Defining the disabled

On July 26th, 1990 President George H.W. Bush signed into law the American Disabilities Act. Upon recent celebration of its’ 30 years, one can acknowledge that progress has been made. Yet even in our world today, in 2020, just the word “disability” seems to have such a negative connotation for those suffering with visible and invisible conditions alike often find themselves marginalized and isolated as they are judged, ignored, excluded…  Although how would our world, our cities, our churches, our lives personally, look differently if we took the perspective that renown author and speaker, Katherine Wolf shares below in that “we are all disabled”?

“People can clearly see my wheelchair and other people in physical wheelchairs, but what many overlook are the invisible wheelchairs inside of themselves,” she says. “That is everything from the insecurity, to the past that haunts them, to the anxiety they feel, to just the scars of life inside. We’re all disabled.” ~Katherine Wolf

It doesn’t take long to learn that disabilities play no favorites. Coming in all shapes and sizes… One doesn’t get to pick the condition or the day where their whole world changes, as I’m sure Katherine could attest. At 26 years old, she and her husband, Jay, were living in California with 6 month old baby, James, and Jay was nearing the completion of law school. Katherine seemed perfectly healthy, although their story took a twist when she collapsed in their kitchen, suffering a massive brain stem stroke due to a rare brain malformation and after 40 days in ICU, it was a miracle for her to simply be alive. Four months at UCLA’s Medical Center and months in rehabilitation passed before she could even come home as Katherine had to learn how to eat, walk, and talk again. Yet despite it all the Wolf family did not get bitter, although has allowed the Lord to use them and their story to birth “Hope Heals”, a ministry pouring into the lives of people and families with disabilities as well as writing two books thus far, “Hope Heals” and “Suffer Strong”. 

Katherine and Jay are first to admit the pain, the tears, the struggle in their journey and  while Katherine has only received her healing in part, she still has many deficits she deals with daily. Yet the lessons they’ve learned, the lives they’ve impacted for the sake of the gospel continue to remind Katherine her life is no mistake. And in her own words “The thing we have that ultimately needs healing is our souls, not our bodies”… what a beautiful truth. What would be different if we saw life this way?

We know Jesus performed countless physical healings throughout scripture as it says in Matthew 15:30-31,” Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.”

Although I also believe Jesus speaks of healing of this “soul” matter, discussing it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. The disabled. Sinners… People like you and people like me… I want you to notice how he models and then instructs to treat this group of people: the outcasts, the disabled, the lame, the mute, as we read here from Luke Chapter 14 starting in verse 12.  “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, stop inviting only your friends, brothers, relatives, or rich neighbors.. Instead, when you give a banquet, make it your habit to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then you will be blessed…”

Not only does Jesus take the time to notice these people in a physical sense by healing them, but then invites them to his table: A symbol of love and hospitality, of intentionality and longing for deeper relationships, as evident in the significance of sharing meals even in our world today. He doesn’t think they are too lowly or broken… Have too many issues or allergies… He says “I see you and I want to get to know you… Come.”

Obviously with the pandemic, sharing meals with others is a bit challenging. Nevertheless, I still believe it’s important, or even more so in spite of these circumstances, to point out the imperativeness of COMMUNITY. Now those of us with disabilities can attest to the humility we encounter daily due to our circumstances and our life-sustaining dependence upon other people, especially for meeting our basic needs like showering, moving, etc.  Although I am referring to more than a job or just something you check off your list… But of building REAL, RAW RELATIONSHIPS- Coming around one another, to love and be loved, to hear and be heard… In the good, bad, and ugly…. Without hidden agendas or special guest lists… Free of judgement and shame. Real people, sharing real life… Unfortunately it’s rare to find these days… But we can be agents of change. 

For each person, our intentionality is going to look different…Whether two mom’s meet with their child with special needs to share lunch outside so the little one is able to yell and play… Picking up a friend for church who is unable to drive… Writing letters or exchanging artwork with the man in your neighborhood unable to speak… You could go walking with your friend on a local greenway, pushing them in their wheelchair or riding alongside in their power chair… FaceTiming with someone suffering from breathing problems or allergy issues unable to go outside or be around anyone with perfume… Playing UNO or Skip-Bo for a person with a feeding tube who is unable to eat… The activity isn’t necessarily the emphasis, the person is, regardless of whether or not they have a disability. Trust me, coming from someone who has a disability, it is often the thought that will mean more than anything.

The second part of this passage of scripture are merely four words, although I don’t want to neglect them: “You will be blessed”. So often when people think about those with disabilities, a tiresome picture comes to mind… Yes it can be exhausting loading and unloading me and my wheelchair from a car or changing me after I’ve had an accident… But I am a person, more specifically a child of God, and I do have something to offer this world…. And so do each and everyone of us, with and without disabilities.  You need not be scared about saying the wrong thing or asking the wrong question. To be seen and accepted for who are, not how we look or what we can/cannot do, will be a tremendous gift. 

So while we don’t necessarily bless others so we can be blessed, I guarantee if you spend a day or even an hour with a child or adult that has a disability, whether visible or invisible, you will gain a much greater perspective than you ever imagined.  

The reality is we are all broken… disabled… Will you start today by letting go of your labels and turning to the Savior?  

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