Tag Archives: Summer Institute on Theology and Disability

Strong and Able-bodied?

“Weak Or Strong Directions” by Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With flood waters rising in my hometown of Houston, the need for help was inevitable.  For a colleague in ministry, many homes in her neighborhood flooded and help was needed urgently from her church. The social media plea asked for a “good number of folks who are strong and able-bodied” to assist.

Disaster Early Response

When I read the request I was out of town at a conference, the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, with people from all around the world. I looked around the conference center and wondered, who is strong? Who is able-bodied? Who decides?

I’m strong enough, but temporarily not able-bodied due to an over-zealous workout that badly strained several tendons in my ankle and left me hobbling with mincing steps. I’d slowed my steps earlier in the week for friends with wheelchairs and canes. On that day, I struggled to keep up with them. Our conference host introduced to the concept of “no wasted movements” to help my days run more smoothly. One presenter spoke of people being “temporarily able-bodied.” So true! Whatever our capacity is on any given day it is likely to change, perhaps in an instant.

I looked across the room at a person in a manual wheelchair. I’d seen her push herself down long carpeted hallways. Which of us is stronger? I sure wouldn’t want to arm-wrestle her! I looked at another friend in a motorized wheelchair whose words I struggle to understand. She is very patient, letting me respond with what I catch and then filling in the rest until I have it right. She has a brilliant theological mind and writes poignantly about God and faith. She is remarkably able-bodied in some ways, less so in others.

As the psalmist writes, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14 NRS). We are all strong and able-bodied. We simply express it in a broad variety of ways. I am not criticizing the wording in in my friend’s message of outreach for neighbors in need. She and her church have done a remarkable job in ministry! Rather, I’m suggesting each of us look at ourselves and our own families and celebrate how each person is strong and able-bodied. Celebrate the ways in which each is gifted.

Paul wrote to a divided church in Corinth:

As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.  (1Corinthians 12:20-22a NRS)

A young mother of two children was struggling with the early effects of multiple sclerosis when her church put out a call for volunteers to help build a home for Habitat for Humanity. Sitting on the sidelines was not an option for this young mom, but neither was lifting drywall nor swinging a hammer. Their contribution? Sack lunches with a prayer of encouragement tucked inside, beverages, and home-baked treats. The family celebrates the house they helped build each time the drive by.

In choosing for ourselves to share with others the ways in which we are strong and able-bodied, everybody wins.

Gracious God, we thank you that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The true strength humanity comes in its diversity, a kaleidoscope of gifts and graces that celebrate your glory. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

Photos: “Weak or Strong” by Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net  “UMC Early Responders” by Hannah Terry

Book Release!

Books Arrived Watermarked

In many ways, writing a book is much like having a baby.  It involves a very long process of development and much excitement and anticipation toward the end until, finally, the day arrives.  I am delighted to let my blog readers know Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving has been released.  I wrote this book to offer emotional and spiritual support for parents and loved ones on the journey with special needs as part of living out my calling in ministry. The Hope and Healing Institute where I work has offered tremendous support to me during the research and writing process.  It has been a wonderful journey as I developed pilot support groups through a variety of settings. I have been blessed to meet inspiring parents and the time we spend together each week has been filled with holy moments, feeling the presence of God working within the lives of individuals seeking nurture and support.  The shared laughter and tears as we wrestle with some of life’s greatest challenges has forged friendships that will no doubt continue for years.

Special Needs Parenting is just making its way into distribution channels, yet as I spoke at the Faith Inclusion Network conference in Virginia Beach this past week I had my first encounter with a person who had already ordered my book. He attended my workshop and talked to me afterwards, telling me about how he plans to use the book in his ministry to special needs families.  In a way, my “baby” is taking its first toddling footsteps out into the world. It is nice to hear there are embracing arms waiting to welcome it!

In writing this book I opened a window into my private life as a special needs parent and share my journey freely with others.  I have been asked, “How on earth do you get the courage to write a book like that?” I understand the question. This book is written from a place of great vulnerability and I made a conscious decision to do so.  The reality is that all parents on the special needs journey regularly experience that vulnerability.  Is there a place for me and for my child?  Will we be accepted? Will we be judged for our differences?  As parents we can become fiercely protective, with the side-effect of also becoming isolated. In the willingness to share our vulnerability with each other, openly encountering in community our common emotional and spiritual challenges, we find there connection, understanding and healing. If I cannot reveal myself to my readers, how can I expect them to go without me to that vulnerable place of hope and healing?

In the coming weeks I will share excerpts of Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving in hopes that they will be a blessing to you.  If you would like to know more about Special Needs Parenting, click here for my website.  There you can learn more about the book, read feedback from past participants and discover what other disability ministry leaders have to say about this resource. Currently the book can be ordered through the publisher Huff Publishing and Amazon.

Blessings,

Rev Doc Lorna

 

 

What’s in a Name?

When my husband and I were anticipating the birth of our son, one of the most important, exciting and challenging decisions we faced as soon-to-be parents was choosing a name.  Finding just the right name for a person is no small task.  We wanted a name that resonated with our family heritage, one that was easy to recognize and spell, yet not too common. For some reason it was important to me that he not have a name that could not be shortened. I know a Michael or two who do not like being called Mike.  That was a lot to consider. Then family members wanted to jump in with their two cents.  Opinions were not welcome! My feelings were that if they wanted to name a baby, they could go birth one themselves.  Inquiries to know the names that made it to the “short list” were not satisfied either.  We didn’t want our choice slanted by outside influence.  What our child would be called was up to us alone.  Bothered by constant inquiries we finally made up a couple of names.  “If it’s a boy, Rufus. If it’s a girl, Babette.” Those names have stuck with us.  We recently attended a murder mystery dinner theater and needed fake names, so my husband and I were Rufus and Babette for the night.

Finally, after much time and consideration, and the foreknowledge that we were having a boy, we chose the name Craig.  Familiar, but not common. Easy to spell. Cannot be shortened. (Ironically, we lengthen it and call him Craiggers or Craigerkins. Go figure!)  It’s also a name that reflects who he is, celebrating his Scottish heritage.  I had a concern that his name, which means “one who dwells in a crag,” would be bothersome to him. A valid concern from a mom whose name means “one who is lonely.”  No worries there for Craig.  The meaning of his name actually turned into a great bonus from Craig’s perspective since he has a profound love of all things dragon.

Names are important.  What we call ourselves matters. What we are called by others matters.  This week I am at the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability in Dallas.  It is a great blend of theological debate as well as practical application workshops shared by 150 participants from around the world.  People with special needs are one of the most diverse segments of the population.  Typically, when referring to any group of people, you want to use the language with which they refer to themselves.  For some, they prefer the term “disabled,” while others cringed.  “Special needs” resonates with some, while others prefer “special abilities.” One person said she preferred to apply the term “handicapped” to herself. My son refers to what I used to call his “learning differences” as his “learning disability.” For those whose bodies function more typically, I was introduced by Dr. Amos Yong to the concept of being “temporarily able-bodied.” Point well made!  In whatever capacity our bodies are functioning today, there is a good likelihood that given time they will come to function differently. Thinking of myself as temporarily able-bodied offers a new lens that increases my awareness of my own vulnerability.

Hearing the various perspectives around the room, I wonder if a person who experiences a difference in the function of their body puts as much care into how they name that for themselves as Mark and I put into naming our son Craig.  Given the strength of opinions, I will say that many do. It’s a naming that needs to be honored for each individual. There is no “one-size-fits-all.” As a parent I would not accept a name for my child that was imposed by the outside.  Nor did I let my child’s life be defined by the names (labels) that come with the journey of special needs.

Names matter and I apply that in my prayer life praying to Loving God, Gracious God, Healing God, Leading God, Nurturing God, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. In an endless number of names I call on God and trust in God’s attentive presence to my prayers. God is so much more than just one name.  When Moses asked God his name so that he could tell the slaves in Egypt who sent him to free them from captivity, God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14 NRSV).

God is all things and cannot be defined by one name. In that we are made in the image of God, that is an important facet in the quality of God that is empowering to take on for ourselves and for our children.  We are wonderfully made, even in the midst of our many unique expressions and differences.  We are who we are, transcending the labels with which others may seek to define us.