I have known and loved many saints with special needs whom the Lord has brought into my life to bless me through the years. Some of my friends are with us here. Some have grown up and have a very important place in the life of our congregations. And some have left us to enter into the joy of their heavenly home. In fact, perhaps I have had more opportunity than most people to get to know them. I have been a teacher and I have been a part of our Special Ed School by serving on the Board at different times from the very beginning. In fact, I have the privilege of serving on the Board at this time.
When I was young, and especially when my parents were young, family and school did not know what to do with special needs children. They were often just kept at home to help as they could with chores or they were sent away and put in institutions. How wonderful it is that these children are in school with us. This week, we get to show our appreciation of their place among us and understand the various trials they face by our involvement in the “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” events of this week in school.
I want to turn things around. I want to consider with you, not what I can teach my special needs friends, but what I have learned from them. Who are these friends? They are children in our school or our church family with special needs in learning or with physical limitations. They may need a wheelchair. They may have problems seeing or hearing. They may be adults from our congregation who are out of school, but through birth, sickness or injury have severe limitations on part of their life. They may also be seniors, elderly saints, who in the final years of their life are unable to care for their own needs. Maybe you have a grandparent who is in a nursing home or needs special care.
What are the lessons my friends have taught me?
Joy in our afflictions
When we face trials and struggles in our life we tend to get depressed. We feel sorry for ourselves and think we have it worse than anyone else. I have seen my friends in wheelchairs full of the joy of the Lord. They were good at cheering up others. They were not full of self pity, but, joyful in affliction. I enjoy the writings and radio program of a paralyzed woman named Joni Eareckson Tada who encourages those with special needs by her drawings she does with her mouth, her beautiful singing and her lessons on God’s loving care. You would enjoy some of her books.
Trust in the Lord
We get scared and worried when things are not going our way. We worry about the little things: homework, hairstyles, clothes, sports ability. My friends face their trial and go forward. Maybe they deal with what we call handicaps: maybe they are deaf, blind, unable to walk or even move. Everyday they depend on our heavenly Father to care for them. One friend of mine, a blind man named Art from our church in Redlands, California would come to live with us in Michigan for a couple of weeks at a time by traveling alone with his seeing eye dog, named “Niner,” by riding on a train or plane. He was fearless and great fun. He would play the harmonica for our family while we would sing. We still tell stories about our dear friend who is able to see perfectly now in his heavenly home.
Patience and bravery
I have seen a loved one paralyzed by a stroke lie there without complaint and praising God. I have seen a loved one dying from cancer full of hope of seeing Christ. I have talked with a special needs friend unflinchingly facing one painful surgery after another. They were not fearful, but placed their care in the loving hands of their heavenly Father, patiently waiting for him to carry them through.
We get caught up in ourselves. We are often frustrated when our lives don’t go the way we planned. Yet, I have many friends who cannot do the types of things you and I do with sports, study and work. Yet, they are content with their Father’s will.
Love of fellow saints
How much time do you spend thinking about your fellow students, family and friends? My special needs friends know the name of everyone in church. Some even send birthday cards to everyone in church. I should take the time to show that kind of concern and love. I should spend more time helping my fellow saints.
What is the most important lesson I have learned from those with special needs?
I may surprise you when I explain this. You see, often those who are weak (sick, paralyzed, disabled, elderly) and dependent on others for care feel like they are of no value to the church and to God. They feel so useless; like they are a burden to others. There are four lessons I have learned from my friends.
- When I see the joy, trust, bravery, patience and contentment in my special friends I behold the work of God’s grace in them in their afflictions. The apostle Paul says, “for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (II Cor. 12:7-10) Then, I glorify God through his care of them. I witness his love for his children in action.
- My own faith is strengthened because I see in my friends the reality of the promise that my heavenly Father will care for me when I face the trials that will surely come my way. No matter how strong and healthy I may feel now—I know there are trials ahead. I saw that in two of my children when they were in the hospital because of serious car accidents. I know that someday, if the Lord spares me, I will grow weaker and weaker until I die. I am no different than my godly grandparents I visited while they were lying helpless in bed in a nursing home. That time is coming for me—and for you.
- God has put these friends in my life so that I have the opportunity to serve him through serving others. That is what communion of the saints is all about! Because of them, I have a way to show my love of Christ by helping them. Do you say “Hi” to them in the hallway? Can you encourage them with kind words? Can you be a special friend to them? Can you carry their books for them? Can you push their wheelchair if they need it? Can you hold their hand? I see this in the halls of school. I watch you living out your faith and bless God for you, and I and your teachers are blessed in seeing you.
- Some day, in my needs I am comforted to know that other saints will show the love of Christ to me. May I, like my friends, thankfully receive that loving care.
Are you showing the love of Christ to the special friends God has given you? May God give us grace to learn from our special friends, and to show the love of Christ to them.