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Alphabet Soup: Living with a Learning Disability

Do you remember when you first learned the alphabet? Around two or three is probably when you started to grasp the meaning of those strange sigils. Not long after, they started stringing together into words just like these, and a world of communication began to slowly trickle into your life. Before you know it, you’re neck deep into Robert Munsch, Magic Treehouse, and Harry Potter.

Unless, of course, you’re like me, and couldn’t wrap your head around the alphabet until grade 4, my first clue that I was different.

A few years ago, I learned something that put experiences like this one in a new light: I have a learning disability. Some of you may not know this–it’s not something I particularly publicize (he says, writing a blog about it). But really, outside an academic setting, it’s not all that noticeable, especially when I have supports like my editor, Stephan, and my girlfriend, Kamal, who are very gifted in the places I am weak and help fill in the gaps.

Still, this was a big problem for me personally growing up–not because I knew I had a learning disability (I didn’t for a while), but because I knew I was different.

It seemed at times that everyone, from kids to adults, family to strangers, and anyone in between, was out to remind me that I was different. In their eyes, I was a dumb kid with too much energy who couldn’t listen and didn’t really pay attention if he did. And yet, where other dumb kids either shaped up or decided they couldn’t care less about school, no matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the stuff I was supposed to be learning.

Imagine, for example, being in the English as a Second Language class after you move to Canada in the first grade; it’s tough being separated from your other classmates, but at least you know that eventually, just like everyone else in that class, you’ll learn enough to be fit for the normal class. Now imagine being stuck in that class throughout high school as well.

The struggle didn’t stop at home (as if it ever does), because my other family members–particularly my sisters–are straight-A students. My parents tried their best to get the support that I needed, but without an understanding of what my difference really was, they quickly reached the ends of their ropes. Not only did I feel stupid, I also felt like a burden as they dragged me from one appointment to another. In contrast to my sisters, just like my classmates, my difference was a lack. I was less than they were–less intelligent, less diligent, and less valuable.

Putting a name to my difference midway through elementary school helped me understand it, but it still left the sense of less than. It is after all called a disability, separated from ‘ability’ by those three ordinary letters.

It was (oh so shockingly) Jesus who began to help me unpack the shame I’d been carrying. In John 9, we see Jesus interact with another man who has a disability.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.

If we look at this situation as the disciples did, and as I might have, God seems downright malicious: at best, this man is punished, seemingly excessively, for a sin in his past; at worst, God created this man lacking a fundamental part of his human experience, cursing him to a painful existence just so that God could come along one day and heal him as part of some first-century hearts-and-minds campaign.

Yet, more consistent with the person of Jesus is the idea that this “disability” which the world saw as a lack was really a sensitivity to grace. This man was able to experience the redemptive power of Christ in a way few in history ever would. Who can say that Jesus literally let them see for the first time?

God’s story is full of people who the world saw as broken, but God saw as beautiful. Moses had a speech impediment. Elijah was suicidally depressed, possibly even clinically. David was too small to even lift his armour. I won’t even go into whatever Danny Devito-esque features got Paul laughed out of Corinth. Rather than being impeded by these ‘disabilities,’ God used them all to demonstrate his revolutionary grace. The story of David and Goliath wouldn’t be nearly as impressive if Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson replaced David “The Smooth Pebble” Jesseson, now would it?

Even though I don’t always know why I have this disability, this has provided me with hope. I personally believe that my hardest times often lead to the greatest moments in my life, because it is in those times that I got to really see God’s power made perfect in my weakness.

So, all that’s left for me–for any and all of us who find ourselves weak, lacking, or broken by the world’s standards–is to move, learn, breathe, see, and live in a courage not our own. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Just over a week ago, I graduated from George Brown College. With honours. Does this still mean a lot to me? Yeah. Realistically, it’s probably one of my biggest accomplishments so far. Does it still hurt that my family doesn’t know how much it means to me to get honours, as my other three siblings could do it with their hands tied behind their back? Sometimes.

Seeing my disability through God’s eyes doesn’t take away from the accomplishment–if anything it amplifies it. I know that putting God above my school and my marks was a key part of my success these past few years. All the years of telling myself I couldn’t do it, whatever it was, seemed so quiet compared to the still, small voice that proves them wrong.

Seeing my disability through God’s eyes isn’t the same thing as saying ability, difference, and success don’t matter. We’re all going to succeed, and we’re all going to fail. We’re all doing to be different, and at some point in our lives, we’re all going to be ‘disabled’ in one way or another.

Seeing my disability through God’s eyes is saying that none of these are the endgame.

Jesus is the endgame, and he’s playing on the field with us.

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Please be advised that this blog post may discuss topics related to suicidal ideation. If you feel that the content may affect your well-being, please proceed with caution. If you or someone you know

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