Simply the Frame

Like many others, my college years were a challenging time for me.  I struggled often in my pursuit to figure out who I was and how that was different from the perceptions of society.  It was late one night during after a particularly difficult day during my junior year that I wrote the following poem.  I remember wishing at the time that everyone I would ever meet would see the concept as truth.  It is over 25 years later.  Some wishes never change.

Simply the Frame 

Sometimes I feel trapped inside
My prison of four wheels
People say they understand
But they don’t know how it feels
I don’t want to be treated differently
I don’t want special care
Why won’t people treat me like me
Instead of a person in a chair
I feel so sad and lonely
And I’m a bit confused
Of all people who could have had C. P.
Why was it me God had to choose?
His answer comes so gently
I’ve known it all along
“I didn’t choose you to be cruel, Lorraine,
I chose you because you’re strong
Think about the someday soon
When we’ll be side by side
I’ll watch you walk so gracefully
My heart will swell with pride
And even though in this life on earth
Your situation may never change
In the beautiful picture I’ve painted of you
Your wheelchair is simply the frame.”

Lorraine Cannistra

Only a few people were in the sanctuary when I arrived at church yesterday morning, and as I sat, watching the worship team finish practicing, I was struck by how much I love that space. The huge wooden cross behind the altar feels majestic and the wooden beams that cross the ceiling underscore the security I feel there. Although I haven’t always been an active member, I have been going to the same church in my community for almost twenty years. I have been drawn into the sense of belonging like a line of ants who just discovered a trail of honey.

In the beginning, the congregation met in the gym of an elementary school. After the church bought a plot of land several years later, they built a gym of our own, where we gathered for Sunday services for several more years. I was sitting in a women’s Bible study meeting on a fall evening a few years back when the announcement was made that we were going to break ground for the sanctuary. I felt the bubbles of excitement shared by everyone in the room.

I will never forget the day I was in the sanctuary for the first time. The surroundings made me want to be quiet, in a way that stills my soul. This was a place that invited peace. As I made my way to the front, the warm feeling inside me was building and I knew I would like it here.

I have a preference to be in the front of the room, especially when I am in a crowd of people. If something happens or they all stand up, I can’t see anything when I am behind anyone, and that drives me crazy. It makes me feel like I am singled out like everyone else is in on a secret that I am not allowed to share. My pastor, Bill Vogler, knows my aversion to sitting in the back.

I was stunned when I saw it. The pew in the front row of the sanctuary was shorter so that there was space for a wheelchair user to fit in. As I scanned the room, I saw that several other pews had the same accessibility. I was still processing my delighted shock when Bill came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. “See that,” he said as he chuckled at my reaction, “We made a space just for you Lorraine.”

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act had been on the books for more than twenty years at the time, I knew that churches are exempt from that law. The ADA does not apply to places of worship because of the separation of church and state. This church, with the automatic doors at the front of the building, the tile on the floor that is easy to roll a wheelchair over, and bathrooms big enough to accommodate all my needs was not accessible because that was what was required. Instead, it was accessible because people wanted it to be. The wanted to include me and make me feel welcome.  They wanted me to know I was part of them.  They wanted the same thing for others who are in similar situations.  The same attitude came through when the church started offering a gluten free bread option at communion, because several people in the congregation, including myself, had that need.

I was reading the information in the church bulletin before the service started yesterday. Starting next week, my church is offering an adult Sunday school class on what the Bible says about disability and how to minister to those with disabilities in the community. I will be there.

I have written several blog posts lately about how demeaning and frustrating it is when someone I encounter focuses only on my disability and nothing else. The message in those posts is that they don’t see the whole picture. They don’t know who I am.

My experience at church yesterday reminded me that I need to focus on the people around me who make efforts to show me how much they do understand.  When I look at my church family, it is easy to see that I am not the only one who believes deep inside that my wheelchair truly is


“Simply the Frame.”