I wrote this for Through the Roof (http://www.throughtheroof.org/info-and-resources/articles/ros-blog/) and it is reproduced here by kind permission.
The day my second child was born, my world changed forever. She was thirteen weeks premature and the doctors had been warning me to expect her to be stillborn. Even if she was alive, they said, she wouldn’t cry, as her lungs would be too immature. Moments after she was born I heard her give a fairly powerful cry – it was, and remains, the most wonderful sound I’ve ever heard in my life.
Now began her long, hard fight to hold on to life. It was more than ten weeks before the doctors could tell us that she would live, and at least two years before we could say with confidence that her life was no longer in danger.
From her birth onwards our world was turned upside down. I wrestled with God over what was happening, as I came to grips with a world of sleepless nights, emergency resuscitations, failure to thrive, physiotherapy and low, low educational expectations. Things that my other daughters received by right (such as appropriate education) had to be fought for tooth and nail.
Again and again Ellen defied the prognosis and achieved things we had been told were beyond her. For example, we were told she hadn’t the intelligence to learn any speech and now at the age of 30 she can not only hold a conversation (on her own terms!) but has a reading age of 8. Nonetheless, her learning disabilities are considerable, and as a result much about the world remains puzzling, confusing and frightening to her.
One thing I observed as she grew up was the simplicity and yet the undoubted reality of her faith in God. Her music therapist at school (not as far as I know herself a committed Christian) remarked that Ellen was clearly developing her own faith and kept asking for songs about God’s love during their music therapy sessions – so she was becoming, in her own way, an evangelist, too! By her late teens she was clearly expressing in simple words her own faith in Jesus. We asked her if she would like to be baptised and she replied with a very enthusiastic “Yes!” So we found a couple of strong friends to carry her from her wheelchair to the baptistry and she was baptised at the age of 19.
This caused me to reflect on my own relationship with God. How often I needed my questions answered before I felt safe to trust Him; how I needed to be able to work out logical reasons for my faith along with my experience of God; how important it was to me to be able to explain exactly why I believed what I did. None of that was needed for Ellen. She constantly flung herself into the arms of her heavenly Father, certain that He was there and would hold her. She saw things that I, with all my theological study, could not see because my spiritual eyes were dim.
In 1 Corinthians 1.20, 25 and 27 Paul writes, “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength…. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
Amos Yong wrote these words: “If people with intellectual disabilities represent the foolishness of the world, what hinders our viewing them as embodying the wisdom of God?”
I suspect that when the world is wound up and all things are made new, and we begin to find out what things in our lives were of eternal value, and what things have passed away with the temporal world, we will have to revise our whole view of disability. We who thought we had the advantages in life – the strong, the clever, the ones the world regards as gifted – will find that on a spiritual level we have been severely disabled compared to our brothers and sisters who lacked those intellectual giftings, but whose spiritual life is marked by abilities and giftings we never knew they possessed. In that day they will be our teachers, leading us from the place of our spiritual impoverishment on the long road to catch up with where they already are in their deep understanding of, and relationship with, God.