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Disabilities & Our Approach to Healing

While I was studying abroad in 2006, I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer for a week in Lourdes, France where a spring of water unexpectedly popped up in the mid-1800s and has since been the location of 70 approved miracles of healing. A place like that makes a person feel hopeful-expecting to be a part of a significant kind of healing. After my time there, I can say for certain that the healing definitely wasn't what I expected.


An older woman wearing a light blue paisley polo shirt sits in a wheelchair while a young woman wearing a similar shade plain blue top puts her arm around the older woman. Both women are smiling.
An Older Woman and a Young Woman Smiling

Each of us in our group of college students volunteering was assigned a different role. My friend,

let's call her Jane, was assigned to be a companion and support for a religious sister who was blind, physically disabled, and used a wheelchair - we'll call her Sister Joy.

During one specific prayer service, a priest walked around with the Eucharist in a special display, called a Monstrance. Catholics believe Communion - the Eucharist - is the true presence of Jesus and so this type of prayer is benevolently called Adoration. As the priest holding the Eucharist got closer to Jane and Sister Joy, Jane whispered that Jesus was getting closer. Without hesitation, Sister Joy said, "I know, I can feel Him". Then the priest holding the Eucharist brought the Monstrance right up to Sister Joy and paused letting her have time with Jesus.

What I find so incredibly beautiful is not only that Sister Joy could feel the remarkable presence of Jesus despite having lost her vision - can you imagine how powerful and exhilarating?! But also that the priest let her have complete access to Jesus. It wasn't a complicated stunt that required an over-the-top effort. He simply brought Jesus right to her and waited.

See, it would have been much more complicated if the worship space wasn't wheelchair accessible requiring the energy and effort of somehow getting her wheelchair up steps or finding a location to park her wheelchair that isn't too far away from everyone else, but the entire worship space was ramped and very easy to access in her wheelchair. It would have been much less meaningful if the priest expected her to get less out of the experience because she was blind and disabled, or even if he expected her to be healed before getting to be with Jesus and so refused her as much time and access as others - but he didn't. He didn't have any expectations just to meet Sister Joy as she was.


Our belief is limited by how we think God works. Our mindset on how others can participate in their faith, and the rest of their daily lives is often that they must be limited by their disability. When we change our mindset, we are more open to the ways God makes each life in Him so very personal and unique. God didn’t create this life of the sister just to keep Himself from her or limit her experience. Her experience of God was just as full as someone who is more mobile and has their full vision.


What we all need healing from most is not viewing things the way God views them.

 Disabled Boy Wearing Glasses and a striped polo shirt is sitting on a couch. He smiles and looks to the left upper corner.
A Disabled Boy Wearing Glasses Smiles and Looks Up

When people, especially people with disabilities have limited access and unmet needs, all they can focus on is getting those needs met in order to have a little portion of access that others take for granted. When people with disabilities don't have to worry or stress over access and acceptance, they are better able to fully experience the living God.


Did you know that because churches and private schools are faith-based organizations, they are not required to follow ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) laws in making their buildings accessible? Most people don't realize how inaccessible churches can be until they have a personal connection to an accessibility need. We need to change that standard.

Access is really at the core of our mission here at Witness to Dignity. We want to be intentional about removing barriers to Jesus. We prioritize physical, emotional, and spiritual access for all in the church community, most especially those with disabilities, neurodiversity, and mental health needs. We work to bring access to the faith, the Gospel, and God and the real healing of being sinners in need of redemption.

I learned a lot from my time in Lourdes that I didn't expect. I learned from Sister Joy that experiencing God and spending a week in a place that gave her access to God without hesitation was healing enough. I learned that people don't need our pity, they need our love, relationship, empathy, and understanding. I learned that God only ever takes us as we are and He makes us better. I learned that when the focus is on making a relationship with God easily accessible, healing from a lack of access and unmet needs can begin.

 

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