Before today, the best word to describe how I felt around a person with a severe disability is "afraid." Not of them, but of me - afraid that I might offend, create an awkward situation, say something wrong, or embarrass them or myself. Most of my personal interactions with the disabled were loving and warm, but also brief and uncomfortable.
All of that changed today. It changed because I attended a luncheon sponsored by Young Life Capernaum Ministries.
My daughter Kristin, who is a junior in high school and has been involved with Young Life for several years, started volunteering with YL's Capernaum ministry in 10th grade. Capernaum "gives young people with mental and physical disabilities the chance to experience fun and adventure, to develop fulfilling friendships and to challenge their limits while building self-esteem through club, camp and other exciting activities. Young Life staff and volunteers model Christ's unconditional love and acceptance as they walk alongside these young adults - filling their lives with love and support." Kristin faithfully attends the "club" meetings on Tuesday nights and participates in many other activities each month. She doesn't see it as something she has to do - helping her Capernaum friends is something she loves to do. Watching this daughter of mine has taught me so very much. It's difficult to describe how I feel when I see her at "work" - laughing and leading and watching the backs of the most vulnerable among us. She's strong and fearless and compassionate and filled with joy. I, on the other hand, was so overcome with "compassion" over the plight of the disabled that I lost the opportunity to experience the joy and uniqueness of their precious lives. I've often marveled at how happy Kristin is when she returns from a Capernaum event. After observing the disabled teens, their families, the volunteers and leaders at today's lunch, now I know why.
The answer is really simple: Anyone can rejoice in the all-encompassing love of Christ. Anyone. And rejoice in Him the Capernaum kids do! I've never seen so many happy teens and satisfied parents of teens together in one place in my entire life. The people involved in Capernaum have learned the secret of life: Christ died for all. And everyone has the right to be told about him, to know him, to touch him, to be touched by him. And they have learned to live in the "joy unspeakable and full of glory" that comes with knowing Christ.