Friday, 25 April 2014

Stolen Dignity

Dignity: “The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect.”

We use the word dignity in many ways, and as a result its real meaning has been eroded a lot over the years. 

I'm often described as dignified - but by that most people mean I don't complain much (they don't know me very well!)

“…..Worthy of Honour and Respect”

We talk about honouring God, but rarely talk about honouring those around us. We talk about respect in the context of church and how we do church, but often fail to give respect to some of the people who come to the church.

Dignity:The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect.”…..

A number of years ago Adrian Snell wrote a concept Album about the journey of  a family with a child who was disabled, called "Beautiful or What". A brilliant album.

One of the songs is a dialogue between the child with a disability and God (via her Rag doll)

One line sums up a lot of what I want (& probably fail!) to say in this post.

(God to Child): "Who dares to steal your dignity away when you're mine?"

When you are diagnosed with a illness that is determined to be 'disabling', dignity is often one of the first things to go. 

In recent seminars that Steve and myself did on coping with the onset of disability, and working with children who have disabilities, this is one of the things we didn't cover. But it came out in many guises, we just didn't name it as 'dignity'.

So, I wanted to look at it here in my blog.

As an ex nurse, the dignity of my patients was high on my agenda - even for the youngest and sickest of those I cared for. Even babies born with only hours to live deserved my honour and respect. In other words....dignity.

As I prepared for our seminars and delivered them, I heard the stories of others coping with disability - either theirs, a relative’s or their child’s. It became clear in those stories that many were mourning the loss of dignity - not just in the medical sphere, but also in their communities and their churches.

As I listened to their stories I was both angry and extremely sad. "Who dares to steal your dignity away when you're mine?” Apparently lots of churches do. And they’re missing out on so much by doing so.

Is turning a family away from a church because of the additional need/disability of their child treating them with dignity?

Is saying a child can’t join in with an activity they could easily do with supervision and then refusing them access to Sunday school treating that child with dignity?

Does keeping church services and worship inaccessible because we don’t want to change, give dignity to those who would dearly love to worship?

The song I quoted goes on to say “I celebrated the moment I gave you life”. The families and individuals with disabilities I spoke to don’t feel celebrated - they feel like an inconvenience. They have no dignity.

I know how they feel.

I do a lot of writing to churches and organisations to try and help them make what they do accessible - especially for children. I spend much time crafting my letters and emails to make sure they are not angry or accusing, but rather, supportive and offering help. I give the recipients dignity. But sadly that dignity is often not returned and I’m not even graced with a short (or long) reply. My communications are largely ignored.

I feel like an irritant.

After hearing all the stories, I did the only thing I could when I’m that angry and sad - I prayed. 

The next day a lovely gentleman (also disabled) stopped me and said he felt God wanted him to say something to me - something neither of us would normally have happen! It was just one sentence: “It won’t always be like this”.

God graced me with dignity by giving me a reply. He gave me and the families I represent hope.

He doesn’t see me as an irritant :o)

Those who have additional needs/disabilities often face another problem: When they are not treated with dignity, they feel really guilty if they complain or inwardly moan...... but that’s tomorrow’s blog.

For now - let’s give dignity to the people who come across our paths - disabled or not.

And if you’ve received an email from me……. please answer.

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