Saturday, April 19, 2014

Through the Whispers

It's something every person with a major disability must face at multiple times in their life. It's something we wish to see change. It's something that can make us feel like less of a person. What is this, you may ask, that makes us feel so vulnerable?

The whispers....the questions....the comments made behind our backs (a majority of the time, while we are standing right there in plain hearing range). I have always found that these comments (that cannot be heard) make it back to me in one way or another...usually through a friend who mentions that others had no idea what was going on.

"What's wrong with her? What happened? Why is she in a wheelchair? Why is she using crutches?"

I believe the intent of the person inquiring about the individual with a disability is innocent in most cases. People are simply intimidated by that which they don't understand or what is unfamiliar to them. Therefore, they do not know how to approach someone who is "differently-abled."

If you ask those of us who are disabled, the vast majority of us would much rather talk face-to-face to those who are concerned enough to ask questions. If it is done in the right way (which is not very difficult), then it is actually a very pleasant and informative conversation.

This next point is very important to me & (I believe) very valid: 

I have more specific and accurate answers that I would like to share with people who are curious or concerned, but I can't share that when individuals ask others (and when I am easily available to answer those questions).

Many times, the inquirers are actually receiving wrong information that is perceived incorrectly or even opinionated by the person answering the questions.

So my effort today is simple. I am asking all friends and family to discontinue the talk that goes on behind those of us who face the hardship of disabilities. It's hard enough to be constantly judged by the general population as we stroll (or roll) through the local grocery store or post office. Instead, you can talk to us like you do everyone else. Ask us questions. Most of the disability community is willing to share their story IF YOU ASK.

How is this issue addressed in scripture?

God calls for his followers to treat everyone we encounter with dignity and respect. We are all equal in God's eyes. Jesus would treat me (in a wheelchair or using crutches) no differently than he would an able-bodied follower. Jesus would also approach a person with developmental impairments in the same manner. Many of us on this earth don't.

Romans 2:11
For God shows no partiality.

Let me speak to you from a humble heart for a moment. There have been times in my life where I have failed in this area of scripture and in this area of my relationship with my Heavenly Father. I have judged others. I am, by any means, no different from you in the fact that I am vulnerable to judging others and falling in the trap of sin. However, we (as followers of Christ) find conviction from the Holy Spirit when we do fall in this area. By God's amazing grace, we can find forgiveness. Furthermore, we realize that this action is harmful to others and against God's standard. Hopefully, prayerfully, God's grace and the Holy Spirit will change our actions and attitude.

Here are a few other scriptures to look further at:

Matthew 7:12

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law  and the Prophets."

Mark 12:31
The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.


"What Do I Say?"
Tips on How to Make Conversation with a Person with a Disability

So, what are some tips? Here are some things I would suggest to you on how to make conversation with someone with a disability.

*My best piece of advice - be yourself: treat us like you would want to be treated.

*Talk directly to the individual with the disability. This includes cases where friends, family members, or caregivers may be accompanying the individual with the disability.

*Use proper terms of conditions and injuries when talking to people with disabilities. Avoid at all costs labels (handicapped, victimized, retarded, insane, etc.).

*Once you have had all your questions answered about the individual with the disability, carry on a normal conversation about everyday life. This makes the individual feel that you are not interested solely in their condition, but also in their family, job, and other interests that are not related to their disability (they won't feel defined by their disability).

*Allow your children to meet and talk with people with disabilities. Those that are wheelchair-users, for instance, understand the curiosity of a child. We also understand that a child is not going to know what words/phrases are appropriate in today's culture to say to a person with a disability. We aren't offended by the innocence and curiosity of a child. I absolutely love getting to share my story with children. Their eyes light up when I pop a wheelie for them; that's when they really begin to connect. They realize (many of them, for the first time) that I am no different than they are - I simply do things in a different way. This awareness will also be an automatic fix (in most cases) for children who tend to stare at wheelchair users. Until they have an opportunity to meet someone who is willing to share their story, teach your children not to stare and gawk. It's your job as a parent. By the time they are 7 (if not sooner), they should definitely be over this stage of the innocent "stare".


For the person with the disability:
"How Do I Respond?"

Lastly, for those of us that face the hardships of disabilities on a daily basis, this issue is sure to come up. We've already discussed why others should address people with disabilities on a personal level. So how do we handle the occasion when others go behind our back, which can indeed be hurtful at times? God tells us to handle it with grace, gentleness and a heart of forgiveness. Yes, it's hard in the heat of the moment, but it's the right path. 

Matthew 6:15
But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Colossians 3:13
Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Proverbs 15:1
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

2 Corinthians 8:7
But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.

Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

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Mental Illness and the Church