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Tag Archives: disability
When shame is deserved, it’s a good thing. It can cause us to renounce that which we should be ashamed of and make better choices in the future. But too often it is unjustified, and that’s when it becomes a destructive force. We can be free even from deserved shame by the cleansing that is available to us when we turn away from our sin and to the lordship of Jesus. He paid the price for us and took our shame.
Sometimes it’s the undeserved shame that is harder to purge. Because I know people who struggle with it, I’ll specifically address that which many feel related to their disability. I can because I’ve been there. For me it came because I believed that I was supposed to be healed. For others it may be because of the way they see disability or the way they imagine (not always without foundation) that others see them.
Shame is completely inappropriate when its basis is something you cannot change. It makes no more sense to be ashamed of disability than it does to be ashamed of, say, being of average height. I’ll ad since I am not that being ashamed of below average height is no more reasonable. On some level we probably all know that, but knowing it doesn’t help much. We still feel ashamed.
I wish I had a secret formula that I could share with the world to eliminate needless shame, but I don’t. In my own life it took decades, and when I get into awkward situations, it still shows up. What I do hope I can provide is a little incentive for anyone struggling with it to find ways to overcome it. Again I write from the perspective of disability because it’s what I know.
My wife and I have set out to minister specifically to the needs of people facing disability. We want to give from what we have been given. All of my life I have been affirmed and encouraged and never allowed to develop an attitude of disability or entitlement. This has allowed me to succeed in the working world. The more important parts of my life took a little longer to mature and I’m still growing.
The key for me was and is learning to trust in God. We repeat that until it becomes little more than a Christinese cliché, but we shouldn’t lose the truth of it. When I finally realized how little depended on me and how faithful God is to complete what He started despite my failures, I began to experience true freedom. I wrote that Jesus took our shame. He did this through His sacrifice on the cross. I was thinking of deserved shame that comes from guilt, but it is more than that. Jesus takes all of our shame. It is not through our own effort that this happens.
When we realize how much depends on God and how little on us, we realize that we have nothing to be ashamed of. At the root of unmerited shame is pride. When we are focused on ourselves, we think about what we can and cannot do. When we turn our focus to Jesus, we know that there is nothing He cannot do. His power is perfected in our weakness (2 co 12:9) and we can do anything He requires of us by His strength (Php 4:13.)
We all have a purpose. God has a mission for you, whether or not you are facing a physical disability. It may be that God wants you to share what He has given you with someone else facing the same or similar challenge. Often the best people to lead us through are those who have been there. But if you carry shame, you will not be very effective. It will cover you like a soiled garment, and it is all others will be able to see. Shame changes our behavior. We may retreat into ourselves. We may become anxious, defensive and unpleasant to be around. Why would anyone want to follow that? Throw away the worthless shame that hinders you from being all that God intended. Let Him take it from you. Live in the freedom and purpose that comes from being in harmony with Yahweh.
We’ve all heard the old proverb, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” It comes up any time we talk about the best ways to help the poor. Let’s add some new dimentions to the basic problem. What if the man is blind. Do you give him the fish? I fished once in my life and didn’t particularly enjoy it, but it seems to me there are no major obstacles to a blind man fishing. As long as he learns a safe way to bate the hook and has a safe plase to cast from he should be able to fish. What if a man has no arms? Do you give him the fish, or can he find a way to fish with his feet? It seems unlikely to me but if it can be done people like this guy would figure it out. What if he has no legs either? We’re running out of options, but thiss fellow might have some ideas.
My point is this. Though there are many programs out there aimed at helping people with disabilities find work, there is still a prevailing assumption that disability is…well…disabling. It would be ludicrous to say that there is no point at which a person is too handicapped to do any productive work, but I wonder Whether if we tried we might find even a little something to help many of them find a meaningful application for whatever ability they retain.
Why should it be that i, being reasonably intelligent and capable, could in the absence of income from my job apply for and receive public assistance for life just because I am blind? People rightly object to perfectly able-bodied individuals living off the backs of those who earn a living. I would be no different than they. I have been an SSI recipient. SSI is a form of social security available to those with disabilities and no other source of income. Though at the time I was on it there was a program in place to help someone wanting to work, the easy path would have been simply to take the check and any other public assistance available to me and spend my days as a loaf. It’s the worst form of self-perpetuating wellfaire. That’s not the way I was raised. I took it as a hand up, not a hand out.
Nevertheless, it still embarrasses me that I took it at all. I consoled myself with the facts that I would give it all back in short order after entering the workforce and that my family would have had it to share with me if the government hadn’t taken it from them in taxes. Simply handing out money and benefits without any expectation is destructive whomever the object of such generosity may be. Taking it away from someone else to do so is nothing but glorified theft.
I do not suggest that all such programs be immediately abolished. We need to find a compassionate way to gradually shift away from government sponsorship to agencies that will demand accountability and produce long-term positive results. The government needs to get out of the picture entirely, it has no constitutional authority to be there. Better heads than mine are needed to come up wiht details, but we all know we cannot afford to keep going the way we are.
Finally, societal attitudes need to change, and this is the hardest part. I don’t believe any human agency is capable of affecting that kind of change. We consider ourselves a compassionate people, but only so long as we don’t have to show it in person. Let the government do that. The problem is that the government can’t. It was never meant to. We are meant to do that individuals. We’ve now raised generations of people who look to government instead of God and who believe they have a right to anything they want. If we can’t change this our nation is doomed. We can’t, but God can, if we will turn to Him. This is why our churches need to be involved first in preaching the Gospel and second in practical ways of meeting needs that result in improvement and dignity for those we help.
The question we need to be asking is “what can you do?” We can start from there. People will always need our help. I will always need help in some areas. So will you for that matter, whether you face any kind of disability or not. The objective should be to build from the inside out. Allow each person to contribute whatever they are able. We have people in our church who can do little more than offer a smile, but that is not without worth. They cannot make themselves understood by those around them, but God can understand them perfectly and they can pray. I still don’t know exactly what it looks like, but I know that ideas like that form the foundation of what Linda and I are trying to accomplish. We want everyone to learn to fish, or to help in whatever way they are able.
I choose to laugh. The alternative is no fun. Anyone living with an obvious disability has experienced it. People go into verbal contortions to avoid using certain words deemed to be insensitive. Sometimes I just tell people I’m blind now. It’s easier to say and quite true for legal purposes. I’ve used the term visually impaired most often I suppose because it’s really more accurate, but that too is a clunky PC construction. “Almost blind” is my new favorite. It’s really the closest I can get to the truth of the situation, though I don’t think of myself that way. This is all I’ve ever had, so to me it’s perfect vision.
I think the most uncomfortable appellation I’ve been saddled with is “sightless.” What clueless liberal dreamed that one up? Thankfully I have not encountered it often. I’m a big fan of calling a thing what it is. All of us facing some kind of mental or physical insufficiency are lumped into one big category that has also acquired various PC labels over the years. We’ve been disabled, a term I still use for the sake of peaceful coexistence. We’ve been physically or mentally challenged. We’ve been people with disabilities. Then there are the real aberrations such as “differently able.” What on earth is that supposed to mean?
My favorite is probably the most politically incorrect of the bunch. I think handicapped is actually the best word. A common objection to this word is that it has its origin in the idea that people with disabilities had no option but to beg. They had a cap in hand. First of all, this is not true. I generally do not recommend Snopes as a good source of information, but this particular article does a good job of explaining the real etymology of the word.
Second, we get way too wrapped up in what was instead of what is. Even if the supposed history of the word were correct, no one understands it to have that meaning today. We know it to refer to one of two things. It is either descriptive of a person with a disability or a term used in competition to indicate an encumbrance placed on a contestant to equalize the field. In fact, the latter is the true history of the word. The handicap is put on the best horse to give the others a chance, so why would I resent that? Bring it on. I’m still going to win.
Several years ago I got what I took to be a revelation from God about trust. That is, that it must be given before it can be earned. Though we may by observation deem someone worthy of our trust before committing to them, we can only truly know whether that assessment was merited after we have done so. There is only one person who can be said to have earned our trust before we give it. That is Jesus, who has already given everything for us. Yet there may be no one we are less likely to trust because we can neither see Him nor fully know Him while we remain on the earth.
I’ve been thinking lately about the meaning of trust. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary contains fourteen entries for the word. The first two read in part:
It goes on, explaining as dictionaries do the many ways in which the word is used, but I think we can simplify the definition as it pertains to human relations. To trust is to place something of value in the care of another. As a noun it represents the faith we have that the other will value what we have entrusted to them as we do. This thing of value may be tangible like money or intangible like our emotional well being.
What does it mean to trust God, whom most of us know primarily by the evidence He has provided rather than definite experience? The evidence is strong. The more I study the Bible the greater my small faith grows as I see the miraculous cohesion between its many parts written over thousands of years. I firmly believe it is the truth and the means by which we can begin to know and trust its ultimate author. Despite that certainty I can claim little personal experience with Him. I have learned not to trust myself, so those emotional highs I used to interpret as God’s affirmation no longer serve as proof of His interaction with me. Though I continue to reject the idea that all He will give us in this age is the Bible for guidance, meaning he speaks and acts overtly no more, I can claim no personal experience that supports my belief. I must rely on the experience of others whose integrity I do not doubt.
I am still left with the question, what does it mean for me to trust in God? I believe the Bible is the source of truth. I do not believe in my ability to understand everything it tells me. If there is any question, I find the answer that suits me best or else I hide behind the ambiguity. I believe in His love and have made my life’s quest to understand it, but all I can say that I have learned is how far I am from that understanding and that evidence in my own life.
But somehow I do trust Him. If not to the degree that I ought, certainly enough that I expect to see Him when I die. Not that I don’t doubt even that when I get too focused on my own failure, which I do a lot. Somehow in my darkest hours I long for Him and know that He is there. I may wonder at it because my mind cannot conceive of that much mercy, but I still know that I belong to Him.
He is faithful. Despite my intent to rejoice today, I quickly fell into the depression that has been especially heavy over the past few weeks. This blog entry began this morning from my struggle to understand the meaning of trust in all of my relationships, but especially with God. I can’t help thinking that if I had made full use of everything I’ve been given, I would be in a very different place today. I don’t know exactly what that place would be; I’m just sure it isn’t where I am.
Our church brought in a guest speaker this weekend, Bob Sorge. I think he may have spoken at Hillcrest church when I was there, but if so I did not attend that day. I had only heard his story through my wife. She was excited to have him come. I was just this side of apathetic. I thought it might help the church out a little so I went along with the preparation. I thought just maybe he would inspire us and maybe even me. My wife will tell you I don’t impress easily. J
Mr. Sorge is a pastor who almost completely lost his voice due to a botched surgery. Out of that experience has come a message of hope for all who suffer. Yahweh used his message today to help me see my situation in a different light. Using Job, and John chapter nine among others, he illustrated God’s roll in suffering. I recently wrote in my private journal how it was time for me to give up forever the idea that I could do anything that obligated Him to do what I asked. I started this entry writing about the meaning of trust. It’s time for me to trust Yahweh with my eyes. If He answers my plea and heals them I will trust Him. If he tells me I must wait until I look upon Him with new eyes, I will trust Him. If he tells me nothing at all, I will trust him. Echoing what Pastor Sorge said today, you may say that I lack faith. I’ll tell you what he told us. You’re right. I can never have enough faith. I must constantly go to the One who is faithful and learn faith. It grows from reading His word and from spending time in His service. I cannot say that God must earn my trust. He has already paid for my whole life. I can say that I must learn to give him my trust so that He can prove his trustworthiness. I must give it before I can see it.
What does that mean on a practical level? I must turn over to Him all that is of value to me. He gave it to me in the first place. I must love like He loves, trusting Him with my heart. I must give like He gives, trusting Him with my physical well being. I must do what he says, trusting that any hardship is temporary and not to be compared with the glory to come. I have a long, long way to go, but I choose to trust Him to take me there one step at a time. I fall upon His mercy, and He sets me on the path again.
This is not the most coherent piece I’ve ever written, in part because there was a big gap between the beginning and the end. God used that interval to completely change my perspective. I thought about scrapping the entry entirely and reworking it from the top, but I think it’s sort of tied together. I’ll be posting the audio for today on the Bartimaeus Baptist Temple web site sometime this week. It’s not a good quality recording on any day because I do it with a digital recorder from the front row, but I think it’s going to come out ok and I think it will really bless you. Keep an eye on the site for it. We had a wonderful time with Pastor Sorge. He has a sweet spirit and a big heart. We loved him instantly. If you get the chance to meet or hear him speak, take it. I haven’t personally read his books because they aren’t in an easily accessible format for me, but he promised to help change that too. I look forward to reading them. Check out his site.
The below paragraph is excerpted and modified from my prayer journal this morning. If you’re dropping in for the first time, this will make more sense when taken with previous entries. To provide minimal background, I am legally blind, my wife has Multiple Sclerosis. We attend a church that is designed to serve people with disabilities and we have founded our own organization to build more congregations that facilitate participation in ministry by everyone regardless of disability.
I can only do what I can with what I know, but I still can’t shake the idea that we should be bringing healing, not excuses and ways to make the best of life as it is. I know God uses evil for good, but should we then embrace the evil for the good He will do with it? If we ask that question with the word sin in it, few would ascent to it. Sickness or disability isn’t sin, but it’s still bad. Though we may thank God for using the bad for good, should we be thankful for the bad? It doesn’t compute for me.
I’ll keep doing what seems to be before me, but I can’t help wondering if we’re missing God’s best. I hesitate to even post this. I’ve wrestled with this question in my own life almost as long as I can remember. I was raised with all the scriptures. I don’t need to hear them again from self righteous children who have never had to live with these questions. Yet I write in the spirit of openness, desperately seeking an answer that makes everything fit together. Maybe I must wait until the Holy Spirit Himself chooses to enlighten me, and that might not be While I remain on the earth.
I should point out first of all that this is not a proper book review. To be true to my word to the person who commented on my opinion of Pagan Christianity By Frank Viola and George Barna, I read the follow-up book, Reimagining Church. If I am to do the book justice, I need to carefully study all the scripture references it contains and see if they really back up what Mr. Viola is saying. What I’m writing down today are just first impressions. I’m intrigued enough to go back at some point and do that research, because much of what he says makes sense to me.
I’ve also waited too long to comment on what I’ve read, so that all I am left with are impressions that largely preceded the book and that it only strengthened. So why write? I don’t have a good answer for that, except that it’s on my list of things to do and I like doing it.
I’ve gone to church all my life. I’ve spent time in several types of services. I’ve been Baptist, Pentecostal, Assembly of God, and Charismatic. I’ve visited a Catholic service and even a synagogue. One thing is common to them all. They all engage in a set of ritual processes that vary little from week to week. They all put people in front of the congregation who conduct them through the rituals. The people may participate only to the extent they are permitted. They are all different in many ways, but I have not been to one yet where I didn’t eventually begin to wonder, “Why am I here?”
I’m sitting on a bench or chair for one to two hours while we go through the same motions each time we come. In some churches I may stand for a while. Some people may even dance around a bit or run up to the front for a little emotional stimulation if the venue permits such things. Occasionally if people get real excited the preacher might give up his sermon slot to let it continue, but most of the time I am not convinced that anything more than that occurred. It’s not that I think it can’t. I’ve seen God work in those situations. I’ve received ministry in those settings. Any time God’s truth is spoken He can use it. Any time He is truly worshiped He will respond.
I am coming to think there’s a better way, and yes, the book encouraged me in this thinking. The traditional church setting, whatever flavor you like, cannot provide for the needs of the people efficiently. Churches have recognized this. The small group movement has been one of the best answers to the problem, and I am not sold on the idea that small groups within a traditional church can’t still be an effective way to deal with it.
That still leaves some good questions unanswered. If the best ministry occurs in the small group setting, do we need the large corporate meeting? They can be enjoyable, and there are many gifted teachers out there with much good to say. It would be a shame to limit their reach, but what of the resources it takes to maintain them? How much of a typical congregation’s budget must go to maintain a large meeting facility? Would not that money be better spent addressing the needs of the poor, funding missionaries, etc?
Yesterday Linda and I attended our first public gathering in support of Mission Accessible, the non-profit she has just founded to promote the spread of disability related ministry. It was a small group, some of whom were in open opposition to some of Christianity’s core beliefs. Yet as the discussion progressed I felt that we achieved in that gathering something rarely managed in a traditional church setting. Each person got the opportunity to share, and some felt comfortable enough to reveal aspects of their lives we had not known before and that I feel fairly certain would never have come out in church. That meeting had within it the seeds of a real “organic” church experience. Because we did not set out to do this and had no real plans other than to get to know one another and investigate the possibilities, I would not characterize it as a church meeting, but who says it needs to be? In future I would be more purposeful in orienting the group toward the pursuit of Yahweh, but I was excited by the potential. Honestly I am a little frightened by the prospect of trying to build something on our little group. We don’t seem to have the foundation we need, but there is still and will always be opportunity to add more. That’s what we’re about.
After saying that I feel I may need to reassure some of the folks who may read this. We’re committed to Bartimaeus Baptist Temple. We believe that its ministry (our ministry) is vital and have the greatest respect for our pastor and church family. We love you and will be there until God makes it clear to all of us that it’s time to move on. It would not surprise me if that time never comes. We will operate within the framework and authority of the church. We will also be seeking the Lord for what else He may call us to do, and I highly doubt that it will look much at all like a church as most long-time Christians know it. It will be the first of many. Most will meet in some facility or other, not because we need the buildings to be a church, but because the people we mean to serve need an accessible place to meet. Most homes won’t qualify. We will go to where they are and bring them if they can come. If they can’t come we will meet them where they are. It is our vision not simply to minister to people with disabilities, but through them. Our message is that all, whether disabled or not, are created with a purpose in His kingdom. We exist to provide the opportunity for love, fellowship, and purpose in a segment of the population often overlooked or marginalized. This is how I reimagine church.
Ok, let me tackle the first question head on. What business does a guy with no kids have saying anything about parenting? Not much, but I had the benefit of two very wise and wonderful parents of my own. I would like to share a few things I learned from them in hopes that it will help some of you down the road.
I’m not aware of anyone in my current circle of friends who is raising a child with “special needs,” but I know lots of people with imperfect kids. That would be all of you, since presumably your children are human. I don’t see so well. My parents could have focused on what I can’t do. I’ve seen it in people I know. I could have been brought up helpless, and that’s what I would have been. I know full grown adults who function as if they were mentally handicapped for no other reason than that they were raised as if they were. My parents didn’t’ treat me that way. They never put my blindness in front of me as an obstacle. Whatever I wanted to try, they let me try it, despite the apprehension it must have caused them. I’m not saying they were irresponsible, but they recognized the importance of allowing me to find my own limits. I know they watched from afar more often than I was aware of it. My first bicycle must have been hard enough. I don’t know how Dad managed to help me buy the Moped.
Because of this, I did not learn to say “I can’t.” When situations presented themselves that would normally call for good eyes, my response was, “I can do it another way.” That got harder later in life as the problems became more complex, but it’s still the way I think. Don’t focus on what can’t be done. Focus on what can. I hope that you don’t have to face raising a handicapped child, but don’t handicap him further by presuming to know his limits.
I’m not sure of the best way to share the rest of this story. For a number of reasons, I don’t like to talk about this part of my life much. I want to share it because I want to honor my parents and to hold them up as an example to others. I’ll tell the story because I know of no better way to illustrate the point. Forgive me if I still remain a little vague. I don’t want to say things that don’t need to be said.
A few of you know that I was married before. My web site bio goes into that a little more deeply, but since that’s not pivotal to this account I’ll leave you to read it if you want to. The point I want to make here is that Mom and Dad saw the disaster coming before it arrived. There were some rather obvious signs, but I could not see them. There’s more than one way to be blind. Believing I had to, I left my summer missions trip and flew home to get married. I asked my dad to do the ceremony. He was against the marriage, but I never knew it. I can certainly understand the argument that he shouldn’t’ have done it. After all, should we assist someone in something we believe is wrong or will hurt them? First of all, he could only suspect. Only God knew for certain. Second, there is no way I would have listened. We would have done it anyway. He knew that. He chose to preserve our relationship. It has to rank among the hardest things he ever did. I’m so proud of him for that decision. In the end his concerns were justified. Because we still had a relationship, I was able to call out for help when the worst happened, and he came to my rescue.
This does not apply so much to children not old enough to make their own decisions, but there comes a time when being right isn’t’ worth the price. If you are right, keep the door open for restoration when the time comes. I’m not saying we should never confront bad choices. Though I don’t think there is anything my parents could have said to convince me that I was making a mistake, I sure wish they had been able to, even though I learned a lot from it. Each situation is unique and requires a lot of thought and prayer. I don’t know that outright sin should ever go un-confronted, but I also know how valuable that relationship is. Each person must answer to God and his own conscience. I’m just so thankful that my parents made the wise choices throughout my life, and I want to publicly honor them for that. I hope that inspires other parents I know to seek God for the same wisdom.
Thanks to the folks that invited me to join as a friend on Facebook. I have to tell you though that it is a frustrating site for someone who uses a screen reader. I’m not sure I could have used it at all were it not for the little vision I have. As you’re signing up, it has drop-down lists that update as you go. You’re supposed to click one of the choices, but if you’re using a screen reader you don’t even know they are there. I don’t know if it is essential to click one of the choices, but it appeared that there was hidden info for each choice that you couldn’t enter if you couldn’t’ see the list. For example, I can type in Texas Tech, or Oak Park High School. In the first case it might have been an exact match and picked up Texas Tech in Lubbock, but what if I had typed Texas Tech University instead? Oak Park is listed simply as Oak Park High, not Oak Park High School, and there are several of them. Chances are my entry would not be matched appropriately at all unless I could see to click the list item that showed Kansas City as the location. Admittedly that wouldn’t matter a lot to me. It was a big place and I didn’t know how to make friends. A lot of people knew who I was because I could be seen in the halls with a cart full of the extra things I needed to help with class work, and a few were unfortunately run over by it. I didn’t know many people. I think I might remember one or two names. Then there’s the visual confirmation. I understand why they do that. In fact, I use it on the church’s site out of the same necessity. It keeps malicious people from running scripts that sign up multiple accounts and spamming everyone they can find. I have an audio confirmation link so that someone who is blind can get past the confirmation, and to their credit so do they, but I couldn’t understand it either. It too must be garbled to keep someone from employing voice recognition and getting through. On the second one I encountered I finally gave up after several misses on different phrases. To get around dealing with that, you can have your account confirmed with a text message sent to your cell phone. That’s great if you can see or can afford to shell out several hundred dollars for a phone that can talk. To top it all off, they don’t give you a confirmation password box, so if you mistype your password as I apparently did you will not know until the site refuses to let you back in. Maybe it was there and I missed it, but if so why did it let me in the first time? The reset screen has the confirmation, but the page’s underlying code is not designed in a screen reader friendly fashion, so again I resorted to magnification.
I went through with it though. Our church needs to get in touch with younger people. This is one of the ways people communicate now, so I’ll eventually get around to setting up a Myspace profile too. This just highlights the need for what we’re doing. This post is a bit plaintive, but the truth is the world doesn’t conform to our needs, and should not be required to. Though I am thankful for the help I get and know I couldn’t’ do without it, I am ultimately responsible for my life. That is true for all of us. Though I have indulged in a little complaining about a less than accessible web site, it’s up to me to deal with the world as it is. I can ask for changes, but I have no right to demand them.
What I can do is make the world a little better for someone else, and that’s what we’re trying to do. I’ve always been against creating enclaves of people with disabilities. We need to be out in the “real world” doing what we were meant to do. However, I see the need for a system of outreach and support that brings people to that place. There are numerous organizations that will meet physical needs, and that’s important. I expect we’ll do that and our church certainly does. Sadly lacking are churches seeking to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of people affected by disability. That has a physical component, in that we must go to them. Many cannot come to us. I have the same problem. I’ve been known to pick churches simply because I could get there. We have in mind a network of small churches in geographically convenient locations that can meet the needs of people like us. We must give out of what we have been given. We are blessed to be a blessing.