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.
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