The next morning you suddenly said to a circle of people at church, “Hey guys, this is my friend, Laura. She has a disability, in case you didn’t know it and you can ask her any questions. She is happy to answer them and likes being the spokesperson for all disabled people.

I was surprised, and sat there laughing, but not speaking yet.

I took in what was happening.

Silence took over the circle. The air turned awkward. Facial expressions immediately changed. The group looked like they were in shock, “is he really saying that?” They were speechless. Each one stared at you, then me.

You asked me, “was that ok?” Because you didn’t prepare me this time. I shook my head in agreement.

Still no one responded. A friend joined us. You filled him in and he said, “Oh yea, we put Laura on the spot last night, asking her the Dos and Don’ts of Disability.

I had felt uncomfortable around two of the people and I guess the discomfort had been mutual. However, after this moment, both acknowledged my existence and spoke whenever they walked by.

The conversation of that circle was the climax of the shift.

*******

I was reminded of a beautiful side of friendship and something I was not used to — friends being willing to speak up and help break any barriers in my absence or presence without always leaving it up to me to do the work.

Someone once told me, “It’s not fair that you have to do most of the work to bridge the gaps…if someone heard you speak, they’d see your confidence and be more comfortable coming up to you to talk.

These two scenarios had a profound effect on me. I was not the only one working to knock down barriers or explain my perspective. Friends were now building the bridge with me, one meaningful interaction at a time.

The bridge called community had carried me from surviving to thriving at life.

Jean Vanier writes in Community and Growth, “The longer we journey on the road to inner healing and wholeness, the more the sense of belonging grows and deepens…the experience of being loved and accepted in community, which has become a safe place for us, allows us gradually to accept ourselves as we are…Community becomes the place of liberation and growth.

I stopped questioning if I belonged. My place and my community were in the crowd.

You, dear friends, bridge the gaps behind the scenes and by my side.
…care so well and jump in to lend a hand or problem solve for me.
…remind me not to feel awkward or apologize for having needs.
…help me put my thoughts, feelings, and perspective into words.
…push me to grow and fully embrace the person I am.
…taught me what the love of Jesus looks like.
…showed me how to receive.
…made me a part of a real, authentic community.
…brought another level of healing I didn’t know I needed.
…gave me a chance without letting disability be an obstacle.

And you gave me the gift of belonging.

I have a safe place to be — just Laura. I am more myself than ever before.