A few days ago, there was a knock at my door, and I opened it to an unexpected visitor. The gentleman seemed nice enough. Went through the usual initial questions. I responded that I was doing fine today, told him my name, and asked what I could do to help him.
He was a pastor, he explained, of a new church in town. He was spending his Saturday afternoon going door to door inviting people to join him for the first service.
Then he spoke further and said, “I see you are in a wheelchair, do you get out much?”
Seriously? Again? I completely understand that many people have preconceived notions about those with disabilities, and the limitations that those circumstances may put on our lives. I get that. But why would anyone assume that, because I am unsteady on my feet, I wouldn’t participate in society? It simply boggles my mind.
I wanted to correct him. To tell him that my life was spectacular and that his assumptions were nothing short of stupid. I refrained. He had the best of intentions. And because of that, the most I could fault him for was being ignorant, not unkind.
As I went on throughout my day, though, there was something about the interaction that I had trouble letting go. Friends have suggested, in situations like that, I take the opportunity to mess with someone’s head. When people ask me if I get out much, the appropriate response might be something like, “No, I haven’t been outside since 1994.”
But I am not sure stuff like that would get me very far. And I know that it wouldn’t serve my purpose. I would want people to ask me questions if they don’t understand something about the life that I live, not to shut them down.
What bothered me most about the pastor’s assumptions were that they were grossly inaccurate, and that made me wonder what else he might be thinking.
I have experienced all the fear, heartache, and frustration that comes with a disability. That process has enabled me to take part in an incredible journey of faith, with an understanding that grace and goodness are a part of every experience I have if I choose to look for them. I can say without question that if I didn’t believe in a God that is bigger than I am, Who has a plan and a purpose for my life, I would have given up a long time ago. I believe with everything I have within me that my disability is part of what is God’s perfect plan for my life.
But I have come across people who believe very differently. Because my life is what it is, they question the strength of my faith, or more to their point, if I have any. Let me share a couple of examples.
When I was in high school, I was extremely athletic. During the summer after my junior year, I was selling raffle tickets outside of a local grocery store to raise money for the team I was on to travel to competitions. I sat at a table for several days, telling the story of the team I belonged to, and raising money for the cause that I truly believed in. I met lots of people. Early one afternoon, a woman came up to the table and said she had a question for me.
She proceeded to ask me if I believed in Jesus Christ. I was a little taken back, but I responded that I did. She then said, “Well then, why are you in a wheelchair?” She went on and on about how my situation was my punishment from God, or that my parents must have sinned somehow.
After about five minutes, I had enough. So I said, “Ma’am, I thank God that my disability is obvious. Your disability is rapidly becoming obvious.”
I am still in the process of learning to meet people where they are and being okay with their beliefs, just like I want them to be okay with mine. Still, sometimes these interactions are hard to deal with.
A few years later I went to college and bumped into a maintenance man on campus. His conversation was unwelcome, based on the way he started it out. “You know”, he said, with a drop of superiority, “if you REALLY had enough faith, you would be walking. God wants you to walk!”
Immediately I disagreed. “Obviously that is not true. God is all-powerful and can make reality anything He wants to happen, at any time. If God wanted me to be walking, I would be walking. End of story.
Except that, it wasn’t. There has been some stranger who comes up to me and tries to “heal” me or scold me for my lack of faith an average of every six months or so. It is demeaning and dehumanizing in ways I am not sure that I can convey.
The desire of my heart is that, as time goes on, and society makes accommodations for those with disabilities, attitudes and perceptions will change as well. That even those with the most clumsy and misinformed ideas will see the light.
After what happened a few days ago, I am beginning to doubt that the change that I want will ever come.
But maybe I just need a little more faith.