My wife told me to read this book. She said, “Read this and stop feeling sorry for yourself.” I must admit, I was a bit indignant at first. After all, I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself. And if I did choose to feel sorry for myself, then I obviously had every right to! I saw the cover of the book and quietly thought, “I’m sure having terminal cancer is a lot worse than being stuck in a wheelchair.” Well, I’ve now read the book and confess to having been a complete git! This is an emotional and gut-wrenching book that has seriously opened my eyes.
The author, Jim Stallard, thought he understood disabilities. He’d worked as a nurse among people with psychiatric and intellectual disabilities in the years when Australia was just beginning to correct some of it’s institutional abuse. He’d experienced struggles himself, suffering from type 1 diabetes and having gone blind in one eye. But when a freak accident left him a quadriplegic, he began a torturous and terrifying journey with disability that would continue throughout his life. In the midst of this, he has so much to teach us.
I won’t recount the story, other than to say that there’s something coming around every bend and it doesn’t let up! Just when you feel things couldn’t possibly get worse, they do. And they do again, and again, and again. Jim has stared death in the face over and over. We feel his powerlessness, his pain and his fear. We’re inspired by his humour, and we’re also confronted with his faith.
Jim’s wife is a humble champion. His children are inspirational. His carers and friends are genuine servants. The people who surround Jim enrich his life as they are enriched by his. I was encouraged by the commitment to prayer by so many. I was challenged by Jim’s continual trust in God through all that he endures. He his confident that nothing can separate him from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. He refuses to confuse his changing circumstances with God’s unchanging love.
This book has also helped me to appreciate how difficult we can make things for people with disabilities. Our society is changing, more and more facilities are being offered, but it’s attitudes that need to change most. Ignorance is a big problem. Jim has helped me to appreciate how our churches can be just as alienating to those with disabilities. We can so easily send the message that this isn’t a place for you. These words are very confronting:
Every church in Australia makes a statement about people with disabilities, and in one aspect or another it is usually exclusion. If you show me a church with ramps at the door, I see a legal building. If you show me a church with signers for people who are deaf and Braille song sheets, large-printed hand-outs and ramps to the platform, I see a glimpse of heaven. The Kingdom of God is inclusive.
My disability is not to be feared, pitied or overlooked. It is a reality and a challenge for Pam and me every day. I acknowledge that it is sometimes a challenge for able-bodied people to deal with the issue of disability. But my disability is not my biggest problem. My biggest problem arises when able-bodied people only see my disability and not the rest of me.
What is most beneficial to me is not so much a building that meets all the legal requirements, but an attitude that meets all the attributes of Jesus. And whilst Jesus certainly healed people, he didn’t heal everyone. I wasn’t healed, but I still needed all of my faith to help sustain me. (p96)
My hope is that this book will help me to treat people as people, whatever they look like, whatever their abilities or disabilities. It’s so easy to fear the unknown or unusual, to avoid those who are different from us, and to make assumptions about people without getting to know them. My desire is to become a source of help and hope for people who struggle with disability. This will mean keeping my eyes open and thinking and speaking and doing. It will mean not assuming or neglecting or walking away. Through my cancer, God has given me a personal taste of what disability can mean. Jim’s book has inspired me to change my attitude to others. Jesus has shown me God’s heart for all people, especially those with disabilities.
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)