According to the dictionary, here is the definition of handicap:
1. the disadvantage or advantage itself.
2. any disadvantage that makes success more difficult: The main handicap of our business is lack of capital.
3. Sometimes Offensive. a physical or mental disability making participation in certain of the usual activities of daily living more difficult.
Life can throw you a curve ball
When I was 11 years old, I was told I had scoliosis. That meant nothing to me at the time. In my book Dysfunctional Inspiration, I wrote “While my life had been getting better, that scoliosis that I mentioned a while back had been getting worse. My mother took me to the doctor before school started, and he decided that the curvature in my spine needed to be dealt with ASAP. That meant I would need to wear a metal brace for the next two years—which were also my last two years of high school.
You’ve gotta be kidding! After everything I’d been through already, after all the hard work I’d put in, this was happening? What girl would ever consider going out with me? It would be like dating the tin man. How was I supposed to enjoy my last high school years? It was all too much. Sitting there in the doctor’s office, I started to cry. Not the feel-sorry-for-yourself kind, but actually more like the really, really mad kind. The kind where the tears stream off your face before they hit your chin kind. I was MAD! Partially at God. It was like, “Hey! I am doing every freaking thing I can, why can’t I get a break!?”
Not that it made a difference. My spine was curving into an “S,” which was not the proper shape for a spine. And it would only get worse. So I was fitted for what’s called a Milwaukee Brace; a contraption that kind of resembles a medieval torture device. It extended from my pelvis all the way up to my chin, and was made up of steel rods, fiberglass, and seat belt straps to hold it in place, and it would latch on the side, to hold my curve in place to keep the scoliosis from getting worse.
And yes – it was every bit as uncomfortable as it sounds. Sitting in a car was almost impossible—the seat pushed up on the brace until it would push up on my chin. I couldn’t even ride in certain cars—if they were too small, they couldn’t accommodate me. At school, sitting at my desk was also a challenge—I had to sit on the very edge of my seat with my legs tucked under the seat just to fit under the desk. Some desks had small openings that would tear my shirts getting in and out.
Of course, physical discomfort was only the tip of this particular iceberg. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you went to high school. In which case, I don’t need to tell you how cruel kids can be. And the sight of me clanging through the halls in my metal cage…well, I guess I was too tempting a target to ignore. They called me R2D2… they called me Robo-Boy…it was not a lot of fun. And it was certainly not the junior year I had envisioned for myself.
But something inside me wouldn’t let me fall apart this time. I had come so far—I had survived my mother’s drinking, my parents’ fighting and moves all over the country. I had found God, improved my grades and turned my life around. Maybe the old me would have given up and decided it was all too hard. But now I understood. I knew I had a choice. And I chose to live my life the best way I could.
Even today, I still have some physical limitations. I have endured many hours of back pain as my body and I wrestle to figure out just what those limitations are. Looking back, if I had to do it over again, and we had the means, I would have treated my scoliosis with surgery. Those muscles still grew, and grew wrapped around the bone, which makes certain things really painful, even today. However, I have adapted, and today I can almost always tell when I am about to have a muscle issue—so I go and rest so I can fight another day.”
Your ability (or disability) doesn’t define your worth
You have total control of your self-worth. When you look at a $100 bill, you don’t question how good it is based on how crumpled, messed up, torn or dirty it is. Its value is its value. One of the places I serve at is The Little Light House . There’s a quote there that I love. It says “our kids don’t have disabilities, they have different abilities.”
Test the limits, know your boundaries
Every one of us has limits. Even though as a teenager we behave like we don’t, we do have limits. (I wish I’d known this when I jumped off that 2nd story balcony with a bedsheet. I was trying to prove you could actually use it as a parachute!) Even though we do, it is important to test them. You need to know where your boundaries are. I know what I can do, and how much I can push it.
My wife hates it when I do stuff like this, but I know if I do something like this I will be fine to a point, then I need to rest. I know exactly what I can and can’t do. I can do this, but if I go golfing, then I am down for a week.
So my handicap doesn’t limit me; it just helps me view things from a different perspective.