Columnists > Soul Food

Entertaining angels

Why we need to learn to appreciate "the least of these"

Issue: "School-to-Work debate," Sept. 5, 1998

In 1992 God gave me Jonathan-a beautiful baby boy with 47 chromosomes, almond-shaped eyes, and the syndrome named by Dr. Down that would launch me into a dimension I never knew existed.

On the other side of the looking glass, Jonathan and I embarked on many new adventures. In our weekly Easter Seals play group, we sang songs I'd been singing with my seven other kids for years, only now we used sign as well. I gazed around the circle at the other mother/infant pairs, knowing I was seeing things fresh and new-not as I would have seen them before Jonny.

There was feisty, one-eyed Christopher, whose head was swollen and asymmetrical, and bossy one-year-old Anna, who resembled a 12-pound old woman. Gabriella was blind but oh-so-curious, and Sam and Jenny, though they both had cerebral palsy, were no more alike than any two kids with brown eyes.

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Their mothers' lives had been irrevocably changed by the birth of the child that brought them here. All were in some stage of coping.

In our discussion group, Christopher's mother sobbed. Her husband was becoming more and more withdrawn. She knew the statistics: 80 percent of marriages end in divorce following the birth of a disabled child. But she had a more immediate problem: She couldn't bear to take her baby anywhere and see the horror in people's eyes when they saw her first son.

Anna's mom felt the same. She struggled with whether or not to get pregnant again. The genetic counselors were not sure whether Anna's disorder was chromosomal.

Jenny's mother dealt with guilt; she wondered whom to sue. Her home birth had gone awry. Delays getting to the hospital compounded the problem, and now her daughter's future would be different from what it might have been.

For two years we met, supporting each other through our children's operations, subsequent pregnancies (resulting in three healthy babies in the group), and stresses in our marriages. We rejoiced with those who rejoiced and mourned with those who mourned.

Although I was the only Christian in the group, for two years I had a sanctuary where I found more love and compassion than I was able to find in my church.

It's not as though my brothers and sisters in Christ didn't help us. During Jonny's serial hospitalizations they brought gifts and meals, entertained our kids, and spent hours in prayer.

And yet, as a mother of children with special needs (we have since adopted two more), I face this fact: No matter how much I regard my special kids as special blessings, it remains difficult for those outside my experience to share my enthusiasm.

The contrast between the isolation I felt within my church and the warmth and encouragement available from support people outside-my play group, Easter Seals workers, and speech and physical therapists-threw me for a loop.

As Jonny got older and ready for school, I was ashamed to discover that Christian schools lag years behind public ones in accepting and supporting children with special needs. One reason, of course, is money. Public schools get money from Christians and non-Christians to fund their programs, and inclusion programs are expensive.

But another reason is attitude. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says, "Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor" (12:22-23). Sadly, however, most Christian schools have refused to face their responsibility to provide for the education of children like Jonathan.

The result of this discrimination-no matter how it may be rationalized-is this: While public-school kids have for years been learning to accept and feel comfortable with special-needs kids, Christian kids for the most part have not had this opportunity. And neither have their parents.

How does that lack of contact and comfortableness play out in the life of the body of Christ? I look down the road at what lies ahead for Jonathan, and often I don't like what I see. We need to take to heart Hebrews 13:1b-2: "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."

I lived most of my life as a person with limited capacity. God gave me an angel to entertain-to broaden my perspective and enlarge my heart. Through Jonathan, God showed me how little he cares about our intelligence and physical appearance, how much more he cares about the things we "normal" people will never be able to measure.

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