I used to spend hour after hour as kid pouring over Christian biographies: Billy Graham, Corrie ten Boom, D. L. Moody, and Elizabeth Elliot. I turned each page with curiosity, wondering what made these people so great and so mightily used of God. I savored each book, taking careful notes, until I read the story of Joni, a woman who broke her neck as the result of a diving accident and is now a quadriplegic. Her story was both griping and violent. In her conclusion, she told of the peace she had found in the midst of living with her paralysis. The end pages of her memoir advertised her international ministry to people with disabilities. I threw the book under my bed and weeks later threw it out into the trash. Joni was content to live in her body; as a 12 year old living with cerebral palsy, I was not.
So when I really felt the call of God on my life 17 years later to minister to individuals and families who have been impacted by disability, I had one reaction: hysterical sobbing. Sitting in the back of a retreat center in Alexandria, I cried so hard that a stranger came up and asked if she could hold me while I wept. I croaked out a yes and suddenly felt my body being wrapped in her embrace.
Over the past six months, I have been learning that engaging in disability ministry means many different things. Sometimes it means wiping drool off a friend’s face, or learning how to politely exit the room for a moment so they can be assisted in the bathroom or have a tube connected so they can eat a meal. Sometimes it involves having honest conversations with people about painful topics like deformity and exclusion. Sometimes it looks like witnessing parents weep. Disability ministry is a challenging and unique calling which is transforming my relationship with others and deepening my walk with God. I’m learning that people who suffer in this way are close to God's heart, and they are becoming closer to mine. I’m also learning these things:
· This is about beholding beauty. When a person has a disability, the task of truly perceiving their beauty can become more challenging, but at the same time even more compelling. Physical disability, I’ve found, is often perceived in sharp and unexpected contrast to what people expect a body to look like, but even initial shock or a subtle startle can provide the extra motivation necessary to enter into a deeper realm, one that carefully peers into the human soul.
· The “big things” God is calling you to do may actually look small in the eyes of the world, but that doesn’t mean they’re insignificant. Ministering to people with disabilities is largely work that goes unseen but there is something wonderful about the pattern of feeling the gentle nudge of God, responding in obedience, and watching Him bless the work of your hands.
· Envy is not helpful. It’s tempting to look at the work others are doing and wish your ministry looked similar. There are times when I have wished that what I was called to was more mainstream, popular, or even simply more understood. I’m learning to appreciate God’s grand design for us to work together as a body; not focused on how we measure up to each other, but rather maintaining our focus on God, so like Jesus, “We can do what we see the Father doing.”
What do you wrestle with when you consider your calling?