(This is written in response to a thought-provoking message given at my church by Matt Mooney of 99 Balloons.  If you have a chance, you should take a listen!  In place of Fair Trade Friday, which I would usually post today, I felt like this needed to be shared.)

The girl in the middle is my sister, Teresa.

There was a time, when I was younger than I am now, that I would not have publicly claimed her as a sibling.  I used to be an angsty teenager that loathed being related to someone so obviously different.  I was focused on that lofty goal of being accepted by my peers, and her disabilities, and the stares and comments that went along with them, were in my way.  Before I accepted Christ’s love and redemption, I was a selfish being.  I still am, but He is continually wreaking havoc on my old nature in order to bring me closer to Himself.  In his love, he gave me an opportunity right after I accepted Him to beg her forgiveness for my unfounded anger when she passed away a few years ago.

My sister came into our family when she was six months old, after being violently shaken by her birth parents.  Her brain had been damaged, and so as her body grew, her brain remained stunted at an infant’s level.  She relied on a wheelchair, as her legs and left side were paralyzed from the trauma.  She couldn’t see or speak, but retained light perception and her hearing.  She needed constant care, which my parents lovingly provided for the two decades of her life.

I wish I could say that despite my childish distaste for growing up as the weird girl with the weird sister, everyone else we met was more understanding.  Quite a few people were, and offered loving support to my family.  However, there were the people that stared.  There were those that wondered very openly whether we were wasting our time.  My dad shared a story once of some elder in one of our churches who asked, in so many words, “Why bother? You could stick her in a home, since she doesn’t even know what’s going on anyways.”  My mother would often stay home from church, since Teresa was apt to make loud, inopportune noises during the service, and mom didn’t want to be a bother.

As Matt mentions in his message, those church services, the meetings where the body reconnects with God and each other, were not complete without Teresa in attendance.  Every part of the body (whether human, or church) is essential.  Take away one part, big or small, and the whole structure fails.  As to whether or not Teresa was aware of her surroundings, I witnessed so many times where her functioning ears would hear my parents’ voices and her face would be almost split open by her giant smile in response.  She knew she was loved.

I write all of this because I had a recent realization, while trying to explain to lovely, curious, big-mouthed, 5-years-old-in-all-her-glory ‘Big A’ about the differences in people.  She’s hit the age where she publicly (and loudly, hence the big-mouthed comment) asks questions when she seems someone ‘different,’ whether it’s skin color, physical ability, or age.  My usual response, said loud enough for surrounding people to hear is, “God made everyone different, because life would be boring if we were all the same.”  Or, “You know that even though we have different outsides, an X-Ray would show that all our insides are the same.”

The thing is, people ARE different.   We all have different attributes. The problem arises when one certain attribute is deemed ‘worthy’ while those that don’t have it are deemed ‘less than.’  I don't know if you follow Humans of New York, but you should.  One of the most impacting series the photographer has done was when he toured poor or war-torn countries on a trip with the UN, chronicling the people he met through quotes and portraits.  He managed to show the similarities in people, removing that idea of 'other' that we so often see in our media's portrayal of other countries. For example, when I think of the Middle East, the images I've seen are almost always turbans, camels, beat-up cars, and sand.  But HONY's photog, Brandon, was sharing photos of parents and children, shopping malls, and daddy's who spoil their kids by bringing them dolls.  He removed the 'other' and just showed people.

The heart-breaking shooting that just happened in Charleston came about from the shooter believing that belonging to his race was superior, therefore anyone that was different wasn’t deserving of life.  As I attempt to raise my babies to be loving individuals in this world full of craziness, I have to figure out for myself what I believe about the rest of the world.  If I don’t process this for myself, how can I impart any teaching to that volatile and impressionable next generation?  Sesame Street did a great job, at least in order to start a discussion, with this clip:

 It may not seem like a big deal, but in this clip, Elmo (the philosopher/monster that he is) comments on race in the most matter of fact way possible.  We have differences, but that doesn’t determine our worth, our character, or our right to life.  Skin is just skin, and the abilities we have or don’t have are all just part of being human.

I’m still learning, but I have made a few realizations.  Most I’ve believed all my life, but have never taken the time to outline for myself or others.

Different isn’t ‘less than.’
Different is human.

Different is beautiful.

A person is not less worthy of respect, less worthy of love, or less than human just because they don’t fit into a social group’s ideas of ‘normal.’  You can’t determine a person’s worth by what category they fit into.  And, if we remove ourselves from anyone simply because they are ‘different’, we render ourselves incomplete.

“So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

(Genesis 1:27, 31a, emphasis added)

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