Daniel Ritchie: I don’t have arms — here’s why that’s a gift, not a curse

I don’t have arms, which is impossible to conceal from a watchful world.

Two empty shirt sleeves announce that something is missing. It declares that I am different. And if that difference isn’t already obvious enough, it becomes clearer the moment I need to do an ordinary, day-to-day task like eating, writing or opening doors. I have to take my feet out of shoes to accomplish any of those things.

In that moment, there’s no doubt left – I’m not like you.

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That left me insecure and ashamed for the first two decades of my life. I hated being different. I hated being armless and every fiber of who I was wanted to obscure that. I wanted people to completely disregard the most visibly obvious part of me.

In my late teens, I realized that expecting people to overlook my armlessness was asking them to ignore a part of who I was. My disability wasn’t a mistake. God didn’t just forget the arms as He formed me in my mother’s womb. He wonderfully made me without the use of my arms for a purpose – for His purpose.

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God was using my greatest struggle as the greatest asset in my story. He was using what I thought was the worst of me to show the world His grace and strength. My struggle was an inescapable reality to anyone who spent more than 10 seconds with me. But my lack of arms did not define me.

None of us are defined by the things that we don’t have. Human value flows entirely from the fact that God has made us on purpose, with purpose.

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My lack of arms didn’t define my worth but it is a key aspect of the path that God had brought me down.

My struggle was an important part of my story, one that points people to hope, strength, contentment, joy – all plainly evident because of the different way I have to live my daily life.

Our struggles, failures and pain don’t have to be the end of our story – they’re simply a part of the path that is shaping us into who we are. Our loss or our lack can go a long way in refining us and showing that there’s hope that extends well beyond our circumstances.

For our struggle to become a helpful and hopeful part of our story, a few steps of faith are required.

The first thing we must do is to expect that struggles and frustration are a guarantee for us in this life. Look around the world. There’s brokenness everywhere.

The first thing we must do is to expect that struggles and frustration are a guarantee for us in this life. Look around the world. There’s brokenness everywhere. Many things are simply not the way they ought to be and that has been the fallen state of all of creation since the sin of Adam in Genesis.

Count me among the many who have been beaten up by the struggles of life. I realized early in my teens that a world made with hands, for hands, would provide a challenge to a man with no hands. The best decision of my life was realizing that my physical, emotional and spiritual struggles were too great for my own abilities – but they were not beyond the life-giving work of God.

Just as much as expecting the struggle in front of me has been important in my growth as a man, it has also been huge for me to embrace my struggles as a part of my story – which is easier said than done. We live in a social media-driven age where we feel the pressure to offer a carefully curated, failure-free portrayal of ourselves to our followers.

We feel that same pressure to be perfect in our everyday relationships as well. But if we can peel back those defensive layers, we see that we’re all hurting. We’re all struggling with life in one way or another. But the good news is we don’t have to be flawless and free from failures. We have a Savior who loves us in the midst of our mess and who rescues us from it.

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Once we get to the place where we know our struggles will come and we don’t have to run from them – that’s when we can encourage others by sharing our pain and frustration. God has turned my own pain into a platform of sorts. My vacant shirt sleeves, paired with my smiling face, speak volumes about hope and joy to the people I encounter each and every day.

And that’s the reality for all of us. We have all known struggle and yet here we stand by God’s grace. We know hurt but we also know the comfort that God provides. And as we weave the struggle of life into the comfort God provides, our stories can offer others the hope they desperately need.

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