Disability Studies Quarterly
Summer 2006, Volume 26, No. 3
Copyright 2006 by the Society
for Disability Studies

Physical Healing

Suzanne Stolz
Email: suzstolz@hotmail.com

Mrs. Rodriguez walked in to my office and sat across from me, there to discuss Lizzy's lack of progress in her classes. She exhaled and stated, "I didn't let her attend her church group last night because she hadn't done her homework. I don't know what else to do. I mean, will this child ever grow up to take some responsibility? I don't know what she sees for herself in the future."

The woman shifted in her seat and leaned forward, squinting at the family photograph on my desk. "Are you Catholic too?" she whispered. I nodded and looked at my pre-teen self leaning on my dad for support and surrounded by siblings in the photograph.

I smiled and shook my head. "Don't be discouraged, Mrs. Rodriguez, children often grow up to be more than they ever had envisioned," I stated.

I never visualized myself enjoying life as a disabled adult. In fact, I never visualized myself as a disabled adult at all. I was expected to grow up someday, to turn from the ugly duckling into the beautiful swan, to experience one of God's great miracles, complete physical healing. The belief that God would fix the symptoms of Charcot Marie Tooth disease gave hope, hope that life in a small Midwestern town could carry on as usual.

When I was born a floppy baby, Aunt Jean activated the miracle network. "Raymond, start the prayer line for Marianne, Dan and Patty's daughter. The baby's got ten fingers and ten toes, but something's wrong with her."

Although everyone knew something was different about me from the start, doctors couldn't name the demon until I was two-and-a-half. Waiting rooms had stolen days and weeks of Mom and Dad's time already. "There are clinics," Dr. Cain said, "but, no known treatment."

As tears welled in her eyes, Mom drove down Deerskin Road, past Uncle Richard and Grandpa's cattle, to the little brick house. Before carrying me into Grandma and Grandpa's kitchen to tell them the news, she squatted down to pet the tiger cat before stepping over the bowl of milk on the porch. Frowning, Mom repeated what the doctor had said. Grandma sat in an upright vinyl-covered chair, listening. Grandpa opened the candy dish letting me take a fistful of the corn candy. He advised, "Patty, if God wants to take her, you have to let her go."

Mom shook her head and looked away from him. She cried, "God can work miracles," and ran out of the house, clutching me and sobbing.

Stomping, Grandma followed us to the pasture fence. Her voice soothed, "Patty, she's gonna be alright. We're all gonna pray and she'll be alright."

A priest named Father Rosco anointed me and bowed his head in prayer when Mom and Dad took me on a special trip to St. Louis. Then, Mom told everyone how I wasn't scared anymore. "After all the times she's screamed for fear of falling off the cabinet when I changed her or got big eyes when we held her up high, she's laughing out loud when Dan throws her up and catches her."

For years, I played with the other children while the adults sang and exulted and mumbled Christian pleas at weekly prayer meetings until the last few minutes of each gathering when someone would pluck me from my toddling peers. I was lifted onto a table, surrounded by men and women. Hands lay gently on my arms, legs, and head, while others hovered above me.

"Lord, we ask that You send Your healing," a deep voice sang.

Enunciating each syllable, lips formed, "By the grace of God, let this child walk."

"Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Send the power of Your Spirit," said another believer.

Outstretched hands reached upward to accompany the petition, "We lift her up to You, Lord, we lift her up. She is Your child."

"Away, Satan," demanded an angry voice.

"Lord, grant this healing," came the plea from the bowing head.

"We love you, Jesus, and we lay our hands on this child so you will make her whole," ended the prayer.

Having experienced the miracle of walking at age four, I confirmed everyone's belief in the power of prayer. It wasn't a coincidence, but a "God-incident" that I took my first unassisted steps on the evening of my parents' tenth anniversary. "She's walking!" said Mom as Dad emerged from the shower. "Get dressed! I'll call Raymond and Mildred."

My older brother and sister arranged the chairs five or six steps from the couch and encouraged me to continue. "Here, Marianne, do it now." My brother Joe, born a year after me and walking two years before me, laughed and jumped off the couch. Still clinging to the chair, I waited for a clear shot to the soft cushions of the orange leather couch before wobbling back another time. The older siblings, Davie and Sharon, wore expressions that mirrored mine, lips pressed hard together and eyebrows raised in concentration, and then transformed into relieved grins when my open palms smacked the surface of my goal.

An hour later, the other kids had lost interest and had gone downstairs to play. By this time, the prayer group regulars gathered in our dining room for the show. Everyone cheered as I lunged from one chair to another, in quick steps, racing with unsure feet. "Hallelujah!" shouted one woman.

"Praise God!" said her husband.

Dad opened a bottle of red wine, pulled eight wine glasses from the top shelf, and began pouring. I smiled because I was on my way to being a real girl, instead of the wooden doll everyone had made me out to be.

My new-found feet turned me into somewhat of a local celebrity. When I played with Audra Winters at the city pool, she announced, "My mom said you're sick. Are you sick?" She splashed into the water next to me. I plugged my nose and ducked underwater. The muffled concerns of the world above me drowned out. When I surfaced, Audra went on, "Is that why you walk funny? We pray for you."

My shyness kept me from giving the answers my siblings were quick to find. Leslie McGuire, a sympathetic eight-year-old, came to spend the night with Sharon. As the two got ready for bed, the little visitor asked, "Don't you feel sorry for your sister?"

Sharon put down her hairbrush and stared at her classmate, "Why?"

"Because...you know," Leslie said while she yanked her pink pajama top over her head.

"No, why?" my sister said.

Her friend hesitated, then shrugged, "Yeah, I don't know."

At Grandma's funeral dinner, I stood in line waiting with my older brother for potluck food. A visiting nun questioned him, "Who are your parents? How many brothers and sisters do you have? Oh, didn't you have a crippled sister, too?"

Davie, the quintessential protective brother, used his thumb to point at me and said without smiling, "That's her." Distressed, the woman looked at me and quickly changed the subject to the number of beautiful flowers around the casket.

Some adults believed that while they had done what they could to facilitate the complete healing, I didn't allow it to happen. Aunt Jean reminded me often that I needed to ask for healing. She would pull me close and say, "Only Jesus can make you complete. You've got to have faith in Him and you've got to ask Him. You've got to say it. Do you do that every day?"

"Yes, I do." I whispered. I didn't mean it, though. It's not that I was a habitual liar at the age of eight. As a small girl, I was more interested in the healing powers of the sun and the dirt on my dress and face and the give and pull of playground politics.

I didn't ask him every day; believe it or not. Sometimes, I would forget about how much I needed that healing, or that I needed it at all. I remembered when I was in church, where I would feel guilty about forgetting. Kneeling next to one of my parents, I bowed my head to block out the distraction of other children, "What should I promise? To say the rosary? God, I promise to say the rosary every day if you make me better...ooh, that's a lot. I guess I could do that. Or I promise to say my night prayers every night. Well, that's so I don't have nightmares. Is that cheating to use it for both?"

Regardless, those prayers were always silent, just between me and the Man upstairs...well, except the ones Aunt Jean made me say out loud when I was over to play with my cousin and best friend, Ellie. At the dinner table, Ellie and I sat eating without speaking, nodding at each of Aunt Jean's questions. "The beans are from my garden. Aren't they delicious?" she asked. We nodded as she rambled.

"Yeah, I picked them and snipped them early this morning. And don't you just love the new potatoes? Oh yeah!" she said. She stuck out her bottom lip and blew air up, rustling her black bangs. I looked at Ellie and smiled. Ellie looked at her beans and smiled.

"Did you know that's the sausage from butcherin' at Grandpa's just last week?" Aunt Jean knew all about food. She was a food connoisseur. But she was boring us to death.

By the time dinner was over, we wanted to bolt. Ellie was expected to take care of the dishes though; so, I helped to try and get us out quicker.

The wall shared by the kitchen and dinning room had a cutout window in one corner, only two feet from the table. Leaning against the table, I passed dirty plates and silverware, glasses half-full of water, and bowls holding leftovers that Cousin Luke, the human garbage disposal, ate after milking the cows. Aunt Jean moved down from her spot at the table and told me to sit down on the chair next to her. Putting her arm around me like a friend with a secret, she asked, "Do you know Jesus loves you, Mari?" I nodded. "Tell him what you want then," she said. Her voice commanded compliance, "Say, 'I want to run like Ellie and Joe.'"

Squirming, I told her, "I want to go outside." Running like Ellie and Joe was hardly important to me, especially since I hadn't noticed that I didn't run like them. Sure, they were faster, but they never left me behind.

"Say it! You won't be excused until you say it. 'I want to run like Ellie and Joe,'" she said.

I looked away from my aunt. My lips remained closed.

"You have to tell Him! Say, 'I want to run like Ellie and Joe.' Just say it."

With only one way out, I turned back to her, avoided her eyes, and whispered, "I want to run like Ellie and Joe." Then, I ducked from under her arm and went to meet Ellie, never telling what her mom had made me say.

Since Aunt Jean cared so much about me, I often accompanied her, Uncle Richard, and Ellie to special healing services at churches, stadiums, and convention centers all over the Midwest. On overnight trips out of town, Ellie and I read the signs of all hotels and motels we passed, anxious to stay at any that promised, "Pool, Sauna, Jacuzzi."

One rainy June evening, we arrived in Tulsa, Oklahoma in time to catch dinner at Wendy's before the healing service at Oral Roberts University. The bolted-down swivel chairs of the next table squeaked as another family squashed into them. The mom leaned a homemade sign against their table. Stenciled letters, bleeding blue with raindrops, spelled, "Expect A Miracle." Aunt Jean nodded and winked, "That's right!"

"Where ya'll from?" beamed the husband. "We're up from Fort Worth, west a' Dallas." The boy and girl watched, but kept eating silently. Ellie and I went on dipping our fries into the little white cups of ketchup. "Here to see Roberts?"

Aunt Jean couldn't resist the invitation to start, "Oh, we're just here like everyone else, coming to ask Jesus for healing. Ain't that right, Mari?" she winked again. "This here's my sister's girl," she said as she nodded toward me. Then, placing her hand on the table in front of Ellie, "And here, my baby, baby of nine children. Can you believe that?"

The rain was still lightly falling when we parked in the university lot. Puddles reflected the faded glow of streetlights. Our feet splashed down a sidewalk, passing the 200-foot Prayer Tower and making progress toward a larger building, our destination.

The auditorium hummed with songs and grunts as the herd filled every empty space. Blaring "Praise Be the Lord," a boom box sat alone on the left corner of the stage. Ellie and I, linked at the elbow, stumbled into a row that her mother had chosen for us, only to relocate when she decided we should push for a spot closer to the front. Smiling at us, a woman with a purplish lesion across her forehead patted the yellow bucket seat next to her to let us know we were welcome. I smiled back and looked away. The mass of people in front of us moved with proud patience following the slow saunter of a guy using a walker. Aunt Jean ushered us to the left, Add a comma. clearing a way for a determined "Wheelchair coming through!" The voice barked from the sizeable lady who sat with her arms pulled close to her chest and her hands curled downward. Her voice was bigger than the thin man pushing her; and, the sea of people parted as if she were Moses. Finally, we settled into seats where we continued to watch the spectacle unfold around us.

When the booming voice of a preacher instructed, "All those in need of healing, come forward," Aunt Jean pushed Ellie and I to the aisle. I was to receive the healing; Ellie was to give me her arm to lean on as I waited my turn to be touched.

Ellie wore a shirt decaled with a herd of white sheep and one black sheep on it. Mine was identical. Standing arm in arm on stage, leaning on each other, we nervously giggled as the healer put his hands over the first woman in line. "Lord, send your Holy Ghost to heal your flock." As he prayed, the middle-aged woman, overcome with the Spirit, fell backward. The man with the walker wavered next. Luckily, members of the evangelist's team supported him on both sides, using two hands each to hold him upright to prevent a further injury. The healer, with his slicked-over dark hair, moved on and the line before us dropped like a line of first-borns in ancient Egypt, some of which lay completely still while others fluttered unpredictably. Concerned that the Holy Ghost might not choose to knock children off their feet, Ellie and I silently agreed to remain connected.

Dabbing a thumb into blessed oil, the healer moved from a fallen man to us. He anointed our heads with the oil, prayed over us, "Lord, send Your healing, cast away the power of darkness," and lightly pushed my forehead to signal my expected fall. With raised eyebrows, I looked at Ellie. This was supposed to be the Holy Ghost, not a freefall. She shrugged and we allowed our young bodies to collapse with the older ones.

On the drive back to the EconoLodge, Aunt Jean sat in the front passenger's seat as Uncle Richard silently drove. She frowned as she flipped her cassette tape "A Daily Guide to Miracles, and Successful Living Through Seed-faith," from one side to the next in search of the beginning. In the back seat, Ellie and I relied on the hum of the motor to muffle our voices as we took turns pushing each other's foreheads and cackled, "Be healed, child," and "No, no, you be healed, child!"

Although Ellie and my testimony about the healing service didn't faze Aunt Jean, the smell of cedar in my jewelry box souvenir from Tulsa lasted much longer than her faith in the preaching of Oral Roberts. The guy finally lost her respect when he announced that God said he would die if he failed to raise $4.5 million for his university's scholarships.

When domestic healers fell short, the family searched even farther for someone who could close the deal. If something could make life easier or prevent even some of the pain caused by living with a disability, great lengths would be taken to fetch it to me or to send me out to the shimmering source.

"Look what your godmother brought for you." It was a silver chain with a religious medallion. I turned it over in my hand. A clear bluish plastic, attached to the back, encapsulated a drop of water, leaving enough air space that the liquid could jiggle. "It's holy water from Lourdes," explained my mom.

Aunt Mary Francis wrung her hands together and spoke as if she didn't care too much about anything. "I thought you could wear that and it might help you walk better or something." Her face shrugged. "Yeah, it's special water." I had heard the story of St. Bernadette of Lourdes, a poor girl who showed the townspeople where to dig for water after taking a message from the Blessed Mother. Dutifully, I held my hair up as my aunt clasped the necklace for me.

When the chain broke the next day, I let it fall into the dirt that served as the floor of our fort in the hedge trees. I saw where it landed and didn't bother to pick it up. The need for a ball of yarn took precedence, and I knew I'd find one under my bed.

Another time, a woman from our church brought a four-ounce bottle of holy water from Fatima, the place of another Marian shrine. "Mary has a special place in her heart for children. That's why she appeared to a group of kids." These kids followed the instructions of the apparition and built a church. I followed instructions too and drank the holy water. The saving drink tasted a bit stale; but, at least, it didn't make me sick.

With every potential elixir, I wondered, "Who will I be tomorrow?" I imagined the one everyone would welcome. She would come running through a Kansas wheat field, one of my dad's wheat fields, running like Laura Ingalls's sister Carrie. She would pick herself up after she fell and keep running with open arms. Music would play in the background. The whole family would smile and urge her to jump onto the wagon they were already on.

An apparition of the Virgin Mary sent us on the most significant of the healing pursuits. Six young people had been visited and instructed by the Blessed Mother to pray for peace. My aunt's friend's sister knew of someone whose cancer had disappeared on a visit to Medjugorje, Yugoslavia. In my presence, no one spoke of the financial sacrifice made in this trip overseas. It was mid-August when Mom, Aunt Mary Francis, Sharon, and I joined a group of twenty others for a ten-day pilgrimage. After flying in to Dubrovnik, we took a swerving bus ride along the Mediterranean to the village of Medjugorje.

A pilgrim's typical day began with an early breakfast, thick Turkish coffee for those who dared, and ended with a late supper in the home of the Croatian host family. Emerik and Jelena, who smiled and hugged us without speaking more than a few words of English, had built an addition of rooms, modest and tidy, to accommodate the growing number of guests from abroad. In between breakfast and supper, we walked the white chalky roads or hired taxis to cart us, attended Mass, paid American dollars instead of Yugoslavian dinaras for postcards and prayer books in the roadside gift shops, and interacted with the thousands of others who expected miracles.

Taking the advice of a tour guide, we shook our heads when a man or woman asked for money, when gypsies called to us, and when teenagers offered us flowers. In the churchyard, a teenager in threadbare jeans had cupped one hand in front of Mom. A scarf covered the girl's dark hair. When she had stepped closer and made eye contact, Mom couldn't turn away from her. The girl had learned enough English to tell of traveling from Mostar, having no family, and needing food. Thoughts of the girl plagued Mom. "Her teeth. Her teeth were horrible. I should have given her twenty dollars. I should have given her something more than five."

At least I have good teeth. I do have good teeth. In that churchyard, I saw the world. Among those of my tour group, I stood out as the one in need, the child who had been dealt a bad hand, the one who should be healed. Among the thousands of others, the homeless, the hungry, the destitute, I could not want anything for myself.

As I spent most of the days with Mom and Aunt Mary Francis, I could not even want the freedom my older sister had. She had been adopted as a friend of the college students on the trip, while I was the fourteen-year-old companion of the older crowd.

One morning, Father Ed, as genuine as they come, piggybacked me up a portion of "the hill," more like a small mountain, where the first vision had occurred, until he was almost out of breath. Knowing that with the balance given by someone on each side of me, I could climb toward the top on my own feet, I said, "Let me down to walk."

"In a little bit," he puffed, "let's go a little farther."

Noticing the chubby man's breathing difficulty, I repeated, "Let me down."

Through huffed breaths, he replied, "Have you... ever... heard of a personal challenge, girl?"

"Yes," I answered confidently, "I have them, too." He stopped in his tracks and let me slide down immediately.

Because our host family had connections, my sister and I joined a select group led upstairs to the church's choir loft. Maria, the youngest visionary, would be there. If ever I had a front row ticket, this was it. In the crowded room, Sharon and I leaned against the wall. A modestly dressed young woman nodded a greeting to those on each side of the room.

The church below was a box of crayons, tightly packed with various shades. Thousands of voices, in many languages, prayed the rosary, "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus." The loft was still, aside from the beads of rosaries passing through fingers and the lips silently imploring. Never again will I be this close to something so big. If ever I got a chance to have an answer, an answer to years of asking, this is it. Surely, she will see me. All of us watched Maria. Suddenly, her expression changed from one of seriousness to one of joy. Smiling, the girl looked up and began to speak, "Zdravo Marijo, milosti puna, Gospodin s Tobom," as if she were conversing with someone in the corner. Following the attentive gaze, I saw an empty sand-colored wall. Is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, really there? Maria was quiet, listening. We strained to hear, something, anything. The crowd below continued the recitation of Hail Mary's. I'm right here. Did you see me? Then, Maria laughed and spoke again. I realized that even if I heard the other side of the conversation, I wouldn't understand it in Croatian. Apparently, the message wasn't for me. The exchange carried on much in the same way for five minutes. At the end, Maria nodded and bowed her head, closing her eyes and resuming the solemn expression. Nothing has changed.

"How many people were up there?" The members of our group wanted details.

"Could you see anything? Feel anything?"

Sharon and I told of the little room, crowded with gray-haired adults, of the girl and her focused look.

The questions continued even after we returned home. "Could you hear her message?"

"Yeah, it was something like, 'Take a number.'" I reported.

As my family and I began to accept my condition as part of God's plan, I became more active in the church's youth programs. One of the favorite parts of a Teens Encounter Christ retreat was strength bombardment time. The rules put a group of six team members in a circle. One person remained silent while the others took turns showering him or her with compliments. As the receiver of this praise, the individual's only utterance could be "Thank you." I wasn't big on breaking rules, but found I couldn't swallow this one. I did try.

"Even though you're handicapped, you're always smiling and optimistic." And why shouldn't I be?

"Your sense of humor shows that you have a lot of courage." Courage? I folded and unfolded my hands.

"You amaze me how you don't let your disease get you down. It must take so much effort and you don't ever complain." Disease? Effort? Complain? My mouth opened and hung there as I searched for words.

These new friends I had made said other nice things about me, but I couldn't hear them. The misconceptions they had about me drained my confidence in their words. "I don't see anything courageous about living my life. This is just how I live. I don't think it's anything special. It's normal," I interjected.

Intentions aimed at bursting false impressions fell away from the target. "And we admire that about you," someone cut in.

After being honored as an Outstanding Catholic Youth at a CYO Convention my senior year of high school, I planned to stay active with Christian groups. Campus Crusade for Christ was my one college attempt. Jacob Peters, a photographer for the Butler Community College yearbook, asked me to meet him at the opening meeting. There, we listened as the group's leader, Hope Floran, encouraged everyone to unite in spreading God's word on campus and then directed a sing-along of "Our God Is an Awesome God."

"I don't know, Jake," I admitted as he walked me home, "I don't know if I can be a part of it."

"Why not?" he probed.

"They're nice...but something's weird about it."

Walking next to me with his hands in his jean pockets, he frowned, "Well, what are you looking for?"

"Looking for?" I uttered. We continued in silence.

Back at my dorm room, Jacob let his backpack slide off his shoulder and thump onto the floor. Unzipping the bag, he raised his eyebrows, "I want to show you something."

Curiously, I wheeled my chair closer, "What?"

"Did you know the Bible says that sex isn't a sin, but pulling out is?" he pulled The Good Book out.

Rolling my eyes, I complained, "Jake, eh!" My arms folded defensively.

He laughed as he flipped through the pages, "Okay, that's not it." He placed one hand on my knee and shook it. "Seriously, look at this part in the Book of Luke. I read this earlier today. Jesus tells the woman in the crowd who touched his cloak, 'My daughter, your faith has made you well.' So, I wanted to show you..."

I rested my chin on my fist, pressed my lips tight, and stared at him. Noticing, he stopped. "I have homework, Jake. You'd better go."

When I graduated from college and moved to California, one of the first care packages I received had a handwritten Valentine from Mom, heart-shaped cookies, Dentine, a new pair of lacy black panties, a photo of my baby sister's high school cheer squad clipped from the Mt. Hope Clarion, and a bottle of Extra Virgin olive oil. Olive oil? I set it on the counter and noticed a secondary label above the regular label. The blue sticker said "BLESSED OIL." Oh, gee. I wasn't about to anoint myself with it. The last thing I need right now is a miracle that will shove me into some kind of identity crisis! What else could I do with the stuff? I figured it would be sacrilegious to cook with it and even more so to throw it out. A humored sigh escaped as I looked at the strange combination of gifts. Before getting lost in a move, the bottle of blessed oil sat on a shelf next to my photo albums, collecting dust for nearly three years.

Living in a new city, I knew my ability to stick it out was dependent on meeting people and making friends. Never before had I so looked forward to Sunday Mass, a chance to interact, make connections, be a part of something big.

At three different churches in the area, the priests gave me special attention, stopping in the aisle to make the sign of the cross above me or to shake my hand and nod or say, "How are you?" or "Good to see you here." I know I was singled out, most likely because of my beauty. No, really, I still can't decide if it was that or if it was in imitation of Christ who often made extra time for cripples. Regardless, it was kind of nice. Sometimes, I thought their eyes searched my face looking for some exceptional wisdom. Smiling back, I would pretend I had some.

After several months of alternating between Blessed Sacrament, St. Martin's, and Our Lady of Peace, I ventured out looking for a more diverse congregation than those made up of older white folks. Rose-colored bricks led to a side entrance to Mission Basilica and multiplied to provide the church's entire flooring. As I peered in and drank the many colors of a mixed group of parishioners, a bearded usher came from behind me and began to push my wheelchair toward a shortened pew. Both of my hands squeezed tight around my wheels surprising the presumptuous pusher. Without making eye contact, I whispered, "No, I move myself."

Having maneuvered into the spot, I scanned the church. Dark chocolate benches held a charming mix of people. My eyes met with those a small girl with tight curly hair. When I grinned, her pouting lips turned to give an ornery smirk. She ducked her head into her dad's chest and then peeked over his shoulder at me again. Her little brown hand slowly opened in a wave and then quickly retreated. Noticing the game, the mom glanced back and smiled.

The next Sunday, I sat in the same designated place making eyes at the darling again. Forty minutes into the Mass, the priest said, "Offer each other some sign of peace." Instinctively, I held my hand out to the sleepy woman who sat on my right. Others made similar gestures, nodding at those who were farther than arm's reach.

"Peace," offered the woman.

"Peace be with you. Peace be with you," repeated voices.

Nodding replies came, "And you."

Turning back to face the front, I found the girl standing before me. She didn't say anything, just held her arms open and hugged me. Before she could leave, I stopped her and asked, "What's your name?"

Leaning toward me, she replied, "Kyla." She blinked her eyes twice and returned to her parents. Each week, Kyla gave me a hug and a good word. "I'm four." "My mom's having a baby." "Look, new shoes."

When her baby sister was born, Kyla's family often arrived a bit late. One day, ushers had filled every bench by the time they came in. The exit was no longer visible as more of the flock funneled in the entryway. The young parents joined the ranks of those receiving extra credit from God for standing through the service. Little Kyla shifted from one foot to the other. She slouched and sighed loud enough to provoke a look from the mom. I motioned her to come to me and whispered, "You can sit on my lap if you want a place to sit."

Eyebrows lifted and dimples appeared. "Let me tell my mom." Kyla scampered to her family. She came back with a grumpy mouth, "Mommy says I'll hurt your legs."

"Kyla, I promise, you will not hurt me. You can tell her," I reassured her.

A giggle escaped her as she once more asked for her mom's approval. First, the woman frowned. I nodded at her; and when she shrugged, Kyla showed a toothy grin and didn't hesitate to put all of her forty pounds on my lap.

One day, Kyla stood in front of me and stared with a strange seriousness. "We're moving to Florida." I smiled and told her I'd miss her. We gave one last "hug of peace." When her family was absent the next week and all those following, I began to listen more closely to the sermon.

One priest at Mission Basilica impressed me with his Sunday sermon so much that I wanted to approach him. I initiated my first and only conversation with the man. "Father, I was here for your sermon...uh, last week, the one about the importance of service. Anyways, I enjoyed it and wanted to thank you."

Looking down, he grinned and said, "We all serve in our own way, don't we?" He failed to mask the sadness in his eye as he tried to imagine how I could possibly serve. Politely, I nodded, bit my tongue, and went home.

Over the years, my friends have come to know my interest in accessibility, physical and social. On vacation with a friend, I tried to find an accessible route to our hotel's hot tub while she went to ask at the front desk. Returning from her errand, Sara reported to me, "Hey Catholic gal, I just spoke to one of the priests downstairs. He said they were staying here for a conference. Anyways, I asked if anyone among them was disabled."

"Oh yeah?" I asked.

"He said no and he thinks it's because a priest should be a likeness to Christ. He said you need a 'complete body' to be in Christ's image."

I unenthusiastically said, "Wow," and shook my head.

Today, I went to Mass anyways, convinced that my absence would do nothing to support a healing of the Church.

Copyright (c) 2006 Suzanne Stolz

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