THERE IS NO MEANING IN DISABILITY PRIDE WITHOUT GOD

My first braille Bible came a few volumes at a time. In the first box was the Gospel of Matthew and Acts of the Apostles, two books in the New Testament. I was ecstatic. And as they came box by box, my Bible filled up my bookshelf and at seven years old, I could read the Word of God for myself for the first time.

It was so exciting, being able to read the Bible like my family and friends at church. I took it to Sunday School with me and was able to participate in Sword drills and follow along with the passage during the sermon. I kept a volume next to my bed, and half the shelf in my bedroom was taken up with the 37-volume Bible from Lutheran Braille Workers.

In my early twenties, I decided it was time for a new Bible, one with crisp braille dots and edges that didn’t have permanent curves from leaning against the wall by my bed. I opted for a 20-volume, hardcover Bible in the New King James Version [NKJV]. It now sits on my bookshelf, taking four cubbies to hold it all. It’s made the trek with me from my home two cities and four houses ago. It still takes up most of the bookshelf, and I still keep a volume by my bed.

It’s been with me for as long as I can remember, and so has God.

But my relationship with my braille Bible is easier to define than my relationship with God. There was a beginning, a conscious decision to open the pages and glide my fingers over the sweet dots that spelled out the story of God’s love for me. But growing up in a Christian home meant that God was in my life while I was still in the womb, and before I could say the name of God, He was a significant part of my existence. There’s never been life for me without Him. No beginning, no divide between when I knew Him and when I didn’t. Along the way, there have been landmarks in our relationship, like my baptism at 14 and my decision to attend Bible college after high school.

Receiving my braille Bibles have been landmark moments in my faith journey, too, but it’s not only because of being given the ability to read God’s Word for myself. It’s because the Bible was in braille, and for the first time, my identities as a disabled woman and a Christian came together in a real, tangible way.

The immense pride I have in my identity as a disabled woman only has meaning when taken with my pride in being a follower of Jesus Christ. I never believed they could coexist before, but not only can they, it makes my life overflow with beauty and meaning in both.

My disability is beautiful because I know that God created me this way and takes joy in me.
My faith is bolstered because of what I have endured as a disabled woman and every trial I face points back to God.

As simplistic as it may sound, the Bible sitting on my bookshelf now and the one in my childhood bedroom is how I know this is true. In one book, my disability and my God come together. It’s the only way to have full and complete meaning in both my disabled identity and my Christian identity. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My disability brings me closer to God, and God brings me pride in my disability.

You all know that I’m very vocal about my disability pride and a bit less so about my Christian pride. My faith journey is a very private one, and I keep it behind a curtain for only me and God to see. But every time I write about disability equality, accessibility, rights and ways to become allies of the disabled community, it stems from my love for the God who made me disabled, and beautifully so. There’s no meaning in it if God isn’t the maker and the center, and I’m thankful that He is, and will always be, there.

How does your faith impact your relationship with your disability, and vice versa? Let me know in the comments.

I AM A CHRISTIAN — UNASHAMED, UNAPOLOGETIC AND OUT LOUD

I am a Christian–a follower of Jesus Christ, and I am not ashamed.

Many people see the word Christian and presume many things about me. Christians as a whole are stereotyped, categorized and presumed to be many things that they are not–a few of the more common presumptions being judgmental and close-minded. These are often based on a person’s encounter with a few individual Christians, and that creates their overall perception of the entire group. And as a Christian, I’ve been subjected to my fair share.

I was scrolling through Twitter a few months ago and came upon a tweet that claimed they would not follow anyone who called themselves a Christian in their bio because that meant they were Trump supporters and bigots. In a burst of uncommon boldness, I replied to this tweet, saying that not all Christians should be labelled this way, and simply because certain Christians may be, support, or condone those things, I will not be ashamed to use the word Christian.

Because that is what I am, despite what attributes the world attaches to it.

I am a Christian and I choose to use that word unashamedly because it is not a label indicative of political leanings or any other standard by which we measure ourselves. It means simply that I follow Jesus Christ and try [and fail because of my flawed and sinful humanity] to live according to biblical standards. To some who don’t share the faith, that makes me naive, unloving and a hater, and I have been treated as such and suffer for it.

But that is what living a Christian life is.

Jesus suffered insurmountable hate, pain and rejection while He walked this earth. He said, “and whoever does not take their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” [Matthew 10:38]. The Apostle Peter writes also that “for this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. / For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. / For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” [I Peter 2:19-21].

Suffering is not comfortable. It hurts. It hurts when I’m accused of being homophobic. It hurts when I’m called a hater because I disagree with what the world deems acceptable. It hurts when non-Christians use selective Bible verses–without understanding how they fit into the meaning and message of the entire Bible– to dictate how I should treat them, though they themselves do not live by the Bible’s standards. And it hurts when as a Christian, I am held to a pedestal of perfection that can only be met by the God I serve, not me.

This world hurts. And Jesus said it would. And in the moments I’ve already walked through and the many more I know will come, I hold to the truth and the assurance that I have in being a Christian, and that I am following the words of Timothy: “fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” [I Timothy 6:12] And I take the most comfort and assurance in the knowledge that I will live forever with Jesus in Heaven where there is no more suffering.

But while I am on this earth, I will do my best to live by the words that are written in the Bible. And while I know the world will be offended by it, I will follow the God of my faith first and be as like Him as I possibly can. I am called to show love to others. I am called to be kind and compassionate. I am commanded to forgive those that wrong me, just as God forgave me.

But I am not called to follow the ways of the world because those ways go against God. So, no, I am not a supporter of lifestyles that contradict God’s Word. I am not “pro-choice” because I believe God chooses life, both for the born and unborn. I am not going to compromise on my values just to make someone comfortable. I am not going to back down or stay quiet. My God and standing up for the truth comes first before anything else. But I will always care and be kind to others who don’t share my beliefs as much as I am able because I am commanded to be Christlike, to bear His image and character in the world.

I will try for my whole life to live out those things. And at times, I will fail. But I am a Christian and I do not live according to a secular worldview. My faith directs and shapes everything I do–my writing, my advocacy work for the disabled community, how I try and treat those I come into contact with. It does not mean that I am perfect, but that I am trying to emulate God’s character in my life. And that includes the parts of the Christian faith that are uncomfortable, that go against the world’s beliefs, and even against other Christians who have differing views. I choose to be a Christian and to be unashamed of the title and be proud of what I stand for. Because these are not self-made standards–they come from the mouth of God, the creator of life and the world, and I am proud to be His.

WHY I’M THANKFUL FOR MY DISABILITY

Growing up around the Thanksgiving dinner table, when asked what I was thankful for this year, my disability was never on the list. I said things like a loving family, friends that support me, Jesus, opportunities at school and church, all of which were true and deserving of a place on the list, but I was missing one big blessing.

My blindness.

The story of how I came to not only accept but embrace my blindness is a long one, and is still ongoing. It changes as I change, it ebbs and flows as I grow and learn more about myself, God, and the world around me. It’s a story that I used to look at through a lens of disgust; I was ashamed of what I was and how I couldn’t let go of my anger and feel freedom and pride in who I was. My adolescent years were spent in a fog, unwilling to change but not knowing how to change at the same time.

I only knew how to feel inferior. My blindness relegated me to a lesser place in the world, and I watched from below as my friends and family lived their lives with an ease and equality that I craved. The life I wanted for myself was a dream I couldn’t reach. So I settled into my place and passed the days and years in an embittered haze.

Being disabled is not easy. At times, it’s awful. The ableism and discrimination disabled people face is staggering, and so often, it takes everything in us to keep going. Sometimes, it feels like it’s us against the world, and the world is winning. It’s a very real part of living in a disabled body, and it can be a trial to find one thing to be thankful for. This is certainly the mindset I adopted as I grew up; surviving was hard enough. What was there to be thankful for?

As it turns out… lots!

My blindness taught me the value of every human life, no matter what abilities a body does or does not have.

It taught me that with God’s strength, I can overcome the challenges I face in a world that wasn’t designed for me.

I learned how to use my determination, stubbornness and voice to advocate for my needs and the needs of others.

I learned that you don’t truly appreciate what you have until you’ve fought for it.

And I’ve learned about love. I’ve learned how to love others, how to love myself, and most importantly, how God loves each one of His children, able or disabled. He made us in His image, and He never gives up on us even when we give up on ourselves.

This is why I’m thankful for my disability. Because it taught me that underneath what we see on the surface, when we look deeper than skin-level, it’s about people, and it’s the people we are inside that count. My blindness shapes who I am and who I will become. It’s a part of me I will never again be ashamed of. It’s a part of me that has made me into the person I am and the person I know I was meant to become. This is why I’m thankful for my disability.

And I’m thankful to be in the middle of this life. With all its challenges and struggles, and all the light and love that comes with it, I am thankful to be who I am because God created me this way. I will love my disabled body because He loves it and will use me and my story to make a difference for Him. And I can’t wait.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Tell me in the comments. And if you’re American, join in anyway! We should be thankful all year round.

AN OPEN LETTER TO GOD AND MY GUIDE DOG

To God and my guide dog, Saint:

Both of you know something that I want to know. But neither of you can tell me.

Well, I know You can tell me God, but I also know You don’t often spell things out for us that easily, so I’m going to wager that You’ll be keeping pretty quiet on this one. But You really don’t have to. And as much as I wish more than anything for a Narnian reality in which animals can talk, I also know you, Saint, cannot tell me what I so desperately want to know either.

And what is this thing, you ask?

It’s purpose. Specifically, my purpose.

Saint, you’ve known your purpose since you were born. From conception, you’ve been destined for a life of great meaning: to learn to lead a blind person throughout a world that is not built to accommodate them. It is one of the greatest blessings I have received and I am eternally thankful that you, my sweet boy, have this purpose and live it out daily for me. Because of you, I feel safe, confident, independent and loved.

You know your purpose. When the harness goes on, you switch into guide dog mode. Your ears perk, your tail wags, and at a brief “Saint, forward,” you take off like a rocket, all while keeping me from tripping on the slightest bump in the road. Your purpose is clear. It amazes me that as a newborn puppy and now as a three-year-old, you know your life’s purpose beyond the shadow of a doubt.

And I don’t know mine.

Now, over to You for a minute, God. Feel free to chime in anytime.

I know You know what Your purpose is, and I know You know what mine is. But before I beg You to let me in on the secret, I have two thoughts.

Firstly, as a Christian, I know and believe that my purpose is to serve and bring glory to You. Okay, great! That’s… clear as mud. Wait a minute: glorifying God and serving Him sounds wonderful (and it is), but how in the world do I do that?

Do I have to do something specific? Is there a list of “God-glorifying” jobs You can email me to make it easier? Because I’m kind of drawing a blank here.

Now, this second one is just a thought, but I have a sneaking suspicion I’m on the right track. I wonder if my purpose has something to do with writing.

But what kind of writing? Am I meant to write books? Poetry? Radio dramas? Commercials? And what do I write about? Is my purpose to advocate for disability equality and accessibility? I’m already doing that, or trying to on this blog, so, well, I’m not sure. Do I need to write Christian books and work to tell people about You? Can I do both?

Maybe it doesn’t involve writing at all. Or maybe, writing is a way to bring glory to You. That could be possible, right? Or, maybe my purpose is something that I haven’t even thought about at all!

Seriously God, anytime now.

I just don’t understand it. How does a yellow lab know his life’s purpose and me, a woman with faith, a university degree, a blog, a family and boatloads of passion, don’t know my purpose? Will I ever know? Or will I have a moment like Saul on the road to Damascus when You appeared to him in a bright light and changed the course of his life forever? The only bright lights I have are in the light switches by the door, and I can’t even see those.

Can you help me out a little? I want to glorify You, I do. But how? Is this blog enough? Is it even worth it? Should I be doing something else?

I have too many questions, but they can all be rolled up like a tortilla into one, overarching question that I want to scream (but I can’t since the neighbours will hear):

What is my purpose?

I just hope I have one…

But until You show me something else, I guess I’ll continue along this path and hope that You’re doing something with it.

That’s all I got, God. Anything to add?

All right, then. Talk to you soon. And Saint, yes, I’ll give you a belly rub.

Love,
Rhianna