Living Verbs: Giving People with Disabilities a Chance to ACT in the Real World

Happy Mother’s Day, readers–to all the mothers out there, including my own. Let me take a minute to say: my mother is fabulous, and without her, the accomplishments I have achieved, such as success in the classroom and in academia, would not be possible. She is a tiger lady who, upon hearing suggestions that her daughter be placed in a group home, exempt from mathematics and given a certificate rather than a real high school diploma, and even–yes–sterilized, said, “I DON’T THINK SO!” Love you, Mom!

This post is, in some ways, dedicated to mothers, but it’s based more on the concept of motherhood, and the concepts of many things we think we know the definitions for, but may not. What do I mean? Allow me to explain.

My church’s lead pastor is away today, watching his younger daughter graduate from college, so the sermon was left in the hands of one of our associate pastors. He usually heads up our middle school ministry. He’s a sweet, grounded, hilarious guy that I even had the privilege of attending youth group with. He’s been claimed–he has a wife and a little girl–but still a warm acquaintance. Anyway, he preached on motherhood this morning. But he kept repeating the idea that motherhood does NOT describe you just because you had a child. Yes, it is a wonderful, miraculous thing to have children, and it should be celebrated every day. Yet, he pointed out:

There are some women–myself among them, actually–who long to be mothers, but haven’t been given that opportunity yet. And there are others who have tried to become mothers, but for various reasons, including infertility, adoptions cancelled at the last minute, or whatever the case, still have empty arms.

There are some whose mothers were neglectful, abusive, or absent, or for whatever reason, had painful relationships with their kids, which scarred said kids and opened a need for forgiveness and healing that, perhaps, hasn’t happened yet.

There are some whose mothers were good and loving, but who are no longer alive.

And there are those who never had a mother at all.

What was my pastor’s point? Simply that motherhood has more to do with who you are than what you have. That is, you might not have kids, and you might not have had the best mom, or any mom, either as a role model or still around to teach you how to be a mom. But every woman has the opportunity to be somebody’s mom, through nurturing, encouraging, and growing them.

Now, I gotta be honest here. I’ve been struggling with cynicism lately, especially when it comes to talk like “everything is possible,” “you can do anything anyone else can,” etc. Isn’t that funny? I tell that to you–and mean it–in every post. But for myself? It’s tough. I mean, I don’t drive, so on a typical day, I cannot leave my house because my city doesn’t have transit options. While I finish this last degree, I work at an isolating online job where it takes two weeks to earn $70. I’m living with my folks because I’m still in school. In other words, if I were to go by what the “experts” said, I would be a disability statistic (see April archives). But my disability is very, very mild. I have three stinking degrees and a perfect 4.0. I can work. I want to work. I am faithful to God. There is no reason for this, except the disability itself. Believe me, I’d go out and be a waitress or a Whopper flopper or some other job like that if I could. But the balance and fine-motor skills just aren’t there.

So you can imagine why I’m battling cynicism (“Anything’s possible? Right, unless you have a disability”) and why, when my pastor said that about being a mom, I thought, “Yeah, right. I’d love to mentor someone, but for that, you have to drive them around. You have to play sports and do crafts. You have to be up on the ‘teen scene,’ part of the church’s ‘cool crowd.’ Sorry, Pastor, not me. Finish your sermon; talk to you next week.”

And then I thought, wait a minute. If you’re trying to overcome cynical thoughts, why keep thinking that? Because you have a disability, my traitorous mind said. (The other half of that mind said “So flipping what?” but I’m still working on letting her talk). Here’s my point. I’m gonna be working on letting the hopeful part of my mind talk, and I think all people with disabilities should do that, too. However, it can be tough, because I think often, people with disabilities are not given the opportunity to ACT. DO. They don’t have verbs attached to their lives. As author Marta Perry put it, they “watch everyone else have lives.” Why is that? Because we toss around the qualifier “can’t.” People with disabilities even do this in their own heads. “I can’t lead. I can’t parent. I can’t mentor, encourage, nurture, work, or play. I’ll sit this one out, thanks.” Some people with disabilities might even be telling themselves–or hearing from others–“God’s purpose is for you to sit and watch.”

At the risk of sounding heretical, I don’t believe that. You remember those old commercials used to encourage kids to be active? The slogan was, “VERB. It’s what you do.” I say we give everyone–especially people with disabilities–a chance to have verbs. To, in fact, be living verbs, not just incidential clauses or punctuation marks people put up with “because the sentence sounds nice that way.” Yes, people with disabilities can and do make the world “nice.” But we were not put on this Earth just to watch and cheer while everybody else does things.

Who’s ready to go be a verb?

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