From a Wheel-Eyed View – Ashly P. Ash
I am honest enough to admit one flaw that I have; I have always cared a great deal what others think of me. This has been a detriment through my life, just ask my family. Maybe it comes from being different and an amputee from the age of four; growing up alongside physically able children and never quite feeling normal. Maybe it is simply insecurity as a woman. Regardless of the reason, being a hip-disarticulate amputee I have found there are times in life when using a wheelchair and/or scooter is really beneficial not just for me but for those traveling with me. When I am in a wheelchair we can go farther, see more, and most importantly enjoy the journey along with way without the pain of the prosthetic leg, crutches, or constant worry for my wellbeing. As our society seems to teach I have felt that being in a wheelchair means I would be seen as “weak” or “less than” at best and “extremely unattractive” at worst. It has only been within the past five or so years that I have started to change my view and outlook on this by addressing things inside of me.
“Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become ‘fools’ so that you may become wise.” 1 Corinthians 3:18
First of all, being in a wheelchair does NOT make one unattractive, weak, or even annoying. I had to begin a slow journey of trusting God with my life and my attitudes. Studying the bible allowed me to slowly see who I am in Christ and how that extends into my everyday life. As a sub-category of this I also began to realize that I am not “Disabled Ashly” but rather “Ashly with a disability”. I decided that the only thing that would define me as a person would be the Word of God. I decided any other label I had placed or allowed to be placed on me would be null and void by the blood of Jesus. My life would be lived through Ashly and not through having one leg.
This of course did not happen in a day, week, or even a year. There was a time when I would gather all of the pictures in the house which reflected me undergoing chemotherapy treatment as a bald child and hide them to avoid embarrassment. Any videotapes of me limping as I walked I would vow to destroy while expressing anger and bitterness over the hand life had dealt me. I never saw my life as accomplishment but rather as lack. I felt I was lacking normalcy, lacking perfect walking skills, and lacking strength to do the things others could do so easily.
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18
I would trudge through Disney World walking miles in pain with sores, rubbing and bleeding all to avoid a few sideway glances that may come from me being in a wheelchair. Trip after trip to amusement parks, cruise ships, historical sites country-wide and airports were so entirely painful for me both emotionally and physically. I missed so much! It was as if I went through life with a pair of blinders on like a horse pulling a cart (the cart being my emotional fears of being seen in a wheelchair). My pride (the blinders) caused me to miss the journey!
I look back and realize that I missed so many wonderful experiences because I was too busy pulling along the cart of baggage behind me rather than hopping in (quite literally with one leg) and enjoying the ride. Being full of pride and refusing to surrender to Jesus was destroying my body and robbing me of joy!
”I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14
So when I finally decided to get in a wheelchair and begin enjoying life I can honestly say it did not get any easier at first. Those traveling with me were relieved because they no longer had to worry about my well-being or contentment. We found ourselves smiling and enjoying memories in a freeing way. But of course just as I had feared I received so many rude stares. Many people would look at me as if I were an object and not a person. Others would point and talk out loud about me as if I couldn’t hear. Some people would approach me asking “ARE…YOU…HAVING…FUN?” assuming that I was disabled in a mental way rather than a physical one. I have even seen snickers when trying to get through doors or being seated in handicap accessible places!
After I got married being in a wheelchair for long-distance walks only seemed to make things worse for me. Suddenly I wanted my husband to walk alongside of me and be proud. I wanted him to “show off” his wife and I wanted to live up to the world’s standards of a “trophy wife” for him. But I will never forget him taking me in his arms one day and saying in a low and calm voice, “Who says ‘what is beautiful’? God does. I do. You are beautiful. I love you and want to enjoy this with you and the only way we can do that is if you are not struggling through it. Sit down and enjoy the view and allow me to enjoy this with you.”
His words changed my life. I believe that day God was speaking to me through my husband. Begrudgingly, I sat in the wheelchair nearly shaking in fear. I was so afraid people would see me as a “poor girl who has a nice-enough husband to put up with her problem”. I was afraid my husband would see other women walking with their husbands and resent me. So many fears began to overtake me that day but as my husband pushed me along he leaned down next to my ear and reminded me, “You are beautiful, aren’t you more comfortable? I’m so proud to be taking care of you like you take care of me all the time.” And I realized that the fears inside of me had been exposed to truth, to light, and were fleeing!
As the day went on I realized how beautiful of a view it really is from a wheelchair. There is no concentrating on walking or dodging people because someone is pushing you. You are closer to the ground and notice the landscape so much easier than others. Looking up you never have to worry about running into a wall or tree because you aren’t the one steering! I started to see patterns that I have never seen before, beauty all around me that prior to my surrender I had never seen! I started to see potential photographs everywhere and began to capture moments to remember. I was able to see things in a fresh way and at a new angle!
Today, I don’t understand when people do not want to be in a wheelchair. I even offer to push my husband sometimes when I am tired of sitting! Setting aside false pride and enjoying everyday life is something that I encourage everyone to do! There are times when we even pull pranks on others by me jumping up and taking a few steps shouting “It’s a miracle!”…or a personal favorite is when he will let go of pushing me then walking away as if he forgot me there. (The finger-pointing, shock, and lack of action from passerby’s is well worth the laugh!) My only regret is all the years that I believed the lies and taboo that surround wheelchairs. Having missed so much I can only hope to gain some of the time lost back and I am determined to enjoy every moment of it.
Do you struggle with self-image? Would you be willing to set aside all feelings of insecurity and be pushed in a wheelchair? Do you know your worth aside from your looks, health, and capability to take care of yourself?
In our lives there are so many things like this situation that we hold onto. We run like horses with blinders pulling our carts of baggage behind us. Jesus tells us “my yoke is easy, my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29) Laying down even what we believe to be the lightest of loads will allow Him to exchange it and give us not just a new view but a new love for life.
Let’s take some time to reflect this week about the things we feel define us. What things are holding us back from truly relying on Jesus? It is not a matter of surrender for His sake but for ours. There is so much more that He can give us if we just let go of the heavy carts we are carrying.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10
So let’s stop seeing life from our “wheelchair-eye” worldly view. Let’s get back to the saying and take the “Birds Eye View” because it demonstrates that things are not always as they seem.
“The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” Proverbs 12:15