The world advocates for difference, or diversity, now more than ever before. Diversity is lovely because variety is beautiful. Difference is entertaining and, for the expansion of the mind, necessary.
Those in the majority will tell you they desire to be different, too, but they would also say there is a limit to the ways they want to stand out. How many of us are proud of the labels society has strung around our necks? Are they the labels we would give ourselves?
It was Dr. Seuss who said: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” What about natural standouts, the ones who were born that way like myself, people who were born with a physical disability?
Cerebral Palsy is a difference I did not sign up for, yet it has made me stand out any place I happen to be. When people imagine themselves being different from the crowd, a disability is probably not part of that daydream. It has never been part of mine.
Cerebral Palsy has outlined my life, and yet, it is not even among the first 20 descriptors I would use when describing who I am. It is an undeniable part of me, but it is not my heart. My heart is for God and healing the broken world. My talent as a writer is more a part of my identity than any aspect of my physicality, but ironically, people notice the superficial most when it comes to those who have physical disabilities.
A disability does not even scratch the surface of what it means to be human. Life comes at us with one of two approaches: The first is unfamiliarity, those who notice the physical differences and have no idea how to react or interact with them. The second is the mothering approach, people who want to help so much it’s smothering.
There is a third approach: the honest, nonjudgmental approach. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen often enough.
People with disabilities like to go out. They like to stay in. They love going on classy dates with stomach flutters and wine. People with disabilities have weaknesses and strengths, successes and failures, best friends and unfortunate coworkers. They have scars and tattoos, a love for R&B and a distaste for country. They are highly intelligent and often have to simplify their thoughts for others to comprehend. They like to take trips and see the world.
People who have disabilities are just that: people. I am a person. You are too. Don’t let the labels make us forget what our humanity. I am not my pigeon-toed movement, nor am I my service dog. I am a daughter of God and two incredible humans. I am a writer, a deep thinker and a sarcastic communicator. I am so much more than what’s on the outside. All of us are.
The physically disabled should not be isolated or shrouded in sadness and aggravation. If anything there should be a tighter embrace, even when inclusion in certain activities is difficult. It’s worth it.
What if God intended something exceptional with those who are the exceptions to the average? Isn’t that His mode of operation, to work with what the world considers the least of these? Moses had a stutter. Paul had a thorn in his side. The little guy who climbed a tree is the one Jesus wanted to eat with.
When I’m frustrated with the body God put me in, I read scriptures like these and remember that God chooses option number three when He looks at me. He’s thinking, that’s my kid! That’s how I know there is something greater than the frustration of daily living that comes with having a disability. A purpose in His plan and joy in this pain.
What if the point for myself and others like me is to focus not on the negative but instead the positive? We can use our distinct abilities to make the kind of noise that needs to be heard. The stage we stand on is the spotlight we were meant to have, maybe not forever and maybe not intentionally, but an important one to occupy in the present.
Personally, I would prefer to have existential conversations on sunset car rides rather than discuss the most surface-level attribute I happen to carry. However, life on Earth is short and avoidance is not how to deal with pain and insecurities; light is the solution to the darkness.
Christ covers our wounds with His. I think the words I write can help assure others carrying a cross like mine. I can write it out for them, while I’m still here. Tell them they are just as much a person as anybody else and they have a voice that should be raised high and loud.
Until there is a chorus, I will humbly speak for you. I will pray for you. I will love for you. I will remind you, as I need to be reminded too, God loves you. Work the stage you stand on because the spotlight will not shine forever.