|Mom, me with my new guitar, my brother, and my grandmother|
Today is the first anniversary of my father’s death. As I reflect on his life and the hole his absence leaves us, I also think about how his life continues to be a part of impacting thousands of children with disabilities. One way we are changing lives, is through my dad’s involvement in my personal story…a broken piece of the Kupenda mosaic. In spite of society’s limiting beliefs regarding my lack of a hand, my parents encouraged me to try everything including playing the piano and guitar. With my 26 year old guitar now living in Kenya, I am grateful for the bittersweet gift of a new guitar on my first birthday since my dad passed into eternity. It is poetically fitting to receive this present just two days before the anniversary of my father’s death because the most impactful part of the story I share, is connected to my birth, my dad, and playing the guitar. This combination contributes to changing the negative attitudes about disability we so often encounter in Kenya, Tanzania, and most areas of the world.
|My dad and me on my first birthday|
As I grew, my dad witnessed God’s glory revealed in a different way than he had requested. He saw that I didn’t let my lack of a hand hold me back and how others were inspired by my determination. My parents never limited me and the word “disabled” was not considered to be an adequate term for my birth defect. In my family, my condition was simply referred to as “my arm.” I was able to do most anything, aside from a handstand, but there were definitely difficulties. For example, one question was not about my ability but whether or not “my arm” impacted the legality of my soccer throw-ins since the rules require two hands on the ball. In spite of my abilities, I am officially disabled according to the legal definition because it includes “a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” As a child there were a lot of frustrations and insecurities created by community attitude towards my lack of a hand. However, God’s grace now enables me to use misinformed beliefs as opportunities for advocacy and education instead of cynicism and anger….most of the time. I even embrace this disability label that connects me to such a beautiful group of people. Because kids with disabilities see me as one of them, my guitar playing inspires many to reach beyond societal limits.
|Me and Kupenda kids who are deaf “listening” to me play the guitar|
I end the talk by asking the audience if they believe Kupenda would exist if God answered the prayer of my father the way he originally hoped. The group gives a resounding “no!” After my guitar playing the majority tell us they now believe God can heal in ways we might not expect and that it is their responsibility to empower people with disabilities to meet their God given potential, whatever that might be. These gatherings are typically followed with actions like building wheelchair ramps, connecting children with disabilities to care and education, visiting children with disabilities in their homes, establishing special needs classrooms in their communities, donating resources & raising funds, and dramatically changing their culture regarding views of disabilities. Neither my parents nor I predicted that a guitar would spark local communities to such amazingly sustainable actions for people with disabilities. My dad never really understood how much of a role he truly played in the work of Kupenda.