It’s another hot day in southeast Texas, and I can picture my new friend and I walking into my house, the steel screen door slapping closed behind us. I’m embarrassed that my mom’s rehab equipment is hanging right there between the den and entrance to our galley kitchen, and I’m going to have to try to explain it or, more likely, try to quickly dismiss it so I don’t feel so weird. Looking a lot like a Johnny Jump Up, it’s a device made of metal and heavy canvas that Mom sits in front of and places her head into; somehow it’s supposed to help relieve the chronic neck pain with which she has suffered since our horrible car wreck in 1963.
The Wreck is an event that is referred to in a sort-of B.C./A.D way in our family. There was life before The Wreck that I don’t remember. I observe in the square Kodak pictures and grainy family movies a slightly familiar couple giddy with excitement who finally have a baby boy and a girl they’ve adopted after nine years
Let's join in the work Jesus started so many years ago as He got out of the temple and purposefully sought the outsiders.
of being childless. Mom is able to use both her hands in the movies, and it’s strange to me to see her left hand extended normally and not curled up as I’m used to experiencing.
She walks without a limp and moves quickly, and more noticeably, there’s a red-lipsticked smile on her face.
Life after The Wreck is a house is full of adaptive equipment. Our cutting board has nails driven through one side in a concentric circle so Mom can put an apple or onion on them and try to cut with one hand. There are rails in the tub and a special knob on the steering wheel of the VW Beetle to help her drive. She wears a wig that often goes askew because styling her hair with one hand is so difficult. Most afternoons when I come home from school, the house is dark and somber because she’s napping in her bedroom.
Only in the last decade have I realized that she was probably suffering from severe depression and fibromyalgia due to the wreck, her resulting partial-paralysis, and the death of the son she’d always wanted.
My Aunt Grace has some special gifts. Not only is she good at listening for the Holy Spirit to tell her what to do, but she experienced a horrific childhood. She notices that I need to get away; to have a few weeks of respite, some time away from the medical appointments and permeating sadness. For many years in a row, she makes it a point to steal me away and speak hope and encouragement into my life and give me a few weeks of normalcy.
Those days with my Aunt Grace and Uncle S.J. are joy-filled and carefree. Floating in giant coal-black inner tubes in Lake Texoma and relishing in my lack of responsibility, I don’t have to get pills and orange juice for my mom, or take care of the majority of the household tasks.
In a recent Grace Group leaders meeting, Matt Mooney shared about 99 Balloons, the organization that he and his wife Ginny founded after becoming parents to a son, Eliot, who had a condition called Trisomy 18. Noting that he and his wife were hugely supported by friends through Eliot’s ninety-nine days on Earth, Matt pointed out that many families with disabilities tend to be isolated. Going to restaurants, worship, or other regular activities can be overwhelming in a society that is drunk on perfection, good health, and success. The Mooneys believe that the church is uniquely positioned to reach out to families and serve them; to engage in life-giving relationships with the marginalized, the oppressed, the poor and outcast. Their ministry gives a framework for churches to join in the discussion and journey.
Most good Christians would say, “Sure, we’re open to having folks with disabilities coming to our church,” but Matt encourages them to go into the world and find those people, to ask themselves, “What would it look like for us to pursue relationships with these people?”
He also compelled our church to take a hard look at our environment and practices and consider their accessibility. Are our Grace Groups safe places for someone who struggles with dyslexia? Is it easy for someone in a wheelchair to enter our building and worship center? Could they join the worship team, access a restroom, or work in the sound booth?
There are many opportunities in front of us. First, there’s the Engage conference on Feb. 25 at Fellowship Bible Church in Fayetteville, where participants can learn more about disability, inclusion, and the church. That evening at 6:30, special guests Jay and Katherine Wolf will speak at Grace Church about their journey after Katherine’s severe stroke. Volunteers are needed to welcome folks, work childcare, and work take-down. Matt also encouraged Graceites to start our own rEcess, a ministry that gives families with disabilities a respite night out. Leaders who were present at the meeting began brainstorming about ways we could be more inclusive: check-out sensory tubs for Grace Groups and other meetings; dyslexia font use; purposeful color choices for screen display during worship; audio capabilities for study guides; a metal ramp that could be used at 2828, and borrowed for off-site gatherings; more protective measures for children who have food allergies.
Matt said church folk are often quick to offer to pray for the healing of the disabled, but maybe — just maybe — they should be praying for their own healing. As we continue to seek transformation and live in this kingdom of Jesus, we have a huge opportunity to go out into the world. Let’s kick down the barriers, do a better job at listening, and join in the work Jesus started so many years ago as He got out of the temple and purposefully sought the outsiders.
We should then find ourselves after the wreck more healthy, whole, and complete.
Teresa Cornett's favorite question from others is "what do you think about......?!" so she loves to write when she gets a chance to mouth off.