Fearfully, Wonderfully and Still Disabled AF: Faith and Self Love

This week is my birthday, so in the spirit of gift-giving, I want to share you a mundane moment that changed my life. You can take or leave the lesson I learned from it (as you know, I’m not about one person’s experiences being used as another’s prescription), I can just say that it changed the way I see things.

Before attending graduate school, I worked for an international evangelical Christian organization. For what we see and think of evangelicals due to the news (*cough* elections *cough*) the office I worked in was quite liberal, in fact, the university I attended that was affiliated to the organization was as well. They touted themselves as advancing the virtues of social justice through Christianity. And they lived it.

Any way, during a lunch break on a workday ending with “y” I sat down at the communal table across from the organization’s CEO. This was not uncommon. Without exaggeration, he is one of the most genuinely kind and measured people I have ever met.

Somehow, we wound up being the last two people at the table and our conversation had made its way to life after death. Flippantly, sensing the conversation was about to go where it had gone countless of times with everyone from cashiers to friends of friends to random people on the street, I said “Yeah, I know I’ll be healed when I get to heaven.”

He took a moment and seemed to review all of his words even before speaking them, looked at me and said something that I will never forget: “Who are you to say that God made a mistake when he made you? If you are made in his image, then you are already whole, so why wouldn’t you use your crutches in heaven?”

Imani in a red dress standing in a church.

I was stunned. My experience with Christians and my body up until that point had been rocky at best. While I had grown up in the black church and was lucky enough to be surrounded by a church family that loved me there was still an undercurrent to the theological conversation that my faith would lead me to a “whole” body. In public, I was constantly stopped by strangers to be healed or prayed over. Hell, if I stood alone on a sidewalk for too long, I was bound to encounter at least one or two people who would ask to lay hands to heal me. Once, I even went to a conference where I briefly spoke about how damaging this type of behavior is to disabled people and immediately afterward I was surrounded by a group of people who were in that room and prayed over to soothe the “anger in my heart.”

So, when my boss said this to me, you could have flipped me over and colored me shook. What he said I could have used when I was crying myself to sleep believing I had been skipped over by God, or when I was a teen self-harming because I’d been so frustrated with the body I’d been given.

Self love is hard to come by when you’re constantly being told”what needs to be fixed.

Over the years, I haven’t lost my faith in God, but my faith in Christians wavers with every ableist action that calls into question how disabled people are allowed to see themselves. My interactions with Christians have made me a bad one. The gospel says I am to bring others into the fray, but I’m not about that life– especially with disabled people. Everyone has a reason for what they believe and practice and the moments I spent weeping in my bedroom alone praying for him to heal me may have broken the faith of someone else. So when I’m told people’s faith story, no matter what it is, I get it and I’m not going to try to change it. Sorry, not sorry.

A times, especially in this current political climate, it feels as though loving one’s self as a disabled person is at direct odds with what Christians seem to be preaching. But, I can love myself even if becoming abled is not my goal. I can love myself even if I don’t want to be evidence of a miracle. I can love myself even if I am never an abled person’s definition of “whole.” I can love myself even if I’m not working as hard, or as fast, as you think I should be.

So, if you’re struggling and your faith feels at odds with your body love, then use my former boss’s words as you need them; who’s to say you aren’t exactly person you were designed to be? Were you not made fearfully and wonderfully?

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  1. What a beautiful essay. Thanks so much for writing this- I’ve never thought of my disability in this way especially since, like you, I’ve spent half my life trying to ‘fix’ things. I’m saving and sharing this.

  2. Imani, I’ve seen your commentary on Twitter for quite sometime, and was just now referred to your blog by a friend. Thank you for this post. As someone with CP, too, and who has also been deeply harmed by the church, your former boss’s words are so amazing (and rare) to hear. Thank you so much for sharing them.

  3. Beautiful! And yes– if the Lord had wanted us otherwise, the Lord would have made us otherwise.

    I had a dream that you and I were running a specialty food shop in Paris with a mixture of French, Middle Eastern and African delicacies. Apropos of nothing. I just thought I’d tell you. It was a REALLY cool shop in the dream and we hired a ton of black women to help us run it.

  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, emotions, and convictions with the world. Your voice is important and your words are needed.

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