The Body at Work in Two Women with A Disability
When I was in Germany speaking at a church, a blind woman named Elizabeth served as my interpreter. You can imagine the two of us on stage—me with my wheelchair and Elizabeth with her white cane. During a break, someone placed an English language magazine on my lap. It looked like a good read, but with my quadriplegia, I couldn’t hold the periodical or turn its pages. “Elizabeth,” I said, “how ’bout if you hold the magazine and turn the pages, and I will read out loud. That way we can both enjoy it.”
And that’s just what we did. I needed her; she needed me; and together we accomplished something that blessed both of us. That is how the body of Christ should work! Our combined weaknesses become delightful strengths. First Corinthians 12 describes how we all need each other, just as a physical body needs feet, hands, ears, and eyes to move forward. If we isolate from other Christians, we impoverish them—and ourselves.
A Curse Becomes a Benediction
In this short story by L’Arche (A home for severely disabled people) founder Jean Vanier, a woman’s life is transformed when she experiences rich belonging:
I was in Lithuania recently, giving a retreat to parents of people with disabilities. A mother gave the following witness: “When my daughter was born, I was so wounded, it seemed to me that we had been cursed. I asked why this had happened to us” She said that as her daughter grew up, they had to take public transportation, but the way people looked at her and at her daughter, with eyes of curiosity and rejection, made her want to kill herself.
One day she went into a church and found there a group of people praying, singing, dancing. She saw very quickly that many of them had disabilities, and she joined the little group, a Faith Light community- She said, “From that moment, the curse became a benediction.” Through love and solidarity, the malediction was transformed into a blessing!
Jean Vanier, We Need Each Other: Responding to God’s Call to Live Together, Paraclete Press, 2018, p.24.
In his book, We Need Each Other, Jean Vanier shares the story of his calling from the military, to serving the extremely disabled at L’Arche.
This was the beginning of my vocation in L’Arche. I was introduced, to people with disabilities, who at the time were living in an institution. Theirs was a constant question, “Do you love me?” I later realized that in the Gospel Jesus asks the same question: “Do you love me?”
It was at this point that I discovered that people with disabilities, those who have been hurt, rejected, looked down upon, and sometimes tortured, those who have been pushed away, locked up in institutions, and who are not listened to with respect and love, have this same cry, “Do vou love me?” This touched me and called me forth as I realized that in their cry there is also the cry of Jesus, “Do you love me?
Experiencing a New Reality with Disability
Many formerly active able-bodied people have had to learn a new pace in life after an accident or illness. Whether the condition is temporary or permanent, it isn’t easy. The memory and muscles still remember what it was like to jog around the neighborhood, ride a bike on the river trail, or keep up with a busy household. But now a new reality has set in.
What happens to your relationship with God in such times? Does He leave you in the dust? Does He run so far out in front of you that you can barely see Him anymore? Not at all. God wants to walk with us, and closeness is what matters, not speed. Today’s Scripture urges us to “walk by the Spirit.” No matter how fast or slow you may be moving these days, God will guide you. He is at your side every step of the journey.
Heralds of A New World
There is no doubt that in revealing the fundamental frailty of the human condition, the disabled person becomes an expression of the tragedy of pain. In this world of ours that approves hedonism and is charmed by ephemeral and deceptive beauty, the difficulties of the disabled are often perceived as a shame or a provocation and their problem as burdens to be removed or resolved as quickly as possible.
Disabled people are instead living icons of the crucified Son.
They reveal the mysterious beauty of the One who emptied himself for our sake and made himself obedient unto death. They show us over and above all appearances that the ultimate foundation of human existence is Jesus Christ. It is said justifiably so that disabled people are humanity’s privileged witnesses. They can teach everyone about the love that saves us; they can become heralds of a new world, no longer dominated by force, violence, but by love, solidarity, and acceptance—a new world transfigured by the light of Christ, the Son of God, who became incarnate, who was crucified, and rose for us.
John Paul II, “Message of John Paul II on the Occasion of the International Symposium on the Dignity and Rights of the Mentally Disabled Person” (January 2004), Vatican
Mental Illness Around the World
According to the World Health Organization, one in thirteen globally suffers from anxiety. In the United States, one in five adults have a mental health condition. That’s over forty million Americans; more than the populations of New York and Florida combined. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide (emphasis mine).
Almost 75 percent of people with mental disorders remain untreated in developing countries, with almost one million people taking their lives each year. Studies also reveal that loneliness has become an epidemic affecting over half the population in the United States. Those numbers are staggering. In the Independent, Alex Williams writes, “Anxiety is starting to seem like a sociological condition, too: a shared cultural experience that feeds on alarmist CNN graphics and metastasizes through social media.
Raising Special Needs Children & Stress
In her compelling memoir Still Life, author Gillian Marchenko recounts her struggles with depression. In this excerpt, Marchenko shares the challenge of raising special-needs children:
My friend Ashley read an article about special-needs parents and stress. It said that the chemical composition of the blood of high-stress parents is identical to that of soldiers fresh out of battle. She also read that the DNA of special-needs parents unravels at a rate far greater than the norm.
“Well, it makes sense,” Melanie says when I tell her. “You’re going to have to realize that your children will always have special needs. You’re going to have to work at maintaining your health and ask for help when you need it. Your kids are some of your biggest triggers.” Great. What am I supposed to do with that?
Taken from Still Life by Gillian Marchenko Copyright (c) 2016, p.96 by Gillian Marchenko. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com