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Archive for August, 2009

For those of us who have been given the gift of more than one child, and one of those children has a disability, we know it is hard for friends and family to know how to talk to us about our children.

After all, we’re a moving target: are we having a season of good, stable days with our kids?  Are we in the midst of some difficult situation?  Are we consumed with the issues surrounding the child with the disability?  Are our non-disabled children doing something significant and interesting?  Is that all happening at the same time?

Most families are moving targets, of course.  But having a disabled family member seems to ramp up the complications, and those complications are often unusual.  So it makes it a little, or a lot, more difficult to know how to talk with us about our children.

Which leads to two common mistakes people make:

  1. Not talking to us at all, or avoiding any talk about any of our children.
  2. Concentrating all talk to either the child with the disability, or the children without disabilities.

My parents, as we celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary this weekend, reminded me of their remarkable ability to treat all their grandchildren and great-children uniquely with the same affections.

These 13 (16 if you count spouses, and my parents love their three granddaughters-in-law as well) individuals are so very different, from age (29 years to 3 weeks), education (pursuing a Ph.D. to not-yet-kindergarten), physical abilities (quite fit police officer to completely helpless babies), or even musical abilities (composer to no musical abilities at all).

But they most certainly talk about and with all those children!

My parents love them all in ways that show they know them as individuals, appreciate their particular giftings, delight in their accomplishments, are confident they can get through hard times, and never, in any circumstance, stop loving them.  They are wonderful examples.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Now, certainly, grandparents have a particular interest in knowing and encouraging their legacy.  And we have also been blessed by people who take a particular interest in a child of mine; I’ll post about that later.

But it is a good lesson for anyone who wants to be helpful: demonstrate an interest in all my children.

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This is actually part two of the helpful things people say or do series.

As my family started our weekend celebration of mom’s and dad’s 60th wedding anniversary last night, I realized that all the women in that room have lived with me for periods of time over the past five years.

During my wife’s chemotherapy and radiation treatments for her cancer in 2004 and 2005, one sister spent more than 6 months living with us, and my other sister and mother also spent days or weeks living with us.

The sole reason: my wife and I couldn’t do all that needed doing to care for our four children at that time.  We needed help.  I could not fulfill the American ideal of doing it all myself, going it alone and triumphing in the end.  I couldn’t do it for myself, and I certainly couldn’t do it for my family.

That was very good for me because of the picture of God it demonstrated: kindness and mercy in a situation in which I did not have the ability to repay; giving good gifts I frequently did not even know I needed; encouraging me to lead my family and serve my wife and children, and helping me see how to do so.  They made much of God in their service to us.

And because they were all so gracious and kind in the midst of that truly horrible time, giving not just their service but their very hearts, we are all much closer for it. Sinful, finite, weak human beings, knit closer together because of need rather than what we can ‘do’ for each other.

God wants us even more dependent on him than that.  He wants to give us the greatest gift – himself! – rather than leave us alone in our sin and puny, selfish existence.  He wants us to experience ever increasing joy in and with him forever, because only he can do that!  As Pastor John has helpfully taught us, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

Many people are at least familiar with Psalm 40:17 because of the heartfelt cry of David in a time of great trouble:

As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!

Pause, however, and remember how David set it up in verse 16:

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!”

Seek the Lord!  Rejoice and be glad in that Lord!  The Lord takes thought of the poor and needy!

And sometimes that thought is sending an army of women who want to make much of God by serving me, or you.  And I am very glad for it!

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A while back we had a series on some of the difficult things that people say to us, and how we respond.  Dianne has reminded me it is time to turn to some helpful things people have said or done.

After 14 years of living with Paul and almost five years with Dianne’s cancer, I have a lot of things!  God has been merciful to bring people into our lives, sometimes just for a moment, and sometimes for years or decades.

But it was easy to think of who to concentrate on this morning, because in a couple of hours my family will be packing up to go celebrate a special weekend with them.

The reason:  60 years of marriage!  Isn’t that something!  The legacy of Harland and Pauline (Larimore) Knight includes three children, nine grandchildren and now four great-grandchildren!  The stories of their faithfulness to me and to my sisters could go on a very long time.

So, they might show up a few times in this series, but I’ll give you just a taste right now:

Paul was born without eyes, the first of his disabilities we would discover.  Surgeons in Minnesota could not adequately address his under-developed eye sockets, which would result, over time, in some very significant problems in his facial development.  In the entire United States, there were only two doctors who had developed two different techniques to address issues like this. We chose the clinic and doctor in Indianapolis.

Since we live in Minnesota, this obviously meant traveling and finding lodging and dealing with a hundred details associated with the medical procedure for our very young boy. And we would have none of the comforts of home we had learned could be helpful for Paul in his recovery.

Grandma and Grandpa’s solution?  Drop everything (that statement doesn’t have the impact that it should. Winona, MN practically stops working when they leave town, such is the number of things they do to serve people there.  I’ve stopped counting the number of service awards they’ve received because I can’t count that high!), throw a rocking chair in the trunk (not as easy as it sounds), drive 500 miles one way, and spend days in the middle of an emotional storm with their son and daughter-in-law taking turns rocking their grandson.

Because they knew Paul liked to be rocked.  And they knew Dianne and I would need some time alone together in that strange place to process what was happening, or just to rest. And because they simply couldn’t not do something.

So, I am a grateful son who can say of his mother:

She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.  She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Proverbs 31:26-29

And if I have learned anything in how to serve my family, it is because of my father:

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?  1 Timothy 3:2-5

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

More stories to come.  And I hope you will consider contributing by sharing the helpful things people have done or said to you!

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Actually, I’m not sure what round we’re on. There have been several.

Yesterday we received Paul’s test scores in the mail from last spring’s Minnesota Test of Academic Skills. The Saint Paul schools always send these scores about this time of year.

His score:  zero.  

And that was on the alternate achievement standards test for kids in special education.

After a few of these I expected it, but the stark reality of the score still makes me pause, because I have a decision to make in that moment:

  • Do I consider all the assets Paul has and brings to our house to balance off this rotten score?  Do I think about how loving and happy he is?  Do I add in how happy his sister is to serve him?  Do I consider how he has helped me view the world differently?  Do I hope in his innocence?

All of these are good things, but I’m back to me trying to give him some value that can justify his existence.  And eventually it just makes me think about all the things he can’t do.

  • Or do I obliterate my desire to find comfort in temporal, earthly things, even good things, and remember what God has to say about his creation and his elect?  Things like:

Jeremiah 29:11-13 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

Isaiah 43:1-2 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

2 Timothy 1:8-12 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher,which is why I suffer as I do.

I do not need to justify my son’s existence to the world. I may and do have to defend him, but God has already confirmed his value because God gave him life.  And God created Paul for God’s own purposes, which do not include high test scores. All the other joyful things, like Paul’s generally happy disposition, are just benefits. 

So, the score came, and the pause came, and I did not succumb to the temptation to make much of the earthly gifts Paul has. That is a grace from God as I have frequently failed at that first moment.  But not this time.  Lord willing, not the next time, either.

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Pastor John was given an incredibly helpful word from God this past weekend as he walked us through John 5:1-18, the account of Jesus going to Bethesda to heal a man who had lived with his disability for 38 years. 

It is primarily helpful because Pastor John rightfully makes the central point about Jesus, and about his knowledge, compassion and power.  Too many writers put the emphasis on the healing event; Pastor John does not make that mistake.  This is about Jesus and how good it is to treasure him above all things, even good gifts like healings.

It is specifically helpful because it deals with disability and faith and sin – but, again, not to make much of these things, but to make much of Jesus.

Man-centered theologies fuss over the healing, making people look more important than Jesus or even what Jesus did more important than Jesus himself.  

Man-centered theologians take the extraordinary statement from Jesus in John 5:14b “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you,” to make an argument that the Bible is actually against people with disabilities, that Jesus somehow equated sin and disability in this statement.  I’ll point out a few when I get to some book reviews I intend to write, Lord willing.

If you are tempted to think that way, here is a helpful word from the sermon:

And yes, (Jesus) warns him that, if he turns away, and mocks this gift, or makes an idol out of his health, and embraces sin as his way of life, he will perish. I take that—final judgment—to be the “worse thing” (in verse 14) that will happen because there aren’t many natural things worse than the 38 years this man endured, and because in verses 28-29, Jesus says, “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

In other words: “I have healed you that you may be holy, that you may stop doing evil, and that you may not rise to the resurrection of judgment, but to the resurrection of life. I have pointed you to myself as a life-giver. I heal in more ways than one. Don’t turn from me to a life of sin.” 

I know the thing I thought I wanted most for a season was a healthy, normal child.  What I really wanted was an easy, wasted life.  But Jesus is so much bigger and so much better than that – he conquers sin!  He gives new life!  He heals us from what could really kill us, forever!  

Yes, Pastor John, you got it right.  This really is about Jesus!  Thank you for helping us treasure the giver much more than any of the earthly gifts he could provide. 

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My light reading for vacation this year was Graduate Theological Education and the Human Experience of Disability.  I’m not kidding – it really was light.  I’ll be blogging about that later.

By contrast, I just read a post on Sue Hume’s Hope for Special Moms blog where she has a guest blogger, Lisa Jamieson, who quotes the Bible and believes that the words God gave us actually mean something (that will give you a taste for what I think about the book referenced above).

I realize I’m in ‘fight’ mode when I read a sentence and want to immediately argue some point – which happened as I read Lisa Jamieson’s post.  

But then I see scripture, and see it dealt with fairly and with confidence that this God and this Jesus really are to be treasured above all earthly things.  That sin is real and we are finite and helpless.  That dependence on this God is something to be desired.

That is why I try to reference the Bible in everything I write as well.  I have opinions and experiences that hopefully are helpful and useful.  But the word of God is so much more:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

So thank you, Lisa, for making much of Jesus today in your post and as you parent your daughter.

And I am grateful that there are so many sisters and brothers at Grace Churchlike Sue Hume and Karen and Dale Anderson and Chuck Peterson and others, who are helping us at Bethlehem with this issue of disability, and who share our passion for the supremacy of God in all things.  Fellowship with you is very sweet, and God is good to provide such friends to us.

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Jesus Also Loves 2 Kings 5

2 Kings 5 would stand on its own as an encouragment to suffering people, but Jesus makes it even more magnificent:

And [Jesus] said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 

And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian. When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away. Luke 4:24-30

This makes the slave girl’s proclamation even more amazing, and confirms why the King of Israel tore his clothes

Even more importantly, it confirms that God is free to bless anyone he chooses. He intentionally gave Naaman victory (vs. 1) and intentionally cleansed him (vs. 14) so that Naaman would understand there is no other god in all the earth than the God of Israel (vs. 15).  

Naaman had done nothing to earn this knowledge – it had been given to him as a gift for no other reason than God chose to give it to him, through being a successful commander and through his leprosy.  Both were necessary for Naaman to be given the freedom to visit Elisha: a bad commander would just be replaced by the King of Syria; without the leprosy, Naaman had no reason to seek out a cure from a  prophet in Israel.

Yet, we are quick to assume that success in his (or our) chosen vocation could be from God, but his leprosy (or our children with disabilities) just sort of happened without God bringing it about.  How sad.  God’s sovereignty over all things is very good news and I am glad to embrace it. 

We, also, have done nothing to earn any positive standing before God.  Yet, when he calls, he not only calls but gives us ears to hear at the same time.  And frequently it seems he chooses to call through suffering rather than through prosperity, or good health, or lack of conflict in our lives, or any other thing we would normally choose and certainly prefer, at least at first glance.

Yet, by acknowledging that God is this free to do as he pleases with his own creation for his own glory, to choose Naaman or to choose a specific widow rather than all people with leprosy or all widows, and especially because Naaman was an idol-worshipping foreigner, the people in the synagogue wanted to kill Jesus.

Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised when people don’t embrace Jesus as sovereign over everything, free and right to do as he pleases with his creation.  

Fortunately, God has given us a unique gift of credibility.  People assume rightly that raising a child with disabilities is difficult, and some even get close enough to our families to see how difficult it is.  If we live in faith and confidence and joy in this Jesus, who has done so much more than simply heal diseases – he has conquered sin and death! – it is pretty difficult to simply dismiss us.  The Holy Spirit frequently uses the weak, the poor, and the foolish to make much of God and confound the strong, rich, and ‘wise’ of our time.

So, while we have the opportunity, let us make much of this King who reigns over all creation, including those he intentionally created with disabilities. 

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As 2 Kings 5 closes, Gehazi lies and cheats Naaman and then lies to Elisha.  Elisha reveals that he knew all that Gehazi had done, and judgment is rendered:

“Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So (Gehazi) went out from his presence a leper, like snow. 2 Kings 5:27

Wow.

I use 2 Kings 5 in a business class I teach at a local college because of all the extraordinary lessons on leadership embedded in this chapter, and it allows me to talk about God.  One student commented at this verse, “that’s really harsh!”  Too harsh, in his estimation, for the sin that had been committed.

But think about it.  Gehazi had been closely associated with many proclamations of the truth as he served Elisha.  He had observed God’s power.  He was not, like Naaman, new in his understanding of who God is.  Yet he desired something, money, more than he desired this God.  So he sought his satisfaction in that treasure.

He deserved hell.  He was given leprosy.

If 2 Kings 8:4 is any indication, Gehazi was actually restored to health as he serves the King of Israel, which may indicate (we are not told this) that he repented.

If he was given faith, as Naaman was given faith, then the leprosy in both cases was a grace!  Let us assume that Naaman continued in his newfound faith – and since his death has been enjoying communion with God in heaven ever since.  Do you think he now sees that season of leprosy as a curse, or the greatest blessing he ever had on earth?

God uses all things, including disability, to make much of himself.  He certainly did in my life with my son.  I see my son’s multiple disabiities as entirely a grace from God.

I have read too many books where theologians easily and wrongly conclude that God had nothing to do with disease or disability or storms or famine or wars or any number of things that God actually takes credit for doing in his word.  I certainly agree that these are hard to understand, but being hard to understand does not mean we should just disregard what is actually written.  And how sweet it is when something hard becomes more clear!

God alone can independently do such things we consider ‘bad’ and make it all work together for good and to glorify his name.  He is that powerful, and that good.

That is why 2 Kings 5 is not a story for children alone, and why it is particularly good news for those of us who are parents of children with disabilities.

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I thought I might finish 2 Kings 5 today, but it will take two posts to wrap up.

This is a longer passage, so I’ll bullet my observations here and you can read the whole thing below:
  • Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, watches in amazement as Naaman heads for home without Elisha accepting something from Naaman.  He decides if Elisha won’t take a gift from this wealthy, powerful man, then he will.
  • Gehazi even makes an oath, ‘as the Lord lives,’ before he runs off to get some of the wealth.
  • Gehazi lies to Naaman.  Naaman is very happy to provide a gift for the ‘sons of the prophets.’
  • Gehazi hides his treasure.
  • Elisha gives Gehazi a chance to tell him the truth.
  • Gehazi lies to Elisha.
  • Elisha tells Gehazi that he knows everything.
There’s one more very important bullet which I’ll save for next time.

What a strange, sad ending (almost) to 2 Kings 5.  Gehazi lets his greed and his pride run free.  He thinks he can cheat a great commander and lie to a prophet.

Contrast Gehazi’s response to his master with the everyone else’s response to Naaman.  The slave girl, Naaman’s wife, and the King of Syria all want what is best for Naaman.  Naaman’s servants even enter in Naaman’s rage (vs. 12-13) to bring a good word to him.  Naaman seems to inspire a certain kind of response which is noble and honorable.  His servants, in particular, were willing to risk a great deal for Naaman’s benefit.

Now consider Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, the very man who commands kings (vs. eight) and speaks the word of the Lord.  Gehazi does not understand why Elisha refused the gifts and is determined to secure wealth for himself.  He has clearly heard what Elisha had to teach and proclaim to the people of Isreal, and he has now witnessed a miracle, with Elisha serving as a vehicle of the Lord’s power.  Yet, Gehazi sinned.

It is also clear that Elisha did not inspire the same kind of response in his servant as Naaman did in his.

There are many lessons here, but I take two in particular as a dad of a boy with multiple disablities:
  1. God is free to give gifts of skill and service to anyone.  The gift of strong, effective leadership was given to Naaman before God revealed himself to Naaman.  I’ve met many fine professionals in medicine, education, social work and the law who do not care one bit about God or Jesus, but are very good at their crafts and provide important services to my son and to my family.  That is a grace from God, even if these professionals cannot see it.  And I hope more of them are given the gift of faith.
  2. Being in presence of good teaching and seeing examples of God’s power is no guarantee that sin won’t rule the day in a person’s life.  I need to constantly pray for my children that God would reveal himself to them.  Taking them to church, reading the bible with them, singing hymns, explaining all that I see God doing in our lives, pointing out the blessing of their disabled brother and the goodness of God in their mom’s cancer – none of it guarantees a good outcome for them in terms of their faith.  Only God can do that.
Maybe tomorrow we’ll finish with 2 Kings 5 – and it is a hard, but ultimately good, ending.

2 Kings 5:19b-26

But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “See, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not accepting from his hand what he brought. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” So Gehazi followed Naaman. And when Naaman saw someone running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is all well?”And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me to say, ‘There have just now come to me from the hill country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” And Naaman said, “Be pleased to accept two talents.” And he urged him and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and laid them on two of his servants. And they carried them before Gehazi. And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand and put them in the house, and he sent the men away, and they departed. He went in and stood before his master, and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? 2 King 5:19b-26

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This passage from 2 Kings 5 ends with a great word for those of us dealing with disability.  It is both unexpected and very helpful in our situations, because many people I know have behaved kindly toward me when I did not deserve it.

Naaman is a great account to teach to young Christians (young in age and young in faith) because it is so full of God!  That is the best news for those of us parenting a child with a disability – God is sovereign over everything, including the diseases and healings of pagen foreign military leaders, the enslavement of little girls, the false hope of kings, and the behavior of prophets.

It is also helpful because Naaman is about to make the same mistake that many young Christians make when they first understand their sins are gone:

“So accept now a present from your servant.” 2 Kings 15b

Naaman wants to pay Elisha for the gift Naaman has received.  Naaman must do something!  The gift cannot actually be free – he must do or pay something for what he has been given.

Thankfully, Elisha is wise in understanding what is happening and how the next words out of his mouth could destroy everything that Naaman has just come to understand.

But he (Elisha) said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he (Naaman) urged him to take it, but he refused. (vs. 16)

Why would Elisha refuse?  As a prophet he could rightfully receive support from the people of God.  Elisha understood that something much greater was happening.  God alone had done this incredible thing for Naaman – to make much of himself and not to make much of Elisha.  Naaman is seeking to pay for what he has received, and that payment would have been making much of Elisha’s role.  No, the better thing, both for Elisha and for Naaman, was for Elisha to refuse any payment and keep the emphasis on God alone.

Naaman persists in his desire to do something:

Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mules’ load of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.” (vs. 17)

In this way, Naaman could make sacrifices on an alter from the very ground that God had given to the people of Israel.  But he knows he has a greater problem than just how to make appropriate sacrifices to God:

In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” (vs. 18)

That is a problem!  He has just confessed the God of Israel as the sole god of the earth, but in his official duties he will be required to go with his king into a place of idol worship.  Given that Naaman has just been released from his disease and been given faith, it would be reasonable to expect Elisha to come down very hard on Naaman.

But he doesn’t:

(Elisha) said to him, “Go in peace.” (vs. 19)

Huh?  Shouldn’t Naaman have been rebuked?  Or even had his leprosy returned?  Or at least been instructed in the commandments God had given Moses:  You shall not bow down to them (idols) or serve them (Deuteronomy 5:9)?

Matthew Henry’s commentary is very helpful here:

Though Naaman’s dissembling his religion cannot be approved, yet because his promise to offer no sacrifice to any god but the God of Israel only was a great point gained with a Syrian, and because, by asking pardon in this matter, he showed such a degree of conviction and ingenuousness as gave hopes of improvement, the prophet took fair leave of him, and bade him Go in peace, 2 Kings 5:19. Young converts must be tenderly dealt with.

I have been dealt with very tenderly by many people.  After my Paul was born, I abandoned my faith and any association with my church.  Dear people took all my fire and bitterness and foolish talk and only returned kindness.  And when my eyes were opened to the beauty of Jesus Christ, they became even more tender and helpful and encouraging.

Now, when meeting younger parents who are first experiencing disability in their child, I remember how I was treated, and Elisha’s wise comportment.  But most of all, I ask for the God of Elisha and Naaman to help me and to help them.

Tomorrow, the last section on 2 Kings 5: an unhappy ending for a servant of the Prophet.

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