Thirteen years ago I became friends with a guy for which I have the utmost respect. When I first saw him, he was leading the worship team at the front of the church I was visiting because I was thinking of applying to work there as the youth pastor (and yes, I did end up working there). When I first saw him I was pretty annoyed because I could barely see him as he was sitting down to play even though there was a beam that went across the performing area blocking him. I remember thinking, “Get off your butt and stand you lazy singer,” you know, like a good Christian should be thinking when worshiping God. After he was done playing, he moved out of the singing area… actually, the proper description is he rolled out of the singing area in his wheelchair. That’s right. I was just judgemental of a person with a disability… while at church… during worship… at a place I was planning on applying to work. That sounds about right, doesn’t it? Sounds like solid youth pastor material. Good thing I learned a long time ago if you’re going to be judgemental, keep it in your head… yes, that’s the right moral to take from that story. My friend is in a wheelchair because he saved a dozen orphans from a burning building… just kidding. I was just trying to make myself look worse… not that I needed to. My friend has cerebral palsy, which can cause a varying degree of limitations. His CP confines him to a wheelchair and leaves him with twisted hands. Despite these setbacks, he’s a brilliant performer. He has an incredible voice and he’s great with a guitar as he taught himself how to play using different fingering because his hands won’t allow him to play like normal players. On top of this, he managed to become a high school music teacher, get married, and have three well behaved kids. My friend is a testament of what you can achieve when you push yourself (and marry the right woman). His life has been far from easy or even comfortable, but he has managed to create a life that is far beyond what many non-CP people achieve because he didn’t just give up and expect others to serve him. While I was a youth pastor, he joined me on a mission trip and several weekend retreats and he always carried his own weight never expecting others to cater to him. He was incredibly independent and he would only ask for a hand when absolutely necessary. He is a man worthy of all the respect I can have for someone like many other inspiring people such as Zach Anner (CP), Kyle Maynard (born without arms and legs), and Aaron Wollin (the daredevil with half a body).
When I think of my friend who overcame great hurdles to forge a very successful life while also being a really good person, I can’t help but get angry at those who use their label as an excuse to not push themselves to be better. If my friend could make a better life for himself, why can’t they? I think one of the best things about my friend is has a tremendous sense of humor that he’s worked very hard to develop. This helps him joke about his disability in a fun way and not the I-just-made-everyone-awkward way. The best thing about joking is it can take away the power from judgement and/or insecurity. Too many people obsess over what’s wrong with them and use that as a weapon to manipulate people and/or gather sympathy. From my experience the people who are the quickest to point out their disabilities are the last to push themselves to be better. Meanwhile, the people who don’t draw attention to their disabilities – except to joke or when absolutely necessary – they end up being so much more than their label. They lead successful lives and inadvertently become inspirational.
I know on social media people post all these claims of hardship for having mental illness and it can be very difficult going through life with any type of physical or mental handicap, but those are never an excuse for not trying. Mental illness isn’t a pass for being lazy, rude, or unapologetic, and unfortunately, that’s often what labels tend to lead to – excuses for being a jerk. I don’t care what you’ve had to go through, being a bad person is never the way we should live life; it hurts you and everyone around you.
I know saying this will make some people angry at me, but I’m angry (fun fact, if you’re reading this, you’re not who I’m thinking about while reading it). I’m angry at people not pushing themselves to be better and settling for a life that’s less than it can be and hurting others. I’m tired of people being a drain on their family and anyone around them they can sucker into helping them be lazy, especially when they aren’t appreciative of the help they’re given. From my experience, this makes God angry, too. He made us to be so much more resilient than that. When my wife was pregnant (being pregnant has its temporary handicaps) I had more patience for her when she was in a bad mood because of her state, but there’s a point where you say, “Nope, that’s too far. I’m not your punching bag.” No matter how bad you have it, you never have a right to be mean to those around you. The old saying, “Hurt people, hurt people,” may be true, but it doesn’t have to be. What we should strive to live is “Hurt people are kind to those around them because they don’t want others to hurt like they do.” Depression isn’t an excuse to lay in bed every day. Anxiety isn’t an excuse to not push ourselves to try new things and do what’s good for us. Feeling bad isn’t a reason to drink, smoke up, play video games or watch TV all day. Those are all things that make it worse. We sometimes need to take breaks, but we need to continually push ourselves forward in order to get healthier.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing my favourite pastor preach and he quoted Galatians 6:5: “For each one should carry their own load.” (NIV) Yes, we are meant to help each other, but ultimately, we need to be carrying our own load. We need to realize how strong and capable we really are and not just feel sorry for ourselves. The more we push ourselves to be better, the better we can become.
This week I pray that people will start to be more like my friend who carries his own load, and by doing so gave himself many reasons to be proud of himself and to be thankful for the life he has well deserved.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people