They came. My sweet young friend Abigail, broken and battered these days. Her so-special Downs daughter Belle who is 6, and her sassy sweet I’m-17-even-though-I’m-only-8 year old daughter Jazzy. And Shaun, her big brother. Shaun, 39, who had meningitis as a baby, and has many “disabilities” as a result. I really really don’t like that word, and here’s why.
Shaun never stops smiling. He is friendly, and he gets excited about simple things like I wish I did still. He is forever a child, and isn’t that exactly how God wants us to come? Shaun’s abilities are ones I wish for, and in the way he has them. So he is not DIS-abled, but in truth he is EN-abled in ways that I am not.
They came to my house with their breakfast and their attitudes. Abigail, flustered. After all, it was a three-on-one battle to get out the door! And yet they were early enough to come hang out here with us for a while. Shaun, delighted to show each of us his new hat. Jazzy, protesting, “Mommy says I don’t have to go to class.” Belle was … Belle. An escape artist, at the least. And mostly so lovable and sweet. She’s quick to give hugs and kisses, and they melt me.
Since we had time to spare, I scrounged around on my shelves for books of days gone by with my grands, and then sat down to read to Jazzy. (“You Are Special” by Max Lucado – wonderful.) Shaun sat on the other side of me, and we all looked closely at the pictures as I read the story.
Finished, Jazzy took off like a shot … but my search had unearthed another well-loved book. Shaun was staring at it and hadn’t moved a muscle. So I just asked him if he’d like me to read him that story. “Yes! Yes!” was his answer, and so I did. I got to use my best voices and inflections, and we again examined each picture, and he was simply delighted. He smiled, we laughed at the silliness, and by the end I was so choked up with emotion that I could hardly finish.
This man-child, so joyful over such a simple thing.
And then we went. To church. Abigail has only set foot in a church once since Belle was born, and sadly it was not a good experience at all. None of the classrooms would take Belle, Jazzy refused to go because Belle didn’t have to, and Abigail spent the whole service chasing Belle around the church lobby.
Off putting. Ostracizing. In short, no compassion = she felt unwanted. And that her child was not welcome there at all.
That was only a few weeks ago, and I am so very proud of her for being willing to try again, to come to our little church. I had asked the pastor in advance if someone could be a “buddy” for Belle, and if she could go in the preschool class, and he and he wife immediately and wholeheartedly said yes. They were true to their word.
Belle went right into the classroom and made a beeline for the kitchen set. Jazzy, still protesting, went into her class. And the rest of us – Abigail and Shaun, and our little household, Pat (my mother-in-law), Greg (my husband) and me (just plain old me) – headed for church.
We chatted with the pastor and his wife in the lobby for a few minutes before the service, and Shaun engaged everyone there with his smile. I had no idea what to expect for him, and warned Abigail that the music might be loud and asked would that bother Shaun. “Oh no, he loves church!” And WOW was she right! He sang his heart out and it was gorgeous. I stood beside Abigail and we worshipped together, and then we listened to the pastor teach us from John 11:45-48. Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead, with only a shout. The plot to kill him began in earnest then, fear-driven by the miracles.
The death of Jesus (and nothing else) would fulfill the sovereign plan of God. Jesus HAD to come, and he had to die as a sacrifice in our place so that we can stand forgiven, forever, before God free of our multitude of sins. He went willingly, willfully to his death that we might live.
He was NOT a victim of his circumstances. Rather, he made the choice to be obedient, and he gave up his life. For me, for you, for Abigail. For every single one of us.
It was a beautiful message, just right for me. And, as it turned out, just right for Abigail because the very thing that stuck out the most for me was the exact same thing for her:
Jesus was not a victim of circumstances.
And we need not be either. We can be obedient, regardless of the circumstances, and trust that God will not waste our time.
When the service was over, we went to collect the littles. I went for Belle, who hugged and kissed her buddy goodbye, and I found Jazzy skipping down the hallway with Abigail as she said, loudly, “We’re only allowed to have fun in there!”
Wow. There are not enough words to describe all the feelings I had. I am so grateful for our church community – they welcomed us all with open arms. Warmly. I’m so proud of Abigail for trying again. I’m so glad for Pastor Jeremy, who simply speaks the truth of Scripture to us, and never pulls any punches. He’s brave, and he teaches me and challenges me every week. And most of all, I passionately love the God who is my Father and who orchestrated the whole thing. I was a bystander to his amazing work, in and through his people, and I will never forget it.
Later that day, Abigail and I were chatting about the morning, about what stood out to us mostly. And she told me this: “We have decided as a family that we’re coming back.”
No sweeter words could have been spoken.