I don’t like the word “disability.” I haven’t liked it for a number of years, especially not since I’ve known the high school freshman featured in this news story video. I’ve known Gabriela Fenelon for a little more than 14 years now. She’s my niece.

While my sister-in-law was

pregnant, she and her husband were informed of the probability that the tiny body inside Nena’s womb was formed, well, differently, from what most parents expect and that these differences would cause serious medical and lifestyle problems for her. We all waited and prayed, prayed and waited.

The doctors were right; Gabriela was born with a number of challenges, one being a missing right leg.

Because of the awesome courage and faithfulness of her and her family – Dad, Mom, sisters, and brother – I have never once thought of Gabriela in respect to what she doesn’t have. I only have been aware of what she does have. Beauty. Talent. Strength. Intelligence. Gumption. Determination.

And through the years, I’ve been aware of what her family has. Love. Resolve. Faith. Purpose. Unity. Foundation. Gratitude.

Because of them, I’ve looked at the faculties Gabriela has, not as disabilities, but instead as unique abilities.

That’s carried over into the rest of my life, too. When I’m out in public and I see someone in a wheelchair, with a prosthesis, or making use of other means to go about their day, the focus for me is on what they can do and not what they can’t. Additionally, I’ve learned to apply this principle to the folks in my life with chronic health conditions (arthritis, asthma, diabetes, heart disease and the like) and because of Gabriela and her family, I’m able to help them concentrate on their gifts rather than their limitations.

It’s also made me look at St. Paul’s words in a different way:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes. (1 Cor 12:4-11)

I once read that St. Paul had physical limitations of his own – a gimpy leg, for one. The excerpt above from his Letter to the Corinthians was written to settle a particular disagreement about which spiritual gifts are better. However, because his own body was challenged, I could see St. Paul offering similar encouragement to others with “disabilities.”

There are different kinds of physical gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service, but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.

Gabriela is living proof of this, and I thank God for her and for all the other persons on this earth with unique abilities.


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