Defining Differently

Athletic ShoeMany words are used to describe someone with disabilities. Generally, the word disabled has a negative tone, doesn’t it? Some may say these folks are needy, challenged, unstable or unable, fragile or frail—words laden with a “less than” label that dismisses the person altogether. So now I’m going to admit something humiliating: before I became the mother of a son with disabilities, my perspective about people diagnosed with disabilities was that the person and the family needed me to cradle them in pity. Nothing is further from the truth, and to all of those people, I apologize. Thanks be to God for His grace in changing my perspective.

I want to tell you about Jon and ask you to think deeply (and hopefully differently) about defining others.

  1. Jon is courageous. Despite the fact that others will look down on him and even stare or laugh because he has tics and he struggles to relate socially, Jon enters the day. It takes tremendous courage to face “society’s rules” knowing you’re different, yet choose to live with those rules with joy. Are you (am I) that courageous?
  2. Jon perseveres. It has taken Jon years to learn how to tie his shoes. He will always face that challenge because his fingers don’t tighten or turn the way others’ do. Difficulties in coordination, communication, physical activities, and emotional regulation will be constants in his life. However, Jon perseveres—he keeps trying and saying, “Real men don’t quit.” Do you (do I) persevere?
  3. Jon is kind. Jon has been bullied in and out of school. He has been hurt by others and treated as “weird.” He feels the rejection, and it’s terribly sad for me to see it happening. My first response is not to be kind but to retaliate! But Jon still waves at the school kids passing by, says “Hi” to others, doesn’t have a bitter heart, and says “I love you” to each person he’s met. Are you (am I) that kind? (I know I’m not.)
  4. Jon is filled with mercy and grace. Every time he sees a person struggling, he stops and asks how they are doing, then says to me, “We need to pray for them.” He doesn’t care what people look like, how they talk or walk, what they wear, or what they own. He has no measurement or standard by which he judges; he accepts people as they are. Do you (do I) give grace and mercy?
  5. Jon is strong. His strength cannot be measured by the world’s standards; he’s not physically robust or tough. Jon is strong because he is resilient and enduring. He pursues peace rather than fights, and he doesn’t pursue the “cool” crowd to look good. Jon is strong because he has no hidden motives. He strives to grow. He is honest and authentic in a world which compromises and has little understanding or integrity. Are you (am I) that strong?

Jon’s character reveals my own lack of courage, perseverance, kindness, mercy, grace, and strength. Therefore, instead of thinking about the “less than” descriptions, which are often inaccurate, let’s look deeper and think differently about people with additional struggles. They are mighty in character, which is what the Lord is cultivating in us all.