In the next couple of days, (Wednesday and Thursday of this week), Dad and I will be listening excitedly as we appear on Dr. James Dobson’s new national radio show Family Talk. The broadcast will partially recap a moment eleven years ago when I was blessed to see God work in my life in amazing ways. He took a conversation between Dr. Dobson and a star-struck, disabled seven- year-old boy, and decided to touch many people’s lives in a way I am still amazed and humbled at. Hopefully, seeing God work through my weakness will encourage those living with a disability that God can and will use them in unbelievable ways. We will also be adding to the original broadcast, talking about the struggles and victories of the disabled and their parents and how God’s people can help support this too-often-neglected segment of the Church.
It has been such a huge blessing, (and, let me tell you, it has very little if anything to do with me), to be allowed to encourage people in such a unique and unexpected way. God’s grace and plan for my life have taken me to incredible places, and had me doing incredible things. Along the way, though, it’s often been interesting dealing with the unique situation these experiences have created for me. Anyone who knows me well will tell you I can be a little too interested in being the center of attention, and there have been times when God’s gift of a little bit more than my allotted fifteen minutes of fame hasn’t exactly done wonders for my humility. Fortunately, our Heavenly Father has plenty of (sometimes, in retrospect, really funny) ways of setting us straight when we start thinking too much of ourselves. All the same, it can get uncomfortable when people identify you as “Kyle West from the radio” and then launch into a 20 minute discourse about how wonderful and spiritual you are. More than once, when something like this has happened, I’ve found myself smiling and nodding politely at the person, all the while thinking, “My dear sir or madam, if you knew about half of the things I struggle with BEHIND the scenes, you’d realize I’m not all that great of a role model! At best, I’m just a human being.”
Thinking about the way this makes me feel, I’ve come to the realization that this carries over into the way a lot of people treat those with disabilities. Basically, there are two extremes, what I’ll call the “Dali Lama” complex and the “Tiny Tim” complex. The “Dali Lama” complex consists of people who seem to think the disabled exist on some sort of higher plane than the rest of humanity. Don’t get me wrong; everyone, including the disabled, enjoys an encouraging “attaboy” every now and again. It’s when people take this too far, when all someone can talk about is how much we’ve “overcome,” how “courageous” we are, and looks to us as some sort of mountaintop example of Godliness and perseverance ALL THE TIME, that it becomes unhealthy. There’s no radiant glow coming off our faces. Have the disabled been given some unique opportunities and challenges by God? Yes, but we struggle with the same highs and lows, the same questions and answers, and the same shortfalls as everyone; we are imperfect, works in progress of God, and we want to be able to relate honestly with people who recognize that, and love us for who we are.
At the other end of the scale, the “Tiny Tim” crowd looks at the disabled from the opposite extreme. These people mean well, but they always assume the absolute minimum from us, looking at us as something to be pitied and condescended to instead of as human beings. But, as children of God, we all have special talents, unique personalities, hopes, and dreams. When it comes down to it, the best thing you can do for a loved one with a disability is to treat them as a human being. Don’t expect from them what only God can provide, but don’t be afraid to expect God to make them into something wonderful. They’ll appreciate it, more than you know.