As a kid, I felt so flawed. I was really skinny and short. I looked so much younger than the other kids. One day I wore shorts to school and I got teased really badly about my skinny legs and knobby knees. I was so ashamed, and unless I was at gymnastics practice, I didn’t wear shorts in public for a long time. Even in high school and college, I felt like my legs were ugly and I didn’t want to show them.
I felt so imperfect most of my life and as an adult it continued. When I made mistakes at work and someone had to correct me I would feel so ashamed. I would say to myself, “You are so stupid! You should’ve known better!” If my boss went into her office and shut the door, I would automatically assume that I had done something gravely wrong and was going to get fired. What an awful, discouraging way to live.
I have to say that even as a Christian it took a long time for me to let go of my shame. I spent many years trying to be perfect for God and for people. At first I got tired, and then I got very legalistic and bitter. It was the Word of God that kept me from suffocating in my self-hatred.
Psalm 31: 1 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.
Psalm 25: 1 In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. 2 I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. 3 No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.
These verses promised me that if I hoped in God, I would not be put to shame. I also knew that when I made mistakes I wasn’t being treacherous without excuse – they were just mistakes! I would read this verse often when I was in the midst of anxiety attacks. Yes – I was so convinced that I was more flawed than any other human that it caused anxiety attacks. Thankfully I overcame many of these terrible feelings about myself, but it was well into adulthood.
Being in this wheelchair has created some new insecurities. Fortunately they do not create anxiety attacks, but they still cause me some feelings of shame in public. The first year of my injury I wasn’t positioned in my wheelchair properly and it caused my neck to lean to the left too much. I hate the way it presents because it almost looks painful. In the wintertime I can wear scarves to hide the bend, but in the summertime it’s there for all to see.
Also, my wheelchair is bigger than a manual chair, and has a lot of technology attached to it, so there’s a lot of wires and extra parts. People stare at me quite often. I remember when I was able-bodied I used to look at handicapped people with pity and think to myself, “I’m glad that’s not me.” I’m sure that many people look at me that way now.
1 Samuel 16: 7 “…for the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Even though I can still feel insecure about my crooked neck and broken body, I pray to think as God thinks and work on keeping my heart in good condition, regardless of what my exterior looks like.
With the wheelchair, I find that when people stare at me, I give them a big smile and say hello to them. It usually opens the door for me to share something about my journey and my faith. Earlier this week when I was at an appointment at Duke, I was able to share my faith with a few people and I felt so exhilarated. Isaiah 52:7 says …how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news… It’s always a privilege to share about the God who rescued me.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is that of Mephibosheth. After the death of King David’s closest friend, Jonathan, the king wanted to find someone in his friend’s family to show the kindness of God.
2 Samuel 9: The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.” 4 “Where is he?” the king asked. Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar.” 5 So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel. 6 When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, “Mephibosheth!” “At your service,” he replied. 7 “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”
Even though this young man was lame in both feet, he still ate with royalty. Because of his father, he was restored everything that had belonged to his family. When we live as true disciples of Christ, this is also God’s love story to us. Regardless of our imperfections, the things we feel so ashamed of, our past sins, God still welcomes us to his table. Just like Mephibosheth, who was connected to the King through Jonathan, we are connected to the Supreme King through his son and our Lord, Jesus Christ.
We do not have to bow our heads in shame any longer. We can look to God with radiance.
Psalm 34: 4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. 5 Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.