“Was he born like that or did something happen?”
The question took me by surprise, even though getting one of my sweet babies’ hair cut always makes me feel a little nervous. I don’t hear comments like this often, and when I do, I generally choose the “make an excuse and walk away” option. That isn’t possible when you’re trapped in a swivel chair, buttoned into a cape, and halfway through a haircut with a squirming child in your lap. It felt like I had to move Heaven and Earth to even get us into that chair, so I just stayed silent and tried to nod at the appropriate times. I was thankful for the mandatory mask that hid my fragile emotions.
Moments like this make me more grateful for the people who choose words that bring life and hope. At the very least, most people seem to know when to keep quiet. I can picture the faces of several of my friends and family members—people who love AJ and Olivia fiercely—who would have said something in that moment. Robert certainly would have. Several fitting replies come to my mind now, but I just couldn’t find the words then.
The hairstylist also asked if AJ would ever walk or talk, and the whole episode brought me face to face with a point of view that I try to avoid, because it is so foreign to the one Robert and I hold: Is it worth being alive if you can’t walk and eat and talk and do?
Until my dying breath or the day Jesus returns, my answer to that question will be, “Yes!” My “yes” was a sorrowful one when I realized that I hadn’t heard Olivia laugh in months. At times, that “yes” has been plagued with doubt as I’ve watched my kids suffer. But it is a “yes,” just the same. Today, it is a resounding one.
I know who my God is. I know that He doesn’t make mistakes. Emphatically, I can say that He did not inflict the pain we’ve experienced. It’s the result of living in a broken, wayward world. Emphatically, I declare that every moment, every breath is full of purpose; every trace of suffering is redeemable if placed in the hands of the Father who loves us.
God has always had a way of preparing me for difficult seasons and situations. Earlier this week I watched a sermon from Gateway Church about how we should “regard no one according to the flesh.” Human beings tend to make value judgements based on information that can be taken in through the five senses, while God’s ways are higher than that.
Pastor Robert Morris recounted several instances after Jesus’ resurrection where the disciples did not recognize Him, even though He was walking among them once again. How were these cases of mistaken identity possible? How could men and women who had walked with Jesus for years not know Him when they saw Him?
He was different than before, and they were looking at things all wrong. The resurrected Jesus was spirit, and He had ushered in a Kingdom that is first and foremost spiritual. Regarding Jesus according to His physical flesh wasn’t going to work anymore—just as it won’t work for us today. The world we live in is primarily concerned with what can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched. But if we desire to function in God’s Kingdom, we must do things His way:
“So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!”—2 Corinthians 5:16 (NLT)
If faithfully applied, what impact would this verse have on racism? Sexism? Other forms of discrimination? What about political or denominational division? In the contexts of marriage, family, church, community, and nation, how many of the words that slip so easily past loose tongues would be swallowed, along with our pride? What if we refused to evaluate each other from a human point of view and instead asked God to help us see things from His vantage point? Would we find the courage to listen instead of speak and to press “delete” instead of “send”?
It’s true that Olivia and AJ’s way of existing in the world is different from most. I’ve ached as I watched their senses fade. Eyes that shake with nystagmus and struggle to focus. Ears that do not turn, even to the loudest of sounds. Mouths that taste very little, unless mom slips a pinch of cotton candy or dad sneaks a bit of buttercream frosting. Even their response to touch is complicated by neurological responses that we don’t fully understand.
My faith for their healing co-exists with an anguish that comes from witnessing all that they miss out on. I grieve what is lost.
But God. He sits with me in the place of my hurt and tells me a different story. A story of the ways that Olivia and AJ are nearer to His Kingdom than those of us with clearer vision and better hearing.
You and I are so entrenched in a culture of doing that we forget how much purpose there is in simply being. Would it be OK if this 34-year-old, wife and mama to five, teacher of all the things, worship leading, blog writing, organizing, detail checking, graduate student told you a story about how powerful it can be to just be?
My grandmother’s name was Betty Jo. I called her Paw Maw, since I got Maw Maw confused with Paw Paw, and it just stuck. I can picture her best with her feet propped up in a mauve recliner, doing a crossword puzzle with cigarette in one hand and a cup of black coffee on the side table. I remember one thing she bought for me. It was a small, cellophane bag full of Valentine’s candy. I recall one occasion that she took me somewhere. We went to the county fair, to my mama’s annoyance. Once in a while, Paw Maw would cook my favorite meal of chicken fried steak. Mostly, though, my memories of her are centered on that La-Z-Boy in the reclined position.
Can I tell you that of all of the people in this world, the ones I most aspire to be like are my Paw Maw and my mama? It’s got nothing to do with what Paw Maw did for me and everything to do with how she made me feel! Paw Maw had seven children, 23 grandchildren, and more great grandchildren than I can count, and she somehow made me feel as if I was special—as if I was her favorite. She made all of us feel that way.
My mama tends to buy and go and do more than Paw Maw did in her seventies, but she has that same quality of being present for the people in her life . I crave her presence, because it is life-giving. When the world is all wrong, just her being there makes things right again—even if she doesn’t lift a finger, spend a dollar, or say a word.
This is what God’s presence means to me. I am grateful for the way He provides for me. I praise Him for His hand at work in my life. I cherish the words He speaks to my heart. But it’s His nearness … His being … His presence … that captures my heart.
Olivia and AJ are living examples of what it means to be present in the Kingdom sense. They are some of God’s greatest image-bearers in that respect.
Please allow me to show you what I mean through a devotional strategy I sometimes use when reading the Bible. I insert my name into a verse—either to remind me how God sees me or to reflect on the state of my own heart and the way I treat others.
I Corinthians 13 is known as the love chapter; It is perhaps the passage that best defines Biblical love. Since I John 4:8 tells us that “God is love,” we are wise to pay attention to any portion of scripture that expounds on this word that is often over-used and under-esteemed.
Pause a moment to get honest with yourself and before God, and then read part of I Corinthians 13. In place of the word “love,” say your name, and change the pronouns to match. I’ll use Olivia’s name for an example:
“[Olivia] suffers long (is patient) and is kind; [Olivia] does not envy; [Olivia] does not parade [herself], is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek [her] own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; [Olivia] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”—I Corinthians 13:4-7 (NKJV)
Is it OK if I admit to you that Olivia’s name fits much better and more honestly in that verse than mine does? AJ’s too. I think it’s because their inability to engage with this world through the physical senses makes it easier for them to connect with God’s Kingdom on Earth, which is more spiritual than tangible. They may have missed out on experiencing things through sight, hearing, taste, and touch, but they have a head start on the kind of love that grows best when we are immersed in the presence of God.
God intends for all of us to dwell in this kind of love to the extent that we can pour it out—not just in Heaven someday, but here and now. In His presence we gain a higher perspective that makes it possible to “regard no one according to the flesh.” We learn to get still and quiet and to listen more than we speak. We find that sometimes it’s OK to quit doing and just be.
I do not pray that you would blind my eyes or close my ears, but I ask that You help me to see things as You do. Teach me to regard others, not according to flesh but by Your Spirit. If all of my doing is hindering my ability to be present in each moment, give me grace to simply be.
In Jesus’ Name,