Lizzie Velásquez is a 24-year-old American woman who was born with a very rare disease (shared by only two other people in the United States) that doesn’t allow her to gain weight. She has been bullied most of her life, including being labeled the “World’s Ugliest Woman” in an internet video that received over a million views and thousands of vile comments.
That’s enough to break anyone’s spirit. But instead of giving in to negativity and despair, she overcame hardship and ridicule to become a successful author and motivational speaker. Many of you may recognize her from a video of her TEDX talk in Austin last year that immediately went viral.
For the most part, her speech is a motivational pep-talk for those who have been bullied or with low self-esteem. But it also sends a powerful message to the culture of death, specifically those who justify killing in order to spare someone a lifetime or period of suffering from some disease or disability.
“I’ve had a really difficult life — but that’s okay” -Lizzie Velásquez.
Parents of unborn children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome and other genetic disorders are told horror stories about how awful their child’s life will be and encouraged — often bullied — to abort. Lizzie herself was born with a disfiguring disease and her parents were told that institutionalization would be the best option since she would probably never have a “normal” life.
Speaking as a disabled person, myself, I will be the first to tell you that the past fourteen years of my life have not been easy, to say the very least. But that doesn’t mean they have been “too hard” to take, or that joy has eluded me. I’m still a human being, I’m still alive, and my life still has meaning and infinite value despite my challenges and limitations. In fact, in many ways, my injury has made me a stronger person and value my life even more.
Of course we should never want anyone to be sick or live with terrible disabilities and incurable diseases. Nevertheless, there is a lot of good that can come from facing our fears and accepting and overcoming life’s hardships. These are the things that help build our character and strengthen us as persons. Experiencing adversity provides an elite (and extensive) education in the practical living-out of those valuable virtues: humility, patience, courage, and perseverance.
Suffering is a great spiritual teacher, as well. Reminding us that we are creatures and totally dependent on God, it teaches us humility and self denial so that the power of Christ may more easily dwell in us (2 Corinth 12:9-10).
What defines you as a person?
This is the crux of Lizzie’s talk. She asked the audience to consider what defines them: their backgrounds? Friends? Families? She reminds them that if they can find happiness within and be the drivers of their own lives, the bullies will always lose.
There is a cult of normalcy in the world today that asserts its power over the week — deciding who gets to live and who must die — by defining people largely based on their abilities or lack there of. Those judged to fall short of their arbitrary, utilitarian standards are defined by those differences and cast aside as having lives not worth living.
This is why we are seeing the systematic slaughter of disabled children in the womb. This is why “suicide prevention” seems to apply to everyone except those who are sick or disabled.
“Only God can judge.” We hear that phrase thrown around a lot from pseudo-Christian progressives (often to justify all manner of perverse and sinful behavior). Thankfully, we know God doesn’t judge human life in the same utilitarian terms as the cult of normalcy.
In fact, in her forthcoming book Theology of the Body Extended that I had the privilege of reviewing, Susan Windley-Daoust reminds us that, Jesus Christ the Messiah, God incarnate Himself, “has consented to a way of limitation, of embodiment that can be bound, injured and killed as the way to define ‘the man.’” Therefore,
“When we see or experience limitation, even impairment, we should not think, ‘behold, the monster,’ but rather ‘behold, the man’ (John 19:5). The incarnation of Christ and his passion is the ‘norm,’ not anything defined by the cult of normalcy.”
We are human beings not human doings. Our lives are defined not by how we look or what we can or cannot do, but who we are. And who we are, all of us, is children of a loving God. A God who loved us so much that He became a man himself, suffered and died, showing us that every human life, even when it is subject to pain, is infinitely blessed and valuable and worth living.
Pain and suffering should never be used as an excuse to end someone else’s life…or your own. What the cult of normalcy fails to recognize or accept is that these things are part of “normal” human existence.
As Windley-Daoust put it, disability is an “open minority” that we will all join someday if we are not there already, because human beings are limited. If nothing else, we will all age into “limitations of expected function.” But even before then, most people will experience illness or some form of temporary impairment.
A culture that expects life to be lived to its fullness must be able to embrace and make peace with—even find joy in—the normalcy of human suffering.