About this blog: Discussing religion, spirituality and values. About the writers: Amy Umble is the religion reporter for The Free Lance-Star. Janet Marshall is the religion editor for The Free Lance-Star.
God’s Vengeance and Disabilities
Recently, Virginia Del. Robert G. Marshall made comments that angered the disability community. Speaking at an event protesting Planned Parenthood, Marshall linked children with disabilities to punishment from God. He noted that mothers who abort their first pregnancy often have birth defects and low birth weights in subsequent pregnancies. And he quoted the Old Testament which says the first-born is sacred.
He has since apologized and said his comments were taken out of context. But around the state, parents of children with disabilities are bristling at the notion that their children are considered part of God’s vengeance. One Stafford father, who has an adult son with Down Syndrome, wrote, "When our son was given to us, we also questioned God. But, after over 50 years we realize that our son was a blessing to our family."
I know what he means. Probably every parent who believes in God and who has a child with a disability at some point asks, "Why?" And at some point, some well-meaning fellow believer has given some of the standard answers: That God gives special kids to special parents. That if you have faith, God will heal the disability. And, yes, some will tell you that God gave you this challenge as a punishment or as a test of your faith.
About 11 years ago, I learned that my first-born son has a severe form of autism. I didn’t actually question God. I had total faith that if God gave me the challenge, it was for my own good. A year later, doctors gave us the devastating news that our second son also has autism. I didn’t just question God. I raged at him for weeks, screaming and cursing. After all, it wasn’t fair.
And then I discovered a passage in the New Testament. I’d read it 100 times, but it didn’t mean much to me before. In John 9, the disciples encounter a blind man and ask Jesus, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
It was the common thinking of the day. Any disability or suffering must be the result of sin. And Jesus blew their minds. "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."
That is exactly what the Stafford dad is talking about. It is really, really hard to raise a kid with a disability. Some days, it is easy to see this life as a punishment from God. But there are so many other moments. Times when I absolutely see the work of God.
Del. Robin A. Abbott echoed that sentiment when she recently responded to Marshall’s comments. She spoke to the House on her son’s 30th birthday, and she told them that Nicholas is severely disabled. So disabled that doctors first thought he would never walk, talk or know his mother.
She said, "It was not at all easy to hear the words about our child and even more, it was torture to have to give up the dreams we had for him – dreams of activities together, learning together, school, sports, friends, hobbies, career – in short, all the dreams each of you has had for your children."
Abbott continued to tell the House how it took five years to teach Nicholas to play patty cake. That he sat up just after his second birthday, an accomplishment that made Nicholas grin and his mom burst into tears.
The family was able to get a Medicaid waiver for Nicholas, so that he could be taken care of during the day. Abbott describes how for the first time in 24 years, she could go to the store for milk and not worry about who was taking care of her son.
She described not only the accomplishments Nicholas has made but also listed the way he’s changed his family’s life:
"But his greatest accomplishments, for which he will never know are:
. Teaching me patience
. Teaching me to love, unconditionally
. Teaching me to understand the importance of stopping and smelling the roses on my life’s journey
. Giving me the courage to be his voice – to fight his battles, and to fight for what is right
. In sum, suffice it to say that for a child who has never spoken a single word, he has taught me more than any professor or other person ever will. He is truly the wind beneath my wings."