We never thought of it as a “handicap.”
When we said yes to the file of the preschool-aged boy with mobility issues who totally and completely stole our hearts, we didn’t think of his condition as a “handicap.”
A medical condition.
A label, maybe.
But it never crossed our minds that cerebral palsy was a “handicap.”
So when I opened my mail eight months after returning home with the angel who could laugh and sing and communicate and talk — who could count and joke and fill an entire room with his big personality — who could do more than we ever asked or imagined in only eight short months at home but who was still fighting to learn how to walk — my heart sank for a moment.
It was a new tag. For a new walker-holding van. With a picture of a wheelchair and the initials “HD.”
A handicap tag.
Even though I’d applied for the tag myself at the suggestion of our physical therapist and with a note from our doctor, for a moment, I panicked.
My bias told me that handicapped spaces were for people who had been through hard things and were facing hard medical conditions and needed to park close to buildings because it was painful or difficult to walk.
They weren’t for young, healthy kids so full of life that their joy just bubbled over onto everyone they met.
They weren’t for kids who had figured out on their own how to get everywhere they needed to go, by crawling, strolling or flashing their contagious smile at the nearest human who might be able to provide transportation.
They certainly weren’t for my kids.
And yet, here I was, in the kitchen of my home, clutching the tag that identified our newest son as “handicapped.”
With his first ever walker now on order and on the way, our precious, perfect but immobile son was what our society officially considered “handicapped.”
If this boy hadn’t already been in our arms and such an integral and important part of our story and our life, that revelation on that day might have paralyzed me.
At any other point in the adoption process, that weighted word may have stopped us dead in our tracks. Caused us to re-evaluate everything we were doing. Caused us to rethink whether this was the direction we wanted to take our family and our life.
Because in our society, “handicapped” is such a harsh and heavy word that it conjures up this litany of fears and a long list of “cannots.” It reminds us of deficiencies and inabilities and everything we just aren’t able to do.
It emphasizes our imperfections and puts our restrictions in flashing license plate lights.
“Handicaps” are not something we generally seek out. In fact, they’re the very things we pray to avoid when we carry babies in bellies and grow older and confront bodies that just don’t work the way we wish they would.
I’m so thankful that in seven months of dreaming about this perfect boy and eight months with him in my arms, I had never once heard that word in reference to him.
Because if I had thought of our boy as “handicapped,” I, in all my recovering perfectionism, could have allowed society’s definitions to be the lens through which I viewed my son.
And it could have caused me to miss out on the miracles and the JOY of one of the four biggest blessings of my entire life.
One week away from one year with Superhero 4 in our life, I know that that blue wheelchair symbol on our vehicle tag may get us the parking space we need for the boy with the superhero-colored walker.
But it doesn’t define who he is.
Superhero 4 is not “handicapped.”
And this determined little superhero doesn’t know the meaning of “cannot.”
Superhero 4 received his first ever walker four months ago.
It took him one minute to figure it out.
One hour to learn how to run.
And one week before he was racing Grandma across fields at big brother’s soccer games.
This adventurous little boy took his first trip to the beach over Memorial Day weekend.
Although he came to us unable to bear most of his own weight, even while holding our hands, he didn’t allow a file that said “may never walk” to hold him back.
And he didn’t use a walker to stroll his very first beach.
Just the hands of a brother.
We were told this little warrior might never get to experience the same things as his better-equipped, mobile peers.
And then he transported himself through an aquarium.
Ran in the rain through an outdoor dinosaur exhibit.
Checked out by himself at Big Lots.
Bowled with big brothers.
This little warrior has smashed every challenge, overcome every obstacle and given new meaning to the word “handicap.”
He’s transformed it into “handy-capable.”
And Orphan Warriors, last month, after nine months of physical and occupational therapy and 11 months home — after four and a half years of fighting for the use of his own two feet — this boy who stuns us almost each and every day did what his Chinese adoption file said would probably never be possible.
HE WALKED ACROSS THE ROOM!!!
The boy who might never walk walked.
Only God can write stories like these.
Only God can do what the world says is impossible.
Only God can take an “immobile” 3-year-old boy, place him in the most imperfect of all imperfect homes and use HIM to teach US the meaning of tenacity. Dedication. Believing and striving for the seemingly impossible.
Completely change ALL of our stories.
But as I cheer and celebrate and just sit in wonder and awe of all our God has done for this boy who doesn’t know the meaning of limits and restrictions, I also realize the harsh reality and hard truth.
This wouldn’t have been Superhero 4’s story in China.
Not without therapy.
Not without walkers and braces and necessary assistance devices our insurance covers here.
Not without a support network of people who encourage and support and embrace.
Here, Superhero 4 has an entire network of talented and amazing professionals to assist him.
Here, sweet families and precious older ladies constantly stop him to tell him how cute he is. To tell him “great job.” To cheer him on and encourage him as he plows through the aisles and runs into them in line at Walmart. To literally gift him with dollar bills when they see him working his hardest. (Thank you, Big Lots lady, for making this superhero’s day … and for simultaneously ruining the gift of pennies his parents have been offering for allowance for a year.)
Here in the United States, this superhero is a treasured and valuable and accepted member of society. One with his very own front-row parking spot.
In China, handicapped facilities are scarce.
Accommodations are almost nil.
Taxis don’t often even stop.
In China, our friends who brought home older children with mobility issues faced such discrimination in country that they literally had to ask their guides to intervene when locals would chastise their new children and asked their new parents why they’d want “such broken children.”
In China, those with “handicaps” often receive stares, not dollar bills, and second-hand education, if they receive any at all. (Although children with disabilities are now supposed to be allowed in schools, most schools are inaccessible and many refuse their entrance, claiming that they would be a hindrance to the other children in the classroom. Only if they can demonstrate their ability to adapt to the school’s environment and not “bother” other students are they included in mainstream schools.)
As a result, according to a 2013 report by Human Rights Watch, 43 percent of disabled Chinese people are illiterate, compared with 5 percent of the general population. According to Handicap International, only a third receive services and a fifth receive assistive devices, like the walkers Superhero 4 depends on for mobility. (Learn more about life for “handicapped” people in China HERE.)
And if these people with “handicaps” are orphans, who are already seen as “cursed” by many traditional families, who grow up in orphanages and facilities without access to good medical care and education and without families to fight for them, the prognosis for any kind of future decreases significantly.
This is the future for the thousands of Chinese orphans whose mobility issues are just superpowers in disguise.
A life without access.
A life without opportunity.
A life on the fringes of society.
Orphan Warriors, if Superhero 4 has taught me anything, it’s that we have a big God who can DO what He says He can DO. And when that big God moves your heart to fight for the children who don’t have a voice or an opportunity or a life in a place where they are not valued for the beautiful gifts they are, you MOVE. You GO. You RUN. Because these children aren’t burdens. They are BLESSINGS. They are treasures! They are gifts! And getting to love them and cheer for them and fight for them is one of the biggest privileges we have when we live in a country where they are valued. Embraced. Accepted. Loved.
Where they get access to therapy and medical care and the simple things every American-born child has the right to here.
Where they get the equipment and support and LOVE they need to soar.
Cerebral palsy, spina bifida, bone deformities, missing limbs and every other diagnosis that may prevent a child from walking now aren’t handicaps.
They’re superpowers in disguise.
And when these children are given a chance to thrive, they soar like the superheroes they have always been inside.
Their label just gets them a better parking spot while they do it. :)