Have you ever met someone and wondered what their story was? Why they care about the things they do? I love that everyone has a story. So I thought as we begin this journey on the blogosphere together I would share a bit of my story to give you a context for why I am so passionate about God, inclusion, and the kingdom.
My passion for inclusion stems from my high school years when God crushed my heart for people with disabilities.
I began my high school career quite hopeful. I’ve often said I was a white picket fence and a golden retriever away from living the American Dream. I was a three sport athlete and an honor student.
But then one day I got sick. I had been diagnosed with Asthma when I was in junior high and until my freshman year, had managed it well with a simple inhaler I would keep in my gym bag for before and after my volleyball, basketball, or track practices. It just so happened that my freshman year was the year that my school decided to remodel the building from the inside out – during school hours. Needless to say the air quality left a bit to be desired. My asthma went from being a simple inhaler I would take on occasion to a full out attack on my body that involved countless trips to Indianapolis (an hour drive from my hometown) to see a specialist. I was on over a dozen medications daily to get me through and had to have my own nebulizer machine kept in the nurse’s office to give myself treatments. I went from being a vibrant teenage athlete, to the gray pasty girl who could barely walk from class to class without being exhausted and out of breath.
I began missing so much school due to illness that my parents had to fight to make sure I was getting the education I needed. Long story short I ended up being classified as a student with a disability which began my journey into the world of special education, IEP hearings, and living life with a label.
In the midst of all that madness I would also have four surgeries between the ages of 16 and 18 to remove clusters of aggressive tumors that had formed in my neck. It was a scary time as I was faced with the possibility that I had cancer. Each time the results came back negative, but the likelihood that I would remain that lucky diminished with each surgery and left me with a great level of anxiety. (Praise God they were all benign!) One of the surgeries left my face paralyzed leaving me the source of many unwanted high school jokes. My nick name from a few of my peers was “Quasimodo” after the disfigured Hunchback of Notre Dame.
High school was an excruciating time for me as I felt cast out and judged based on things that were completely beyond my control. My value as a human being ceased to exist in the eyes of a number of my peers.
I remember one instance when my peak flows (Peak Expiratory Flow Meter – measures breathing rate) dropped and I was feeling awful. I was in government class and I had a sense that I was going to pass out. I asked the person next to me to let the teacher know that I needed help to get to the nurse’s office. In the time it took for her to reach the teacher’s desk I blacked out. When I came to I was laying on my desk. I could hear everything that was happening in the room but I couldn’t move, speak, or open my eyes and I was struggling to breathe. I would love to tell you that what I heard was a cacophony of concern from my peers, but sadly that wasn’t the case. I could hear my peers laughing at me as they thought the situation was quite hysterical. The teacher asked them to clear the class and send someone to call 911. As they rushed out of the room one of my peers (a star from the track team) decided the best way to get out of the room was to literally hurdle over me. He obviously didn’t have a running start as he kicked me in the head on his way out. I was horrified and humiliated, not to mention I couldn’t breathe.
The medics came and loaded me onto a gurney to take me to the hospital. I pleaded with them to please wait another 20 minutes so I wouldn’t have to be wheeled past the commons area where the whole school was at lunch, but they insisted I needed to go. One of the medics, in an effort to protect my privacy pulled a sheet over my head and wheeled me out.
I didn’t return to school for several days. Not one person called to see if I was okay. I would find out when I returned to school that rumor had it I had died. I was, after all, taken out on a gurney with a sheet over my head. I was crushed. My peers thought I was dead and yet no one called, or exhibited any concern. I was just the sick kid from “special ed” who they made sport of making fun of.
I would miss 272 days of school in my 3 and a half year high school career. (I graduated a semester early – Thank GOD!). In that time God walked me through some difficult situations to show me firsthand what it is like to feel forgotten, isolated, unwanted, judged, and devalued. He loved me enough to make sure that I had this deep understanding so that one day he could redeem the painful times to be used for HIS purposes.
I am very aware that my friends in the special education classes faced far more bullying, humiliation and difficulty than I did. They taught me a lot about what it means to be a truly kind and compassionate person. I live my life each day with a high level of responsibility to speak up for individuals affected by disability. To give voice to the voiceless.
This snapshot from my story begins to set the stage for the calling I believe God has placed on my life. Next time we will look at how this passion was born in personal experience and then transformed into a volunteer mission field for me.
Until next time….here’s to changing the world