About six weeks ago, the knife I was using to remove the label from a container slipped and severed the tendon in my left thumb. After waking up from repair surgery to a left hand swathed and immobile in a ginormous splint, the surgeon outlined a list of restrictions.
No lifting with the left hand.
No getting the splint wet.
Those three restrictions plunged me into the world of disability. Not only was I completely dependent upon others to get to speaking engagements, appointments, and the grocery store, many simple, everyday tasks were now exceedingly complex or beyond my scope of ability. Such as:
Bathing or showering.
Opening plastic zipper bags or screwtop containers.
Washing one hand.
Carrying a full laundry basket.
Carrying and washing large cooking pots.
Chopping all foods.
Lifting pans from the oven.
About two days into a one-handed life, I realized how little caring for a father in a wheelchair, a son with medical special needs, and an elderly mother with dementia prepared me for living with my own disability. As the days spun into weeks and months, my temporary limitations resulted in several crucial lessons that have changed the way I view disability.
Lesson 1: “Disability” Is a Reality, Not a Dirty Word
Some people don’t like the word “disability” because to them it has a negative connotation. But the reality of my one-handed life is that I am not able to do many things two-handed people can do, or I have to do them differently. Whatever word I choose to use to describe them, the reality of my limitations doesn’t change. The word “disability” is an accurate description. But it’s never an excuse to do less than I’m able. Nor should either the word or the situation be a cause for pity or discrimination.
Lesson 2: Something Always Slows Things Down
No matter how much extra time is budgeted to compensate for complications and to get where I need to go on time, something happens to slow down the process–from putting on socks to writing a check, from getting into the car to making supper. Never again will I tut-tut families living with disabilities and special needs for being late. Instead I will applaud them for making the effort to be out and about.
Lesson 3: McGyvering Is Exhausting
Life with disability is a unending stream of McGyvering to complete tasks most people execute without a second thought. As it turns out, real life McGyvering at every turn is not nearly as exciting as the television show. It is exhausting, beginning first thing in the morning with jimmying the toothpaste tube so its contents land on the toothbrush instead of the floor. It ends at night with wrestling the bed coverings and pillows into place in an attempt to get comfortable. The exhausting nature of continual McGyvering means those with disabilities may decline some invitations and it’s nothing personal. They just need more time to rest.
Lesson 4: The Fine Line Between Helping and Enabling
After surgery, my husband wanted to help me with everything. Being waited on hand and foot was very tempting. But I soon realized the line between being helpful and enabling is very fine. I needed to insist on doing everything as much as possible by myself. Because the dependency that comes with disability shouldn’t be enabled to be greater than it needs to be. Rather independence should be encouraged as much as possible.
Lesson 5: Being Dependent Is Hard and Humbling
When people with disabilities ask for help, they really need it. Before they ask for help, they have made every attempt to solve the problem by themselves. They know their requests interrupt the lives of busy people. So when they ask for assistance, realize that they would much rather complete the task themselves than be dependent. They are humbled, perhaps even humiliated, by the need to ask.
Lesson 6: Disability and Dependence Accentuate My Need for Jesus
Each time my one-handedness makes a simple task difficult, I think of how the limitations of a human body made the life of Jesus more difficult. He gave up so much to come into the world–his omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, for example–and live a human life. Knowing that he not only walks beside me on this path of disability, but also experienced it and understands my emotions and the temptation to despair is an ever present comfort.
The dependence that comes with disability also accentuates my need for Jesus. Strangely enough, I am learning to view this experience as a gift–an opportunity to lean into Jesus in ways I never have before. The more I acknowledge my human limitations and wait for God to do what I can’t, the more he enters into my strongholds of independence and proves himself worthy. The more he shows how his ways and his timing are better than mine, the more I come to trust him and rest in him.
In 12 weeks, when the hand therapy is done and the splint is off for good, I will be one happy woman. But I pray that each time I look at my left hand, the crooked scar that runs from thumb to wrist will be a reminder of my constant need to acknowledge my spiritual disabilities, to humble myself and ask for his perfect assistance at every turn, every day, every hour, all the rest of my life.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.