One of my friends at church is Scott. Scott and I have known each other for 10 years, but it’s only been in the last year that we’ve really become friends. Scott has taken an interest in physical fitness and he’s been coming to the church to shoot baskets almost every day. When he’s there, our paths often cross.
“You are such a dedicated staff member!” he told me one time.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you’re always here.”
“I’m not sure if that makes me dedicated or a work-a-holic, Scott!”
Scott has Cerebal Palsy. He walks a little slower than I do and he shakes. His speech is sometimes difficult to understand (although those of us who have taken the time to get to know him have little trouble catching every word). His mind is sharp, but sometimes he has a hard time getting his body to do what his brain is asking it to do.
Scott likes to come to my office when I’m working and he needs a break from the gym and ask me questions. The other day he came and asked, “Do you know the best place to find Bible verses that deal with disability?”
So I started googling and searching some sites I use and printed him out some materials. While I was working on that he told me why he wanted it.
“I want to teach people about disabilities. I want to lead a session on interacting with people with disabilities. Whenever I go somewhere, people stare at me. I was at Wal*mart and this little boy was just staring a hole through me. I thought that his mom should maybe teach him that’s rude, but maybe she doesn’t know, either. How can kids learn if parents don’t know?”
He went on, “Everyone is created in God’s image. People in wheelchairs, people with disabilities, people with mental retardation–they are all created in God’s image. People stare at me like I’m a freak all the time, and then when I look at them, they look away really fast. It makes me uncomfortable and frustrated.”
He told me that there are people at church who don’t acknowledge him. They are maybe not sure how to talk to Scott, maybe they are concerned they won’t understand his answers. Maybe they don’t realize that Scott’s mind works perfectly.
I’m sharing his words because they are important. One of the basic things we can do to give our respect to others is to make eye contact, to acknowledge their existence. I remember when I took our high school students to Toronto, we had a session on interacting with the city’s many homeless people. Our leader told us that when a person asks us for money (which happens often), the wrong thing to do is ignore him or her. The respectful thing, the thing that preserves an individual’s dignity, is to make eye contact and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” I believe that’s probably true across the board. I remember someone challenging a friend one time to point out our waitress at a restaurant. He couldn’t do it. “It’s because you never actually looked at her.” Eye contact is a sign of recognition and respect.
A few months ago, Scott took a chance to share about his faith journey with our congregation. He told about how he came to attend this church and about Willie Ann, one of our older members who sits with him every Sunday. He spoke of God’s love for everyone and a faith that sustains him each day. His message was powerful because he was living it out day by day, step by step.
I’m grateful for Scott and his message for all of us. I’m glad that he wants to share this message. I hope it’s heard.