Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Outward Appearance

Emma getting ready to flip over the bar.
Last Friday night, our family had the privilege of watching a Special Olympics gymnastics meet. There were many amazing moments—the flair each athlete brought to their floor exercise, the impressive balance demonstrated on the beam, the jumps on the vault, and our own Emma’s bar routine that she had mastered minutes before the competition began.

But there was one young man who captured my attention. His body is bent and twisted, and I’ve assumed he participates in gymnastics to help him stretch and straighten his limbs.

I had no idea the boy has SKILLS!

I know better.

I have a child with special needs.

I know not to assume that small size or specific facial features or the inability to talk means that the person living inside that body isn’t a fascinating, unique individual with opinions and extraordinary abilities.

But I was unprepared for what happened when this young man approached the high bar. He needed help stepping up on the squishy mats and as he stood under the bar, I wondered what his body could do?

Well, he showed us.

The coach lifted him up and he grasped the bar with both hands. As soon as she stepped away, he pulled himself up until his chin cleared the bar. Then he let himself back down and pulled his knees up to the bar. Then he hung there and twisted his entire body round by 180 degrees before letting go and landing back on the mat.

The crowd went wild as he made his way back to his seat, and I fought tears as I realized that I had allowed my assumptions to cloud my ability to see how extraordinary he is. It takes incredible strength to do what he did. More strength than I have. And not only physical strength, but mental and emotional strength to refuse to allow his body to hold him back!

Me, Emma, and Brian - after the meet.
I thought about him again this morning as I read the story of Samuel anointing David to be king. Each time Samuel thought he’d picked the right son of Jesse, God said no, reminding Samuel that He was not interested in the outward appearance, but the heart.

I know we all want our children and grandchildren to have role models to look up to.

Can I make a suggestion?

Don’t rule out the young woman with Down Syndrome or the young man with Cerebral Palsy.

Imagine what kind of adults our children would grow to be if we could teach them the skill of looking for the heart of the person rather than making assumptions based on their outward appearance.

I’m almost 39, and clearly, I’m still learning.

How about you?