If you had a stroke that left you partially paralyzed, or came home from Afghanistan with no legs and one arm, or learned your newborn baby had a severe disability, where should you go for the best advice?
After years of working with people with disabilities and chronic health issues, I learned this indisputable truth—No one can help the wounded like the wounded.
Henri Nouwen’s, The Wounded Healer, was written for ministers, counselors, professional healthcare workers, and others who want to give the best possible help they can to people who suffer. I believe this one sentence summarizes Nouwen’s entire book. The best place a wounded person can find help is in the heart of one with the same wounds.
One of America’s most respected medical school professors is Stanford’s Dr. Abraham Verghese. In his speech, “Doctors, Listen to Your Patients,” he reminded his fellow physicians of the importance of paying close attention to the person in pain and not just to the data about the pain. In the same way, if we want valuable insights to help us through a difficult journey, we should listen closely to those who have already traveled the road.
As president of America’s Disability Channel, a cable television network by and for people with disabilities, I met many individuals and their family members in this community. I listened to their stories and received a wealth of valuable advice.
I discovered that wounded warriors from every walk of life often become the-front-line-experts who use their personal struggles to help each other effectively deal with their disabilities, losses, suffering and other challenges.
If you believe, like I do, that no one can help the wounded like the wounded, you will appreciate these two concise expressions of their experience-driven advice.
Turn your DISADVANTAGE into your ADVANTAGE.
In his bestseller, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell uses the Bible story of David and Goliath to show how people with disadvantages need to take a second look at their limitations. He reveals how everyone around David only saw his youthful inexperience, his small stature, and meager fighting equipment as deadly disadvantages. But David turned his lack of armor and simple, bullet-like slingshot into his advantage and won the battle.
No matter what your disability or weakness, you can turn it into your gift to God. How? Don’t focus on what you don’t have. Give him and others what you have. Let your disadvantage help you become more like your Creator-Heavenly Father. Above all, he humbled himself and gave himself for others. Don’t try to go it alone. Like Jesus, let others help you help others.
Make your disadvantage your uniqueness. Embrace it as part of who you are. See it as that which differentiates you from the masses. Your particular disability makes you more qualified to help other people with similar limitations. Be a specialist, not a generalist. Don’t try to hide your uniqueness. Thank God that you can put it to work for others.
When we carried one of Tony Melendez’s, guitar concerts on our television network, I was more impressed with his many abilities than his one disability. Tony had no arms but he embraced his uniqueness and used his gift of playing the guitar with his feet to become one of the world’s most famous guitarists. Tony’s music thrilled and encouraged his listeners.
Turn your PROBLEM into a PROJECT.
When I met Becky, she said something that I’ll never forget, “I can’t do everything I would like, to help kids with special needs like me; but I can do something.” Becky was a special needs baby, born with legs that would never walk, hands that were virtually immobile, and other medical limitations. But early on, she and her mother, Lydia, decided to turn her problems into a project.
Becky and her mom went to work. They used her ability to sing and speak to raise funds in America to help other special needs kids in Eastern European countries where children with disabilities are shunned. For years, they faithfully did the hard job of organizing groups, enlisting volunteers, and educating organizations and churches. Their project turned into a respected non-profit organization called Becky’s Hope Ministries, which President Bush honored with the nation’s highest volunteer medal, The President’s Volunteer Service Award.
“Your problem is going to make you bitter or better.” Don’t you like this saying? No one seems to know who wrote it, but you can hear it quoted by many people with disabilities. It’s a call to action. It’s a proven fact. You will feed, befriend, tame your problem, and work in partnership with the angry animal inside you, or you will let it eat at your spirit, embitter you, and finally destroy you.
If you want to handle your problems with a healthy attitude, you will need to look them straight in the face and tell them, “We have work to do. This is no time for self-pity, anger, hate, negative-thinking or backward-looking. I’ve decided I’m going to replace feeling sorrow for myself with helping people in pain feel better about themselves. I’m going to swap my anger towards what God has not done for me with gratitude for he has done for me. With God’s help, I’m taking charge of my future.”
You can turn any problem into a project, any weakness into venture, and any closed door to any open door of opportunity, if you choose. I like the way Helen Keller said it, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us. I thank God for my handicaps, for, through them, I have found myself, my work, my God.”
What do you think about these two pieces of advice?
What would you add to them?
Do you know anyone who is a good example of these two principles? Kindly share them with me.
Image: CC Flickr U.S. Army IMCOM, Wounded Warriors bike, swim and run to test their strength at the Memorial Day Mini-Try on May 27, 2011, hosted by the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, TX.