I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13
Years ago 18-year-old Paul Whittaker was admitted to Oxford University in England where he studied for a degree in music. Whittaker, though, was different from most students in college. Totally deaf since birth, yet he played the organ and directed choirs, reading lips as he sat in his lectures at Oxford and going on to earn postgraduate degrees in music. He then founded a non-profit called Music and the Deaf, helping deaf people enjoy music. Paul is a motivational speaker and helps people “feel” music in13 different countries around the world.
Dr. Adeline Becht is also a woman who should never have succeeded. As she marched to the speaker's podium to receive her doctorate in clinical and counseling psychology, thousands of well-wishers at the University of Oregon stood to their feet and cheered. Blindness was not the only difficulty she had overcome.
Though she was reluctant to discuss some of the details of her early life, she did tell a reporter that she had spent most of her youth in juvenile homes. There she was introduced to heroin which eventually damaged her sight. To support her drug use, Becht turned to street crime. She was able to kick heroin, but alcohol took her captive. Eventually she was declared legally blind.
The unsung hero in this real-life story, though, is Beth Schmidt. She was Adeline’s interpreter and companion who supported herself and Adeline, and typed lectures that were converted to Braille. "My faith is very strong," explained Becht. "But I believe if my actions as a person cannot show my faith, then my spiritual faith is nothing."
There are others who moved beyond their disabilities throughout history, that you’ve probably heard of. Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind; Thomas Edison, who lost his hearing at age 12; or Joni Erickson Tada, the woman whose ministry has blessed millions as a quadriplegic. Joni has been in a wheelchair for over 50 years, encouraging those with and without physical disabilities! “This paralysis is my greatest mercy,” Joni says. “My wheelchair was the key to seeing all this happen—especially since God’s power always shows up best in weakness. So here I sit … glad that I have not been healed on the outside, but glad that I have been healed on the inside. Healed from my own self-centered wants and wishes.”
Joni could have just quit, given-up --and who could have blamed her--but she didn't! At some point, Joni, psychologist Dr. Becht and musician Paul Whittaker all stopped feeling sorry for themselves and began to take positive action.
But there is another type of disability we all should think about. What you call this disability is not important; but when you allow something, anything, to keep you from your God-given potential, it becomes a disability. Gian Carlo Menoti put it like this, "Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do."
Perhaps the greatest disabilities aren’t really those that impair hearing or sight, as difficult as they are; the greatest disabilities are those of the spirit that cause you to give up, to be carried to the level of mediocrity which suffocates your uniqueness, to be defeated by indifference and attitudes of inferiority. “Maybe the truly handicapped people,” says Joni Erickson Tada, “are the ones that don't need God as much.”
Yes, the greatest disabilities are those of the spirit and soul that keep God from working in your life.
Resource reading: Philippians 2:1-18