and God’s Promise
The prophet Jeremiah
prophesied to the people about upcoming change saying, “For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for
your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah
29:11, NRSV) I imagine that these words spoken to God’s people living in exile must have
been encouraging and uplifting, while also provoking curiosity and anxiety about the unknown.
The same is true today. While we rejoice in the
promise of God’s presence and comfort through life’s changes, we face the fear
and confusion of transitions. For people transitioning into life with new
limitations or disabilities as I did as a teenager, it can be especially hard
to discern what God’s plans are. It can be difficult to envision “a future with
hope” in the wake of new limitations.
Ron Kovic was a young man
when he joined the Marine Corps and was sent to fight in Vietnam. During his deployment,
Ron was shot and forever paralyzed from his mid-chest down. Ron’s immediate
question to his doctor on hearing his prognosis and the news that he might
never be able to walk again was, “Can I still have children?” Ron’s doctor
responded with sadness; the answer was “No.” Ron would never have biological
children. At this news, Ron believed his entire world was falling apart. In the
depths of his grief, Ron was filled with anger and bitterness. His father
assisted him into his bed one night and asked how he could help alleviate Ron’s
suffering. “I just want to be loved. Who is going to love me now?”
Ron was afraid of living
the rest of his life alone with no one to support and care for him, and no one
for him to love and care for in return. In his grief, Ron contemplated suicide.
Having lost his ability to walk and procreate, Ron questioned whether there was
any other point to living. He felt like he was less than a person. In his mind, he no longer
fit the qualifications of what it meant to be a human being.
and support for people who develop a disability
story represents typical thoughts and feelings when encountering a new
disability. People who experience new disabilities sometimes feel like less of a
person, because they can’t do what they think they should be able to do. While many transitional supports are available,
forging a new path and identity is never easy. Mental, emotional, physical,
spiritual, and moral road blocks often develop along the way. “Disabilities” are not
conditions for pity or sympathy, but people facing new disabilities need more
than just the provision of services. They need to be nurtured into knowing that they still claim belonging, empowerment, and advocacy in society and church.
disability changed his physical life; it also changed his vocation. After being
paralyzed and returning home from military service, Ron developed strong anti-war
sentiments. He came to believe that sending young men to fight in war was wrong,
and that war itself was immoral. Ron began speaking to countless groups of
youth and adults, sharing his own story and the horrors of war. Over the years, Ron has been
arrested and imprisoned for his active role in nonviolent protests against war
once believed that his disability threatened his personhood. He saw it as an
insurmountable problem. Today, Ron considers his disability a blessing. His
paralysis has become his greatest asset to his anti-war message and
Ron’s story and transformation inspire me. His journey from being a devastated victim to a powerful
advocate exemplifies the radical transformation that is possible in the face of a new
disability. My own life is very different from Ron’s, but I, too, have discovered
blessings from living with a disability.
How do YOU perceive disability and
How might you use the blessings of disability to benefit others and make changes in the world?
May God’s spirit lead you to embrace the changes you
face and discover a transformation that changes not only your path, but the world
Mark Pickens has been a field associate with ADN since 2016. He is a seminary graduate in the Church of the Brethren. He is open to consulting, preaching, and talking about how the church can better welcome and reach out to those with disabilities. To reach Mark, visit the 'Contact Us' page and leave a comment.