“They were relentless,” her Sunday School teacher said.
My heart ached as the teacher described my daughter being cornered at church by a brother and sister who were new to the Sunday School class and who had never seen a child who was missing a hand.
My five-year-old daughter tried to explain to them that God had made her special in this way. But they persisted. “You’re creepy and scary. Why do you look like that?”
The teacher intervened several times, but the kids wouldn’t stop their jeering. Finally, the mother and teacher talked to the pair, explaining to them about differences in people. They stopped being cruel to my daughter, but the damage was done. And it didn’t take long for me to notice.
Because of my daughter’s undeveloped hand, I usually alter her long-sleeved clothing to fit her properly. But the next Sunday, my daughter wanted to leave the sleeve long, so that the fabric would fall over her arm and conceal the missing hand.
My heart sank.
We adopted our daughter when she was one, and we have watched her grow into a confident, beautiful, and joyful child. Every day we have encouraged her and built her up for these very moments that we knew, sadly, would eventually come. We have explained to her friends that she can do almost anything they can do; she just has to do it a little differently.
Our family, extended family, and friends have come alongside us to make our daughter feel special. But as she gets older and we are forced to release her into the world, she will be faced with these hurtful moments more often.
Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking, “How could those kids have been so mean? That’s awful!” But if we are honest with ourselves, haven’t we all judged someone for how they looked? Dressed? Talked? Judged them for the color of their skin? For their disability?
No, maybe we didn’t back them into a corner and yell hurtful things to their face, but in the secret spaces of our brains, we did nearly the same. And maybe like these kids, we didn’t even feel bad about it.
All people, including people with special needs and disabilities, are wonderfully made—as is all of creation. A God who “counts the stars and calls them all by name” is a detail-oriented God (Psalm 147:4). He doesn’t make mistakes.
Moreover, He is a planner. God knows the plans He has for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11), and He says, “Everything I plan will come to pass” (Isaiah 46:10). He made a plan for our world before time began. And all of us are part of that plan. We all have a race set before us to run (Hebrews 12:1).
I may never know until I reach heaven why my daughter was born without a hand, but I can tell you what I have learned from parenting a child with a disability.
People with special needs and disabilities bring joy to our world. They find happiness in everything, and that happiness is contagious. Strangers smile as they watch my daughter push a tiny shopping cart around the grocery store, giggling as she goes along. She is determined to fill it to the brim with groceries to help her mama.
They teach us endurance. I watch my daughter hurtle forward over and over, attempting to learn a cartwheel in gymnastics class. And over and over again, she falls. But she gets up…and she gets up…and she gets up. How many times have I given up or wanted to give up when frustration and hardship blocked my path? Yet here she is, persisting in her goal and trying her hardest. It’s a lesson we all need to learn.
They are patient. I was told early on by hospital staff to let my daughter struggle to do tasks by herself. Watching a two-year-old with one hand learn to dress herself and not help her was hard. But she patiently learned to accomplish this task, along with so many others.
They are full of love. You can see it on their faces. They have enough love for every man, woman, and animal on the planet. They are overflowing with this gift, and it is a blessing to the world.
People with disabilities and special needs possess so many qualities that God values. The very ones I just shared are listed in Galatians 5:22–23: “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Oh, if I could have just half of the qualities that my daughter exhibits every day!
It’s time we embrace each other’s differences—it’s the differences that make us beautiful. Think about it. A forest filled with only oak trees would certainly bore the eye. But a forest with a variety of trees both big and small, sporting brilliant green, red, and golden leaves adorns the landscape.
People with special needs and disabilities adorn our world. They are a gift from God. All people are a gift from God. Every person from every race. Every generation. Every nation. Everyone! Don’t miss out on the beauty of others. Learn to embrace and appreciate each tree in the forest. And don’t forget to pass this truth on to your children.
Does this story strike a chord for you? Read the entire May 2018 issue here.