That’s Messed up

A few years ago, I was invited to share Thanksgiving dinner with some relatives. I asked what I could bring, and probably assuming my cooking skills were limited, I was told to just bring a can of cranberry sauce. So with the canned fruit and a bowl in hand, I headed to the dinner gathering. When I arrived at my relatives’ home, I asked for a can opener so that I might open the cranberries and transfer them to the bowl.

The task of opening the can of cranberries should not have been difficult, but often I am challenged with intricate things due to my visual impairment. After a frustrating few moments trying to work the can opener and having no success, I simply assumed I wasn’t using the tool properly and asked a family member to help me. My cousin came over to me, mumbling something like, “Seriously, how difficult can it be to open a can of cranberries?”

Since she seemed to have the situation under control, I took a step back and watched her work her magic. Surprisingly, she also struggled with the task. “Good grief,” another cousin remarked. This cousin, about seven years old at the time, wasn’t fooled. He reached for the can and lifted it off the counter. “Well, no wonder you can’t open the can,” he exclaimed. “It’s upside down!”

“What?” Both I and my other cousin were stumped. “What do you mean?” I looked at the can again. I clearly read “WHOLE BERRY CRANBERRY SAUCE” on the outside of the can, so it didn’t make sense that the can was upside down.

“See,” my seven-year-old cousin responded, once more lifting the can so all could see. “They stuck the label on wrong; it’s upside down!”

“Well, that’s messed up,” I remarked with a laugh. I had nothing else to say on the matter.

Apparently, my doctor had no other way to describe my condition a few years earlier. I had just transferred my medical records over to Mayo Clinic so that I could get a few referrals to go through for my prosthetic. This particular doctor had never examined me before, so he was doing a thorough check of my eyes. He looked into my right eye, was silent for a long moment and then declared, “That’s messed up.”

I was expecting him to say something medical-minded— some jargon that I couldn’t understand. I wasn’t expecting him to say that my eye was “messed up.” Regular people, not doctors, use words like that. In fact, I have even thought of things being “messed up.” I just figured a doctor would have some reasoning or explanation behind it.

As a child and then as I moved into adulthood, I knew I was different. My visual impairment was always very obvious, especially when I carried my white cane around. I try not to let my disability stand in the way, but even so, there are times when I need to ask for help, therefore making my condition very visible.

I will often walk through my local grocery store with my own little cart that I store folded up at home. My little cart allows me to buy groceries and then wheel them the two blocks home when I’m done shopping. Often, I will get the sense that a young child is staring at me, and soon after, I will hear something like, “Mommy, why does that lady have a different cart?” The mother will frequently turn to me and mumble something about being sorry to bother me. Honestly, I don’t mind the children and their curiosity. I would rather they ask and I have the opportunity to give them a proper answer. Even when I get the blunt question: “What’s wrong with your eyes?” I don’t shy away.

But it is often the adult perceptions of my disability that disturb me at times. Like the misplaced label on the upside down can of cranberries, I often feel mislabeled and misrepresented. I am often put into the “disability” pool with all of the other people with physical or mental challenges. Sometimes I get the impression that people see my white cane and immediately assume I am completely blind. Sometimes, a person might question me about how much I can see or if I need help, but often, people set out to just do things for me without asking. I’ve often heard, “Well, I don’t know if you can do this, so maybe we should try something else.” How can a person assume what I can or cannot do?

Now, I know I’m being hard on my fellow human beings here, but I wish that we as people weren’t so quick to judge others for what we assume they need or even who they are. It even pains me when people in the Christian community assume that a sin took place or someone messed up and that’s why a person is saddled with a disability. I have to whole-heartedly disagree.

By no means do I feel saddled with my disability. True, I have faced challenges and some days I want to throw in the towel, but I don’t believe I was given my disability as a punishment for any wrongdoing. In fact, I often look at my visual impairment as a blessing. It took me a long time to come to this conclusion as I grew up with the knowledge of my strengths and abilities, but I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone else’s for any reason.

As I was reviewing YLF applications this Spring, I came upon an essay written by a sixteen-year-old girl who called her autism a gift. Her statement brought tears to my eyes, especially when she went on to explain why. She wrote about the opportunities she had been given to reach out to others and impart knowledge and wisdom from her own experiences. Even as I read her essay, I knew I would have to say the same thing although I had never put such a realization into words.

Without my visual impairment, I wouldn’t be forced to play piano by ear or memorize lyrics because I can’t read them on paper. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with YLF and invest in the lives of teenagers with disabilities each summer if I didn’t have a visual impairment. I wouldn’t have the same level of compassion and understanding toward those who face challenges if I didn’t have my disability. I think my life would be a darker and empty place without the blessing of my disability.

Sure, I’ve faced hardships and I know there will be difficult days ahead, but I have the incredible knowledge that God didn’t mess up when He made me. I am not a mistake! And although my eye might be “messed up” and I’m not able to open a can of cranberries without assistance, I am still beautiful in His eyes and He has a plan for me. So today, I rest in His promises and know that He created me for a specific reason and purpose. Today I choose to reach out to others in the presence of my challenges and share the blessings I have been given.

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