Inspiration or Example? March 29, 2015

Our Lenten journey is coming to an end.  In many of our churches we celebrated with palms, and then lowered our heads as the Passion story was read.  Our own journeys through the wilderness may or may not be coming to an end, but on the church calendar we are passing through a period of darkness and preparing for a time of immense joy.  Our Lord has overcome the pain and humiliation of the lash and the cross and even death.  He has shown us a new way to live, to love our enemies as well as our friends, to care for the very least among us as though they were the most exalted.

There has been much discussion among us who are blessed with disabling conditions of one sort or another about being “inspirations” or “examples” to other people.  Some people find either or both term objectionable.  It’s true, people who don’t know us or understand our lives can put us on pedestals and idealize our situations.  We don’t think of ourselves as heroes; we don’t wear capes.

I think back on my own life, before my first diagnosis, when I was still able to carry on a “normal” life.  I read “The Other Side of the Mountain” in high school, and I have to say I was moved by Jill Kinmont’s story.  A young woman, an Olympic athlete, paralyzed from the neck down in a tragic accident during a qualifying race fights to complete college, earn a teaching credential, and find a job as a teacher.  I didn’t have physical disabilities at that time, but I had a family that didn’t believe in me, and Jill’s story let me hope that I could do something important with my life, too.  Was she an example or an inspiration?  At that point in my life, she inspired me.  If she could succeed, so could I.

When my physical condition started declining, and I finally accepted my wheelchair, and then my medical leave, I was sad and confused.  I couldn’t understand why God had brought me so far only to drop me.  Perhaps it was payback for saying “no” to the ministry for so long.  Maybe I had just been aiming too high.  Not only was I in physical pain, and exhausted, I felt useless.  So I started to see someone, to talk with her once a week to sort out my feelings.  And she gave me an insight that really helped me.

She told me that other people were looking at me, and seeing something different.  She reminded me of that saying, “Your life is the only Bible some people will ever read.”  She told me that the fact that I got up every day and went out and about with a smile on my face, “was an inspiration.”  I had to admit I was confused.  I didn’t see anything “inspiring” in my situation, but my counselor explained that people who knew my story saw someone who had not let her circumstances defeat her, and was happy in spite of them.

If this was “inspirational,” so be it.  It didn’t make me a hero, but it made me a witness, and isn’t that what Jesus asks of us? I am not serving God in the way I had planned, but I am serving nonetheless.  And new opportunities arise almost every day.  Yes, I live in pain, but so did Paul.  And our pain cannot compare to that borne by Christ on the cross.  “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.”  Philippians 3:17

Being an inspiration doesn’t mean wearing a cape, or being a hero.  It means reflecting the light of Christ that has been placed within my heart.  I can do that.  It’s a pleasure.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.”  Matthew 5:14-15

Dear God, We thank you that you always have a use for us, that we can be your faithful servants no matter what our condition.  Help us remember that even if we feel at our worst, we can still give you our best, that we are still precious in your eyes.  As we remember the sacrifice of your Son this week, help us to trust that your will for us is what is best, and let us place your desire for our lives above our own.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.  Matthew 26:39   Amen.

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