Disabilities: A Normal Part of Life in an Abnormal World
Let me start today by asking you a question. What thoughts were going through your mind as you watched the slide show? And be honest with yourself. What were you feeling? I’m sure some of you felt pity as you thought of people who can’t walk, or talk, or see, communicate, or have lost the ability to interact or understand their loved ones. I’m sure there were a few among us who were feeling thankful you were not born with a physical or mental disability. Some of you may have felt anger. Why would a loving God allow such pain and suffering? Some of you may have felt guilty. You know people who have special needs but you have made a conscious decision to stay as far away as possible because it makes you feel uncomfortable to be around them. I’m sure many of you simply felt overwhelmed. What can I do with all the other things I have on my plate?
Well let me start off and say my goal is not to make you feel guilty and it is not to coerce you into joining our special need ministry. My goal is to simply give you some tools to help you see disabilities from God’s perspective and to then help all of us deal with the reality of people who have been touched by disability.
As a church we would be negligent if we ignored the reality of families and individuals touched by children, moms, dads, grandparents, neighbors, and friends with special needs. We live in a community that is knows as one of the best in dealing with the educational, emotional, and physical challenges of children with special needs. People move to our community so their children can get the best care possible. As a church we have been called to reach out to all seekers in our community regardless of their physical or cognitive ability. Wouldn’t it be great if one day, not only are parents moving to our community because of our school system, but also because they heard of a church that was ready and willing to welcome then, love them, and guide them and their children to place of discovering and then fully enjoying a relationship with God regardless of their special needs? That my friends is a dream I have for Eastern Hills.
You see we can’t ignore the facts:
- Between 34 and 43 million people have some type of disability
- More than 50 percent of persons over age 65 (or 32 million people) have some level of disability.
- Nine million people of all ages are severely disabled and need personal assistance for daily activities.
- 70 million adults deal with chronic pain, 4.8 million live with the effects of stroke
So how are we to view and understand the reality of disabilities in the world we live in? Does the Bible give us any help in answering that question? Let me show you three views and hopefully land on one that is consistent with what the Bible teaches. Much of what I am going to share with you has been influenced by this book, Same Lake, Different Boat. It was written by a woman who has a son with Down Syndrome.
The first view is what I am going to call the Historical View. This view says; Disability is an abnormal part of life in a normal world. Let’s admit it, most of us start out thinking we are exempt from having a child or a spouse or a parent touched by disability. We all dream of having children with ten perfect toes and fingers, who progress at a normal rate of development. We expect our parents to age gracefully, and we dream of living out our retirement with our spouse, enjoying the golden years of our life together. So when autism is discovered, when muscular dystrophy begins to wither our child’s muscles, when Alzheimer’s robs a loved one’s mind, when macular degeneration leaves you visually impaired, it is not expected, it is not the norm, therefore it is abnormal. And if it is abnormal the person affected is also seen as abnormal. As opposed to being viewed as a person of value, we focus almost exclusively on the distinctive, negative characteristics of their diagnosis. And as you know, how people are viewed clearly affects the way we treat them.
The Reactionary View says this: Disability is a normal part of life in a normal world. The reactionary view recognizes the damage and the danger of seeing people as abnormal, so in an attempt to improve the lives of people affected by disabilities, they decided to change the language of disability. For example, listen to the statement made by a nationally known speaker at a recent Down syndrome conference:
“Having a disability is a difference like any other human characteristic. It is not a deficiency. It is by no means a tragedy and does not deserve pity or benevolence or charity. Now is the time to recognize and celebrate disability rather than ignore, devalue or use it as a justification for lower expectations.”
Did you catch what this speaker said? He is saying that my son’s battens’ disease is to be regarded with no more regard than his hair color or his eye color or whether he is right handed or left handed. In fact he is saying it is something to be celebrated, because it is a normal part of living in a normal world. Does that make any sense to you? I am sorry but I personally find this view to be offensive and absurd.
You see the problem isn’t that they see disabilities as normal, because they are. No matter where you go in the world you will find people with an endless variety of disabilities. Where they miss the boat is in their inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that the deeper issue lies in our worldview, our view of the world itself. And that leads me to what I am simply going to call the Biblical View.
The Biblical view says this: Disability is a normal part of life in an abnormal world. I can say with complete confidence that people touched by disabilities were never a part of God’s original plan for creation. That’s why I can’t and won’t celebrate David’s disease. We live in a fallen broken world. Let me show you what I mean.
As you open the pages of the Bible and read the creation account you will quickly realize that everything God created was good, and in fact, when he created mankind he said it was very good.
Gen. 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
According to the Bible we are the crowning act of his creation. In verse 27 it says we were created in his image. That means we were created and designed to embody his likeness. That means we have the ability to love and create and rule and design and reason just as God does. In a real sense we are like this mirror. We were created to reflect God character as his image bearers. His goal was for us to experience purposeful and blessed lives.
Unfortunately we come to the third chapter of the bible and tragedy strikes. Adam and Eve choose to tell God they no longer need Him to tell what is right and wrong, they rebel against Him, sin enters the world, impacting every aspect of creation. What was once normal is now abnormal.
Romans 8:20 says, The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice. From that moment on brokenness, frustration, sickness, and pain was introduced. Creation became marred. Not only was man and his relationship with God affected, the marring of creation permeated the physical, intellectual, the emotional, the psychological, and the social. We see this affect throughout the world in our relationship with other people, in our bodies and minds, and in our relationship with God. Later in Romans 8:22
It says, We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And if you could translate that groaning it would say, this is not how God created the world, this is abnormal. This second mirror illustrates this brokenness that is common to all mankind. This doesn’t mean that the image of God has been totally removed; it means that our ability to reflect His image as originally designed has been cracked. We still reflect God’s image, but it is a marred.
So now every human being experiences a mixture of both the blessedness of being made in his image and the brokenness of the fall. There isn’t a person in this room who is not broken or affected by the fall of Adam and Eve. But for some us the effects of brokenness are more noticeable or more dramatically experienced than others. When you talk to a person who has dementia, or watch a group of adults walking in the mall from a local group home, or walk along with a person using a wheel chair their cracks are more visible. We who are “temporarily able-bodied”, have an easier job of hiding our brokenness, because lets admit it, disability is an eventual part of most of our lives. Disability is simply a more noticeable form of the brokenness that is common to the human experience, a normal part of life in an abnormal world.
So if this is true, how do we respond, how do we deal with those who have been touched by a disability? As you know Brenda and I have been walking in the reality of this abnormal world for the past ten years with our son, David. I have to admit I entered my marriage with a historical view of disability. Never in a million years did I think we would be dealing with a son who would loose his vision at the age of 8 and to then walk the journey we have been on for these past ten years. Even if I agreed that disabilities were a normal part of life in an abnormal world, it was always normal for someone else, not for me and my family. I can still remember the shock and pain as we listened to the doctor give us his diagnosis, Batten’s Disease, a progressive, untreatable disease. I’m not sure if I can truly explain how we felt, but the closest thing I can compare it to was what I assume you felt when you saw the planes on Sept. 11th crash into the twin towers. In a second of time your world is changed and nothing is ever the same. You walk around numb, in shock, struggling to make sense of the words flowing from the doctor’s mouth. In a nano second how we viewed the world, how we live our lives, and how we prepare for the future were all altered. We were not the first, nor will be the last. You see Battens is a normal part of living in this world, but it is taking place on the stage of an abnormal world. So how do we cope with it? I want to share with you some truths, tools if you will, that have helped us walk this journey with David.
1) Focus On The Value Of Every Person
Let me read to you a quote from Jerram Barrs, a Professor of Christian Studies and Contemporary Culture. He writes,
“Scripture calls us to recognize that everyone we’re ever going to meet is made in the image of God—and that means they’re glorious…. That’s to be our first response: to see the glory of a person . . . to first see their glory and their dignity as a person made in the image of God and to treasure all the things that are good and admirable and beautiful about the person as a person made in the image of God.”
Now be honest with me, when was the last time the first response you had when you looked at your wife or best friend or your 17 years old was, “Wow, look at the glory of God radiating from them.”? Or what was your response to the bagger at P&C who has an obvious physical disability, who is slowly packing your purchases in a bag, while you are looking at your watch because you are late getting your daughter to her piano lesson? Did you first and foremost see the glory of God? Or what goes through your mind as a person stands next to you who is obviously emotionally challenged and they have not bathed or changed their clothes for a while and the smell is overwhelming? What is it that stops us from seeing their value as a person made to be an image bearer of the God?
Let me go back to this mirror. I said there isn’t a single person in this room whose ability to reflect God’s image hasn’t been marred or cracked. I also said those with disabilities have more obvious cracks, and there in lies the problem. In stead of focusing in on the glory and beauty of God reflected in them we find it so much easier and natural to identity and focus on the cracks. It’s our natural response in an abnormal world. And yet our lives and the lives around us can be radically changed as we take our eyes of the cracks and focus on the image of God.
Let me introduce you to a very good friend of mine. His name is David Edsall. When David was 10 years old he was struck by a car while delivering papers and now daily deals with the effects of brain injury. I can remember when I first met David I was terrified of him. I didn’t know what to say, I was afraid he was going to strike out at me, and I found all I could do was focus on the cracks in his mirror. For many years that has kept me safely away. Over the past few years I have stopped looking at David’s cracks and have started to see the image of God pouring out of him. I have watched him serve in the church as a service host or with his sister Jacquie in Promise Land. He now plays regular tricks on me and very often leaves little gifts on my car. I of course couldn’t help but get him back. My life has been enriched, his family’s life has been enriched, and our church has been enriched because I have chosen to take my eyes off the cracks.
So start by focusing on the intrinsic value of every person you come into contact with, not only those with disabilities. You will find it is not natural, but the more you practice it the more you will be blessed.
Focus on the Bigger Plan
I think one of the most common responses people have when thinking about disabilities is, “How or why would a loving God allow something like this to happen. How can anything good come from this?
When Brenda and I first discovered the diagnosis for David’s vision loss we often asked this question. We played the “maybe this is punishment for some of the things we have done in the past game.” We thought maybe if we had just read the Bible more or shared Christ more this would have never happened. There had to be some reasonable answer. But there wasn’t. And it forced us to realize that some things happen that from a human perspective just don’t make sense. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t have a plan and that it doesn’t make sense to him. Look at Isaiah 55:9.
Isaiah 55:9 As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Early on in our journey I remember reading the story of Joseph. Here was a guy who was minding his own business, his brother sell him into slavery, he gets accused of raping his masters wife, he gets thrown into prison and forgotten about, and finally he rises to a position of power during a horrible a horrible famine. As fate would have it, his brother come to him, not knowing Joseph is still alive, looking for food. When they realize who he was they feared for their lives, realizing how horribly they had treated him. But look at Joseph’s response;
Gen. 5:4-7 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
Joseph saw the bigger plan of God. It was through the deception and pride of his brothers that God started his plan in action. You see God’s plans and his ways are so much higher than ours that at times we have to trust by faith he is working out that plan. And from that moment on I began to believe, even though sometimes I couldn’t see it, that God was working out a bigger plan in and through David’s life.
As many of you know my twin brother’s daughter, Melody, died two weeks ago. The funeral was an incredible time of celebration as we thanked God for the gift of Melody and how she was used in her eighteen years of life. Now Melody was severely disabled. She never spoke, she never walked, she never graduated from school, and she never told her parents that she loved them. But that doesn’t mean God didn’t have a plan for her life.
Let me read to you just a small portion of the message Mick Keville gave at the funeral.
“I may be exaggerating here, but I submit to you that apart from the impact of Melody’s underserved suffering, many in this room would be different people. God has used her to tenderize Wendell and Maryann into the people they are today. She is therefore part of why Pompey Community Church has been reborn and has gone from consolidation and shrinkage to considering plans for a newer and bigger facility. It is also part of why Pompey Hill Fire Department has been united and inspired to acts of kindness and selflessness they may have never experienced before. She has been an instrument of change in her sibling’s lives, teacher’s lives, and caregiver’s lives. Without speaking a word, without walking a step, without a checkbook or wallet; she has been an instrument of her creator, probably in a more complete way than any of us who struggle between His will and our own.”
All of us would benefit from focusing on the truth that God is all powerful, that his ways are above our own, and that he is working out his plan despite the abnormal world we are living in.
Let me introduce to you someone who speaks from first hand experience the reality of God’s incredible plan being worked out in her life despite the reality of living in this abnormal world. Would you please give a warm welcome to Jess Charbenough.
Focus On The Eternal, Not The Temporal
One of the reasons we often pity those with disabilities is very often they are not able to experience the same things we can. The person who is blind can’t see the sun set, the deaf person can’t hear the Halleluiah chorus, the person who is wheel chair bound can’t hike Blue Mountain with you in the Adirondacks, the person born with a severe disability may never get married, and so we feel pity for them. We feel they have been ripped off, and in a real sense they have been. We were walking around Green Lakes as a family two weeks ago and I was trying to explain to David how beautiful the trees were as they were changing color. As I was talking, David interrupted me and said, “You know Dad, I don’t remember what red looks like anymore.” It was like a knife going through my heart.
But this is how I responded. “You know David it must be so hard not being able to see or remember colors, but one day, you will see every color there is, in fact one day maybe you are going to be an artist who paints incredible paintings for God, because in heaven God is going to restore your vision to perfection.
You see, without having an eternal perspective, I would have had nothing to offer David that day. And as we deal with the reality and normalcy of disabilities in this abnormal world, we have to hold on to the truth that this is not the end. Jesus is going to come back and restore us to his original intent. One day the cracks will cease to exist and those who have trusted in Christ will be restored to perfection. David Pfohl will see, David Edsall will run and ruminate on the deep things of God, Casey Chriton will walk and sing, Matthew McCrohan will lead a group of angels, Alan Griswold will hold his family and talk to them once again.
That is why we are encouraged in Colossians to “Set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God's right hand. . . . Let heaven fill your thoughts.
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down-when we die and leave these bodies-we will have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.
2 Corinthians 5:1
David is a senior this year. And as a senior he gets to chose a quote or saying for his senior picture. Every time we tried to help David come up with something he really struggled. Often nothing would come to him, or he simply couldn’t get his thoughts clear enough so we could understand what he wanted to say. Well a couple weeks ago his quote was due so Brenda and I were racking our brains to come up with something for him, his vision specialist and his aid were trying to come up with something, and David pipes up and says, “Hey, aren’t I suppose to come up with what I want to say?” He said, I know what I want to say, but I can remember it, but it is in this song. So he starts to sing the David Pfohl version of It is Well with My Soul.” If David doesn’t remember a word he simply replaces it with a better one. His teacher called and said, hey is this a psalm or something? The two words that were consistent were peace and river. So she googled them, and up comes the words to the song, It is well with my soul. When she got to the part where it says, “What ever my lot, though has taught me to say, it is well with my soul,” David jumps up and says, that’s it, that is what I want under my year book picture.
And why is it well with David? It is well because he has his mind focused on eternity and not the temporal. Let’s learn from David.
As we close let me simply challenge you to take your sermon notes home and reflect on the three points made today. In your bulletin I have included a half prayer sheet for how you can pray for individuals and families with special needs. I started off the sermon by saying my goal was not to guilt you into helping with our special needs ministry. With that being said, if you are interested in knowing more about how to help us with this incredible ministry please contact Nancy Hinds. Her name, email, and phone number are on the back of the prayer sheet and also on the inside of your bulletin. Lets pray.