Monday, February 18, 2013

"I Underestimated the Disabled"

"I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me."
~ Philippians 4:13, GW ~ 

I have the great privilege of parenting a remarkable 16 year old girl.  Talented, sweet and spunky in her own right, our eldest daughter has lived a very different life as the "big sister" of two siblings with special needs.  This has colored her world as she has grown up knowing no other family life than that with unique challenges, unpredictable schedules, suffering, chaos and life on the margins.  In addition to having grown up in a home where she had these remarkable siblings with multiple diagnoses, our daughter's life has also been shaped by our activity in special needs ministry.  She has had her eyes opened to "invisible disabilities" that other kids her age would never otherwise be aware of, and has spent a much larger amount of time with people of all ages who face physical, cognitive and emotional challenges.  What I find so inspiring about my daughter is that she sees people for who they are on the inside, not their "wrapper," and she never stops trying to deepen her understanding of those with challenges.

Recently, one of my colleagues moved back from warm, sunny Florida to the snowy, cold Midwest.  The delightful part of her return to this part of the country is that we get to see one another more frequently, and my family gets to know her better.  One of the unique things about my friend is that she has some disabilities, but those disabilities surely don't have her!  She has her master's degree, and is currently schooling for her doctorate while she continues to work in her job in disability ministry leadership.  I pale in comparison to this brilliant and funny friend of mine!

One evening, my friend had left after enjoying dinner and conversation with us, and my 16 year old engaged me in a remarkable conversation.  It began with her struggling with the proper use of language.  "People first" language has been a strong movement in this country in recent years.  But those who haven't grown up with that language or who don't have disabilities would  often use words that would make the people first crowd cringe or become indignant.  I thought it was incredible that my daughter had that level of sensitivity to how words affect people in the special needs community.

As our discussion continued, I found myself even more impressed with my girl.  She expressed to me how in awe she was of all the people with special needs that we have allowed to touch her life.  Watching in amazement at how these individuals overcome their adversity inspires her to want to address them with the respect she feels they are due.  That seemed obvious as she stuck around the dinner table to chat with my friend after her younger siblings had scattered.

Speaking about my friend and all that she had accomplished despite having CP, my daughter finally exclaimed, "I guess I just underestimated the disabled!"  She expressed that wonderment in discovering that people can live beyond what the world would think are insurmountable limits.  And it appeared to be a transformative "Aha" moment.

I share this tale with you not to brag about my daughter, although I am certainly proud of how God has used our journey to shape her character.  Rather, I share it with you to inspire you to keep exposing others to people in the special needs community.  That simple act can change our world.  It removes fears and barriers.  It builds acceptance and understanding.  Eyes are opened to true awe and reverence for life.

God is very near to people with special needs.  If we want to draw near to Him, what better place to start than spending time with friends who have a disability.  My prayer would be that every person on this earth would open their hearts to the love and respect that my daughter has.

PRAY:  Awesome God, Creator of all, soften our spirits and open our minds to our fellow man.  Help us to see people, rather than just their wrappers.  Help us to love as you love.  Bless us to be a blessing.  By Your Holy Spirit power, may we continue as ambassadors for the diff-abled people that you relentlessly love.

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