It was a cool, quiet summer morning. I sat with Abbey in my truck, parked in my driveway, for nearly an hour. The only words she said the whole time were, “Music please.” This was one of her favorite morning routines. She sat next to me, listening to soft piano music, contented to look out the window while I ran my fingers through her hair.
It was the best part of my day – probably my month. The sky was beautiful, and so was my little girl. The anxiety and disconnection that characterized most of her life was, for a moment, strangely absent. The peace was so sweet, I found myself crying.
For three years my family has journeyed along the path of disability. Eight surgeries, hundreds of therapy visits, the constant whirring of a feeding machine and a diagnosis of severe autism later, we are still going. Through the process of grief, confusion and the beginnings of acceptance, we are discovering something unexpected on the other side: Blessing.
My status as a “man of God” has been severely tested lately. I say that I believe things in the Bible like, “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him.”
All things? Lord, the divorce rate for people in my situation is 85 percent. My other kids are being neglected because their sister needs around-the-clock medical care. She has never chewed food in her life and rarely even acknowledges me. A little school bus is coming for her this fall. All things?
In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul says it like this: You will experience weakness, and this weakness will be a blessing, because it will develop new strength in you.
You will understand things that you could not understand before. You will know what it is like to be beset; you will feel the plight of the poor, the unable, the disabled and those who cannot care for themselves.
You will begin to see things the way God does. And it will change you.
We have much to learn. Become bound to a wheelchair for just a day, and the privilege of walking will become a miracle to you. Blindfold yourself for just an hour, and the gift of seeing will become amazing. It has become very hard to complain about food – ever – when my daughter cannot eat. Amid all the hardships, the blessings of life have become that much more astounding and appreciated.
To any who live with disability in some form, I say this: Yours is the hard life, but you have something that others do not. You understand weakness, and it is making you a stronger, more thankful, more selfless person.
A few months ago one of my sons came home from school a bit quieter than usual. Later that evening he talked about his day. Walking by the special education class, he related how other kids were making fun of those in that class – a hard-scrabble mob of human awkwardness. But my boy had a different experience. He stopped and stared and felt. He saw something else in there. He saw his sister. And instead of fear and unease, he felt tenderness. His young soul was rooting very deeply in the things of God.
Our weaknesses have something to teach us, if we will let them. These lessons are the rusty and the dusty ones, books rarely read in the library of life. But I believe they are the best ones.
Here’s to many more quiet sunrises with my little girl.
THE REV. JEFF MILLER IS PASTOR OF VINEYARD COMMUNITY CHURCH IN AUGUSTA.