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Paul Hayden

Twisting the ‘Cap’ Off a Handicap

September 12, 2022

I enjoy playing golf. Now that I think about it, I don't enjoy it. I tolerate it. Or maybe golf tolerates me. 

Most every golfer who plays for real has a handicap. Handicaps are created so everyone comes out even in a golf tournament. If my handicap is 20, and I play on a par 72 golf course, I could score a 92 and be even par. On the other hand, the golfer with an eight handicap and scores 84 scores 76. I scored lower than the guy who scored an 84 because of my handicap. The better golfers become, the less handicap they have. 

Did you notice the statement, ‘the better golfers become, the less handicap they have’? I'm inspired by many 'handicapped' people I see. They are playing basketball. They are contributing to the community. They are doing remarkable things despite their handicap. The more they fulfill their goals, the better they are mentally and emotionally. As their handicap descends, their life 'score' ascends. They are taking the 'cap' off their handicap. That takes guts, resolve, and grit. Look at their outcome. The better they get, the less their handicap puts a cap on them. 

Arturo Toscanini is an excellent example of a man who turned a handicap into a blessing. He owed his success – or at least his chance at success – to the fact that he was very nearsighted. How could that help a musician? At 19, he was playing cello in an orchestra. Since he couldn't see the music on the stand, he had to memorize it.

One day the orchestra leader became ill, and young Toscanini was the only orchestra member who knew the score. So, he conducted the orchestra without a score, and the audience gave him a good hand for it – and audiences kept on doing it. If he hadn't been nearsighted, he might have continued playing cello in small European orchestras instead of becoming one of the most excellent orchestra conductors ever.

Frank Ellis says, "Every single one of us is handicapped – physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually – to a degree; and although we seldom think about it, the person without faith has a far greater handicap than the person without feet." Someone like that is handicapped without being handicapped in the traditional sense of the word. Caps have capped us from being all that we can be. 

Many people have become handicapped by holding grudges against others. The heaviest load any person carries on their back is a pack of grievances. The worst thing about these kinds of handicaps is that many people aren't even aware of the load they carry. How about a handicapped attitude? Attitude is like a flat tire. Change it, or you're going nowhere. Grudges and bad attitudes are like a mental wheelchair rather than a metal wheelchair. How about the handicap of unforgiveness? Unforgiveness is like a spiritual and emotional vampire sucking the life out of us, and we don't even know it. 

So, if you are broken in some way physically, emotionally, socially, mentally, or spiritually, there is always a ‘cap’ in one of those areas that could be twisted off. But with God's help and your resolve, beautiful things can happen.

Here's a thought by Raymond Edman. “I have been reflecting on the inestimable value of ‘broken things.’ Broken pitchers gave ample light for victory. (Judges 7:19-21). Broken bread was more than enough for all the hungry. (Matthew 14:19-21). A broken box gave fragrance to all the world. (Mark 14:3,9). A broken body is salvation to all who believe and receive the Savior. (Isaiah 53:5-6). And what can’t the Broken One do with our broken plans, projects, hearts, and lives?” 

Take Wilma Rudolf, born prematurely, the twentieth of twenty-two children. As a young child, she contracted double pneumonia and scarlet fever. At age four, she developed polio, and her left leg began to atrophy. The doctors thought she would never walk again, but her family didn't give up. They took turns massaging her legs for hours. Finally, with a brace and orthopedic shoe aid, she slowly started to walk. Then, when she was eleven, the leg brace came off, and the orthopedic shoe, which she hated, was thrown away.

Wilma would run for hours due to the sheer joy she experienced when running. Eventually, Wilma threw away her brace. When Wilma was sixteen, she qualified for the 1956 Olympics and won a bronze medal. Then, she qualified for the 1960 Olympics and became a superstar. On the day before her first heat in the 100, Wilma severely sprained her ankle but still won gold medals in the 100-meter and 200-meter races. Then she anchored the 400-meter relay en route to her third gold medal.

Talk about taking the cap off of the handicap. Perhaps Wilma's success was not in spite of her problems but because of her problems. Faith Baldwin noted this tendency in well-meaning people. “If you fashion a crutch for someone, they may walk with it all their lives. If you show them how to walk, crippled as they may be, they (many) will learn to overcome their handicap. Many parents have forever crippled their ‘children’ by an oversupply of ‘crutches.’” Perhaps, in today’s culture, we have too many crutches and not enough uncapped beliefs like Wilma and her parents. That's a revelation, not condemnation.  

I realize that not every handicapped person will do what Wilma Rudolf did. Her assignment by God was to win races. But there are other handicapped people with different assignments in life that only they can do if they would uncap their handicap, whatever that handicap is. The smallest step in the right direction always creates joy.  

Remember, we all are handicapped people in some way. The better we get, the better it gets, even with our handicaps.  

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Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
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