By Rachel Golias
A little boy runs across the yard; his smile can be seen a mile away. From a distance, Christian may seem like any other second grader, but look closer and it is clear he is not like his peers.
Christian goes to school, but at eight years old he cannot speak or do daily tasks. Instead of teaching him to read, his parents are busy feeding, bathing and constantly watching him. These day-to-day struggles have been a part of Christian’s life since he was diagnosed with Sturge-Weber Syndrome shortly after he was born prematurely.
When the family goes out, people gush about how cute Christian’s sisters look, but when their eyes turn to him, they stare with fear of the unknown and give nervous smiles of pity.
Unfortunately, I have been that person before. When I see someone with a handicap, mental disability or abnormality, it is hard to know what to say or how to act. Sometimes it is easiest to turn the other way and avoid them.
I am faced with this situation often when I am working at the Mall of America. Many times I have had to help a customer who is deaf and the entire conversation has to be written out. Other times, when the person cannot see well enough to read the labels, he or she needs to be led through the store. At the cash registers, someone is often a little slower and does not know how to count out money. Sadly, when it has been a long or busy day, it is easier to hand the customer off to another associate to deal with or to simply ignore him or her instead of spending the extra time to help.
Nineteen percent, or one in five Americans, report they have some level of disability, according to a Dec. 18, 2008 press release from the U.S. Census Bureau. Among these, 12 percent of the population is classified as having a severe disability.
Thankfully, back when I was in high school, Christian showed me a different side of the 35 million people with special needs. Because he could not go to Sunday school, I cared for Christian during one service each Sunday so his parents could attend church. I do not really know why I did it. At first, I found it boring, and then it became annoying. Over the hour and a half, I would have to try to “keep Christian happy,” deal with him yanking out my hair, smashing my glasses into my face, drooling all over my dress clothes and giving me a backache from carrying him around. When I neared the quitting point, though, God began to soften my heart.
At this point, I began to approach things in a different way and looked at Christian as a child of God’s who is special just the way he was created. The joy inside of Christian began to bubble over and he stole my heart when he gave me ear-to-ear grins and climbed into my lap to cuddle.
Just because someone may look or act differently does not mean he or she is valued any less by God or should be treated any differently by those around him or her. Christian’s mother teaches her daughters to “love others who are different from them, not in order to be accepted by God, but because they are already accepted by God because of Jesus.”
This is the attitude we need to have when we encounter a person with physical or mental disabilities. Instead of turning away from them or pushing them aside, we need to embrace the person for who they are in Christ.