According to Webster's, a “handicap” means something that hampers a person, a disadvantage, a hindrance. “The handicapped” are those who are physically disabled or mentally retarded. “Retarded” is defined as slowed or delayed development or progress.
To be disadvantaged. Disabled. Delayed. To have obstacles, of various kinds, to overcome. We can relate to those definitions. At school this fall David has been teased because of his club feet and called 残疾人(handicapped). And as Daniel has been struggling these past two weeks to keep up in kindergarten, I've thought about the book a friend loaned me before David and Daniel joined our family last year, The Power of the Powerless. Christopher de Vinck wrote that his brother Oliver “was physically and mentally retarded, but he was not spiritually retarded. I was taught by my parents to look at Oliver and see…the mystery, things that linger, things which stay with us…We can stand before the Olivers of the world and see clearly who we are.”
On our walk to Daniel's kindergarten this morning I was thinking about what I can learn about God from him. And I wondered, what is he learning about God from me? My pace slowed down to match his, as I realized that even though we were holding hands, I was a full step ahead of him. “I don't need to be in a hurry,” I thought. He had just excitedly pointed out to me that we could still see the moon in the early morning sky. I had missed that. What else could he show me that I am missing?
I shared with a friend last week that I feel like I have been looking at Daniel through a lens of “I wish you were different,” and “How can I help you become more normal?” That kind of focus leaves me with an ongoing feeling of disappointment and frustration with him. I really want to change and take my focus off his handicaps. To focus on what he can do. Not on what he can't do, or can't do well. But at the same time, I don't want to accept that his abnormal behaviors and his learning disabilities are permanent. I still long to see him grow and develop. To reach his full potential.
Can an acceptance of him as he is and a longing for him to mature dwell in my heart together? (Isn't that actually the way God views me?) Is it possible for me to have eyes to see him as God sees him? To believe that God is still working in his life, even though his progress and recovery from encephalitis a year ago has slowed down and we feel we've reached a plateau. To be open to learning from him all that God wants to teach me. To see that his “simple-mindedness” could be a gift that I could thank Him for. Help me, God. I know this perspective can only come from you.
Jesus had a special place in his heart for children and said that in order to enter the Kingdom we needed to become like them. He said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” (Luke 10:21)
And the Apostle Paul wrote, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)
In A Place of Healing, Joni Eareckson Tada writes, “I believe with all my heart that sometimes it is through the lives of those who are mentally or physically challenged, or those bearing up under suffering, that Jesus chooses to shine in the most spectacular ways.”
She gives the example of a little Down syndrome boy named Isaiah Nicklas, whose sister Mary told Joni that his gift of ministry was his smile. And it was true. “His smile was transcendent. It glowed. And it gave me so much joy to see him...If you ever wanted to see pure joy right out of the heavenly tap, it was there in Isaiah's countenance.”
She writes, “People suffering from debilitating distress aren't your standard musical instruments in the orchestra. We can't do everything able-bodied people can do in their physical strength and mobility and vitality. It takes a special skill to bring music out of broken instruments, and the one who does deserves recognition and glory.
God is that one.
God is the one who finds incomparable beauty and makes matchless music using the most unexpected and unlikely of instruments...
His melody—His incomparable, heavenly, impossibly beautiful music—somehow comes into its own when it emanates from a broken, battered, but fully yielded human vessel.
It's music that can only come from particular instruments, broken in particular ways, and yielded with particular humility. I also believe it brings God glory in a way that is completely unique on earth or in the heavens.”
In the introduction to her autobiography Joni she includes this passage: “We are handicapped on all sides, but we are never frustrated; we are puzzled, but never in despair. We are persecuted, but we never have to stand it alone: we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out! Every day we experience something of the death of the life of Jesus, so that we may also know the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours...We wish you could see how all this is working out for your benefit, and how the more grace God gives, the more thanksgiving with redound to his glory. This is the reason we never collapse.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 15, 16, Phillips)
She writes, “Sometimes in His mercy and in His purposes, He will heal immediately. But at other times his healing will go on at a deeper level in the innermost parts of our being and not be fully realized in our bodies until we step into our new bodies upon our arrival at our Father's house. And yes, he has redeemed us, but He is also continuing that redemptive process in our lives right up until we draw our last breath. Yes, we are healed by His stripes, or wounds, but we are a work in process, and He isn't finished with us yet!”
“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
“To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” (Jude 24-25)