Tired of being left out and left alone once again, I ran to the very edge of the playground. Gripping the metal playground structure for support I turned away from everyone and faced the wind. I fought hard against my lips that wanted to frown and quiver and my eyes that started to fill with tears. Eventually, I couldn’t hold it in any longer, “God! I don’t have any friends!”
This week was Acceptance Week at the elementary school where I work. Every year we focus on a different aspect of diversity; this year the focus was on disability. I volunteered to speak to our students about my experience of living with cerebral palsy. Instead of holding one large talk in our gymnasium, I talked individually to each of our 26 classes, grades 1-4, over the course of six days.
It turns out that honestly sharing with others about the reality of living with CP feels a little like unzipping your heart.
I showed each class a picture of myself as a baby and how I looked when I first learned to walk. I showed them a picture of my body cast, knee stabilizers, and braces. I took my shoes off and demonstrated how I get ready in the morning; first putting a brace in my shoe and then special inserts. I had students practice saying “cerebral palsy” and I had them open and clench a fist so they could feel movement in their own bodies, and then I got to the last slide with this picture:
“This is a picture of me when I was in elementary school. What do you think was the first question I was always asked by other kids at school?”
Hands shot up almost immediately, “Why do you walk funny?”
“You’re right!” I’d answer with a smile, “What question do you think I would have liked other kids to ask first?”
“Why do you walk different!?”
“What happened to your leg?”
I shook my head.
“Are you okay?”
“No, that’s not it.”
At this point in the conversation some classes were silent for a moment. Then usually one student, often someone who also has a disability, would slowly raise their hand, “Do you want to be my friend?”
Last week I wrote about struggling with the invisible qualities of God, but this week I was grateful that God has the ability to work in unseen realms. I know that kids who are born with physical differences struggle in a very public way, but I can tell you from experience that the deepest pain they face is internal. That’s why this week I loved the invisible nature of God just a little bit more. As I looked into the faces of the students sitting in my reading well, I was encouraged that God has the ability to reach into the depths of our souls and heal places that human hands cannot reach. God can bring healing to us, whenever and wherever we are: crying on the playground as a second grader or standing before them as their teacher.
Thank you to everyone who prayed for me this week. It’s been years since those painful days on the playground and since then God has richly blessed my life with many beautiful friends…who accept and love me just the way I am.