When I went to Elmhurst University, I was embraced as an individual by the students, staff and faculty. In particular, people of faith seemed to want to be my biggest cheerleaders. I was 18, a lukewarm Christian, and ready to take on the world in my wheelchair. Before Elmhurst, strangers came up and offered prayers because I do have a physical disability. That does not leave the best taste in your mouth because actions such as that make me feel victimized and pitied. This Christian community was different. I was attracted to the Catholics on campus because they lived their faith on their sleeves. Their transparent devotion to social justice was attractive and their faith seemed to be as natural as the air they breathed. They quietly helped me like it was second nature. I never felt pitied; I felt like an equal. A great example would be an individual grabbing two plates, putting a slice of pizza on each plate, cutting it up, and feeding me like it was the most natural act between friends.
I had not made an official declaration of my faith as an adult. During junior year of college, I decided to get confirmed in the Catholic Church. After two and a half years of seeing how good Jesus is and being embraced by a faith community, it was time to officially join the Church. It was one of the best days of my life. I had this sense that Jesus was at my side and He never left. I wanted to publicly declare Jesus as my Savior just as my peers did.
Reflecting back, I would not have grown in my faith if they had not lived their faith on their sleeves. If all they did was talk about Jesus, I would have been unaffected.Instead, they authentically lived the words of Jesus and my heart turned to Jesus. My peers would genuinely want to help others, they sang worship songs on the quad just because they felt like it, they carried rosaries, and jumped at the chance to help others. They continuously went to Mass and reconciliation when it was offered. In short, they practiced what they preached.
As a young adult with a disability, I seized the opportunity to be authentically embraced by a relatively foreign community. I would urge young adults who have disabilities to give people of faith a chance. It might be a completely different experience from the experience I had. However, the more we emerge ourselves in society, the narrative of disability and the implications will change. We have to be vulnerable and put ourselves out there for positive change to be made.
Personally, I need help with feeding, personal hygiene tasks, driving, and many other physical tasks. Even though I have caregivers, it is lovely when someone offers to feed me at a social function. It makes me feel included and that I am accepted even though I cannot perform basic functions of everyday living. If I can provide good conversation and a few jokes along the way, we will have a great time! Any time I do not need to bring a caregiver, and a friend willingly helps me with everyday tasks, I feel free and light.
I came to college as a good kid and left as a woman of faith. As people of faith, we have to remember it is our actions that are so much louder than words. It does not matter if we know every word of the Bible. But do we know how to live out the message of Jesus?
Hannah Thompson is ADN's new program director. Hannah graduated in 2020 with her M.A. in Social Justice from Loyola University. She obtained her B.A. in Communication at Elmhurst University in 2012. She is a motivational speaker as well as an advocate for individuals who have disabilities. In her free time, she enjoys reading, studying the Bible in a young adult group, and serving on the Elmhurst University Alumni Engagement Board.