Welcome to My World Welcome to My World

Jane Kenny
Soulspace, 1995, 2007 (23pp A4 equivalent)

Category: Biography

Here's a book that is beyond price, that money cannot buy. I suppose you could say that's because it's out of print: the original print run has sold out — but the good news is, it's now available online, courtesy of the author and Soulspace, an online community of people on and around the edges of Christianity. But even if this book were still in print, even if money could buy it, I would still describe it as beyond price because no price could be greater than the price that Jane Kenny, the author, has herself paid to bring it to us.

Jane is seriously disabled, born with CDH (Congenital Dislocation of the Hip) on both sides, compounded by the onset of Perthes, a degenerative bone condition, compounded further by cerebral palsy. Her life, then, is a constant battle of pain in a war with a body fighting against its owner. Yet inside, she is beautiful and as I have read her book and come to know her over the last few weeks, both through the book and through Soulspace, my own world has been turned upside down as my eyes have been opened to a new appreciation of so many things that I can do and take for granted — little things like putting the kettle on to make myself a coffee — that Jane simply cannot do for herself. She writes:

I can fully identify with the verse in the Bible which says "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak". I think a lot of people see me as a weak person because there are things I need help with and life in a wheelchair can certainly be difficult at times. But underneath this shell of mine, there lies a strong personality who is constantly fighting to get out. Imagine a prisoner locked in a cell, and suddenly he is free. That is the best way I can describe my disability. My body prevents me from doing certain things, but my inner self cries to be let out, to be set free.

The title is as near perfect a summary of the book as it's possible to give: through the stories she tells, true stories of her life and experiences, Jane opens the door and welcomes us into her world. It's the same world that you and I inhabit but seen from a radically different point of view, from the perspective of someone in a wheelchair wrestling with a level of disability that would, I think, drive many other people to the edge — if not over the edge — of despair.

Jane has known despair, of course; yet this book testifies to her inner spirit and her ability to rise above it, in faith and hope, time and again:

I know what it is like to be so frustrated that all I have wanted to do is scream, but God has shown me that he has guided me all the way. There is a verse somewhere in the Bible which says something like "God does not let people suffer more than they can stand". I have found this to be very true. Yes, I have found it tough being disabled at times, but Jesus died for my sufferings and he took them to the cross. I will never know the agony that Jesus went through for me but I am going to accept my gift gracefully and with thanks. Why don't you start looking beyond people's wrapper to the gift inside?

Throughout the book, Jane throws out questions like this to us, challenging us to rethink our attitudes:

What is your definition of a disabled person? Does it mean to you someone who cannot do something? If that is the case, then we are all disabled. Everybody has something that they can't do, a goal in life they will never achieve. But I am seen as a "disabled person" because I happen to sit in a wheelchair and I find it difficult to speak. But am I really disabled or is it society that enforces it upon me?

I confess that until I came across this idea — that it's society's attitudes that disable people — in a comment in Soulspace and here in this book, I'd never thought of it that way before; as Jane summarises it, "My real disability is other people."

The first part of the book is Jane's autobiography, her story from her birth in 1962 through childhood, school and church up to her marriage to Chris, her husband, in 1986. After this Jane presents us with a series of vignettes, short snapshots of her life: her love of music; the challenges of travelling as a wheelchair user around a transport network built for the able-bodied; reflections on faith, on family, friends and love. Jane's view of life is pragmatic and good humoured: in a discussion on faith in Soulspace she comments, "faith is: if someone takes me out for a walk, they don't tip me out of my wheelchair."

Earlier I said that reading this book had turned my world upside down; the same is true of my concept of God: the more I think about Jane's constant fight with cerebral palsy, the closer I think I am to understanding what it must be like for God in his struggle with the human race — if the church is the body of Christ, it's a broken, rebellious body, a body like Jane's that he has to fight with every single step of the way to get it to do his will...

You, Jane, in your rebellious body, are, I think, closer to the heart of God than someone like me can ever hope to be. You suffer with Christ and he suffers with you: his light shines through you all the more brightly and I am amazed. Ezekiel's wheels within wheels come to mind: the throne of God is a wheelchair — God, the one we've been taught to see as enthroned in majesty somewhere high above all human worries and woes, is actually here with us, one of us, facing the same battles we face... and even more so, the battles that you face. May his grace continue to grow in you; may his love surround you; and may his peace reign in your heart and mind.

Gentle reader, I urge you: read this book; and take the opportunity Soulspace offers you to meet the author. It will cost you nothing; but it will give you back far more than you could ever pay for it.

Phil Groom, December 2007

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.


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