By Dr. Harold Sala
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13
You may have seen it yourself, about four lines, on an inside page of a newspaper. The brief news note told that 18-year-old Paul Whittaker had gained entry to Oxford University where he will be studying for a degree in music. Whittaker, though, is different from most students in college. The young man is totally deaf and has been since birth, yet he has served as a church organist and choirmaster and will absorb lectures by reading lips. Often those who face handicaps have determination that puts most of us to shame. I have no doubt that Whittaker will finish his work, too.
Dr. Adeline Becht is also a woman who should never have succeeded. As she marched to the speaker’s podium to receive her doctorate in clinical and counseling psychology, thousands of well-wishers at the University of Oregon stood to their feet and cheered. Blindness was not the only handicap she had overcome.
Though she was reluctant to discuss some of the details of her early life, she did tell a reporter that she had become separated from her parents at age 14 and spent most of her youth in juvenile homes, where she was introduced to drugs and heroin which eventually damaged her sight. To support her habit of drug use, Becht later turned to street crime. Eventually she kicked the drug habit, but alcoholism took her captive. Eventually she was declared legally blind. But now, all of this is behind her.
The unsung hero in this real-life story is Beth Schmidt, a 48-year-old interpreter and companion who supported herself and Adeline, and typed lectures that were converted to Braille. “My faith is very strong,” explained Becht. “But I believe if my actions as a person cannot show my faith, then my spiritual faith is nothing.”
There are others I could tell you about, but time does not allow that– Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind; Thomas Edison, who lost his hearing at age 12; Fanny Crosby, who was blind most of her life and became one of Christianity’s greatest songwriters; Joni, the young woman whose ministry has blessed thousands from a wheelchair as a paraplegic. Now, all of these could have just quit, given-up and vegetated–and who could have blamed them–but they didn’t! At some point, they stopped feeling sorry for themselves and began to take positive action.
Now, there is one more person with a handicap that I want to talk about–it is you. What you call it is not important; but when you allow something, anything, to keep you from your God-given potential, it becomes a handicap. Gian Carlo Menoti put it like this, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.”
I am convinced that the greatest handicaps are not those that impair hearing or speech, as tough as they are; the greatest handicaps are those of the spirit that cause you to give up, to be carried to the level of mediocrity which suffocates uniqueness, to be defeated by indifference and attitudes of inferiority. The great handicaps are those of the spirit and soul that keep God from working in your life. Think about it.
Resource reading: Philippians 2:1-18