Preparing last Monday’s blog, I’m reminded of how blessed I am to have such loyal friendships; I didn’t always feel that way. Don’t get me wrong; my parents have done their best to instill a positive self-image and confidence in me. They never really put limitations on me because of my disability – believing I was capable of anything that I put my mind to. This led to me being one of the first children to take part in a pilot program for mainstreaming in middle school.
The mainstream program was exciting to me at first because I got to interact with other people with disabilities who were just like me and who had encountered similar struggles dealing with a disability. In the mainstreamed classes, I met regular kids without disabilities. I was able to stretch my intellectual muscles and see what I was truly capable of in terms of regular learning. It also allowed me to interact with the regular students in a somewhat normal setting. I tried to make friends.
Learning along with my peers
My middle school years were tough. In the beginning, I assumed my peers needed time to get accustomed to having disabled students like me in the classroom. I thought that if they just got to know me, they would see I was just a regular “kid” like them, and they would accept me. Boy, was I wrong! My peers would have nothing to do with me, as I would often get picked last for group assignments or the teacher would assign me to a group because no one wanted me in their group. I remember the stares I received driving from class to class with my head-controlled wheelchair; the students parted like the Red Sea when they saw me coming.
Granted, some students were willing to help me; but sometimes I believe it was to get special recognition for “going above and beyond.” For the most part, I kept up with my academics, attempting to prove myself worthy of being in regular classes.
By high school, I’d accepted my disability and social life for what it was and tried to make the best out of a bad situation. Sure, I tried to interact with my peers, but I didn’t bend backward to make them like me. Because of my high academic standing, I was invited to join The National Honor Society. In spite of being unable to participate in many physical activities, I was given the unique responsibility of keeping track of everybody’s hours in an Excel spreadsheet.
By senior year, I was over the drama and ready to move on with my life. I had researched the pros and cons of getting my high school diploma immediately after graduation versus having the school keep it in exchange for receiving services until my 26 birthday. Thanks to the goals my Individual Education Plan (IEP) set forth. Even though I continued my education at a college while still living at home, I don’t feel it encouraged my personal growth as much as my time at Concordia.
Step of Faith
After getting my Associate’s degree in General studies, I was determined to spread my wings a bit further and brought up the idea of going away to get my bachelor’s degree. As expected, my parents were a bit hesitant. So we came up with a compromise. My brother was attending Concordia at the time, and it was only 15 minutes away from our house; we decided that would be a good fit. I would stay on campus during the week and come home on the weekends. The faculty and staff were so accommodating; they even walked me around the campus to see if there were any problem areas that would be difficult for me to drive my wheelchair through. I had heard college was an amazing time of self-discovery, and I was finally going to experience that for myself…
Still, there was the question of getting personal assistance during the week to give me up in the morning and put me in bed at night. Finally, we found an agency willing to accommodate those hours; but who would take care of me in the hours in between, making sure I got to my classes on time?
Biblical Views on Friendship
Before I finish my story about Concordia, I’d like to take a closer look at what the Bible says about friendship. In Romans 12:15, we read, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” In other words, a friend should take up your burdens and carry them alongside you, making sure you are not alone in your journey. It also says in Proverbs 27:9:
“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.” Proverbs 27:9 (NIV)
A true friend knows someone inside and out and has their best interest at heart. My time at Concordia really taught me this and so much more.
During this time, I prayed that this experience would be drastically different and I would find friends that genuinely accepted me for me looking past my disability
God had that already taken care of! That’s when I met BA. She introduced herself to my parents and me when visiting the college cafeteria; she was getting her degree in Special Education and wondered if she could help me. From then on, our friendship grew. Other students came out of the woodwork as well- more than willing to make sure I got to class on time and photocopy their notes for me after class. Of course, we were on a Christian campus, but you could tell it was more than that. They truly liked me for me.
Even now, my friends still contact me via text or Skype to see how I’m doing or catch up.
Although this blog is primarily about friendship, it’s important to remember that God is the best friend we could ever have. God can open doors other people can’t. That’s why I chose “In Jesus Name (God of Possible)”; we must never forget what our God is capable of doing. So if you are a parent of a disabled child, don’t give up hope. Anything is possible if you believe in Jesus.
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*”In Jesus name (God of Possible)” By Katy Nicole (2022 Centricity Music)