I have wondered, millions of times, what I would have been like had I grown up without a disability. Would I have been talented with my lower body as I am with my upper body? My brothers were very good athletes but never went to a higher level.
I grew up in a home where we went to church every Sunday, but God always felt like a judge. I always felt that I was being punished by God. You only felt God’s presence if you were bad and you knew He was mad at you. So it was a very distant relationship.
After winning my third Boston Marathon in my wheelchair, the University of Illinois wanted to honor me at a women’s basketball game during a half-time ceremony by the campus leadership. The person who put that all together was the administrator, Debbie Richardson. As I got to know her in the days leading up to the ceremony, I noticed that she had a peace and a joy about her that I had never seen in another person. I wanted to spend time with her, so we would go out to lunch. She invited me to church many times, and we started to have conversations about Jesus and the Bible.
Because I liked her so much, I listened to her but had no interest in going to church. A couple of months later, to make her happy, I went to church. There weren’t any fireworks, it was just a continued cultivation by this woman, and I began to see who God was. God wasn’t this judge with a gavel condemning me every time I did wrong. He was a God who wanted a loving relationship, an ongoing relationship and a commitment that was based in love and joy. Debbie was living that out in front of me and God used her to lead me to Him and to soften my heart.
The Bible talks about a peace that surpasses all understanding. I would have to say, in a short answer, that that is what Christianity is: a peace that surpasses all understanding. It is unconditional love and trust and your church community is a family that is with you in good times and bad, that laughs with you and cries with you. You share a common trust in God wanting the best for your life. And it is easy to love God, knowing that He loves you and has your best at heart.
I was doing a Bible Study several years ago and we were studying the book of Daniel. One of my favorite finds is Daniel 7:9. Daniel is having a vision and the verse says, “As I looked thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.”
That made me pause. God’s throne has wheels. So not only am I made in the image of God, so too is my wheelchair made in the image of his throne. The fact that it says the ‘wheels were ablaze,’ means that God burns rubber too.
Born with spina bifida, Jean Driscoll started using a wheelchair in high school, soon learning she could be fast in the new vehicle. She attended the University of Illinois to play wheelchair basketball but also took up racing. She competed in four different Paralympic Games and has 14 medals to her name. She retired from sports in 2000, is a motivational speaker and works in development for her alma mater.
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