“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” –Frederick Buechner
I never thought I would be here. This wasn’t a part of the plan. I went into high school thinking I would study art. I was “typical,” plotting a path to what I perceived to be success. I had plans.
And then I got sick.
I went from being a three-sport athlete to barely being able to walk across the room without needing a break or becoming winded. The asthma I developed in middle school had gone from a slight annoyance to something that was life-threatening. My world turned upside down. In the midst of my asthma complications I also developed a series of tumors that would result in four surgeries between age 16 and 18. The second set of tumors had wrapped around my carotid artery and caused damage to my facial nerves. My face was paralyzed for nearly a year. I was ugly, weak, sick, and weary.
I remember waking up from the surgery to my doctor telling me that I must be here for a reason because I shouldn’t be alive. Had they waited any longer for the surgery, the tumors would have cut off my carotid and I would have died instantly. His words weighed heavy on me. “You shouldn’t be here.” And yet I was.
So began the daunting question, deep within me—why are you here? What is your purpose? What is your calling?
It would seem the God of the universe had plans entirely separate from my own. As a result of my medical issues and my excessive absences, I was classified as a “special education student.” My life—my worth—became overshadowed by a label I never asked for or ever wanted. I was set apart, cast aside, judged, devalued … and alone. Or so I thought.
And that was where I learned about this thin space where joy and pain coexist. It was in this space that I heard my creator whisper that he had better plans for me. He needed to crush my heart for the outsiders. The ones who were different. The ones who felt alone.
In this thin space God introduced me to a band of peers who were facing mountains much more treacherous than the one I was climbing. Whether through a differing diagnosis or circumstance, they were facing a lifetime with a label that would change the way the world looked at them. And in them I found joy and pain fighting to coexist. And I fell in love with them. With the outsiders. They became my people and this thin space would begin to feel like home. A place where I belonged.
The space where my extreme gladness met the world’s hunger. The margins. The world of disability. I found my calling in this thin space that I never sought to enter.
I realized that the painful parts of my journey were chapters where God was teaching me about compassion and empathy. He planted in me a holy discontent drawing me further into the margin, longing for those thin spaces with everything that is in me.
When I am engaged in the story of disability, I am faced with my scars—my own story. Those scars are sacred to me. They are a testimony of the way God came near to me and invited me deeper into his story of redemption. When the world tried to write the script for my life, the creator spoke an alternate storyline. He believed me to be beautifully broken and poised to make a difference.
The older I get the less I seek comfort. I long for risk, social justice, and a path into the margins. I shouldn’t be here. But I am. And I have work to do.
Together we can change the narrative of disability. We can tell a better story. We can end social injustices and spark hope to the single most globally-marginalized people group.
And it starts by being brave enough to enter into the thin spaces. Come join me … there is joy here.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Mark Byzewski