Physical appearances don’t reveal what’s inside

January 19, 2022 | People | Volume 26 Issue 2
Carl DeGurse | Special to Canadian Mennonite
‘I am fine with not being able to walk, but I want to make a difference in the world, and a difference in the lives of people I meet,’ says Matt Ferguson, who attends Sterling Mennonite Fellowship in Winnipeg. (Photo courtesy of Matt Ferguson)

Matt Ferguson is smart, likes rocking out to music such as the Tragically Hip, is a big fan of the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and has cerebral palsy. He relies 100 percent on other people to attend to all his bodily needs, such as putting food and liquids in his mouth.

When in public with Matt, I’ve seen many people who aren’t sure what to make of him. He speaks slowly and painstakingly, which seems to prompt some people to speak to him loudly and patronizingly, as if he is hard of hearing or slow of mind, neither of which is accurate.

Many people won’t even try. They just stare briefly at this 39-kilogram man and cut a wide berth around his wheelchair to avoid an encounter. For such people, perhaps reading an opinion column dictated by Matt will remind them that physical bodies don’t always reflect the person inside.

‘Living life in the wilderness’
By Matt Ferguson

The sun is rising to a new day. Hallelujah! I am so grateful.

I am looking out the window and see lightly falling snow. It is so pretty. There is hope in the air.

In my circumstance, I need to depend on others. Just having a sip of water can be so refreshing. It’s exhausting to make sure I have everything and get to places on time. Society is not designed to meet my needs.

There is so much on my heart. It’s nice to be invited to my share thoughts and stories with others. It’s such a relief because my life can be so stifling.

For the last decade, I’ve gone to university, which is fulfilling my desire to learn. I am pursuing a degree in recreation management, hoping to do something in God’s beautiful creation. I enjoy being outside, surrounding myself with people, working as a team.

I recently gave a sermon at Sterling Mennonite Fellowship in Winnipeg. I love to share my story and life with others, giving back in any way I can. My sermon was on living life in the wilderness, not an easy thing to do.

I am 32 years old now, struggling with this feeling of being anxious and alone in the wilderness since I was 16.

Living with cerebral palsy, I find it hard to find purpose, enjoyment and meaning in life. I know I have a voice, but I often don’t know how to share, which is why I believe I have anxiety.

I have been asked why I get depressed. I used to be so happy. What happened? I don’t know what to say or do. I can get caught up in the anxiety of the moment and not know how to get out of it.

I feel so empty sometimes. It comes from living my life within four walls, not knowing who to share life with, how to spend my days, not knowing where to turn.

I desire to have a partner, but I do not know how to obtain that goal. I am also unable to find funding for a service dog, which would provide a connection I am looking for.

I feel like I found my voice for a little while, as I did when I gave a sermon, but I must figure out what to do next. I dream of hitchhiking. I’d like to travel the world.

I have made it to Mexico. When the plane landed, I had to wait for everyone to get off before me, like I always do. I was looking out the plane’s window in awe and amazement when the stewardess asked if I was in a hurry to get off. I said no, I was just so happy to be there.

I am fine with not being able to walk, but I want to make a difference in the world, and a difference in the lives of people I meet. I want to be part of a community that’s like a family. I want to be around other people so that we can lift one another up when we need someone to lean on.

I know that all I have is the moment I am experiencing, just taking the time to notice what’s around me. I desire to have life flow easily from one event to the next and to feel more connected to life.

Each day that we are on this earth is a gift for which I am so grateful.

This column is reprinted with permission of the Winnipeg Free Press; it was originally published on Dec. 4, 2021. A video of the sermon Matt Ferguson preached on July 18, 2021, can be viewed below. He can be reached at fergusonjets99@gmail.com.

‘I am fine with not being able to walk, but I want to make a difference in the world, and a difference in the lives of people I meet,’ says Matt Ferguson, who attends Sterling Mennonite Fellowship in Winnipeg. (Photo courtesy of Matt Ferguson)

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