This is the last article in a series about disabilities and the church. The first article laid out the basis for disability ministry and answers the question of how does God see people who have disabilities. The second article is directed to pastors and church leaders to and answers “Why should we care about people who live with disabilities?” This last article is written to people who live with disabilities to encourage them to be involved in a church.
People who live with disabilities cannot expect others to accept them if they don’t accept themselves. One way to do that is to remember you were made in God’s image and another is to go find a couple life verses to help you. Whether you have a disability or are a parent, sibling or friend of someone with a disability, God loves you! He knew you before you were born and designed your body (Psalm 139:13-16). You’re perfect just the way you are. You didn’t do anything to cause your disability. That’s the most important idea you can take away from this article.
Then why did God give you a disability? For one, I believe I can show the glory of the Lord best through my disability. You can, too. God made you for a very special purpose in his kingdom, and I encourage you to find that purpose and live it out. The Bible says: 1) Man is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27); 2) The Lord makes man blind or mute (Exodus 4:11); 3) Man looks at the outside, while God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7); and 4) This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him (John 9:4).
And don’t forget verses such as Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
It may be just me, but I sometimes focus on the verses helping me understand my disability and forget all about God’s love and plans for me.
I encourage you to find perhaps two life verses. Find one that helps explain why you have a disability. Mine is Exodus 4:11: “The Lord said to him, ‘who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’”
Then have a life verse that speaks to your spirit. One of mine is Esther 4:14: “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” I live in an important time in history. Never before has someone with a disability been able to participate in society to the fullest. I’m alive at this point in history to help people understand people with disabilities have a place in God’s plan, too.
Scripture can play a vital role in your life and help in difficult times. I get frustrated with my disability sometimes and Exodus 4:11 gives perspective. Of course, who doesn’t need being reminded of God’s love? Make a habit of reading Scripture and soak in His love.
Also, from elementary school on, church was a place where I could wear a suit and tie. I was taught to dress up for church and besides, sweats and a tee shirt was my everyday uniform and I wanted an upgrade. I’m more relaxed about dress these days and often wear shorts and no shoes in summer—scandalous, but I figure if the priest can go without shoes, so can I. Perhaps I feel more comfortable with myself now or maybe I want to blend in with the congregation.
I tell people with disabilities to put their best foot forward. Wear clean and updated clothes. Act like you belong—because you do. Most of all, smile. People always love a bright, shinny face. People with disabilities go up against a lot of things every day, including preconceived ideas, behavioral issues, and communication problems. We do not need any more roadblocks. That’s why I suggest having an appearance check before going to church. First impressions mean much, and a good appearance may help you become more easily accepted in church. There is another reason why you need to look your best: people will more likely listen to you. It’s a bitter pill to take—I have a hard time with it—but it’s reality. When that barrier is down, it’s easier for us to communicate our needs.
In addition, never demand your rights, but yet know how to express yourself. No one knows your disability better than you. You know what you can and can’t do, your likes and dislikes, and your energy level. It will take practice, but you need to be able to explain your disability and what you need. I’ve learned how to tell people how to help. For example, when helping me put on my coat, don’t pull my arms. Sometimes it’s easier to put my arms in the sleeves first and then flip it over my head. Or when it comes to meals, I may need help getting a plate and cutting my food. People are more than willing to help if they know what I need, and they won’t know if I don’t speak up. I’m accepted in my church in part because I know when to speak up and when to go with the flow. I never use my disability as an excuse to get what I want. It’s a two-way street. If wanting to be active at church, you must be willing to meet people half way and let the Lord help plant and grow relationships.
On another matter I need to be blunt: You are not special because of your disability. You are special because of Jesus Christ and just as bad as anyone. You need a savior. If you haven’t received Jesus Christ as your savior, put this book down and do it. If you have questions, reach out to a Christian friend. You can email me. If you have asked Jesus in, get to know Him better. The learning never stops. Find a church, a disciple group, or some kind of study to help you go deeper. I’m always studying and learning with friends. My disability doesn’t stop me from learning about and experiencing God’s love. Of course, the final step is finding somewhere to serve the Lord. Find your place in Christ’s body. There are many ways to serve. You don’t have to read Scripture or teach children like I do. Find something you can do. What do you like? What are you good at? Ask family and friends what they think and try it. Try one new thing this week.
A word to family members and friends. Your loved one or friend with a disability is special to you, but do not treat that person any different than others. They are not glass that breaks. They are made by God, and God will always be there. Remember Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Parents come up to me all the time, and say, “I wish my son could be like you someday.” Well, why not? If someone told my mother twenty-five years ago I would live independently, have two college degrees, and authored three books, she wouldn’t have believed. Her faith in the Lord and His provision were the greatest gifts she gave me. She ended each day with this prayer: “Lord, this is your kid. Help me raise him.” I encourage you to pray that for your sons and daughters. I’m not saying the journey will be easy or even your child can be like me. I’m saying when handing over everything to the Lord and praying for His will be done, you are well on your way toward realizing your dreams for your child.
Relationships are a two-way street. I can encourage churches to open their doors to people with disabilities, but that’s only one part. People with disabilities and their families need to do theirs. A big reason my church works for me is because I have learned my role. I learned to risk a visit to a new church and come back week after week without expectations. I just showed up. I started making friends. Eventually I felt comfortable enough to approach people and become more involved. Second, my mother always stressed I should go out clean as possible and wearing clean clothes. My face had to be clean and I had to change out of shirts with spots on them. Remember the scene in Lion King where Simba was testy when his mother gave him a bath? The lion cub scuffed and said, “Okay, enough already. Now can we go?” I know exactly how he felt. My mother often went to the extreme fussing around with my cloths and hair. But like Simba, I have learned how to be accepted in a community. People are more willing to accept me when I’m clean and appropriately dressed.
Perhaps most importantly, I have grown in faith. Discovering what the Bible says about disabilities has helped me realize God’s purpose. He knitted me in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), has a reason for my disability (Exodus 4:11), and I am a child of God (1 John 3:1-2). Most of all, I understand He loves me. When I’m able to hold these truths together—which is a daily struggle—I can be part of my church. You and your family can, too. Go for it!
***This is an excerpt of Tait’s book, In the Accessible Church. To order a copy of Tait’s book, please visit amazon.com.