside my prideful inhibitions and focus solely on worshiping God. How freeing it would be concentrate completely on worshiping Him instead of worrying who was looking at me and what they were thinking!
Finally, I’ve met an 11 year old named “Nathan” who has trouble making friends because of his disability. Nathan has difficulty with social skills and prefers doing things by himself as opposed to being in a loud, noisy group. Yet he has the intellect of an adult, using vocabulary that I, a college graduate, have to ask him what the words mean. And Nathan hasn’t allowed the negative criticisms of others to steal his childlike belief in dreams and aspirations. While my peers tell me I am not being ‘realistic’ in my goals of publishing children’s books, Nathan challenges me to earn the Pulitzer Prize for my writing. Just another example of how I end up being the one who is blessed when I reach out to individuals with disabilities.
In order to reach out to individuals with differences, we must focus on the interaction with the person instead of our internal discomfort. Just because I have a speech impediment and walk with an unsteady gait, that doesn’t make me immune to making false assumptions about people with disabilities. While it’s natural to be nervous or at least uncomfortable around people who are different than us, it is not natural to voice one’s fears and anxieties for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or looking ignorant and cold-hearted. Perhaps I have more leniency to admit my discomfort around people with certain disabilities because of my own disability.
So what are some basic guidelines for interacting with people with disabilities? How can you calm your nerves enough to actually focus on the person to whom you are corresponding? As with any other dilemma, the answer is found in Scripture.
Think of how Jesus reacts to you when you fail to miss what He has been telling you. Perhaps in retrospect, you can now see clearly ways that He has been speaking to you or showing you the path toward His will for your life. He understands our hearts and, unlike the ‘world’ we live in, He sees what is on the inside, including our motives and good intentions. Therefore, He loves us regardless of how many times He has to patiently remind us what is right and wrong. He takes us by the hand and shows us things He has shown us time after time, but we just can’t seem to understand, hear, or see as He would like. That is how we can respond to those with hearing and/or vision impairments; see them for the person they are on the inside rather than the differences you view on the outside. Patiently love them unconditionally, knowing they are doing the best that they can do at that moment, and support them in being their best.
As for individuals with cognitive and/or mental disabilities, consider how Jesus responds when you keep doing the same sin over and over again. Everyone has an area of sin in their life where they struggle and want to stop. If you are like me, you pray for forgiveness, believing with your entire being that you won’t commit the sin again. Then life gets in the way and He has to remind you yet again not to do that anymore. Individuals with mental impairments struggle in this area more than those without such impairments. Some of the best people to pray for you are those who have to consciously and continuously rely on God for everything, these are the people who personally know the power of His hand and regularly witness His miracles when the ‘impossible’ becomes reality…these are the people who have hope when all hope is gone as they reflect on the numerous ways God provided a way when there appeared to be no way… and these are the people whose faith is secure in Him after learning by personal experience that He will never leave nor forsake us.
Christ said that the insults of those who insult us fall on Him. That means that when we insult other people, even in our mind, we are insulting Him. He has no favorites, neither should we. In fact, to place less value on someone because of their differences and limitations devalues God’s creation. The church is made up of diverse individuals to meet the diverse needs of the world. When we exclude a group or individual because of our ignorance, discomfort, and assumptions, we are neglecting a crucial part of the Body of Christ.
“Remain true to the faith. We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God…” Acts 14:22