Honesty and Other Acts of Faith

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by Major Deborah Flagg – 

Nancy Mairs is a cripple. I’m not being politically incorrect here, because that is the way she describes herself–preferring the term over the more benign “physically challenged” or “differently abled.” I must admit, there is a certain grittiness to that word “cripple,” a kind of stark self-actualization. It jars; it is discordant. It’s kind of like saying, “I’m fat,” or “I’m dumb,” or “I’m strange,” jagged declarations that seem to close the door to the untouched possible (and we modern, first world, fairly affluent types seem to love possibility more than almost anything). Yet, when you can’t walk and haven’t been able to walk in years, you are . . . well . . . crippled, and I guess it’s okay to say it.

The fact that she can say it is, I think, what has allowed Nancy Mairs to come to grips with being “waist high in the world,” and to fashion an influential, even beautiful life in a world that is definitely slanted toward the nondisabled.

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her twenties, Nancy has navigated the icy landscape of disability for around thirty years, and she knows its remote and imposing regions. She knows all too well the inelastic geography and unforgiving spaces of the healthy and mobile, spaces that are often too narrow, too diminutive, too vertical to accommodate a person on wheels. She knows how the social construct of “disability” marginalizes and limits those who labor under this category (which, she reminds us, is not a medical diagnosis). She knows, and still she says with lacerating honesty and not an ounce of self-pity, “I am a cripple.”

Her honesty, though it might seem scandalous to those who are “abled,” is what allows her to be squarely where she is, firmly anchored in her state-of-the-art wheelchair. It gives her a pivot-point, a metaphorical place to stand, from which she can move her world. And she moves it with the few remaining bodily processes that remain sharp and unaffected–her tongue, her intellect, her way with words. She writes books to counsel and inspire both the abled and the disabled, bringing both worlds together as she probes what it means to be a human, embodied creature on God’s mysterious earth. “I am crippled,” she says, and this declaration is a simple act of faith, a reaching from that which is to that which can be, at the same time an acknowledgment of both weakness and strength. It is a closing down and an opening up, a kind of pivot-point of redemption.

Those who gathered around Jesus for healing were crippled in many different ways. The one thing they had in common was their honesty. Not one of them said to Jesus, “I don’t need your healing, it’s not really so bad,” or “I’m just fine; it doesn’t matter that my legs don’t work (or that I’m stooped over, or bleeding, or withered).” Scandalized by society and their own pain, they didn’t have time for equivocation. In one way or another, all who sought the healing touch of Jesus said, “I’m crippled, I need you, please make me whole.”

Their honesty was an act of faith, anchoring them firmly where they were in order that they might move on, move out, be made new. In the context of healing and redemption, their varying afflictions, when acknowledged and appropriated, were turned to gifts, gifts that brought them to the very heart of God.

Nancy Mairs is a cripple. So was the man born blind, the woman who was hemorrhaging, and the man with the withered hand. So are we all in our different ways. We are crippled individually and crippled together. We don’t know how to be whole. But, we can learn to be honest, I think, and people like Nancy can show us. We can learn to exist in the truth about ourselves and not be frightened by it. We can learn to acknowledge our weakness. We can confess our sin. We can grieve. We can admit to ourselves and others that we don’t have all the answers. In these simple acts of honesty and faith, we can be where we really are, but know that we don’t have to stay there.

“Your faith has made you whole,” Jesus said. Our faith will make us whole; it is the only thing that will make us whole. That, and honesty. Practiced humbly, simply, daily, these give us a place to stand in God’s kingdom. They are the pivot-point of our salvation.

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