I remember the day I discovered I had a spine. Some backbone. Some courage to defend myself. Some boldness to stick up for myself as someone who lives with hearing and visual disabilities. Since I always want to be completely honest with you, I just want you know….it felt real good, too! That day was a turning point in my life.
We meet all kinds of people during our lifetime. We’re all different. We have different personalities and unique character traits, but more importantly, we have different hearts. Having a compassionate, sensitive heart that feels sympathy for others isn’t something that comes naturally. We have to choose to clothe ourselves with compassion. I’ve come to the conclusion that some people are clueless because they have a hard heart. They’ve never taken the time to cultivate the heart of Christ. Honestly, I want to feel compassion for those who don’t sympathize well. They’re missing a key ingredient in life. It must be awfully lonely and awfully sad for those whose hearts are cold.
I worked for 7 years on and off at a really cool place in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia. Goolrick’s Modern Pharmacy, the oldest continuously working pharmacy in the country. It’s a little bit of Americana you don’t see too much of anymore. There’s an old-fashioned soda fountain in the front of the store. They serve ice cream sodas in old fashioned glass tumblers, milk shakes with at least a thousand calories in them, flavored cokes with rich syrup and sandwiches spread thick with home made chicken salad loaded with enough mayonnaise to cause a heart attack. Mmmmmmmm….I love me some Goolrick’s!
A restaurant, cafe or old fashioned soda fountain isn’t the best place for a hearing impaired person to work, but the owner took a chance on me and gave me a job. It was there I discovered God had given me a gift for service. Fredericksburg is very historic and downtown is loaded with cute boutiques and antique shops as well as a trolley car for hire to take you on tours of the city. I loved standing behind the counter of that bar and making sandwiches, serving up milk shakes and getting to know the community where I lived. There were times I thought my hearing loss would be a hindrance, a strike against me, but I learned if I was honest and told people to look at me when they talked so I could read their lips most were happy to oblige.
One man, though, didn’t want to cooperate. Since he was a regular at the fountain, I soon realized he had neither the patience nor the will to repeat himself when I asked him. He would question me, “Can’t you turn those hearing aids up?” I would smile and go on about my work. One day, though, I didn’t want to smile. I didn’t want to walk away feeling rejected or unimportant or insignificant. One day, I asked this man to repeat himself and he responded, “Do you need to change the batteries in those things?”
Whoooaaaa….now hold on….hold on just one minute. Rewind and freeze. Excuse me?!? Did you really ask me that?! That was the last straw.
I put my hands on my hips, looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Well I would, if I thought you were saying anything worth listening to!!” And I turned on my heels, lifted my chin in the air and did an about face. Like a proud peacock I strutted my stuff.
That man, God love him, never asked me another insensitive question like that again.
Victory. Sometimes it’s sweet. Sometimes it’s short.
I’ve thought about it long and hard since that day. Yes, I needed to stick up for myself, but was I really any better than he? My response to clueless people needs to reflect my heart. I so want the heart of Christ. I want to learn to clothe myself with compassion and that means I need to respond to difficult people with love, not anger. I could have chosen a more appropriate response, one that honored God. Or at least I could have responded in a way as to be funny, to lighten the mood, to let him know that turning the volume up on my hearing aids not only amplifies voices but all the other sounds in the room as well. I could have told him politely that changing the batteries in my hearing aids wouldn’t make a bit of difference. After all, he was clueless….ignorant….maybe even hard hearted, but I shouldn’t be any of those things because I have the living Christ in me and His Word says:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14
Every morning when I get up I choose what I want to wear. I go to my closet and look through the rows of shirts and blouses, skirts and dresses and I make a deliberate choice what I want to put on. I guess you could say I dress for the day on purpose.
That’s how I’m to clothe myself with compassion. On purpose. Just because I’m living with some disabilities doesn’t mean I have a right to shoot off at the mouth at clueless people. I’m learning that I’m to reflect Christ even in this. Some days it’s hard. Some days I’m tired and short-tempered. I’m weary of it all. I don’t want to be nice. I don’t want to be understanding. I want to put people in their place. I want to have some backbone…
You know what I think? I think it takes great strength NOT to lash out at people who hurt me. It takes Christ to produce the kind of backbone needed to keep me standing tall in the face of ignorance, to keep my heart full of compassion, kindness and gentleness. So, I guess, when I think about it, I’ve got some backbone after all and to tell you the truth, it feels real good .