I just got back from a mission trip to Mexico. It's my fourth time there and I don't ever want to stop going. Richard St. Dennis and his wife, Hazuki, host this event and head up the organization sponsoring the Sports Camp called World Access Project. It's a terrific organization and the mission trip involves eight days of a three day sports camp for people of all ages and all disabilities, followed by four days of an International Wheelchair Tennis Tournament. I recommend this experience for everyone. But this is not what this blog is about. This blog is about being on this particular mission trip four years ago, and realizing that everyone has a disability. It's just that people in wheelchairs have a visual clue as to their disability. If you look "normal" and you walk and talk, you probably still have a disability. It's just not visible to the naked eye.
I don't mean to be offensive when I say to you that "Everyone has a disability." I suppose can use another word if you prefer. "You have issues, baggage, problems, or an addiction. You are mentally ill, or you are co-dependent, or you are ditzy, or otherwise generally not good in some particular way". Maybe you might be less offended if I said something like: "You take after your mom. It's just in the DNA, not all of your oars are in the water." The bottom line is that I believe that everyone has something that makes them dis-abled! I came to realize this when I flew to Mexico in December of 2010 to help the "poor and unfortunate disabled population."
I had just been divorced a year. My five kids were switching back and forth from my house to my ex’s, with lots of fighting, headaches, stomachaches, crying, yelling, and heartache. I was a working single mom with no time, money, energy, or any practical reason to take ten days off work, leave my kids, and go help other people. I was the walking wounded, and emotionally speaking, needed life support in an ICU somewhere.
I soon found out, that the walking wounded could help others and that actually, helping others was the prescription I needed at that moment in my life. I needed a break from my own chaos and to get away from the tiny world where I was spinning around. I needed an international perspective and a practical purpose to give.
I took my God-given talents and my professional career title as an Occupational Therapist Assistant, combined it with a dash of Mom, and dove right in to the Sports Camp. We set up breakfast each morning, hauled wheelchairs, tennis racquets, hockey sticks, basketballs, plastic cones, spare tires, tools and an air pump out of the hotel, down the sidewalk and onto four rugged tennis courts. We greeted people, counseled people, hugged people, laughed with people, cheered and encouraged the people and maybe taught them a thing or two about playing a sport in a wheelchair. We pushed people off to the tennis courts, down the sidewalk, back into the hotel, and to the plush pool, as well as the outside restaurant to share lunch, ocean side. We then pushed people up a steep ramp, through the hotel, and into a small room where we were packed in like sardines to hear from other people from America, with visible disabilities, all of whom were in wheelchairs, and learned how wheelchair sports had changed their lives.
We switched gears to hosting an International Wheelchair Tennis Tournament where I became ball girl, water girl, breakfast, lunch and dinner girl, and each evening, one, very tired and sleepy girl. I was awed and amazed at the talent of these wheelchair athletes. Shoot, I couldn’t play tennis and I had both of my legs and arms and strong muscles and straight bones. It was a humbling and moving experience.
Waking up early one morning in that hotel room, sipping from a Mexican tea cup, I thought about all the “disabled” people that I had encountered that week. I replayed their stories in my head. I recalled the stacks of wheelchairs that needed to be transported back and forth in a separate taxi each night, all the straps and padding, the rolls of tape, the catheter packages in the trash, having to take the long way around when steps were there and ramps were not. I went over the conversations that had taken place about their families, boyfriends, spouses, parents, and friends. I took inventory of the careers, their number of kids, the times we had all laughed and teared up.
Then it hit me: No different. It’s no different.
This could have been a mission trip to Mexico for able-bodied, non-wheelchair users. Except for the extra taxi and added ramps, the tennis tournament would have looked the same. These people in wheelchairs lived life the way I did. They got divorced, experienced heartache, custody battles, and the like. There were some that drank too much, ate too much, and talked too much. There were the quiet introverts and loud, obnoxious extroverts.
I realized that had been disabled for seventeen years, as I enabled my ex-husband to destroy me emotionally, cheat on me, demean me, and otherwise abuse me. I did it all with a smile, carrying a matching diaper bag. I was living a lie, feeling trapped and abandoned. Yet, there was no locked door, no prison bars. I could have walked out on my own free accord. I was using a mantra of: “Everything has to be neat, color coded, and organized,” to cope with my lack of control. I had a disability called co-dependency and had never used a wheelchair a day in my life!
I was elevating myself and believing that I had to take care of everything or it would fall apart, even though everything, including me, had already fallen apart! Here are a few exerts from my yellow polka dotted journal I took to Mexico that year:
December 6, 2010
"…then I just had this peace of what I was called to do. Looking out over the ocean was bittersweet. Bitter, in that, 'Wow, I feel like all these years have been wasted.'
And I know that’s not true. They weren’t wasted. It’s just, I wasted so much time on things that didn’t matter. Things that were so unimportant. Feeling lonely, looking for Walt to be with me, love me, take care and protect me. Striving for domestic bliss that would never happen, and being someone, someone I was not called to be. When you are trying to find your place in someone else or something else it won’t ever be good. I was struggling, feeling odd, feeling like something was missing and it was! It was me! So, the sweet part for me, looking out over the pacific ocean, was- I’m learning to be me, the me God created me to be.
It’s just like these wheelchair camps. Wheelchairs are available. Life abundant is available. We all walk around with handicaps. It’s just people with obvious handicaps can be seen. A crutch, a wheelchair doesn’t disable you. What you do with it does. We all need something to help us. Something-- and when you take these things- the mobility devices and are taught how to use them, a whole new world opens up. You discover what you are capable of and life becomes fuller and richer and you are able to be more independent and flow in the way God designed you to be."
So, the cold hard fact is this: Everyone has a disability. Some are visible to the naked eye. Some are not. If you are in a wheelchair, with a visible disability, don’t let it stop you from being who you were called to be. If you are not in a wheelchair, with an invisible disability, don’t let it stop you from being who you were called to be. Whoever you are, don’t let your disability, visible or invisible, stop you from being who you were called to be.