IT’S AP-PARENT SERMON SERIES
ACCEPTIONAL CHILDREN – HANDLING SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 1995
People often wonder what it is like to have a handicapped child. The mother of a disabled child, Emily Kingsley, says that having a baby is like planning a trip to Italy. It is the trip of a lifetime. You go out and buy books and learn Italian phrases. You shop for this trip. You can’t wait to experience Venice, the gondolas, Michelangelo’s David, and to sip capuchino in quaint cafes while you people-watch. Yes, you are going to Italy. Months go by and finally the big day arrives. You pack your bags, you scream out to the airport, you jump aboard the 747, and you endure the long plane ride and finally the plane touches down and the flight attendant comes on the intercom and she says something that shocks you. She says these words. “We have just landed in Holland. Welcome to Holland.” You say, “What? Holland? I planned on going to Italy. I have been looking forward to this trip for years and years. What do you mean Holland? I want to go to Italy.” And she looks back at you and she says, “Sir, you have to stay in Holland. You have arrived in Holland, not Italy.” So you get off the plane and you look around and Holland is a slower paced place than Italy. It is not the same. You do, though, notice some tulips and you realize that Holland has Rembrandt. You learn some new phrases, you meet new groups of people. And while you are staying in Holland, you hear people coming back from Italy. And they are telling you how great Italy is, wow, it’s so cosmopolitan, it’s so this, it’s so that. And you are getting kind of depressed because you know you won’t get a chance to go to Italy, you have to spend your entire life in Holland. And if you spend your time in Holland always thinking that you didn’t get a chance to go to Italy, you will never be able to enjoy Holland the way you should enjoy it.
That, Emily Kingsley writes, is the way it is when you have a handicapped child. You are expecting to go to Italy, where everyone else goes, to have a “normal” child, a healthy child, but when the birth comes you have to live in Holland. Will you make the best of it? The option is up to you.
I want you to meet two people. They are a husband and a wife by the names of Paul and Paula Martin. They are the parents of an eight year old handicapped girl by the name of Beth and they are very active in the life of our church. Let’s welcome the Martins.
Paula, I know a little bit about your situation and I want to ask you, when did you find out that you were going to have a disabled child?
PAULA We didn’t find out beforehand. We found out at birth, well really not even then, we just knew there were problems when she was born. She was delivered by C-Section because there were some unusual circumstances and immediately they whisked her away and put her in this little room with the curtains drawn. And we didn’t know what was going on. We just knew that we knew nothing and we were very scared. A few hours later they wheeled Beth by in an incubator, and they let me reach over and touch her leg, and then they whisked her off to another hospital in another town. And we were still in the dark, as it were.
PAUL Ed, at that point they hadn’t even asked for her name and she had been alive for about four hours at that point. I think that was because of what their expectation was. Paula had to stay in the hospital for quite some time after that, to recover from the Section but I followed Beth over to the other hospital. When they wheeled in Beth they immediately started strapping electronics on her little body. The room had all the beeps, all the sounds, the smells, the tension of an ICU unit except this was for sick kids, newborns. The doctor took me aside and brought me into his office and sat me down. He told me, “Don’t expect to see her here tomorrow morning, she probably won’t be here.” Ed, this was quite a change for us. I mean, just a few hours earlier I was on the way to the hospital listening to “Somewhere in the World” by Wayne Watson. And now I’ve got a kid who may not be here much longer. The truth of the matter is, Beth did come home. For awhile, though, I had to ferry polaroids back and forth to the hospital so Paula could see her firstborn.
The hard part started about four months later. The doctors were observing her and since Beth was our first we didn’t know that there were any differences at all. We get to August of that year when Beth was four months old and at that point they started saying they wanted to run some tests that something was not right but that they did not know what it was yet. The third week of August 1986, on Wednesday I got word that the radio station where I worked would be changing formats and they would fire the entire staff within a matter of days. On Thursday the doctors said that they knew the tests they would need to run and they had begun to anticipate what was wrong. On Friday we received a letter from the IRS in which they questioned my mathematical prowess.
ED So, you folks, again, were sledge hammered in three or four different ways like that.
PAUL That’s right. All at one time. The thing is, at that point we still didn’t know what was going on, and we just knew there was a problem at birth, they wanted to do a lot of testing, and I am getting ready to be unemployed. A couple of months later, unemployed at that time, we were going to Easter Seals for therapy. You remember seeing the National Football League announcements that showed the crippled children with the braces. I always wondered as a kid, why these kids couldn’t walk. It never made sense to me. And then all of a sudden, here I am at Easter Seals. And they are working on Beth, they are working her legs, they are working her arms, trying to get the muscles to react to things because they weren’t doing what they were supposed to do. I remember telling the therapist, I can’t wait until all of this is over and Beth can be like the little girl I dreamed of, with the powder blue windbreaker on, kicking a soccer ball on Saturday mornings. And then the therapist’s eyes met my eyes. Not a word was spoken but there was a ton of communication going on, Ed. And she basically was telling me, your dreams shouldn’t be your dreams anymore because that is not going to happen. In fact, for a long time doctors never even gave us hope that she would ever walk. In fact, they never gave us hope she would walk.
Three years ago this month Paula and I were praying and we were reading our Bibles at the breakfast table one morning and our youngest, Kimber, 3 1/2 years old, ambles in and sits down. We finish reading our Bibles and Paula asks her, “Kimber would you like to pray with us?” So Paula prays and then Kimber, this is the first time we ever get to hear Kimber pray, prayed. Her first words were, “Father, would you please teach Beth how to walk?” And I was convicted because we had quit praying for Beth to learn how to walk years earlier. I was just convicted of my faithlessness, we no longer prayed because we didn’t want to be disappointed anymore, and we just couldn’t handle any more of that. But here it was a 3 1/2 year old praying for her sister to learn how to walk.
Well a few months later I was in California on business. The phone rings and Paula is on the other end. Paula says, “Paul, you won’t believe this. The physical therapist at school called this morning and Beth took eight steps.” She had never given us any indication that this was going to happen before, but she took eight steps that day. And just a few minutes ago, we got to walk Beth over to Sunday School, from this building all the way over to the Sunday School building. And she can walk, Ed. It is not real pretty, but it is beautiful to us because we never thought she would.
ED Paula, I have talked to you before, of course, and I remember you telling me that some of the things that parents take for granted are big victories for you folks as you parent Beth.
PAULA Right. Some of the normal everyday things that I am sure that you go through at your household such as discipline, what is right and what is wrong. They are a lot harder, they come a lot slower. For instance, we took a family vacation to Disney World and Beth decided at Disney World to throw a fit. Pitch a good fit.
PAUL Yes, the happiest place in the world.
PAULA So we wheeled into the ladies room for a good time out session, twenty minutes of time out. And Paul said it was rather amazing. Women would go in the ladies room and they were happy campers and when they came out they weren’t quite so happy. Beth was having her influence. So things are just a little harder, they take longer. Things don’t register as easily with her. That is a part of it.
PAUL That’s right. It is uncomfortable to be around some of these kids sometimes if you are not around them very often. I remember as a kid growing up in school, and they have changed a lot of this now, but I grew up in Irving and when we were in elementary school, they took all the special needs kids and they put them all in a school called Gilbert on the other side of town. And us guys made a lot of fun of them in elementary school and junior high. We had never seen any of them before and we just made fun of them. We would do something like run our bike into a wall and fall over and hurt ourselves and go, “Gee that was a real Gilbert thing.” Or we would do something stupid like, you know, hammer our thumb while hammering a nail and we would say, “Gee that was a real Gilbert thing.” We would drop a barbell on our foot and say “That, too, was a real Gilbert thing.” But you know, present company excluded of course, the hard part about it, Ed, is I have got one of those at home right now. And Beth, I could never imagine how much I love that kid. She is the most loving of any kid you could imagine. Her sister supports her and yeah, they have the sibling squabbles, but my, my, my what a blessing Holland is.
ED I tell you what. I challenge you all to get to know these two
folks and their family because they communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ every time I am around them. We thank you for taking time to spend with us over this weekend. And let’s again show our appreciation to the Martins.
Oftentimes I will see someone in our church expecting a child and I will ask them this question. I will say, “Do you’ll want a boy or a girl?” And usually the response is, “We don’t care if it is a boy or a girl as long as it’s healthy, as long as it’s normal.” I am tempted to follow up that question and that response by saying, “What if it is not normal, what if it is not healthy, what are you going to do then?”
I want to conclude our time together this morning by asking you two pointed questions. Question one. Do you have a normal definition of normal? Do you have a normal definition of normal? You see, what is normal to us in our humanistic, limited perspective is not normal to God. Beth Martin might not be normal to you, but she is normal to the living Lord. And the Bible says in
I Samuel 16:7 the following words: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” You see, all of us, you, me, everyone here, we could qualify to drive into the handicapped spaces at certain times in our lives. You can’t see our handicaps like you could Beth’s handicap but they are there. We are handicapped by sin, by despondency, depression, anxiety, a habit that is destroying our lives. And we put these giant masks on and we act like everything is A-OK but in reality, we are handicapped, we are limited.
Throughout the Bible you see examples of people who were disabled. Think about the Old Testament briefly. Moses, that great patriarch, Moses had a terrible speech problem. Jacob got involved in Wrestlemania I. After he went toe to toe with the angel he had a deformed leg for the rest of his life. Jeroboam, one of the kings of Israel, had a withered hand. Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, couldn’t walk. We move to the New Testament and we come in contact with every kind of disability; blindness, deafness, neurological disorders, epilepsy. The Apostle Paul had some physical problem, he called it a thorn in his flesh. Although I did hear one pastor say the thorn in his flesh was his wife. But most people believe it was a physical problem. And when Jesus came in contact with these people, what did He do? Did He kind of make a wide circle around them? Did He kind of stiff arm them? He got involved in their lives. He developed relationships with them. He touched them. He ministered to them. And how we need to do this today. Touch. Minister. Get involved because they are human beings. And in God’s dictionary, a person who is normal is a person who is a human being and they are made in the image of God to reflect His glory.
I think about Dale Hornsby, I think about Edward Crump, I think about Carolyn Hunter, I think about Fred Byrd, four handicapped people that God used in a mighty way in my life to speak to me through their limitations. You see, Jesus wants you and Jesus wants me not to just sympathize with them, but to empathize with them. To empathize with someone is a I Samuel 16:7 empathy. It is crawling into the heart of an individual.
As Paul mentioned, a 50 pound dumbbell fell on my toe and crushed it into about 14 to 20 pieces. I had to have surgery and all of that. I spent some time in a wheelchair for the first time in my life. And I realized just to a billionth degree what a handicapped or disabled person goes through every day they live. It was difficult to negotiate doorways, steps were impossible, curbs. When someone wheels you around you are out of eye contact with typical human beings. It is tough. But I understood what it meant in just a small way, just a fraction of how it is to be in that situation. So when you see someone who is disabled, put yourself in their shoes, in their chair, on their crutches, on their level and empathize.
Question two. Will you allow this disability to destroy you or will you use it as a display case for the power of God? Will you allow this disability, it may be a handicap, a learning disability, or another problem, will you allow it to destroy you or will you use it as a display case for the glory of God? I remember as a kid in our church, we had a giant trophy case and we loved to press our noses and faces against the trophy case and look at all the beautiful trophies, one for volleyball, one for basketball, one for football and we dreamed of the day when we would have a trophy that had our name on it. Everyone could see it because it was in this display case. When you are going through a time of suffering, when you are going through a time of disability, you have an opportunity to display the power of God. But too many people let it destroy them.
Two years ago the doctors told Lisa and I that our son, EJ, had a neurological disorder called neurofibromatosis. Right now he is healthy. He is doing well. But they have told us tumors will grow on the nerve endings, it could cause blindness, deafness, learning disabilities and possibly an early death. When they told us, it rattled our cages. I couldn’t believe it. And what do you think was my first question to God, it is a three word question and it begins with a giant W. Take a wild guess. Say it with me. “Why? Why God? Why me God? I’m a pastor, God? I’ve lived a Christian life, I have preached Your gospel. I do weddings, funerals, counseling. I’m a pastor, God. Why, why, why?” Lisa and I had a choice to make. We could either allow this to destroy us, by the way four out of five marriages end in divorce where there is a handicapped child involved, or we could allow it to display the power of God. I found out a lot of people, when a tragedy strikes or when they go through a lifetime of suffering, these folks and their families and their friends take a trip to not Wayne’s World but Why World. They hang out in Why World. And they say why, why, why, why, why. And then they build a giant wall of bitterness around them and they just say why. And they miss what God wants to do through their lives.
For some of you, this why question is the barrier keeping you from really knowing God and doing something for Him that will last for eternity. It is at the forefront of your mind. Why?
I want to give you a scriptural sixshooter that will blow holes in your why question. I want you to strap it on so you can blow it full of holes. Are you ready? Have your pens or pencils out and write these down rapidly. Here we go. The scriptural sixshooter. The first shot. Proverbs 25:2. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.” The second shot. Isaiah 45:15. “Truly, you are a God who hides Himself.” I remember a couple of years ago there was a play on Broadway entitled, “Your Arms Are Too Short To Box With God”. That is a fact. My intellect, your intellect, it is too short, it falls miserably shy of God’s sovereignty, of His omniscience. The third shot. Deuteronomy 29:29. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.” The fourth shot. Ecclesiastes 11:5. “As you do not know the path of the wind or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, maker of all things.” The fifth shot. Isaiah 55:8-9. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways, My ways declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” You see, trying to analyze the omnipotence of God is like an amoeba trying to comprehend a human being’s behavior. We can’t do it. And I am one of the most analytical people you will ever meet. Are you stuck in Why World? Let’s sum it up with the sixth shot. The Apostle Paul uses a sawed-off shotgun to blow the why question away here.
I Corinthians 13:12. Here is what Paul says. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror.”
In my car, I drive a Mitsibushi Diamonti, the defrost system does not work well at all. I have had this car for three years and if I ever try to push the defrost deal on, and I am not very mechanically inclined you know, when it is all foggy, it won’t work very well. I don’t know why, that is just the problem I have and I can’t really see very well as I am trying to drive. The Apostle Paul says in this life we can’t see very well. You know it is kind of foggy, we have a poor defrost system. But he says, “then (meaning in heaven) we shall see face to face”, (it will be crystal clear), “now I know in part”, (just a fraction, just little tidbits, just hors d’oeuvres) “then though” (in heaven, the full course, the total package), “I shall fully know even as I am fully known.” Where in the Bible does it say that Christians get out of suffering? Where does it say that we can dodge mishaps or stay away from handicapped situations or people with learning disabilities or physical problems or ailments or difficulties? It doesn’t say it. It doesn’t say it.
I want you to know two things. Number one. You have got to come to a point in your life where you trust God independent of your understanding. You have got to trust God, I have got to trust God independent of my understanding. And a lot of us arrogantly say, “Well, God owes me an explanation, man. You know I have got to understand it before I believe it.” You will go to your grave with that one. There are so many questions that I have and the Bible says I won’t be able to answer them until I graduate from this life and until my size 12 shoe hits the golden streets of heaven. Then I will be able to find out. But at this point, I am too limited. I am finite. God is infinite.
Number two. God will not parade His plans and purposes for you to pick and choose from. God will not parade His plans and purposes for you or for me to pick and choose from. Here is what I am saying. How many of you have ever seen the Rose Bowl Parade before? Here are the bands, they are marching….and you see all these beautiful floats passing by. And a lot of folks think the Christian life is like this, we kind of sit back in the gallery and say “OK, God, just float your plans and purposes by and I will pick and choose what floats I want to ride on.” “No, not that one God because that is a tough life and I would have to suffer. Not that one for me.” “No, having a child with a severe learning disability, I don’t have the patience God, sorry.” “Oh, there is one, there is a good one, that is easy, I will jump on that one.” And we ride. It is not that way. It is not that way. You see God oftentimes does not explain Himself. He doesn’t go into every little reason. We have got to trust Him though. Am I saying to check your intellect at the door? I am not saying that. You can try to understand or comprehend it, but God says, throughout the book of Romans, for example, My ways are higher, they are at another level than you can possibly understand or comprehend.
One of the most traumatic things I have ever experienced as a father happened twelve months ago. We took EJ, our son, down to M. D. Anderson Cancer Hospital for a series of tests. And one of those tests was going through an MRI to see if he had any tumors in his brain and I had to hold him along with my wife Lisa as they sedated him. He was freaking out. He had no clue why we were doing this. And I remember him looking in my eyes going (he couldn’t say this) but “You traitor, I thought you loved me. Why are you doing this to me? Why? Let me go. Quit it. Stop it. I hate this pain.” And I wanted to say, “EJ, see you have been diagnosed with neurofibromatosis and we are doing this because we love you. This specialist. That specialist.” I couldn’t do that though because he was only a year old. Think about your life. Think about my life. We are going through suffering. What is the first question? Why, God? Why, God? We start crying and whining and going nuts and God the Father wraps His arms around us and I know He wants to say “let me explain it to you, let me tell you why”. But we are too limited. And I am sure He anticipates the day when we get to heaven and He can explain the situation.
I heard Ron Dunn speak recently. And Ron Dunn is a pastor who has gone through many, many tragedies and he said a phrase I have never forgotten. Ron Dunn said “When a difficult situation comes your way, when a disability strikes, the first question you should ask is not, why me, it is, what now.” God, what now. I am going to trust you. You lead me. You show me. You guide me, God. You guide me.
John 9 is a great chapter in that gospel because in the first part of that chapter the disciples see a man who has been blind since birth and they rush over to Jesus and they say Jesus, “What is the deal? Why is he blind? Did he sin. Did his parents sin? What’s the problem?” And here is what Jesus said. John 9:3, I love this verse. “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. You happened that the work of God might be displayed in your life. Beth Martin happened that the word of God might be displayed in her life. What a powerful word. And this blind man minutes later was healed by Jesus. And too many times we jump to the miracle don’t we? A miracle. Unbelievable. This man was blind, now he sees. This lady was deaf, now she can hear. And I praise God for miracles. We serve a miracle-working God. But I think the power of God is shown and manifested as much in a miracle of someone being healed as it is a person living day in and day out enduring with a handicap or disability. I think the power of God is shown in both lives equally. But we jump into the miracle and we miss the thousands upon thousands, in fact 10% of our population is disabled, who are living with it day, after day, after day. If you are a part of a family where there is a special needs child, you have a spiritual insight that other people won’t have. God gives you a power, He gives you discernment that I cannot explain, that you cannot explain. The question is are you using it as a platform to display the power of God? So it is your choice. And I want to encourage you to trust and obey, even when you don’t understand everything because there is no other way to be happy in Jesus.