How is it possible that I can praise God for my life when I have not often heard good news? For that matter, I have not often heard any news. Words often sound muffled to me without my hearing aids. I love music but have a difficult time understanding the words being sung. My sons had an easy time growing up because I could not hear the lyrics to the music that they listened to.
The audacity with which I can proclaim God's faithfulness must seem odd to some people. Yet to me, God's presence is like my next breath. Even when I have been most angry and uncertain, God has been a presence. Even when I struggled from the very beginning, first to walk and then to speak so as to be understood, God has been a presence. Even though struggle defines my existence, I draw courage from my conviction that God is with me in the struggle.
The church was the one place that felt welcoming to me, so I persistently went to church. I felt like I knew that the church was a place of hospitality. Even when it was not hospitable to me or to others with disabilities, I knew it was called to be a place of hospitality. The glory of God was reflected in its people, all of whom were created in the image of God.
So it was that my disabilities made me aware of my gifts for ministry. This in no way justifies the disabilities. I am burdened by a hearing loss. I have slight cerebral palsy. As a child, I felt different and my peers confirmed this, as they could hear and walk and play with ease. But I take great courage from the bold slogan, "God don't make no junk!"—because I know that includes me. I take very seriously the image of God in whom we are all created.
And in that confidence, I discovered my gifts. For example, I like giving hope to people around me. I don't mean hope as in pretending everything is going to be fine. I mean hope as a way of trusting God with the worst, trusting that there is a way through the pain and the despair. This is a gift I bring to ministry.
Disabilities ministries is about using everyone's gifts for the glory of God. Jesus chose the vulnerability of children as central to his community. Likewise, we who are vulnerable, who are often defined as outsiders, find ourselves at the center of faith. Here, where Jesus is, our vulnerability, the ease with which we are excluded and discounted, is forever transformed.
The Rev. Jeanne Tyler is Co-Pastor of St. Paul UCC in Lincoln, Neb.