Geoffrey is a catechist, cantor, and subdiaconate candidate at Our Lady's Maronite Catholic Parish in Austin, TX. He is also a Camaldolese Benedictine Oblate. As a twenty-six-year-old graduate student at Texas State University-San Marcos, he lives the evangelical counsel of poverty by force of circumstance, not by choice.
When not consuming ramen noodles or writing papers, Geoffrey enjoys learning about everything. As a mathematics educator, he is passionate about teaching the next generation the skills they will need to successfully navigate a rapidly changing world. He loves science fiction literature and hopes that some of its more positive ideas will become a reality within his life time.
He also blogs at http://lestweforgetourselves.wordpress.com. Check it out!
Recently, Geoffrey agreed to an exclusive, tell-all interview with himself about what it’s like to have a disability. Below is the riveting account of his internal dialogue. You may want to grab popcorn for this one, ladies and gentlemen.
Q: What is your disability?
A: The official name of my disability is arthrogryposis, and it involves multiple joint contractures in my arms and legs. I have had the condition since before I was born, but it’s not genetic. Most probably, a virus that my mom caught interfered with my movement in the womb during a crucial developmental stage. My disability is non-progressive (votes Republican) and affects nothing essential to a relationship or a marriage. I’m perfectly capable of sex, and when the time comes, I’m sure there’s an incredibly awkward book out there on the “Theology of the Body” by Christopher West that will teach me how to do it right.
Or I could just skip that and become a monk…
In any case, I’ll live a long, happy, healthy life, but I will need assistance 24/7. Physically, I have the capabilities of a six-month-old. It would take a few minutes for me to combat crawl from one side of my house to the other, and I wouldn’t be able to reach anything once I got there. Needless to say, I prefer traveling around in a motorized wheelchair. I also need help with everything from going to the bathroom to getting dressed to brushing my teeth.
But, on the plus side, I have never suffered from the delusion that I can rely only on myself. Every day of my life is a family and a community effort. Without exception.
If you want to know more, please ask questions in the comments. I won’t be offended. I welcome curiosity. I love teaching people about how individuals with disabilities get around. Despite what you might think, our quality of life is generally on par with the non-handicapped. We face the same problems and form the same kinds of relationships. In fact, I’d argue that I’m a whole lot better off than the average person.
Q: You’re better off than the average person?
A: Of course I’m better off than the average person. First and foremost, I’ve got a vibrant and deep personal relationship with Jesus, my Lord and Savior. And as the Bible says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage” (Ps. 33:12)! Unlike the average person, I know that there is more to life than careers, bank accounts, and good-weather friends. I’ve got the sure hope of everlasting life to look forward to—God has promised me that everything wrong with this world will be set aright at the resurrection of the dead. And I believe him wholeheartedly.
Through God’s grace working in my life, the Terry Foundation provided me with a full-ride scholarship straight out of high school that covered my bachelor’s degree. Other scholarships took care of my master’s degree. And now, God has blessed me with a teaching job while I work through my doctorate degree in mathematics education.
Furthermore, because my parents gave me a firm foundation in Christianity, I’m not addicted to porn, I haven’t ever fallen into drug use, I don’t whittle away my whole life playing video games, and I’ve got a great circle of loving and supporting family and friends who will stick with me through thick and thin. I also can’t name a single Miley Cyrus song.
Q: Aren’t there any drawbacks to being disabled?
A: Well yeah. Being disabled. I may not regard my disability as that bad of a thing, but some other people do. And that can make finding a job, going to school, and especially getting a date much more challenging.
Girls simply don’t realize that it’s my sense of humor, not my disability, that they need to watch out for!
Q: Wait a minute…you have trouble with girls? I don’t believe you…
A: It is rather hard to believe, right? Of course, simply making friends with women has never been an issue. Romance is what gives me trouble. But quality in matters of love is always better than quantity. I’m pleased to say that every girl I’ve dated so far, with one or two exceptions, has been an awesome person, despite not being a good romantic match.
The main difficulty for me is actually finding women to date in the first place. Many girls assume that disabled men are asexual beings only interested in platonic friendship. So, there’s a barrier you have to break down. At the same time, you don’t want to be too forward because you don’t want women to feel like they’re your prey. And that advice holds for all guys.
Disability forces you to be bolder than usual. I’m definitely not on a hunt, but some girls are going to get creeped out that a guy in a wheelchair is asking them out on a date no matter what. And that’s a reality I’ve had to learn to accept. Actually, I’m kind of glad that my disability filters out all of the shallow and selfish girls.
Some guys don’t find out that they’ve picked the wrong partner until after the wedding bells have chimed. But when I find my match and she says yes to me, thanks be to God, I will know for a fact that I’m marrying a woman, not a little girl. Of course, she won’t be perfect—and I wouldn’t want a perfect wife anyway, because I’m not a perfect man—but she will have to be a Proverbs 31 woman. It will take courage for her to say yes to someone with a disability.
But a lifetime spent with Geoffrey? Priceless.
Q: Was that humor or ego?
A: Probably a bit of both. You know, Blessed John Paul II said that humor and ego are the two wings on which the human spirit soars aloft. I’m pretty much in perpetual flight.
Q: I think the two wings were faith and reason, not humor and ego…
A: In any case, it’s not only girls that give me trouble. After high school, there was a long period when I was interested in becoming a monk and joining a religious community. However, every one of them turned me down. I learned the hard truth that the vast majority of religious communities in the United States have strict policies that bar anyone with a permanent disability from joining them. While these policies aren’t always on paper, that doesn’t make them any less real.
Now is that unjust? Of course it is, but I have decided not to waste my time fighting to join communities that don’t really want me anyway, especially when I’ve got a community of family and friends that does want me.
So yes, there are drawbacks to being disabled, but they aren’t what you’d expect. They have more to do with how society views disability than with what it’s actually like to be disabled. But the Lord is watching over me, and as Julian of Norwich would say, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Q: That’s a rather charming platitude, but surely you get mad at God sometimes?
A: For what? Monk and girl troubles? It’s not his fault.
Q: You mean, you never get mad at God because of your disability?
A: Not really. I have gotten mad at God before, but my disability has never been the reason. I get more worked up over macrocosmic things.
When I get upset at God, it’s almost always about issues of social justice, such as, “Lord, if you have the power to stop abortion, why haven’t you? Do you even care about the unborn?” I want God to work terrifying miracles, convert people en masse, and smite all who would dare resist his will. I have a feeling that I’m definitely in the minority here, because most Christians are very uncomfortable with the idea of God’s wrath. It may just be my personality type, but I want to see the Lord personally come down and crush, in a very overt way, the powers that are causing so much pain in our world today. I keep company with the sons of Zebedee, “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?” (Lk. 9:54, ESV).
Jesus has had to be very patient with me. Understanding the Crucifixion as the fullest expression of the Lord God’s might, will, and love has not come naturally—it has only come supernaturally. A warrior who freely chooses to lose in order to win is a very strange being indeed. But as the Bible says, “…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9). Thus, I shouldn’t expect God to agree with my temperament.
But I can see how the situation might be very different for someone who used to be able to walk and lost that ability. Or went deaf or blind. The pain of loss can easily make larger concerns like social justice fade into the background and focus an individual’s attention on the microcosm of their own tragedy. However, since I’ve never had the experience of walking, it’s not something I could miss or resent God for taking away from me. I can certainly wonder what it’s like to move around freely on two legs, though ultimately, the concept is about as alien to me as flying would be to a beaver.
Q: Do you have any advice for people who are experiencing loss?
A: I would remind them that Jesus Christ has already conquered their problems. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Rev. 21:1-4).
Of course, I would be surprised if those words fully satisfied them. Future promises can only relieve present pains to a certain degree. To work through agony in the here and now, books like Job and Ecclesiastes may be much more profitable reading. The Alan Parsons Project did a good job of summarizing the message of these books in their song, “What Goes Up…”
What goes up, must come down. What must rise, must fall. And what goes on in your life
Is writing on the wall.
If all things must fall Why build a miracle at all? If all things must pass Even a miracle won’t last.
What goes up, must come down. What must stand alone? And what goes on, in your mind Is turning into stone.
If all things must fall Why build a miracle at all? If all things must pass Even a pyramid won’t last.
How can you be so sure? How do you know what the earth will endure? How can you be so sure? That the wonders you’ve made in you life Will be seen By the millions who’ll follow to visit the site Of your dream?
What goes up, must come down. What goes round, must come round. What’s been lost, must be found.
I’ve also heard The Beatles have a relevant song, but like with most of their work, I bet the lyrics leave something to be desired in the realm of originality and the melody, though catchy, is rather dull and simplistic.
Blasphemy, I know. You may proceed to stone me.
Q: You’re kidding about The Beatles, right?
A: Of course I’m kidding about The Beatles. Everyone loves The Beatles.
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