After I had the honor of hearing one of my idols, Dr. Brian Brock, speak, I became encouraged to share my heart in a braver way Dr. Brian Brock is a known theologian who writes, researches, and speaks on the church and people with disabilities. Brian has co-authored the book Disability in the Christian Tradition: A Reader, and he works at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. His street credit comes from being a parent of a son with Down Syndrome.
I am laughing right now because I am sure Brian didn’t know he had admirers. However, I felt the utmost respect for this man from the moment my pastor told me about him. And no wonder! I love Jesus. I love making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. I love writing. I love public speaking. In short, I had found a member of my tribe who, in my book, was living the dream.
When Brian came to my church for an informal discussion on disability back in October, I was expecting him to break down statistics and theology thought on disability in order to challenge our perspectives on people with disabilities. Instead of giving us food for thought, however, this theologian gave us food for the heart. Brian did this by simply sharing a story.
When one of his sons was eight, the son had mentioned that he was glad that they had gotten a dog. When asked why, the boy said people waved at them now. They didn’t do that when it was just him and Adam, his brother with Down Syndrome. Brian choked back emotion as he spoke the reality, “People with disabilities are often invisible to others.” Brian didn’t end the story with a happy twist or an inspirational take away. Brian didn’t even ask people to reflect. He just let us sit with the heaviness of it for a few moments.
I stared at Brian and I marveled at his bravery in opening his heart about tough things. I have impacted and inspired many, many people over the years through my writing and speaking as a woman with a disability. However, I have rarely been as vulnerable in my sharing as Brian had been.
Sure, I have been more brave over the last few years, I have been bolder, sharing my bullying experiences while in school and the sadness I feel about not being able to visit the homes of friends and family. However, I held back just enough as not to put too much of my heart out there. You didn’t hear me say, “I felt ugly as a result of the bullying,” or “I feel left out and unwanted because of inaccessible homes of those whom I love.” No, that would have been to shameful to admit to others or to myself.
Of course, I acknowledge that I have become more courageous over the years. From the time I was a teenager to my mid-thirties, I down played my disability and emphasized how people with disabilities were just like everyone else. We just did things differently. In my quest of equality, I had hidden behind a happy face. I never shared about the pain, insecurity, and struggle of living with cerebral palsy to any real extent.
Comparing the two ways of sharing, I am so glad that I have found my voice to share more. It seems more real. However, I want to grow in my courage. I want to be more like Brian when he shared the story about his child being invisible to many. At first, I felt an anxiety attack coming on for a few seconds when I heard his choke-up words. Didn’t he know about the unspoken rule of not sharing too much? My anxiety, however, rapidly evaporated when I realized that the congregation was responding to the rawness of Dr. Brock’s emotion. I think he made room for the Holy Spirit, who reminded me that God didn’t hide the suffering that Jesus experienced. God is all all about Truth, not about hiding and pretending. Dr. Brock reminded me of that through his courage.
In light of my desire to be more real, I want to say that I do feel like I am invisible in that many people don’t see that I have a lot to offer. They look at my cerebral palsy, and they make hurtful assumptions. In the recent past, I went out with two different friends on two different occasions. Both times, my friends were mistaken for my attendants. I can not explain how “less than” I felt. People assumed that, of course, these women had to be paid to hang out with me. Why else, would able-bodied people be hanging out with me? It made me wonder if I was seen as hideous or something. Why didn’t people assume that these people were my friends who just enjoyed my company?
And while we are talking about all of this, it hurts when people automatically assume that Jayson is some kind of saint for marrying me. Yes, it’s true that my husband’s life would have been easier if he had married a woman without severe disabilities. However, his life would not have been better. He didn’t marry me out of pity. Jayson married me because we loved each other, and we believed that Jesus had brought us together. Is that so hard to believe?
It hurts when what I bring to my family, friends, community, and church is not easily recognized by others. I feel anger when people, especially children, with disabilities have to fight in order to be seen. Folks, this is why I love our God. He sees us, our beauty, our hearts, our suffering, our failures, our helplessness. Yet, God does not turn away. Jesus’ blood proves that He had refused to turn away.
Dr. Brock, thank you for showing up vulnerable that morning. Disability issues are emotional, and it is ok to acknowledge that. It was a word from God that I desperately needed to see so I can continue to combat the lies of Satan that tell me that I need to hold back and not be a baby about things. Thank you so much for reminding us that our stories matter.
So, what about you? Do you find yourself holding back for the fear of embarrassment or criticism? I will be honest, some people won’t like you sharing the real you. However, that will be ok. It will be ok because there will be others who will be blessed by you. By opening up, you will be inviting the Holy Spirit to do a good work in you. After all, how can we change or be healed if we don’t bring everything into the light.
Who has encouraged you to be brave? Have you showed your appreciation? They may need some encouragement, among the critics who want to silence and judge.
Keep being brave.