One of my favorite stories from the New Testament is when the Savior calls out to the fishermen who would become His Apostles, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19). The fishermen laid down their nets and followed Him in body and spirit, without hesitation.
I’ve always felt that part of the reason for their immediate acceptance of Him was due to the Savior’s unparalleled ability to make people feel like they belong with Him, regardless of their current situation.
That means a lot to me. As someone with a disability, when I think of Jesus Christ standing on the shore, reaching out His hand, I envision Him reaching out to me too and accepting me for who I am, disability and all. I feel His unwavering acceptance of me as I am, and I feel like I belong.
Being a member of the Church with a disability can be a very interesting experience. I use a wheelchair and have general muscle weakness, which makes most physical activities challenging. Take my baptism, for example. It’s very hard for someone in a wheelchair, who can’t transfer on their own, to lower themselves down into the font to be baptized. So, my baptism consisted of about six men from my ward lowering me into the font in a waterproof chair and two of them assisting my father to baptize me. This is the reality of the plan Heavenly Father has for me.
Through it all, as I look back through my life and my experience with the Church, I have felt that sense of belonging, of the Savior calling and accepting me. My ward members, advisers, mentors, and peers have made me feel that way as well. They see me as an equal participant in the kingdom of God. That feeling of acceptance has been vital to establishing my self-worth as a son of God.
Feeling like you belong as you are isn’t just something that people with disabilities need. It’s something that everyone in the Church needs. And we can learn how to help others feel like they belong.
When He called His Apostles, the Savior made them feel like they belonged with Him in three ways:
He met and accepted them as they were with love. As always, Jesus Christ didn’t make this invitation as a demand but as a loving invitation. Every moment when I have felt like I belong has been accompanied by the feeling of love from Church members as well as an overwhelming love from on high..
The Savior created an equal community. His disciples were invited to join with Him, but the result was that they also joined together. A sense of support and service throughout the Church only creates a stronger environment of belonging.
He invited them to do something. Jesus Christ’s disciples felt like they belonged in His presence because He invited them to contribute to the salvation of their own souls and the souls of countless others as they furthered His mission. In the Church today, members feel an outpouring of love when they are valued enough by the Church community to receive a calling or are asked to serve in a meaningful way.
Being a member of the Church as a person with a disability is not always easy. There are challenges that only Heavenly Father and our Savior will be able to truly understand. However, every time I have followed Jesus Christ’s example and seen others do likewise, I have felt His love and acceptance and have known that I am where I belong. Whatever circumstances you find yourself in, know that the Savior can always reach you and that to Him, you will always belong.