I said something like, "Yes, yes, it's chronic, I've had it since birth. It's permanent."
No one asked why it had taken me over 41 years to get the parking permit. Nor did I want them to.
She handed over the little blue hanger without even a blink. No money was exchanged. Only my pride was handed over, my reluctance to admit I could use the help this little piece of plastic provides. God help me, why was I here again?
Over the next week or two, I faced my own demons when I pulled out the blue hanger a few times, catching it on the rearview mirror.
Was I admitting I was handicapped?
The little girl who wriggled into the world on a September day, born with a swollen right foot. I was still that girl.
And so the internal conversations ensued: You are doing this because you have had swelling in your foot since birth, and as much as you take great care of yourself physically, there are days when extra walking takes its toll, and it is OK to have help on those days. To whip out the blue plastic on those days. To care enough for yourself that you are gentle with your weaknesses. 41 years of invincibility is enough; let yourself care for yourself. Show a little compassion for the One that Jesus loves.
I was joining the ranks of the "other," and I had my reasons for not wanting to be here. Self-sufficiency, mainly. I had already joined the ranks of the infertile and childless, of the seminary-trained female who has yet to find a permanent church to serve in, and I was already one of those who dealt with a physical challenge every day of my life.
I did not need a blue hanger to remind me.
Or perhaps I did.
Maybe I needed the blue hanger finally because I was allowing myself to be the unique me that has a rare condition that most people don't know about.
Maybe Abba-daddy's love for me was winning out, rather than me giving in to my physical challenge. Maybe I could truthfully be the "other" with the handicap parking sign, and somehow in doing so, I am identifying with all of the weak ones of this world. I am reminded that I need God's strength in this weakness and that my legs, though broken a bit, are serving the beautiful purpose of getting me where I need to go. And that I need other people around me to survive. That all of us are worthy of consideration and respect and tender care, and that each piece of our story matters.
Oddly enough, this whole experience led from a feeling of being the other to feelings of deep solidarity with others. For if there is one thing I know, it is this: we are all handicapped. The most physically resilient people in the world can hold an aching, bleeding heart; millions have been abused around the world; each of us has an area of deep pain that presents unique challenges. No one is exempt.
The little blue hanger simply reminds me that God is writing his story through my weakness. But best of all, that he is loving me through it.
Take care of the One I love, he says. Be gentle and winsome with yourself. Those who admit their weakness find that I inexplicably give them strength....so take the silly blue hanger, child. It is just one of my gifts to you.
Note: Fifteen years ago, I heard of a laser therapy used on my condition, lymphedema, that I felt would make a difference in the swelling and fibrotic tissue in my foot and ankle, which has been notoriously difficult to treat. Though used in Europe and Australia, it took years for the therapy to arrive in the States. And now 15 years later, after a bit of a row with the insurance company and a minor miracle occurring a few months ago, I will be receiving this treatment January 12-30, 2015. I would appreciate your prayers, and I hope you'll come back to hear more about my healing journey.
Your turn: What's your handicap or weakness? And how might acknowledging it be a step toward setting you free?