This weekend, I had the pleasure of celebrating my Uncle Walter’s 55th Birthday. For many people, birthdays are a big deal. This is especially true for my uncle! For well over a decade, he has battled polycystic kidney disease and through the help of dialysis, his kidneys remain minimally functioning at low 4%. It’s also increasingly more apparent that the disease is taking a toll on his frail body. The other part of his story – he will never be considered for a kidney transplant because he is mentally disabled. So this weekend, we decided to celebrate his birthday in style, with a visit to Hershey, PA and a tour of the chocolate factory.
Society often tells us that persons with disabilities are burdensome or are simply not worth it. Many argue that persons with disabilities do not have much to offer society – and somehow believe that our worth as a person is somehow linked to what we can contribute or give back. Unfortunately, society more often than not, fails to recognize the inherent dignity of the sick and disabled. And perhaps even more alarming, society fails to recognize all the ways persons with disabilities enrich and bless our lives. As a result, we see the growing trend of prenatal diagnosis and selective abortions of those babies likely to be born with disabilities. A common explanation – the disruption to families caused by the birth of a child with a disability. Yes, it’s true. Living with persons with disabilities is often challenging, and honestly sometimes even frustrating. But without a doubt, I would never ever trade those challenges for the many lessons I’ve learned and blessings I’ve received.
My uncle has taught me that all life is sacred, that God has willed each of us into being, and we all have a place in His family. He’s taught me how to be patient. He’s taught me how to trust with an innocent child-like faith…although I’m still trying to learn that lesson. And this weekend, walking through the chocolate factory, his presence reminded me about the freedom found in the simplicity of things. As we slowly walked through the tour, many other families would pass us by, displaying in their faces a somewhat hurried rush. Looking ahead to what was next. Nope, not my uncle. He slowed us down – and what a gift that was! It gave my family the opportunity to soak everything in and enjoy the time to the fullest! It gave us an opportunity to cherish even the littlest of things. Or maybe even more simply put, he helped us open our eyes to the many gifts God had put before us.
On the drive back to DC, I found myself thanking God for yet another great lesson. Sure my uncle may not be able to “give back” to society. But without even knowing it, Walter teaches me some of life’s great lessons.