As I sat on the couch next to my husband and watched the First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional last Sunday, I tried to do as President Uchtdorf suggested and open my eyes to see the blessings that surround me. As he spoke, I looked at his face on our very large TV and thought of the monetary blessings we had. I saw the stand it was resting on, the stand that was just passed down to us from my husband’s family and thought of the great family we had. I saw a pile of books and I thought of the education I’ve received. I saw the rocking horse one of my neighbors made for Zula and I thought of our wonderful neighbors and the many friends we have here. My husband sat next to me and I thought of the privilege it was to get to be his wife. Our two-year-old was running around playing with toys and I thought of my great blessing to be a parent. I even looked down and saw the couch on which I sat. It is old and the leather is worn, but it is comfortable and, truly, I have so much.
I thought I’d taken a pretty good assessment of my blessings as I continued to listen to President Uchtdorf’s Christmas message until he got to the story about the man who lived in Africa and couldn’t walk and had no wheelchair. This man lived at home with his parents. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t go out without help. When he heard that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was coming with wheelchairs, he asked a friend to help him get there. He took his turn in a wheelchair, spinning, rolling, and feeling the freedom that comes from independent movement – a feeling I keenly understand. After a bit, he rolled back and prepared to give the next person in line a turn using the wheelchair, resolute to go home the way he’d come and return to the limited life he’d known. When the missionary told him that the wheelchair was his, he cried. And with a “whoop” he took off again exclaiming, “I can fly!”
I was deeply touched as I listened to this account. I cried because I was so happy for this man, but also because I was embarrassed because of my own ingratitude. In front of me, between my seat on the couch and the large screen TV, was my own wheelchair. I had to look past it to see the TV, the stand, the books, and the rocking horse. Even though it was right in front of my eyes, I did not count it as one of my many “blessings.”
My disability is very obvious – I can’t walk. I am paralyzed and in a wheelchair – a wheelchair that often defines me and my life to others before they even meet me. But my wheelchair isn’t my disability. Even though my initial reaction is to see it as a hindrance, something that impairs me and restricts my freedom, in reality, my wheelchair is what keeps me mobile and free. Like the man in Africa, I agree that my wheelchair makes me feel as if I can fly…even though I can’t walk. People often use the term “wheelchair bound” to describe someone like me, but my wheelchair is the only thing that helps me past my disability. It carries me through a life that is literally too hard to stand. How different my life would have been if I was like that man in Africa without a wheelchair. I never would have been able to go to the grocery store by myself. Or to the park. Or to travel on my own. Without my wheelchair, I am entirely reliant on others. My wheelchair doesn’t define me, it gives me the freedom to define myself.
And I am not the only one disabled. I walked for 22 years and I know that you don’t have to be in a wheelchair for life to be too hard to stand. Disabilities come in every shape, size, and are seen and unseen. But no matter their severity, they don’t have to define or disable us! We are each blessed with “wheelchairs,” blessings that carry us through what could be crippling times in our lives.
Elder Bednar calls these kinds of wheelchair blessings “tender mercies,” but no matter their title, they are perfectly timed and specific blessings that enable us to “fly” through those disabling times when we feel as if we truly can’t put one foot in front of the other (even if there’s nothing wrong with our legs).
After their release from bondage in Egypt, the children of Israel wandered through the desert for many years. Their trials were severe and maybe they wouldn’t have murmured as much if they focused less on their search for major blessings and looked instead for the “wheelchairs” that helped them through their trials. Their wheelchair blessings included water from the rock (Exodus 17:3-6), manna (Exodus 16:4), and even clothes that didn’t wear out (Deuteronomy 8:4).
God is just as mindful of us and our disabilities as He was the Israelites and He blesses us with similar miracles. As we open our eyes in search of blessings, let’s see the ones that act as wheelchairs and help us past what could be immobilizing times.
Let’s see the refrigerator that keeps our food longer when our grocery budget is tight. Let’s hear our favorite song on the radio after a particularly rough day. Let’s recognize when our energy stretched exactly far enough to accomplish that last errand.
One of my own recent wheelchair blessings included seeing a small Christmas sign that said “Believe” when I was super stressed about the outcome of a temporary problem I was having. This literal (and divine) sign carried me through a few days of troubling uncertainty so I could be a good mom and wife even in the midst of a trial that could have impaired my abilities to focus on my sweet family.
For Christmas this year, I am giving myself wider eyes that can see the sometimes small (sometimes not) wheelchair blessings that are right in front of, around, and under me, helping me through times that could be truly paralyzing.
And I invite you, my equally disabled friend, to join me in the search of the “wheelchairs” in our lives that don’t define us, but give us the freedom to define ourselves as we soldier on. In this life, I might be considered “wheelchair bound,” but, for all of us, no matter our seen or unseen disabilities, as we search for God’s special tender mercies in our lives, we are bound to see the wheelchairs that carry us through it and allow us to fly.
Keep on rollin,’