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Archive for April, 2010

A new friend asked a difficult question recently, and I thought I would invite others to respond, especially those who have thought more about this topic or have more experience than I have.

Here is the question:

Our oldest boy is unsure of the existence of God, as an autistic person.  How do his daddy and I show him and teach the wonders of a perfect God that he can’t feel, see etc? His ability to think abstractly is remote to nonexistent. . . However, when looking for indications of Patch’s heart being affected by the Holy Spirit we know that it isn’t going to look the same as it will for his brother who is not autistic.  Is this one of those moments of blind trust in God for us where we have to accept that there may be no external emotional evidence of God working in Patch’s life?

Any help would be so appreciated even if it is us that need redirecting?

So, under the flag that we fly of God’s sovereignty over all things, how would you respond to Sue?  Are there resources you could recommend?

Here’s my attempt.  And to steal from Mark Twain, “I’m sorry this letter is so long, but I did not have time to make it shorter.”

I am struck again by how different our lives are, even when we sometimes share a characteristic like autism in our children.  My son is so significantly impacted by his combination of things, I simply don’t even think about his response or lack of response to things.

So, I don’t have an answer to the question of ‘how.’  But I know that God is faithful, always, to supply every need (Philippians 4:19).  He has called you to parent in the strength he provides, no matter how your boy responds.  I know that for all four of my children, only God can make them alive to him; I cannot do that work for them.  Paul is exactly like my other three – entirely dependent on God for his future, though he doesn’t think at all about his future.

In one sense, then, it is a ‘blind trust’ that God will provide for me and for you as parents of these very different boys.  But on the other hand, God has provided so much evidence of his power and mercy that even though I don’t know the specifics of his plan for me and my boy, I know he has one.

And his word is very helpful to me:

1)  God is sovereign over all his creation, and always has been.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. John 1:1-3

This familiar passage is speaking of Jesus.  I love that we are given this specific picture of a Jesus who knew and knows everything.  With this perfect knowledge, Jesus would take the wrath that I deserve – amazing!  He created my Paul and your Patch just as he intended, and both boys exist to bring him glory.

2)  God revealed his sovereignty over his creation of our children.

My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139:15-16

I take comfort that God wanted us to know he wasn’t just letting natural processes work themselves out as our children were being ‘knit together’ (Psalm 139:13); he is actively guiding everything toward the days that he has already authored.

3)  God specifically staked his claim of authority over children he created with disabilities.

Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Exodus 4:11

Here God claims authority, without embarrassment or feeling like he’s opening himself up to judgment, over making some to be different because of disability.  This goes well beyond God having foreknowledge and letting things happen; this is a demonstration of intentionality, power and authority.

4)  God will judge his creation according to what can be known.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Romans 1:19-20

As Bethlehem has affirmed in its Elder Affirmation of Faith:

Therefore we do not believe that there is salvation through any other means than through receiving the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit, except that infants and severely retarded persons with minds physically incapable of comprehending the gospel may be saved.

Though the specific statement here is on severe mental retardation, I believe it is possible there are other disabling conditions that could prevent the comprehension of the gospel.  I offer that very hesitantly – I do not want the word ‘comprehending’ to lose all meaning.

Autism is a very strange thing.  But God knows exactly what Patch can comprehend, and created him that way for his glory.  We can be confident God will judge rightly those he has created.

5)  A disabling condition is no hindrance to God.

And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. Luke 7:22

Patch may be physically unable to comprehend the gospel or demonstrate any sort of affection for the gospel.  And God knows how to make Patch alive to him.

6)  God always judges rightly.

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:14-16

7)  God always works all things for our good, if we are in Christ.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:28-30

It may be, Sue, that you will live your entire life without any evidence of Patch comprehending God.  But God has promised to help you, and he has called you to himself when you did not deserve it. He knew Patch’s days before anything was created and he loves your Patch and my Paul infinitely more than we do.

Someday, three of my four children will be launched into adulthood, Lord willing.  My oldest will live with me as long as I am able to care for him – I hope that God gives me decades more with him.  And someday we will, like the Apostle Paul, note these decades of care of our children with disabilities were very short when compared to eternity:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

I am also grateful that Paul wrote “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).  The sorrow is real.  The rejoicing is real.  And God is very  good.

I pray something in here is helpful.  And I hope others respond as well.

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. . . which I wrote and was posted at Desiring God yesterday.

You can even order copies of the book there, too!

And I’ve been very blessed by all the comments on Noel Piper’s blog.  Some wonderful, some hard, some encouraging – all looking forward to Krista’s book.  Please pray God uses it in incredible ways!

Just the Way I Am

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Unfortunately, not from the Knight family as all of the ones we have are now committed. The response to our earlier blog posting was amazing, and Dianne and I are grateful for every one of them!  Our boxes of Just the Way I Am are in Minnesota and we hope to begin mailing by this weekend, as the Lord wills and we get all the mailing supplies in our possession.

So, how to get a free copy?

Read and comment on Noel Piper’s blog!

There is a great picture of the entire Horning family on her site as well – it is worth visiting just to see that!

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I am reading Jeff McNair’s book, The Church and Disability, which is a published collection of his blog postings for disabledChristianity from 2004 through 2008. Though published as a book, the organization of the blog postings gives it a unique, informal style.  After 30 pages in, I think I’m starting to get it.

But when I came to this statement, I almost choked because I have thought the very same thing for readers of The Works of God!

Does it ever occur to you as you read this blog that I am a special education professor (and) not a theologian?  It concerns me if it doesn’t concern you. (McNair, p. 16)

I am not a theologian either.  Nor am I trained in special education or disability studies. I’m just a dad who loves Jesus, because he first loved me.

Part of my reason for reading all these books on disability or disease and the Bible is to find a sound theological work specific to this subject, and from a Reformed perspective.  I haven’t found it yet.   And some of what I have found is awful.  Thus, we started this blog to say more about our good and sovereign God who creates some intentionally to bring glory to his name through disability.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t very helpful resources out there.  Pastor John’s January 24, 2010 sermon, Born Blind for the Glory of God, might be the single most important sermon on the topic I have yet read or heard.  Joni Eareckson Tada has spent decades raising the issue of including people with disabilities in  the life of the church.

But that Genesis to Revelation unpacking of the disability passages, written to demonstrate love for God and his inspired word, the one that tackles Leviticus 21:16-24 in light of Exodus 4:11 and John 9:1-3 and all of Romans 8?  I haven’t found that one yet.

And I am tempted to complain, as Dr. McNair does in ending his post on the subject:

As a result, you have people like me, some better, some worse who are out there trying to make sense of disability from a Christian perspective because those who should be doing the heavy theological lifting are not. (McNair, p. 17)

Yet, I would rather fight that temptation than give in to it.  That’s not a criticism of Dr. McNair at all – he is articulating things I have thought myself.

I have concluded that God somehow gets more glory, at least for now, by having unqualified people like Dr. McNair and me press into the issue of disability and the church and the Bible rather than theologians.  We don’t have the luxury of standing on educational credentials; I expect that people will question what I have written.  I know it makes me more prayerfully dependent and a more careful student of the Bible.  And it makes me much more careful in reading what others have to say about disability and the Bible.

And, someday, if God raises up that trained theologian who looks squarely at this issue, with a desire to illuminate and explain while remaining faithful to the text, having been trained in the original languages, with deep affections for God and a clear understanding of his sovereignty over all things – on that day there will be much rejoicing!

Either way, to God be all the glory, and thankfulness to him that we have access to his word and the help of the Holy Spirit in discerning the truth!

And we have Just the Way I Am, a very helpful, God-centered resource to point us directly to God and to his word on the issue of disability.

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This week people will be gathering at Grace Church in Eden Prairie for the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit VI.

I don’t really need another reason to love Just the Way I Am, but another delight embedded in those pages is seeing all the children who joined families through adoption.

Sometimes the families knew that the child they were welcoming into their families had a disability.  Sometimes they didn’t.  In either case, having a clear view of the sovereignty of God over all things provides the kind of hope that families need to persevere.

So I hope you will join me in praying for Summit VI this week.  What God is calling these people to do, and their churches, is incredible and wonderful and extremely difficult.

And God uses just those kinds of situations to demonstrate his extraordinary power and love!

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Pastor John stopped by Desiring God on Friday to lead our prayer time before he takes his leave.  I had the opportunity to show him Just the Way I Am.

This book includes Bible, bold statements about the sovereignty of God, and pictures of the diversity God’s intentional human creation, all of whom are part of Bethlehem.

Do you think that’s why he’s smiling?

I know that’s why I’m smiling!

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As I wrote yesterday, there were parts of Dr. Dorothy Wertz’s chapter, “How Parents of Affected Children View Selective Abortion,” that pointed to horrifying statistics.  I have been unable to stop thinking about a few of the worst statistics that I read.

As I have blogged about before, the statistics for aborting children with Down syndrome hover around 90%.

I did not realize that this may actually have been an improvement over previous years.  As Dr. Wertz wrote about studies on women who had abortions after getting certain diagnoses:

Most chose abortion for severe mental retardation, death in early childhood, or substantial physical disability.  For example, among the first 7000 women receiving prenatal diagnosis under a public health program in New York City, 97 percent of those whose fetuses were diagnosed with Down syndrome and two other disorders with even more severe retardation had abortions, and 100 percent whose fetuses were diagnosed with anencephaly or spina bifida had abortions, regardless of race or income (Benn, et al 1985).

Every baby with anencephaly or spina bifida was aborted in New York City during this study.  How can that be?

Dr. Wertz included statistics from other countries as well.  In Switzerland, 100% of babies with a chromosome abnormality (which included Down syndrome) were aborted during a study published in 1989.  Not one child was even allowed the chance to live.

What more evidence do we need that our Western societies have undertaken a decades-long effort to exterminate whole classes of its citizens?

These are babies God has said he created:

Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” Exodus 4:11

Were there no Christians at all in New York City or Switzerland when these studies took place?  Are we so blind to our own selfishness that we can no longer understand what God has created for his glory he invites us to nurture and protect, with his help and promise to supply all our needs?

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I found the chapter written by Dr. Dorothy Wertz, “How Parents of Affected Children View Selective Abortion,” from the book, Issues in Reproductive Technology: An Anthology, edited by Helen Holmes.

I now wished I hadn’t.  I am horrified at what she found in her research.

Here is one of Dr. Wertz’s conclusions:

Since individuals rather than governments are making these decisions (selective abortion of children with disabilities), they are not considered eugenic.  Yet, individuals can practice eugenics, perhaps more effectively than governments.  Informal social pressure is a very effective measure of coercion.  Once tests are offered, to reject them is a rejection of modern faith in science and also a rejection of our belief that we should do everything possible for the health of the future child.  To bear, knowingly, a less than perfect child affronts the mores of many social circles.  The sharp reduction in incidents of certain birth defects, such as Tay-Sachs in the United States and spina bifida in Britain, suggests that families are making what amount to eugenic decisions (all bold emphases mine).

There is good news in this.  If individuals are behaving as though there is a sanctioned eugenics movement in the United States, then individuals can be encouraged to make different decisions.

This is where the church and those of us with children with disabilities can engage in loving ways to turn the tide away from eugenics, one couple and one child at a time.

Parents, let us live like our children with disabilities matter and that we trust God to supply all our needs.  There is no reason to minimize our hardships – they are real, and people assume them anyway.  But there is more – God’s promises are real and we have been given a special opportunity to make much of him and testify to his promises through how we live our lives.

People simply do not talk about abortion as an option around me or my son, and I talk all the time about how glad I am to have this boy.  There’s two blows against aborting children with disabilities right there.

For churches, many had pro-life or sanctity of life Sunday services this past January.  Take that extra step – find ways to serve and welcome that family with a disabled family member.  Let all your people know you care about every person who crosses your doors, and that you WANT every one who crosses your doors, as an overflow of your affections for God who has done everything for you.

Will it be hard?  No.  It is impossible.  At Bethlehem we struggle most of the time – some disabilities are really, really hard, we frequently don’t know if we are doing the right things in serving a child or family, we make mistakes that discourage people, we never seem to have enough volunteers, and just when things seem to stabilize, another issue comes up that’s even more complicated than the last.

That is why we anchor everything in prayerful dependence, because only through God’s help will anything happen.

Think – pastor, or elder, or small group leader, or Sunday school teacher, or volunteer, or friend – how will you feel someday if a dad or mom comes up to YOU and says, “because of what I saw in what you did, we chose to have our baby with (terribly difficult disabling condition).”   And what sort of reward will there be from the Father for faithfully serving the most vulnerable of his human creation?

I don’t know.  But I want to find out.

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I was looking for the article by Dorothy Wertz I referenced yesterday, and found this quote from Dr. Adrienne Asch in the article, “Prenatal Diagnosis and Selective Abortion: A Challenge to Practice and Policy” from the November 1999 edition of American Journal of Public Health:

If professionals and parents believed that children with disabilities could indeed provide their parents many of the same satisfactions as any other child in terms of stimulation, love, companionship, pride, and pleasure in influencing the growth and development of another, they might reexamine their belief that in psychological, material, and social terms, the burdens of raising disabled children outweigh the benefits.

A vast array of literature, both parental narrative and social science quantitative and qualitative research, powerfully testifies to the rewards-typical and atypical-of raising children with many of the conditions for which prenatal testing is considered de rigeur and abortion is expected (Down syndrome, hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, to name only some). Yet bioethics, public health, and genetics remain woefully-scandalously–oblivious, ignorant, or dismissive of any information that challenges the conviction that disability dooms families.

In other words, though we can frequently provide evidence to the benefits of raising our children with disabilities, the belief system of people who are supposed to be serving us leads them to dismiss that evidence.  The only evidence they will consider are the burdens.  Thus, the only right answer for them is to abort our babies with disabilities.

I am grateful when researchers like Dr. Asch point out that it isn’t just the ‘reality’ of burdens that leads to higher rates of abortion.  We are also fighting an evil belief system that automatically assigns lower value to a baby with certain genetic characteristics.  Sort of like we used to do with children born with dark skin in this country.

But given the statistics on abortion of African-American children, maybe I am too quick to say ‘used to.’

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The horrors of abortion were in the news again last week, this time with a doctor performing an abortion on the ‘wrong’ baby.  As you can probably guess, the ‘wrong’ baby was diagnosed with Down syndrome.  Al Mohler, in his blog posting, Aborting the Wrong Baby, provides some helpful commentary on the subject.

Every time he does so, I end up looking at other information on the subject, and discovered this.

Dov Fox and Christopher L. Griffin, Jr., in their article for the Utah Law Review, Disability-Selective Abortion and the Americans with Disabilities Act, quote Dorothy Wertz from a 1992 article she wrote,  How Parents of Affected Children View Selective Abortion.  I’m going to look for that article.

According to Fox and Griffin, Dr. Wertz “identified eight factors that determine parents’ ‘revealed preferences’ for childbirth rather than disability-selective abortion:

(1) guilt over rejecting a child with a disability;

(2) the quality of life from infancy through adulthood for a child with a disability;

(3) whether the pregnancy is “wanted,” independent of fetal disability;

(4) optimism that children with disabilities will be cured or treated of the disabilities with which they are born;

(5) spousal compromises;

(6) financial constraints;

(7) risk; and

(8) the effect of a child with disabilities on existing children.”

I suggest we give parents one more factor: hope in God!

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

Actually, I want to make it the SOLE factor, because all of the above from Dr. Wertz are based on personal feelings, predictions about the future, or information which may or may not be true.  God’s word, however, is always true.  And with his sovereign help, all of the above can be faced with hope.

Best of all, we can remind parents who God is in relation to all the people giving them information or advice about the future of their baby with a disability:

From Psalm 146:

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!

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