I leaned against the wall in the church foyer, excited yet exhausted after a week of Vacation Bible School.
“What a busy week!” I said.
My friend, Sara, stood just a few feet away from me, a smile on her face, watching some kids run around while their parents chatted.
“You know what I dream about?” she said.
“A VBS for kids with disabilities.”
“Wouldn’t that be great?”
“Or at least we need to figure out a way to get them here. We would need more volunteers, but we could do it!”
“I just think they’re missing out when they don’t get to come, and we do, too.”
“Wouldn’t that be great?”
“Yeah. It would.”
My friend Sara is a speech therapist, she works with kids with disabilities often. I knew she had a heart for kids with disabilities and their families, and I admired her for that. But I thought it wasn’t “my thing.”
I didn’t think her idea was great. Instead, I thought it would be a lot of work and not something I wanted to be involved with. Would there actually be enough volunteers to make something like that happen?
While she talked about her dream, I ran an inner monologue about how God had not “called me” for that job. I felt God had not “given me a passion” for kids with disabilities, so why would I be involved with that?
That conversation in the church foyer with my friend Sara replays in my mind over and over. Why? Because I had such a strong conviction I wasn’t “called,” yet several years later I gave birth to a baby girl with Down syndrome. The irony of the situation has never abandoned me.
I didn’t feel “called” yet I’d become a mom to a child with a disability. We were now what I used to think of as those families.
In Christian circles we talk about “being called” because we’re so “spiritual.” Now I know “being called” is an excuse not to care.
I had a wrong way of thinking.
Why did I ever believe I was exempt from caring about a certain group of people? Perhaps it was because I once thought that caring was a result of a “calling.” But caring is a result of loving, and we need to learn what it means to love.
Let’ make one thing clear: Jesus called us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I haven’t found any place in the Bible where there are stipulations or restrictions as to who we get to care about and love.
When God said to love others as I love myself, He meant loving people and kids with disabilities, too.
Now, many years later, I am a parent of two children with disabilities who recognizes and knows personally the desperate need for the Church to reach out. I know the need to educate and help the Church, because there are too many misconceptions and inaccurate perceptions regarding disability in our own faith community.
My view of disability has changed. Yes, it’s changed because I now parent children with disabilities, but mainly because in this journey I’ve had to face my own negative disability attitudes, which were based on ignorance and pity. I am not the same young lady standing in the church foyer, thinking that reaching out to families impacted by disability did not apply to me. I am a member of the Body of Christ along with my brothers and sisters with disabilities, and we all need each other to function and be whole.
Do you ever wonder how the Church receives us, families living with disability?
Here is a sad reality, many families who have a member with a disability do not attend church. Looking at it from a statistical perspective, the US Census estimates that 20% of the population is made up of people with disabilities. How many churches do you know that are made up of 20% of members who have a disability?
It’s time we begin to ask why people with disabilities are missing in our churches. Perhaps it’s time we reach out and ask them directly what keeps them from attending church. It is time we listen. It’s time that we, the Church, do something about it.
We have a people group who has been marginalized, ignored and pushed away by society for too long, and the church has acted no different. It is time that as a Church we treat our brothers and sisters with disabilities as equal and invaluable members of our faith communities. To recognize their full humanity and embrace them, accept them, celebrate them and do life together.
If we claim we want to be like Jesus, let’s remember his ministry involved reaching out to people with disabilities. If Jesus had a church today, his church would include people with disabilities and it would be fully accessible. Why is it our churches look so different?
And when people with disabilities join our faith communities, instead of praying for physical healing, let’s pray for God to open our hearts and our eyes to our own disability attitudes. Let’s figure out how to do life together. And if we are the Church, let’s embrace, celebrate, accept, and love unconditionally.
And let’s never forget that people/children with disabilities are fully human and fully valuable, fearfully and wonderfully made.
What are we going to do about it?
Does your church need help to begin these conversations? I can help through Disability Matters.
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