School was finally done for the week. Jacoby and I were FREE for 2 days! After a long week in classes, nothing feels better than to put the van in drive and head for Green Lake Park.
Besides the sheer beauty of this lake, Green Lake holds deep sentimental value to me. This park is where I walked religiously when I was pregnant with Jacoby and Kaleb. This park is where they rode their bikes and graduated from training wheels. This park is where I ran and cried (on a daily basis) when Jacoby had her accident and Children’s Hospital had become our temporary home.
And it was at this very park that Jacoby taught me a valuable lesson: a lesson in examining my words.
We had just pulled up to the curb at Green Lake; it was packed.
People. Were. Everywhere.
The sun was shining in the Great Northwest; not one drop of Vitamin D would be wasted today. I reached down and grabbed my running shoes and then started putting them on. Half-joking, yet half-not, I sighed and told her I could tell this was not going to be a good running day for me. Honestly, I was excited about the sun, but not excited about the idea of running on a Friday afternoon. Jacoby just smiled and said,
“Mom, EVERY day is a good running day!”
You see, Jacoby wasn’t trying to make me feel bad, and how I felt that day wasn’t wrong. It was just a matter of perspective and audience. I was having the conversation with a quadriplegic; a disabled individual who would give anything to get up and run. Jacoby was merely pointing out that for those that have NEVER had the opportunity to run, or have not had the opportunity to run for a while… being a little tired wasn’t such a difficult obstacle to overcome.
She was right. I needed to hear that.
It is so easy to let my words flow out without any checks and balances. However, when we are having a conversation with a disabled individual, it is safe to assume they face a certain amount of social discomfort and/or physical pain on any given day. Knowing this SHOULD change the way we talk around them. In fact, if we’re limiting our words, we will be learning to listen; this is ALWAYS a good skill to develop. Before complaining in their presence, we should ask ourselves…
How would my complaining resonate with this person?
What do they probably deal with on a daily basis?
No joke, I have had people come up to me and tell me they know exactly how I feel because their child had to deal with an extended ear infection for a year and finally had to get hearing aids. Seriously? Please… NEVER tell a person you know exactly how they feel unless you DO!
In addition to the disabled community, we could use the military as an example.
When I was in MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group, the military wives would get so irritated with other women complaining about their husbands being gone for the weekend on a business trip, when they had been dealing with a one year deployment away from their husbands.
Sometimes, fewer words are better. Simply not as much opportunity to stick your foot in your mouth.
Now remember, above all else…there’s GRACE. None of us are perfect. I am the Queen of “foot in mouth” situations, but it doesn’t mean I can’t learn how to respond or comment more appropriate for next time. Sometimes, just the opposite can happen. Instead of saying too much, we say nothing at all. We stay silent and unresponsive be because we don’t want to say the “wrong” words.
If you’re wanting to say something encouraging or just simply start dialogue, but don’t want to offend, here are some helpful comments you could use:
“I would love to hear your story sometime… ”
“Is this a good time to visit? I would love to hang out and get to know you better. Is there a place that would work better for you?”
“I’m thinking of you…”
“I’m so sorry… ”
“We’re praying for you …”
“I love you…”
“I have a meal for you. When can I drop it off?”
(No words with just a good old fashioned hug is great, too!)
Trust me, I know this isn’t easy. There is nothing fun about learning to guard our mouths. We feel inclined to say whatever we think, want or feel, or we’re so nervous that we just talk non-stop. But that’s not wisdom; that’s ignorance and laziness.
If you want to build relationships and understand the disabled, (and many other segments of people for that matter), you will have to put in the hard work of learning to limit your words, embrace listening and watch your word choice for a while when communicating with these precious people. Developing this thoughtfulness and filter will make these relationships straining at the beginning, but so incredibly valuable in the end.
Remember, less is more!
Strengthen your relationships with the disabled, by learning to listen and watching your words.
And when in doubt, take them cookies!
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not achieve the righteousness that God desires.”