News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: When is an invalid invalid?

ATLANTA (BP) — The unabridged English dictionary symbolizes the power of the English language. I recall a time when most public libraries and many schools had one unabridged dictionary. The book was enormous and, in theory, contained all the words in the English language.

Given the evolution of the English language and its growing vocabulary, unabridged dictionaries never remain current. Still, they represent the host of words available to us for communication. Among them are homographs, commonly spelled words that have more than one definition.

One word has become particularly real to me since my ALS diagnosis more than five years ago. The disease has progressed to the point that I fit the definition of an invalid as the disease confines me, and I am unable to care for myself.

Receiving assistance for life’s necessities is humbling. Having been an independent person, I struggle with being dependent due to this unexpected reality.

I once traveled worldwide but now I rarely leave the house. I once led a ministry team of approximately 43 people, more than 300 contractors and scores of volunteers. Our efforts resulted in thousands of people receiving assistance during disasters. Nearly 1,000 homeowners received assistance each year with the partial rehab of their substandard homes. Volunteers built an estimated 300 churches per year and assisted with numerous community outreach initiatives. Doctors and dentists provided free medical help. I miss those days.

Which raises the question, has this invalid become invalid? If you’ve ever had an expired driver’s license or credit card, you understand invalid. To be invalid can mean you are neither acceptable nor appropriate.

No one wants to be invalid. Nor do I, which is why I refuse to accept that portion of the homograph. Clearly, health issues can decrease one’s capacity. I often suspect that health insurance providers refuse payment for expensive treatments because they see their customer as invalid or hopeless.

Classification as invalid denotes someone else’s resignation regarding your situation and potential. One can simply accept that designation and give up. Or one can fight their disease or calamity and redefine significance for themselves.

February 2018 marks the 10-year anniversary of my mother’s death after a 10-year bout with Alzheimer’s disease. She met every definition of being an invalid, but to our family, she never became invalid. Though engagement with her became markedly different, we could enjoy her presence, the memories we shared with her, and those occasional lucid moments that reminded us of her love.

Local churches should never underestimate their ministry to the sick and disabled. Every card, phone call and visit matters even as Jesus demonstrated in the New Testament as He encountered scores of sick people. Jesus validated the worth and humanity of those He touched and healed.

Any number of medical professionals can classify you as an invalid, but I feel that the only person who can render you invalid is you. God’s purpose in our lives doesn’t stop with a catastrophic diagnosis or life-changing accident. Even with a degenerative disease, somehow, some way one can live out that purpose. God’s creation and purpose are not invalid no matter the state of one’s health.

I am not naïve. I know how hard it is to live with a progressive, degenerative disease. Each day in some way I fight for validity, which is why I call myself the ALS Warrior. The fight can be exhausting and discouraging. But I will continue to fight because I have no intention of becoming invalid.

    About the Author

  • Jim Burton