Why I'm Not Afraid to Say "Retarded"

This particular article has been one in the making in my head for about 6 months now. It's been close to my heart to write but I didn't know when the appropriate time to post it would be. It would seem that I can't keep my thoughts silent any longer. I want to add a different perspective to the "R-word" debate- one I haven't seen or read yet. I'm quite sure there will be many people who immediately disagree with me, but I would ask you to just read on and see where I'm coming from. Yesterday was the national #spreadthewordtoendtheword campaign; and while I don't necessarily disagree with this sentiment, I do have some thoughts on how very sad it is that this absolutely innocuous word-"retardation"- has been vilified in a completely unfair way.

The words "retardation, retard, retardant" do not bother me one little bit. I'm not offended by them, I'm not hurt by them, and hearing them in conversation doesn't cause me to run to the other side of the room.

Meet my retarded daughter, Anna. She was born with Trisomy 21, Down syndrome. And yes, she is retarded in many, many ways.

Let me give you some background. I became familiar with the special needs community and started working with them back in 1998 while employed at a summer camp for disabled kids. I worked at this camp for 3 full summers. I met my husband, who was also working as a counselor there. Largely due to my interaction with this community, I got a BS in Psychology and eventually degrees in nursing as well. The earliest years of our marriage Gabe and I worked as program directors for a group home- we physically lived on-site with our clients. We were with them 24-7 for 3 years. Later, by God's awesome plan, we had our very own special needs baby, Anna, who came into our family just 14 months ago. Around the same time, I became the medical director for the same camp that started it all. Crazy full-circle stuff right? Our entire family spends 3 months of each year living, playing with, serving, and loving on all sorts of people with special needs.

I know this community. I love and adore this community.

And, still, the word "retarded" doesn't bother me.

Why you ask? Because there is power in words, but there is MORE power in understanding what those words MEAN. "Retarded" doesn't bother me because "retarded" is simply and only a measure of time. It is an objective measurement to describe the growth of something. Merriam-Webster defines the word "retarded" (adjective) as slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development :  characterized by mental retardation. Moreover, the word "retard" which is really what all this flashpoint offense is over, simply means to slow up especially by preventing or hindering advance or accomplishment, synonyms include brake, decelerate, slow, slackenhalt, stophandicap, hinder, hobble, hold back, hold up, impede, inhibit, obstruct, set back, tie uparrest, check, constrain, curb, rein, restrain.

I am a nurse by primary vocation. I have a secondary degree in Biomedical Sciences. Over the course of many science classes during these degrees, the word "retard" or "retardation" comes up often. In fact, the word in used not rarely in many other avenues and situations as well- all of which involve the slowing or slowness of something. What the word is NOT is a diatribe on intelligence, personality, worth, or importance. "Retard" is a transitive verb that has been used for over 500 years as a descriptor of growth or advancement (or lack thereof). It's meaning has nothing to do with good or bad, so at what point did slowness (i.e. retardation) become such a bad thing? Why does our society immediately equate being slow as having a negative connotation? I don't get it. This poor word has been hijacked and it's meaning completely changed!

Fire retardant slows or stops a fire- a good thing.

Chemotherapy retards and hinders cancerous cells from growing- a good thing.

Antibiotics retard and impede bacteria's ability from spreading in the body- a good thing.

Retardation can be (and IS) and very. good. thing.

So what is the deal with avoiding this word like the plague? Yes, I absolutely acknowledge that it has been and is being used a a flaming arrow of insult at people. I'm not arguing that the word is not slang for really mean insinuations. I understand that the heart of the usage can be very hurtful. But only if we let it be hurtful! I have had several people use this word towards Anna (one of which was very much trying to hurl an offense in our direction).

But it didn't stick.

Happy 1st birthday! #caketasting

Because my daughter IS retarded in so many ways. She is slow in her physical development. She is slow to meet milestones verbally and cognitively. She is slow! And I adore that about her!

As a mom, I cherish the extra time it is taking her to learn to sit and crawl and pull up (which she still has no interest in) and walk (something that's not even on her radar yet!) I revel in knowing that I am blessed with just that extra bit of time in each season with her, knowing that her retardation gives me just that many more moments with her. Her retardation has retarded my life as well. What a blessing!

As a frantic, first-world American I desire my life in general to be more retarded. I wish the pace would slacken, my eating would be hindered, my activities held up, my parenting patience elongated, my career path slowed. I imagine many of us have these same thoughts. We want retardation! Do you see what I'm getting at here? How many times do you see people celebrating (or longing for?!) the ability to take life more slowly? To "stop and smell the roses"? To watch the clouds sweep by or the rain patter on the grass? We long for the dizzying effects of our crazy life to slow down, to retard don't we?

As a Christian I wish I were more retarded in my patience, in my speaking, in my anger. We are instructed to be this way dear ones! James 1:19 (NLT) "Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry." Have you ever prayed for retardation in these areas?

That this poor word has been associated negatively with these precious populations blows my mind. It is an objective measurement of time and ability and yet somehow has come to mean something entirely different. When did this innocent word become such a way to degrade intelligence? I mean seriously? Talk about inventing a new definition! Since when does "retard" (which is a verb not a noun...) mean 'not smart'?  Why can something slow not also be gentle and kind, witty and valuable? How did "retarded" become synonymous with 'less worthy' or 'not good enough'?

Retardation is measurable, it is objective, it carries no emotion, it carries no weight of worth.

Anna's growth is slow, Anna's cognitive milestones take more time than normal to reach. (Which by the way, what is normal anyway? That's a discussion for another day...) There is no sentiment or emotion placed on her condition, it is what it is as I love to say. BUT her retardation has zero to do with her intelligence, her kindness, her gentleness, her happiness, her ability to touch people's lives, her worth as a human being. So why on earth would I ever be offended or hurt when she's called retarded? She IS retarded! She's ALSO joyful, happy, silly, smart, gentle, patient, a blessing, valuable, and worthy! None of this is mutually exclusive.

When people are unwise enough to think they're informing me of my child's (or any of my friend's) condition- I go out of my way to tell them they have no idea how correct they are. This special needs population are slowed, praise the Lord and to His glory they are so retarded! And they are better than me in almost everything that's important in life because of it.

Oh, to be more retarded like they are! These amazing human beings that see the world in a way we unretarded people never will because we're too busy being busy. They, who experience life and God in ways we never will or could because we are so very handicapped by our own actual disabilities (pride, selfishness, envy, power, greed, self-doubt, etc.) If there is anything at all that I've come to learn about the retarded population over the years is that they are by far better humans than I can ever hope to be. Their retardation, their slowness and arrested development, has freed them to see and pursue and learn and interact with life in much more meaningful ways. And I do long to be more like them in these ways!

So yes, you who use the R-word, yes. You've hit the nail on the head! My daughter, my friends, are indeed retarded. And that quality within them is perhaps one of the most cherished things about them in my humble opinion. "Retard" does not offend me, even if you mean it for ill, because

  • You're using it incorrectly (it takes the sting out when they're basically saying {with as much venom as they can muster} "So, you have a delayed kid." Not quite as powerful right?)
  • The word carries nothing but a scientific, innocuous definition for me... one that is actually completely correct. I don't get offended when people hurl "You're so blond!" at me... Saying "Anna is retarded." has the same impact.
  • Shoot! Even the slang definition (which is almost exclusively how it is used nowadays), stupid or foolish, is not true to of this population. Anna and my friends with special needs are neither stupid nor foolish! So again, insult hurled- it's not true, therefore it doesn't stick.
  • Plus, as a bonus, I celebrate retardation! I love it, I want more of it in my life and in the lives of those around me!

So, in conclusion (if you've made it this far) though I get the sentiment behind the whole #spreadthewordtoendtheword movement, I feel moreso like we simply need to take the word back- to reclaim it's original meaning. Back in 2000 when I directed the group home, the 'proper' wording had moved from mental/physical "retardation" (which had been in use for years at that point) to mental/physical "handicapped"- nowadays even "handicapped" has started to denote a negative connotation and I see the movement towards mental/physical "disabled" or "special needs" being more 'appropriate'. How long will it be before those are blacklisted as well? 5 years? 10 years? Will those who adore these populations (that society just loves to stamp labels on) continue to give away ground in the name of incorrectly syntaxed words- just so not to be offensive? How about we go to war with "stupid" or "idiot" instead? At least those words are spoken maliciously hurtful in a subjective, unmeasurable, and purposeful way. Yet, I fear that even having such a movement as the one this last Wednesday has given more power and credence to an otherwise purely under-educated group of bullies who obviously failed English 101. Why not correct their incorrect meaning and use it as an educational moment to celebrate retardation instead? Knowledge is power and education will always be key in integrating these amazing people better into the folds of society- all us 'normal' people could certainly learn a thing or two from them being around more.

I do not say "retarded" around people much, simply because there is no reason to use it. I know Anna is retarded, I know many of my friends are. It's not something that needs discussion. And because society has overtaken the meaning, I don't use it often because I don't want to inadvertently hurt anyone's feelings. This article, in fact, is not meant to necessarily change anyone's mind about using the word (or not using it), this is simply a different take on the debate. But those of you who read this, know that when I do use ''retarded" it is in celebration, in respect, in honor, and in awe of such a gift they possess that I do not.

 

I don't hope to reverse the trend into eventual dictionarial (is that even a word?) oblivion that this word will probably eventually find itself; I think the movement is too far gone for that. It's just too bad that we are losing an innocent, objective, and useful word to describe many, many things all around us. I fear this whole concept is dying a slow and unneeded societal death.

 Anna is slow, she is delayed, her development is held back... she is very much retarded. God made her exactly right, exactly according to His plan. She. is. perfect!

I will never, ever be afraid or offended of Anna being retarded.

Why we can't all just have a Ring-Pop?? The MOST important reason why we must stop this culture of "Everybody Wins"

I was teaching a <rather> competitive class of 4th thru 6th graders in our Wednesday night church program this last week when I was met head-on with the very real phenomenon of this current 'everybody wins' culture. We had been playing what amounted to an elementary version of The $10,000 Pyramid (an oldie but a goodie) with 2 teams; and, as all competitions tend to have... there was a winning team and a losing team. You know? Like has been for thousands of years... WINNERS and LOSERS. Before we started I had promised (bribed?) the class that the winning team would get ring pops when the game was over. Obviously with such a prize on the line this was serious business. And they took it seriously too. Holy moly these kids were ruthless! In an attempt to enable the teams the ability to give grace, there were multiple instances where the answer to the question was not <quite> right but was pretty close- in these circumstances I made the team unanimously decided whether to bestow a point to the other team or not.

ringpops

In one instance Team 1 decided to give Team 2 the point.

Later Team 1 lost.

And just a bit of chaos ensued. The vast majority of the team 1 members were mad they lost, and even more furious that they had given that extra point to the opposing team... a point, that in the end caused them to lose. I had every. single. teammate. come up to me within the next 20 mins and ask for a ring pop too.

"Can't we all just have a ring pop?"

It became somewhat comical the line of 'broken hearts' that followed me around.

Because I'm mean, I told every single one of them "No." No, children, you CAN'T all have a ring pop. The rules were set at the beginning, you knew what they were, you played the game, you lost. You don't get a ring pop. They were scandalized that I would deny them the prize (and I'm not entirely sure there aren't a couple still mad at me...)

But, as I stated, I'm mean. I laid out the rules and I kept my promise in upholding them.

As a mom of three under four I am increasingly alarmed by our culture of 'everybody wins', 'everybody gets a prize', 'participation awards for everyone!' I fear that we are setting our kids, our teams, all the next generations for absolute spiritual failure. ETERNAL FAILURE PEOPLE! I'm talking HELL here....

This is not simply we're raising generations of soft people, or that they're weak, or that no one has a back-bone or knows the meaning of hard work. No, this is MUCH deeper and the root of WHY we can't allow this culture of prizes to continue.

Because the cold, hard truth is that God doesn't give out participation awards, He doesn't give second place, He's not planning on changing the rules of heaven and hell.

We either play by the rules He's set and go to heaven

or we go to hell.

It's that simple.

We can't all get a ring pop if we're on the losing team.

I know it sounds harsh, it's sounds judgmental, I'm sure I'll get some flack for writing about this. But scripture is clear dear ones! There are rules, a way to 'win' and a way to 'lose'. There is no in-between. There is heaven and there is hell.

Romans 3:23 ...for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Romans 6:23 ...for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.

You see what the Bible is doing here? It's laying out the rules of the 'game' the rules of our eternal life. It tells us how to win.

Romans 5;8 But God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

Romans 10:9-10 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Romans 10:13 ...for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

The really nice thing here is that EVERYONE can be on the winning team. It's simply a CHOICE to be on it!

But stay with me here, I want to speak to why it's so dangerous if our children and these generations of 'everybody's a winner' don't get a clear message from us. Be perpetuating this fallacy, we encourage the idea that people will eventually get the reward, even just for showing up or for simply participating IN the game; that at the very least there's a door prize at the end. That's simply not true when eternal consequences are at stake.

God doesn't give participation points.

Sitting in church, doing good deeds, volunteering to worthy causes, living a 'good' life, giving that extra point to the other team to be nice- they don't count towards getting into heaven. They just don't.

Showing up doesn't count.

Participation doesn't count.

Matthew 7:13-14 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

We have to show our children that playing by the rules and making the decision to choose the right team (eternally) is of utmost importance, that losing will have some fallout, that not everyone can be a winner all the time necessarily. These lessons can have eternal ramifications! We have to exemplify and model that there are consequences to losing (we can only hope it's as minor as losing out on a ring pop!) (And also keep in mind that on this side of heaven there are some GREAT lessons to be learned in the face of loss!) There are times when we don't get the prize- no matter how hard we worked for it or practiced or played. There is always fallout from losing- whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

There will be a time when God will judge us and either see Christ, His Son, in us or not. He's made it easy, He's told us which side to choose, He's laid out the rules crystal-clearly, there's (thankfully) no practice-makes-perfect involved. It's simply a gift and there's NO losing on God's side!

And THAT, dear ones, is the ultimate win. The ultimate prize. The ultimate ring-pop!

BUT we had to have played by the rules and picked the winning side.

ring-pop-people

So parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbors- don't give out the ring pops to everyone. Let your children fail and feel the consequences (no matter how light or harsh) because in the end, their eternities will be molded by letting them feel and see the results of the games they play- the winning and the losing. Each has it's own lesson to learn; and those lesson will follow them into eternity.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my heart today. Please comment below with thoughts and ruminations of where your walk is today. Please share and follow if this blesses you!

 

 

Life is So Unfair!

God must be trying to tell me to slow down and enjoy His creation more. I've found myself meditating on it a lot recently. Everywhere I turn I'm being smacked in the face with beauty. It's wonderful and yet makes me feel small. It's fall and everything is just so stinkin' pretty right now. The weather is fantastic and I love just enjoying the change of seasons. The colors, the fall breeze, the clear skies. As I pause though, it is hard for me to comprehend that the Creator of the universe, who set stars and planets in place, scheduled the tides, and sculpted the mountains- also has me in mind. All. The. Time. He tells me in scripture that He does. That is exceedingly sobering to me. I am grateful but feel so unworthy.

Because I AM unworthy. Totally and completely unworthy.

It's one thing to talk about, it's another to daily live with this truth. It hurts my pride. It slams against my selfish ambitions. My human self-worth tries to argue against it; and I wrestle against it's veracity in my life. Part of me is ashamed to be counted in His family, the other part of me tries to ridiculously convince myself that, of course, I'm not that bad, I'm pretty awesome actually, why would God not want to hang with me?

But then these crazy verses slip across my path and my heart has to reconcile what I know my rightful place is before God with what He tells me I mean to Him. What a weird juxtaposition of locations- where I should be and where He's placed me instead.

It's not fair. To Him especially. But how much do I LOVE that God is not fair! He's not fair ever!

He has chosen to love me and cherish me. He's chosen me to be His firstfruits- rotted parts, smushy pieces, worms and all. Not exactly the ideal picture of the kind of firstfruits He's instructed us to bring to Him (thank God!)- and yet He tells us we are His. In all His creation I am still on His mind and He wants to be near to me.  It's simply mind-boggling. It makes no sense for so many reasons. It's not fair... But I love that also! I love that so much of this world makes no sense- the good, the bad, and the ugly- and I really love that I don't have to worry about it. God's got it. He's got me, unworthiness (is that even a word?!) and all.

And speaking of crazy stuff... He tells us to simply ask and He'll let us in on some of His GodStuff... talk about unfair- we have been placed in the most unfair yet insider position there is!

Right. Next. To. God.

We've got His ear, we've got His attention, we have access to His heart. Wow, do you see the possibilities there? Do you feel the importance of what that can mean? Do you feel the power at our fingertips that God wants us to tap into... His power, His insight, His knowledge, His plans. It's an unbelievable thing.

Today I challenge you to seek Him harder. I challenge you to realize and meditate on the position you SHOULD BE in before God and the position He's PLACED you in. It's unfair and it's wonderful!