Last week, I sat down with two therapists who were evaluating Alisa. "The good news," said one therapist, "is that she automatically qualifies for therapy. This evaluation is only a formality because of her disability."
The good news.
Good news? It didn't feel like good news to me. I know in a sense this is a good news, because even though Alisa shows no signs of needing therapy at this moment, she will undoubtedly need it eventually. But good news? As a mom, I have to disagree. It certainly did not feel like good news.
Over the last few weeks, I have had an incessant question tumbling in my spirit. I've tried to stop thinking about it, but the question has been relentless. That question is this: why are we so afraid of disabilities?
If you've never had a reason to do so, you probably haven't thought about this question. Because of our present circumstances, my world has collided head on with this question. Often, you cannot tell a writer's tone when communicating through the written word, so I want to be clear. I do not mean that I have wrestled with this question in the sense of, "Why are you so afraid of disabilities," because that isn't what I mean. No, I don't claim to have it all figured out now that I have a child with Down syndrome. Instead, what I really mean is..."Why am I so afraid of disabilities? Why are you? Why are we all?"
It's not a new issue. Yesterday, someone on social media pointed out a news article that ISIS is now targeting children with Down syndrome for elimination. I won't even spend time elaborating on how this made me feel because I'm sure you can imagine. Yet this is nothing new. We only need to go back a little bit in our immediate history to see the cycle before, with the Nazis in Germany targeting those with birth defects, disabilities, and physical deformities. Furthermore, even one hundred years ago, those with disabilities like Alisa did not have any hope of leading normal lives in any part of the world. They were sent to inhumane institutions where they were locked away.
But why? Why are we so afraid of disabilities?
I think there are a hundred different answers to this question, as varied as the number of people on this earth. I don't claim to have it all figured out. We could answer this question in the simplest theological way, that we are all sinful people plagued by selfishness, pride, and fearful mistrust of God. Disabilities require a love that costs us something. We could look at logical reasons, like the fact that a disability is uncomfortable, interrupting the "normal" lives of individuals and forcing the need for change. Furthermore, the presence of a disability demands personal, lifestyle, financial, and emotional sacrifice. Disabilities are often stark, visual reminders to all who encounter them that we are not perfect. Disabilities are messy, painful, and often inescapable. We cannot make them go away.
All of those reasons are true, and I'm sure if you and I sat down over a cup of coffee that we could explore even more reasons why we as a human race do not like disabilities. I recall this past May on the Friday before Mother's Day, when my obstetrician called to tell me that our daughter had screened positive for Down syndrome. Never, never, in my life had I considered the possibility that I would have a child with a disability. I just didn't think it would happen to me. I hung up the phone with my very compassionate doctor, I looked at my bewildered husband, and I wept. I felt many things in the moments after that phone call, but I can tell you that one very prominent feeling I had was fear. I imagined the worst, and I couldn't get past the disabling fear that my life was over, that there would be no more normal for us...because our unborn daughter was different. She was disabled.
If we bundled up all of the reasons into one succinct definition, I think the reality that would slap us in the face is that we do not like disabilities because they force us to recognize that we are weak. We spend a vast amount of energy trying to convince ourselves and others that we are strong, that we have it all together. It is only when disaster strikes, when the unexpected happens, that we are forced to our knees in brokenness. Cancer, a lost job, death, broken relationships - all of these things break us down, pushing our weaknesses to the surface. With disabilities, though, there often isn't an "other side" because they are lifelong. We are crippled by disabilities, and the reminder of our weaknesses often cannot be hidden.
I've considered God, the all-powerful King of kings and Lord of lords. Perfect in knowledge, in wisdom, in might, I've wondered at His strength. How can He understand my weaknesses? How can He see into my greatest vulnerabilities and say, "I understand"? How can He speak life into my heartache and fears?
But you see, not only does God in His infinite wisdom seek us out in our weaknesses, but He also understands us in them. As I have reflected on all of these things, the Lord has reminded me that He, too, lived a life of human weakness. In describing the example of Christ, Paul says,
"...though He was in the form of God, [Christ Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross..." Philippians 2:6-8
Of all the ways that Jesus could have stormed into this world and claimed victorious power for His Kingdom, He chose to start out in the humblest form, that of a baby. A weak, innocent, and vulnerable baby, Jesus showed the greatest faith in His Father. He had no way to protect Himself in this weak state of infancy other than to trust that God would. As He grew, Jesus did not pursue military might or political power. Instead, He spoke Truth to any who would listen. Eventually, He chose obedience to the Lord once more, even though it meant taking on human weakness by giving Himself over to be beaten, arrested, accused, and crucified on a cross. Jesus knew weakness, but He did not run away from it. He embraced these human weaknesses because He understood something about weakness that we all do not naturally see: never are we strongest than when we are our weakest, for it is in our weaknesses that God's power is made perfect in us (2 Cor. 12:9).
He, my God, is the Lord of the weak. He, in fact, does not prefer the strong, the powerful, or those who have convinced themselves that they "have it all together." On the contrary, He seeks out the weak, the weary, and the broken, and He glorifies Himself through our desperate need of Him. And the truth is that although those with actual disabilities in this world are obviously weak to others, no one in this world is truly without weakness. We all are weak, whether we care to see it or not.
Do you see your weaknesses today? Some days they are easier to see than others. I pray, though, that we can all see our weaknesses with fresh eyes, falling upon the unending grace of our loving Father. Then, and only then, can we agree with the Apostle Paul that in our weaknesses, He is strong!
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9