Not long ago, I had the privilege of attending my grandmother’s 90th birthday party in Michigan. She’s a godly, humble woman who laughs often and prays more. Over the years, I have watched her work, serve and sacrifice for her family in remarkable ways. She is a true gift I treasure very much.
Of her many gifts, it is her parenting that has most often caught my eye. I know that seems to be a strange statement. After all, she is my grandma, and you would assume her parenting days are far behind her, but it’s quite the contrary. I have two uncles, Ron and Jim, who were both born with profound special needs. Even though they age chronologically, they have remained about 7 years old cognitively. For this reason, my grandma will never stop parenting.
For 60 plus years, my grandparents have joyfully been the hands and feet of Christ to my uncles. It would be impossible to quantify the number of wheelchairs, pairs of glasses, specialty shoes and handicapped-equipped vehicles they have exhausted in my lifetime. Conversely, if you asked me how many times I witnessed frustration or discontentment over any of those things, I could easily answer you: none. In addition to meeting Ron and Jim’s enormous needs, they also created a special needs ministry at their church, as well as a summer camp designed especially for children with special needs. Both are thriving today.
My sweet grandfather finished well and went to be with the Lord four years ago, at the ripe age of 90. Sadly, my trip to Michigan came just a week after my Uncle Ron passed away after many months of pain. Uncle Ron lived his life in a body with many limitations. He was bound to a wheelchair, born with poor vision and had few clear words. Much like a toddler whose words are only understood by his mother, so it was between my Uncle Ron and my grandma. He loved Jesus, bowling, Roy Rogers, lighthouses and the Detroit Tigers. As he exited this life, my grandma was with him just as she was when he entered.
The first morning I spent in Michigan, my grandma and I sat watching the wild turkey and deer roam her backyard from the comfort of her sunroom, drinking our coffee and talking about Uncle Ron. With tears in her eyes, she told me something I will likely never forget: “After all these years,” she said, “I still can’t believe that God picked me to be his mother.”
I wouldn’t say her statement surprised me. Rather, it reminded me that all children are a gift from a gracious God, whether we hold that gift for 60 years or 60 seconds. I was reminded that these gifts are fearfully and wonderfully made people, knit together in their mother’s womb and made in the image of God. I was reminded that no single child is more valuable or precious than another. I was reminded that our job as parents is to steward and shepherd these gifts by God’s grace, to the best of our ability. Most importantly, I was reminded that there is no such thing as a disabled soul. Disabilities do not hide the image of God in humanity; rather, they put the image of God on glorious display.
I do not know why God chose to bless my grandparents with two sons having special needs—or anyone else, for that matter. I do know that God created them for His glory and for the good of those who would know them. I know that my grandmother considers both of them lavish gifts from a gracious and loving God.
My grandparents greatly influenced my own desire to minister to those with special needs. I am grateful to serve in a place where individual souls matter, and I am privileged to work directly with our families with special needs. My hope for The Village Church is that we would be a place where the lavish gifts of these lives are treasured, nurtured and seen as fully human people bearing the imago dei. May we be a place where they and their families thrive for the glory of God and the good of others.