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Monday, November 13, 2006

The Imperfect Are in the Image of God

I am continuing in the vein of my previous post, but this time, I am going to focus on the "imperfect" people I used to work with. I think I learned more from them about who God is than from any other source.

When I first took the job, I remember being sent to a particular site in which I was told I would have to assist with "toileting". What's that? That, my friends, means helping people, adults in this case, use the bathroom. It involved changing diapers...for adults. It meant some major cleanup at times.

I was thoroughly disgusted and utterly humiliated at being forced to take such a job. I had just left a $32,000 annual income, not entirely by my choice, and I had to pay the bills. I was qualified for the job that replaced it, yet I didn't want to do the job. I nearly walked out the door.

Then it hit me, as I looked out through the steamed up windows of the front door of the facility; there was a blizzard outside, and God knows that people cannot drive even when the roads are dry. I could be involved in an accident on my way home, and that very night, I could be like those people in that facility that I was sent to serve.

Every time I became revulsed at the prospect of cleaning up one of these adults, I remembered that revelation...that it could be me there on the changing table. It could be me like that for the rest of my life...and how would I want to be treated? Would I want to remain in that filth? Or would I prefer that some compassionate person look beyond my physical incapabilities, my nasty bodily fluids, and treat me with dignity and respect and allow me to be clean and comfortable?

It worked, and it was a turning point. Somewhere in that, I realized that I was there because I needed to be humbled, because I had become very full of myself, and I needed a reminder. God used this job to remind me that I was naught more than dust, and dust formed in God's image and placed on this earth deserved respect.

My eyes were opened, and while I still can't say I liked my job, I will say that I learned a lot, and I loved the people I worked with. Their simple joys became my simple joys; their gratefulness touched me so deeply that I will never forget it.

I was sent to a day program for the physically and mentally disabled, and their disabilites spanned quite the spectrum! The classroom I was assigned to had a new teacher and one of the women in that class was struggling because she had bonded with the previous teacher and made great strides. This young woman had rarely spoken, but with that teacher, she had begun to finally speak...and when he left, she clammed up. Somewhere around 3 weeks after I had arrived, still not a peep out of her. She was shy and mistrustful and her beautiful, perfect smile shone only on rare occasions. Then one afternoon, the scent of popcorn wafted over from another classroom. This young lady walked up to the new teacher and said very quietly, "Popcorn, please."

You could have heard a pin drop. One of the other clients in that room even heard her and exclaimed, "She spoke!". There was much hugging, praising, and rejoicing, and she asked again, more loudly, "Popcorn please!"

Well, we weren't doing popcorn that day, but because this needed to be rewarded, she was taken from the classroom so that she could share some popcorn.

In the middle of all of this was another client, a man who did not have the use of his arms or his legs. He could tense his muscles, but that was it. He could speak a few words, a few short phrases, but that was the most he could accomplish. So he had a baseball hat fitted with a pointer, and used this to poke certain buttons on a "talker". While the machine made requests on his behalf, he looked up at the person he was addressing, expectantly waiting for an answer.

That day, though, he didn't speak. He just sat there and grinned happily, rejoicing openly about the leap made by his classmate. She was still being hugged, and she was...hugging back! Another huge stride for her!

I remember seeing him there, unable to do anything but grin, and I asked him, "Do you want a hug, too?" He grinned abashedly and admitted, "Yeeaaah...!" I was happy to reach out and give him a hug...hug a man who would NEVER be able to hug back. And I saw by the look in his eyes that these little expressions of love meant a lot to him. Even now I tear up to think of it.

In another location, there was a client who used to chew on his fingers until they bled, so he had to wear socks on his hands. On occasion he would become very upset and frustrated and begin beating his hands against he tray on his wheelchair. I learned that all he needed was a little walk over, pull up a chair, grab his hands and hold them down while speaking calmly to him. It didn't take him long to calm down and to begin responding, his black eyes snapping and sparkling. He could convey more with his eyes and his expressions than most "normal" people can through speech.

One of the women there, severely mentally disabled, had a wonderful sense of humor and we loved to make her smile and giggle, for it lit up the whole room.

Another woman, both physically and mentally disabled, again, had a great sense of humor that saved us from what really could have been a very tense moment.

I had been asked to stay late to assist the bus driver as the hydraulic lift wasn't working and so she needed help with the last couple of passengers. It was beginning to snow, and on our first trip out, the roads were already becoming a little slick. More so on the second then there was maybe a half inch on the ground and cluttering the roads as rush hour was beginning.

The driver was trying to get the trip done so she could make it to the garage by 5 so as to try to get the lift repaired. Hand cranking that lift was a lot of work and neither of us wanted to do it the next day!

So she was driving maybe a little faster than she should have been. We approached a slight curve, and on the other side of the low concrete median, a truck was coming in the other direction. I remember thinking that she was going too fast for the conditions and might not make it. I remember the sickening realization that indeed, we were NOT going to make the turn. The bus rode up over the curb, across the low median, and into the path of the truck! As the rear tires clunked down onto that oncoming lane and the driver tried to steer into the skid, the bus lurched up on the left wheels and careened towards the far ditch.

I am telling you now, the two ladies strapped into their wheelchairs on that overturning bus had very powerful guardian angels! Against all odds, not only did the bus come back down on all 4 wheels, but the truck was able to stop! All the traffic stopped, in both lanes for that matter, so that the driver could go back over the curb and into her lane.

Then I heard the laughter. I looked over at the lady in the wheelchair and in spite of the fact that my heart was in my throat, I couldn't help by smile. She was LAUGHING! As far as she was concerned, that was the best thing to happen all day! She looked over at me, eyes sparkling, grinning ear to ear, and absolutely enjoying life! She had no idea that, had that bus gone over, she would no longer be with us for her slightly-oversized head would have gone right through the window and into the pavement.

Or perhaps she'd seen the angels who tipped the bus back upright? Hard to say.

I learned a little about faith that day, and confidence in any storm. And I will never forget that smile she and I shared, after what was perhaps one of the most terrifying moments in my life. The driver was shaking, as was I, but this young woman, this "imperfect" young woman was LAUGHING, and her joy was contagious.

Brothers and sisters, the disabled in our midst aren't more so than the rest of us. They are, in fact, more generous, more loving, more temperate, more faithful, and closer to God than any of us will EVER be as long as we live.

I look back fondly on these "imperfect" people, and I hope, that one day, my soul will be formed as perfectly as God has formed theirs.

The next time you have the opportunity to spend time with someone who is disabled in some way, first remember that in the blink of an eye, you could be in the same position. Next remember that you are looking at the face of God, so be sure to look into their eyes, and whether you think they understand you or not, acknowledge them, greet them as you would anyone else, and take the time to ponder the greatness of God. It is through souls such as these that he teaches us the most.


Cathy_of_Alex said...

EXACTLY! I was reading the Gospel of Luke during my Adoration hour this morning. How many times did Jesus acknowledge the sick, the dying, the dead, the tormented as children of God and use those occasions as teachable moments?

Our interaction with the "disabled" teaches us more about ourselves then it does about them.

Anonymous said...

TEARS, tears of joy! "Or perhaps she'd seen the angels who tipped the bus back upright?"

Thank you for sharing this. I consider taking a job such as this, as I have worked with troubled kids and disabled before. Please pray that the door opens if this is to be.

Anonymous said...


Tim said...

Wow, Ms. Adore, I really enjoyed these anecdotes!

Anonymous said...

What a powerful story! God also gave me some opportunities to see the beauty in the childlike hearts of the disabled. Then, I had Christina, my four year old daughter with Down Syndome. Now, all the insight and appreciation I have gained for these special people help me get through the difficult times. Yes, she's nearly 5 and STILL in diapers!