On Differently Abled People
Dr. George Samuel
When we use the term “handicapped,” we need to realize that in one way or another we are all handicapped. For example, a number of us are handicapped in our ability to love others. How about forgiving others? Doing good to all? We are deficient in a number of matters like this. Physically, we may be enjoying sound health, but we know the present health can be deteriorated any time even without warning.
We use the term “differently abled” for those who are the victims of birth defect, accident, sickness and the like which made some people incapacitated even to take care of their own personal needs. Some might be physically normal but mentally deficient. Such mental defect may make them abnormal in their behaviour, although physically even strong. Some such people who in the sight of others may be deficient in doing things intelligently, but some of them are able to maintain a healthy outlook, probably because their mind is not “polluted” with undesirable matters unlike some of the so called “intelligent” ones.
The term “differently abled” is not merely a substitute for “handicapped” but in its true spirit such people can contribute a lot toward the betterment of the world around them in their own capacity. We have several examples of such people outliving the normal healthy ones. I would like to share certain things I learned from a few of such individuals who triumphed over their limitations.
Many around the world are aware of Joni Erickson in California who is a paraplegic for over four decades. She met with the accident while swimming, and many are blessed around the world through her ministry of encouraging. She still speaks to many around the world. Many are watching her on television and other visual media. Her books are also popular in Christian book shops. I had the privilege to share the meetings with her in United States and Canada. She used to pray for my sons Johny and Ronnie who were suffering from the threatening Cystic Fibrosis.
She shared with me about the response from a 3 year old healthy child who watched one of her television programs. The child was curiously watching the way Joni, sitting on a wheel chair, was holding between her teeth a brush to paint beautiful pictures although her hands were disabled. The child was fascinated by the joy reflected in her smiling and singing without any complaint about her disabilities. The child requested her mom to buy a wheel chair for her also, so that she too could sit on a wheel chair and perform like Joni-aunt! The point Joni made was about the need for wilful and disciplined practice required, whereas the child thought of it as merely by sitting on a wheel chair one could perform what she saw on television.
God has given us the health and opportunities to serve Him in this world. We may be holding positions that gives us more opportunities to get several things done for the Lord. But by merely holding those positions or merely “occupying that chair” might not empower us. It depends on what we do with what God has given us. In the case of certain individuals, they may not be enjoying the normal health or abilities like the others.
I sometimes call such people as “God’s specials” for God might have planned for them something special and even unique.
I met a college lecturer who lost her eye-sight at age 46 due to a treatment she received with some indigenous medications that had severe side effects on optical nerve. The efforts of several specialists could not help her in regaining the sight. But she was able to triumph over it by “insights” she gained from God’s word. She fulfilled her duties as a mother and a housewife. Because she could not see anything, the electricity failure (power-cut) did not bother her either during day or night! She could get up early in the morning and prepare breakfast for her children and husband. Then she will be busy in preparing lunch, cleaning the dishes and even the rooms. Of course, she was not doing these things by sight but by touch and feeling. She was sustained by her faith in ‘a God who is able to empower her.’ Her family could not even feel that the mother of the house lost her eye sight, because she did everything very well. Her husband told me about a serious mistake he made once in asking her “didn’t you see it” noticing something someone did for which she was not actually responsible. Then only he realized his foolishness in asking such a question to his dear wife who had lost her eye-sight permanently. It was probably because there were no occasions to ask her such questions as she was doing things properly for several years.
I met a builder who met with an accident during a building construction and became a paraplegic from his chest down to feet. But he takes care of his personal needs himself. As he is able to use his hands, he is able to drain the urine bag, and use toilet by sliding on to it from wheel chair. He could turn the wheel chair himself and even drive a car modified to hand-operated driving system. He takes special care in his intake of the quantity of food and water since he doesn’t feel hunger or thirst. He faced during sleep some problems like rat removing his toe from left foot, ants eating a large area of skin from his leg being not sensitive to touch. When I met him he was suffering from an ulcer at his buttock making him to remove frequently the cotton pad wet by oozing pus.
In spite of all these limitations, he was travelling to meet people in need and comfort them, and encourage them to trust God. He keeps a demountable wheel chair in his car for use when he reaches the destination. He even travels by train leaving the car at railway parking space. He told me that he gave his heart to Jesus nine months prior to the accident and that is the secret of his victory. God has been proving His grace sufficient to triumph over since then.
Although I have heard about a number of individuals who could triumph over in spite of their limitations, I was able to personally meet and spend time with only about two dozen such special people. Some of them, of course, are with different intellectual capacity and even with serious mental limitations. We know, man is a spiritual being with a physical body, and when we look into the spiritual aspect of human personality, we realize that they are indeed precious before God. We have to give our careful attention in raising them up for the Lord. The intellectual ability of those who enjoy normal health is also prone to lose such capacity any time, we know, in a world of many unpredictable events in life.
The situation in my home with our children was of another kind. All my three sons were suffering from the threatening incurable illness “Cystic Fibrosis.” One son died in early infancy, and the other two, Ronnie and Johny, died at age 22 and 32 respectively. In a way, it was a life-and-death struggle due to their respiratory and intestinal problems with enzyme insufficiency and related difficulties. They required our attention round-the-clock, and my wife was always available to them. Sometimes, it was difficult to watch them suffering with breathing difficulty, nausea, stomach pain and diarrhoea.
However, we were greatly encouraged by their responses. They lived moment by moment since they were aware that they would die any time as per the verdict of medical science. But they used to say: “God has a plan for our lives also even if we live only for a few hours.” One evening, Johny was busy completing his book titled ‘Precious Thoughts for Better Living’. That evening he was fairly free of the usual difficulties associated with their illness. Seeing him diligently attending to his work till late at night, I suggested him to do it the next morning. He replied that he was trying to finish the work as he was not sure whether he would live the next day!
Ronnie weighed only 23 Kg when he died at 22. He was frail and weak physically. But he triumphed over it by saying “Although my hands are feeble, God’s hands are able, and that I place my feeble hands into God’s able hands.” Johny the older boy who lived for 32 years had lost all his teeth when he was 18, and his left leg was amputated when he was 27. But the previous night of his leg amputation he made the comment that “when God is going to do something wonderful, He begins with a difficulty, and that when God is going to do something really wonderful, he begins with an impossibility,” and faced the surgery boldly.
They both believed that ‘God is able even to raise the dead,’ and that ‘what is impossible with medical science is possible with God.’ Later on, before their death, their comment was: “We will not feel like coming back to this earth again, after having a glimpse of the face of Jesus in heaven.” Ronnie wrote in his devotional note-book before he was moved to the I.C.U: “The empty tomb of Jesus is the birth place of our eternal certainty.” They successfully completed their probationary period on this planet, by serving God with various limitations. But now they continue to serve God without any limitations!
I mentioned only a few cases out of the two dozen individuals I know who triumphed over their limitations. Each person may be unique, but they were made able by the same Lord to whom we belong and whose we are. We learn from 2 Corinthians 5:14 that we are bought with a price and that we are not our own. God has a claim on all we have, whether it is health, wealth or education. We are to acknowledge God’s claim on our lives, and serve Him with what he has given us.