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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Handicapped and loving it!

Handicap:  the disadvantage that makes success more difficult.  When I was in school, we had classrooms for "handicapped" kids.  We called them "special ed" classrooms back in the day.  I don't even know if they even still exist today.  Kids with both mental and physical "handicaps" spent their days in the classroom, learning the skills they'd need to make it in life.  It was my privilege to serve these kids in my high school.  Yep, my privilege.  I got to be a teacher's aide during their physical education class.  Right up my alley!  I loved the gym, the open field, and even the quiet of the water of the indoor pool.  It was made more perfect when I first saw one of these kids experience these wide open spaces for the first time!  You see, it was a new "concept" for my PE teacher, and she went out on a limb to show that these "handicapped" kids could be just as involved in the things life said they "couldn't" do as they could in the things life said they "could".  

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.  My strength comes into its own in your weakness.  Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 MSG)

At first, lowering the basketball hoop to just about five feet off the ground seemed ludicrous.  But...when the first hoop was scored, the silliness of the action seemed lost in the glory and hoopla of the entire class of kids hooting and hollering over their peer's accomplishment!  I've thought back over some of the "adaptations" we made in the gym, the kickball field, and even the swimming pool, in order to give these kids a chance to experience the joys of team sports.  What I saw more frequently with this group of kids was the real meaning of "team".  The kids didn't strive to get a goal, or kick a home run, for themselves, but for the "team".  The celebration which ensued when they did was not for their own accomplishment as much as it was for the accomplishment of the team!

I wasn't very popular in high school.  A little bit of what you'd call a geek.  I loved science, toyed with sports, and dove into books like they'd go out of style someday!  Volunteering my free hour each day to be a teacher's aide to those others saw as "disadvantaged so as to make success an impossibility" had the effect of setting me even farther away from my peer group.  Yet, I would not change a thing!  What I experienced in the open arms and hearts of my "special" friends far exceeded anything I "lost" in the eyes of my peers!  

There were a lot of ups and downs with this group of kids.  Some days went better than others.  Sometimes I felt like we were "herding cats" - trying to always keep them in a group, attention on the game, and then helping them learn the new skill they'd need to kick the ball or sink the shot.  It wasn't until I saw the possibility in each person's life that I began to really "get into" the enjoyment of helping them explore their unique possibilities.  I think I was learning the lesson Paul is speaking of above - I quit focusing on the handicap of these kids and began appreciating the gift they were.  You see, focusing on the handicap only allowed me to see the impossibilities.  Focusing on their heart allowed me to see the tremendous possibilities of even the smallest accomplishments.

I think God is that way - he focuses on the possibilities, not the handicap in each of us!  He knows the "handicap" exists, but it might just be he sees it a whole lot less than he sees our possibilities!  As I have aged, I now have what some see as a physical handicap - the damage to my joints which arthritis has created, causing my movements to be less fluid than they used to be.  I don't run well anymore, have limited endurance for the long haul, and deal with pain daily.  I could focus on the "limits" of the "handicap" (the thing making it difficult for me to do some things), but if I did, I'd never get anywhere!  Paul hits the nail on the head:  Christ's strength "moves in on our weakness" not when we are strong and mighty, but when we are weak and needy.  

I don't know how many times we accept the label of "handicapped" in this life.  I think it might actually be more often than we would like to admit.  Going back to our definition, anytime we see any "disadvantage" we experience in life as that which we focus on as making success more difficult, or even impossible, we are accepting the label.  Scripture plainly says, "With God, all things are possible!"  Man focuses on the impossibility - God remains steadfast in declaring the possibility.  We ALL have some "handicap" in life.  Sometimes the best thing we can do with what we view as a "handicap" is to change our perspective on how we see it.  If we begin to see it as God's opportunity to reveal his strength in us, we might just see it less as a "handicap" and more of an "advantage".  

Those kids wore a "label" by some as "handicapped".  In my book, they were "loving", "forgiving", "compassionate", "kind", and "honest".  You see, their "limitations" in life did not make them less able to experience and show love. In fact, I think they "loved well".  They learned not only to forgive others, but they were constantly called upon to forgive themselves because each "failure" presented a new opportunity to "begin again".  Their ability to associate with the others who also failed, got back up, and tried again only revealed the tremendous amount of "compassion" they had for those who fail.  There response to each other was kind - forbearing the little annoyances of life.  Most of the time, their words were quite truthful - almost too honest, if that were possible!  In those "honest" moments, I often saw my own "dishonesty".  I "masked" my failures - they had no choice but to be wide open with theirs.  Maybe there is a lesson there, too.  In our honesty of transparency, when we are really "real" with others, we experience the opportunity to "overcome" our "handicap".  

What makes us weak on this earth has a way of connecting us with the strength of heaven!  Just sayin!