I cannot even describe how much I dislike the word that starts with an “r” that can sometimes be used to describe people with disabilities. I can’t even get myself to type it. Whenever someone throws that word around like it’s just another adjective, I cringe. My friends have learned just how sensitive I am about that. It’s important to be sensitive about that though, because you never know who exactly is around you and what kind of situation they are in. A random passer-by could hear you spite that word out when talking about something you thought was dumb. What if their sister is handicapped? You’d be completely oblivious to the extent of your offense to them. Maybe part of my purpose is to make people more aware of the sensitivities people around them have.
The first time I was exposed to working with disabilities was the summer before my sophomore year. I was in desperate need of a job – or so I thought – so my friend’s mom offered to let me help her at her at-home daycare a couple of hours a day. My main responsibility was to monitor a little girl with Down syndrome that seemed to always be getting herself in trouble. Everyone had warned me about this little girl, but I kept my mind open. She couldn’t be that bad could she? Come to find out, she could be. She had the habit of pulling hair, chucking rocks at the other little girls, and throwing punches harder than most boys. But I realized that summer, that as bad as she could be, the times when she would want to crawl into my lap as we watched a movie outweighed her acting up. I learned that she really just needed some attention of her own. God gave me the patience to give her my undivided attention however long she needed it. I’m not saying it was easy from the start, but it was a skill to be mastered. The best times were when we’d have a successful day of sharing or listening. That feeling was amazing when we had worked together to reach even a small benchmark for the day. That little girl touched my heart in an amazing way.
More recently, I watched another girl with a mental disability. I wasn’t sure if I had the right to ask her mother what exactly her diagnosis was, so I still don’t know. She’s about my same age and we’d spend a couple days a week together. The highlight of the whole day was when we’d take a trip to McDonald’s. We’d sit in the same booth, order the same thing, and quietly eat our lunch. Every day, she’d take her fries from the red, paper container and dump them onto her tray and proceed to do the same to mine. There was only one problem with that: I didn’t have a tray to save my fries from contamination of the McDonald’s table. And what else was there to scatter my French fries onto? Not much. I had to build up the confidence to eat my fries after they’d hit the unsanitary table, despite the germaphobe values my mother had engrained in my mind. That’s part of it though – sacrificing your own needs in order to satisfy those around you. One thing that helped me with that girl in particular was when I’d feel myself getting frustrated, I’d take a deep breath and talk to God. Because in all reality, he has the power to get her calmed down way faster than I ever would be able to. People talk about how patient I am, but I’m really just heavily reliant on God.
Proverbs 31: 8-9 says: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” That verse has so much meaning to me. Someday if I have my own office, that is going right over my door frame. Better yet, I’m going to make myself business cards just so I can print that on them. I don’t think I could find something that better speaks to me about what I am supposed to do with my life. I know that the Bible also talks about our purpose being to glorify God and I completely believe that. Glorifying God can be done in all aspects of our lives. One main way I’m going to do that is by displaying my gentleness, utilizing my patience, and tapping into the passion He has given me. I only hope that my actions will be seen as an example to those around me to see and know that those talents are given to me by God for his purpose. They just need to find their passion and use it for God’s Will for their lives too.