Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: Explaining Disabilties To Children

Yesterday I was given the opportunity to go into Zach's school and talk with the elementary school students about disabilities. As I talked with these young students, I thanked God for giving them the opportunity to begin learning at a young age about His good plan, even in disability. 

Here is what I shared:

I am here today to talk about people. All of us, as people, are created by God. And one of the things we know about God is that, as the creator of the universe, He is creative. He loves to create things that are beautiful and unique – things that when we look at them, we will be amazed at their beauty and respond by worshiping and praising the God who created them.

People are the capstone of God’s creation. After God created everything else, He created people. And He created us in His very own image, so that we would display and communicate what He is like and how great He is. Every single person is created in the image of God. God also created every single person to be unique – different from every other person. God creates some people to be tall and some people to be short, some people to have straight hair and some to have curly hair, some people to have darker skin while others have lighter skin, some people to be really good at sports and other people to have a talent for music or art, some people to love math and understand it quickly while others struggle through their math but love to read. God creates us all differently, and our differences are all beautiful to Him. God never makes mistakes in what He creates. In Psalm 139:13-14a it says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Sometimes our differences don’t seem very big. But other times, we can see the differences in people right away. God creates some people with disabilities. A disability is something that causes a person to not have the ability to do something in the same way that most people can do it. Some disabilities are physical, like blindness or the inability to walk. Other disabilities are cognitive, which means that they affect the mind. Cognitive disabilities affect what a person understands and how fast they can think through information. People with cognitive disabilities have a harder time learning things, and it takes them longer to learn to do something than it might take you or me. Disabilities can also affect the senses and cause people to be very bothered by loud sounds, bright lights, things touching them, tastes or textures of foods, and strong smells. Sometimes people are born with disabilities, like a baby that is born without eyes. Other times, people become disabled later in their lives from accidents or illnesses, like a soldier who loses their leg in a war.

A phrase we often use to describe people with disabilities is “special needs”. When we say that a person has special needs, what we mean is that along with having the same needs that other people have, a person with a disability also has needs that are special and unique to them. They need extra help for them to do ordinary things in life. For example, a person who cannot walk might need a wheelchair or a walker. And they will need ramps to get into buildings with stairs and elevators to get from floor to floor in a building. A person with cognitive delays might need extra help from teachers in school to help them learn to read or learn new math skills. They might need therapy to help them to speak clearly or write neatly. When a person with special needs goes to therapy, a therapist who is specially trained in teaching specific things will work with them 1-on-1 to help them learn to the best of their abilities. A person with cognitive and physical delays might even need therapy to help them learn to walk, eat, and talk.

When we see a person with a disability, it is easy to just notice their differences – how they don’t walk like us or talk like us or even look like us. It is easy to see what they can’t do, or to notice the things that they do that are different. We can think that they are strange. Sometimes people with disabilities make noises that we can think sound strange or even funny. Sometimes people with special needs are loud when others know it is time to be quiet. Sometimes a person with a disability moves their body differently than you move yours. But it is important to remember that God has a special plan for their lives just like he does for ours. Just because they are different doesn’t mean that they are wrong or broken. It just means that they are different. God doesn’t make any mistakes. He created people with special needs fearfully and wonderfully just like He created each one of us.

Every single person that God has created is fearfully and wonderfully made. This includes people that are our friends and people whose differences annoy us or even scare us. Because God created everyone, and everyone is created in His image, He instructs us to love those around us and to be kind to them. When we are unkind or unloving to the people around us, we are being unkind and unloving to those who are created in the very image of God.

But sometimes it is hard to know how to be kind to people with disabilities. Sometimes we don’t know what to say or do. So what does it look like to befriend a person with a disability? One thing to remember is that people with disabilities are still people, just like us. A person with special needs wants to be loved, just like you want to be loved. People with disabilities want to be included and have friends, just like you do. People with disabilities want to be welcomed and appreciated just for who they are. Doesn’t that sound like something you want? So, when you notice someone with a disability, it is ok to look. We all notice when people are different from us. But as you are looking, remember a time when you were a new person somewhere, or when you were different from the people around you. How did you want to be treated? Did you want to be welcomed? Did you want to see a friendly face? People with disabilities want the same thing.

So, the next time you see someone with a disability, you can smile at them. You can go over and say hi. If you’re playing a game of basketball and someone in a wheelchair is watching, invite them to play. They may not be able to play the same way that you play, but you might be surprised at what they can do! If you are playing with friends at the park and you notice someone with special needs watching, invite them to join you. They might not be able to keep up, and they might not exactly understand how to play, but they will be so happy that you asked. And when you talk to people with cognitive special needs, be patient. Sometimes it may take someone with special needs longer to think about what they want to say, or it might be harder for them to get the actual words out. Sometimes you might have a hard time understanding what they are saying. Sometimes they might have a hard time making eye contact while they talk to you. But remember that they are a person, just like you, and remember to love them and respect them by listening just like you want to be respected and listened to when you are talking. Sometimes a person with a disability might not react the same way you would, and they might not be the same kind of friend that you would be. But they can still be a good friend.

As you are kind to people with special needs and get to know them, I think you will find that God has given people with disabilities special gifts too. There are lots of things that we can learn from people with disabilities. The people that I know with special needs are some of the most diligent, hard-working, and joyful people I have ever met. Because things are not easy for them, they have learned to not give up when things are hard.

My friend Amy, who struggles to move her body and has a special motorized wheel chair to get around, sets an example for me of what it looks like to be thankful in all circumstances. There are lots of things that she cannot do. But she is always cheerful, and she thanks God for all of the blessings and gifts He has given to her. Instead of taking life for granted, or complaining about the things she is unable to do, Amy is thankful for all of the little things in life that God gives her – all of the little things that you and I often forget to even notice.

My son Wesley, who has a cognitive disability that affects his mind, works harder than anyone I know. In addition to school, he works for hours every day on things that might come naturally to you or me. He doesn’t quit when something is too hard. He keeps trying, time after time after time, until he finally figures it out. And then, once he does learn how to do something, he rejoices. He is so proud of himself that he wants everyone to know what he can do so that we can all join in celebrating with him. Often, it is easy to just move on to the next thing once we have accomplished something, but Wesley reminds me daily that we ought to slow down and celebrate. Everything that we have comes from God, and everything that we learn to do is a gift from God. So let’s stop and celebrate and thank God for his gifts to us each day!

My son Wesley also sets an example of what it looks like to be a good friend. He is quick to forgive, not holding a grudge against people who have been unkind to him. He loves his friends with all of his heart, greeting them with big smiles and cheerful words. He welcomes his friends joyfully and affectionately. In this way, I want to become more like Wesley – a friend who makes others feel welcomed and loved when they are around me.

Because we are all created by God in His image, we are all precious to God. We are all people who reflect a bit of God in our lives just by being who God made us to be. And God loves us just the way we are. He never intended for us to all be the same, and He has a different and special plan for each one of our lives. Part of His plan for our lives includes being kind to those around us and loving them just as God loves us.

Now we have some time where I can answer questions. Does anyone have any questions about disabilities, what God thinks of disabilities, or how we can love people with disabilities?

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