Do you ever wonder why people are born with disabilities? If I were to be honest, I have these thoughts and I know many people have similar questions. One may wonder, “If God is good, then why are people born this way?”
I have many theories on things like this, but I imagine 90% of the theories I maintain would be nothing more than religious platitudes that seek only to push the issues aside and “Jesus” them away. In these conversations, it can be unhealthy to give canned “Sunday School” answers that are often spouted by people with the greatest intentions.
I do not really know why people are born with various ailments, malformations, and general physical obstacles, but I do know that so many times, people in these circumstances can bring the most inspirational value to the people around them. For instance, we may ask why Down syndrome exists, but if you have a family member with this genetic makeup, you know that people in this situation often love more deeply and enjoy life on a different level than others. I use these folks as an example because one could argue that many of them often have different hurdles to overcome.
People who are born physically or mentally “different” than your “average” person often do a lot to inspire the world around them. Now, don’t hear me saying (somehow) that I believe that people are born with disabilities, conditions, or ailments for our amusement or selfish gain. No, in fact the story in the Gospel of John comes to mind regarding the man who was born blind. The disciples asked Jesus why this man was born blind (thinking it was because of the sin of him or his parents). Jesus, however gave them a shocking answer. “This man was born blind so that the glory of God would be seen in him”, was the odd response. In this example the man was released from his life obstacle, but this also shows us that anyone’s story can be used for His glory!
My Uncle Jay was very much like this man described in John. Jay was born with cerebral palsy and early on his ability to walk was taken away. Despite this, Jay led a very active life. He worked, engaged socially with the world around him, and even dated from time to time. On top of this, he was a volunteer minister for a long time at his local church. He lived independently until several years ago when he entered into a nursing home.
We, as a family, knew that his life expectancy was much shorter than your average person, but when he finally passed away this year, he was just shy of 57 years old; which is far older than the doctor’s predicted.
Jay never complained about his lack of mobility or grumbled about his situation. He exhibited joy even when we knew he was tired and weary.
Funny story that turned into a lesson: In Jay’s final moments, we stood around his bed battling with the decision to remove him from life support. We gathered as a family and said goodbye as we cried together and shared stories of our life with him. The hospital wanted to give us our necessary privacy, and respectfully drown out any background noise of beeping monitors and nurses socializing so they turned on the radio. The music started playing and we weren’t really paying much attention to the words, but my ears perked up as the radio began to play “another one bites the dust” at the same time my uncle struggled to take his last breath. I brought this to the attention of the rounding doctor and the music was turned off. We had a little laugh about that, and it reminded us that there was going to be joy just on the other side for Jay. We were happy and sad simultaneously.
My Dad decided to choose the music and turned on a Christian station via a radio app on his phone. The song that played was “Eye of the Storm” by Ryan Stevenson. This song became our anthem throughout this hard time in our lives. It was also played at his funeral.
Here are some of the lyrics:
In the eye of the storm
You remain in control
And in the middle of the war
You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor
When my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me
In the eye of the storm
In my next post, I will dive further in the concept of dying. I know this seems morbid, but it can be joyful as well… All I will tell you is, sometimes, we all just need a tour guide…
Tiny. Gentle. Powerful. These are the only ways I can describe Anna Mae. She was my wife’s grandma, and we affectionately called her “grandma” (I know…we were not original). She probably weighed 95 lbs. if she were holding a medicine ball after just eating a large meal. Don’t let her size fool you though, because if you were in trouble with her, you knew it, and you never committed that offense again. I promise you.
I was her favorite. At least that is what she told me until my brother in law, or father in law were in the room. Then, when she was alone with them, she would adjust her loyalties to make them think they were her favorite. I knew the truth, though. It was me.
Grandma loved Jesus more than you could imagine. She sang hymns out loud whenever she felt the urge, and her prayers were powerful and made things happen. On one of her last days on earth, she woke up in the middle of the night singing “Don’t Fence Me In” randomly and when we were told this, we all laughed and gave her a hard time about it.
She loved to joke and laugh. When she smiled with her thin, wrinkly, beautiful lips there was pure joy that filled the room. She took laughter seriously, and even her death was a joyful time.
When we moved back to Indiana, we lived with my in-laws for about 9 months until we could find a home elsewhere. This was in 2007, and during this same time period, was when Grandma lived with us. We knew that the end of her life was coming, and that she would soon finally get to see Jesus. Up until the last few weeks, she would still walk around after long naps to socialize with us. The bedroom was on the first floor, and for some reason she believed she was going “down stairs” when she would venture into the living room. There were no stairs between the rooms. I think she knew, but she just wanted to make us laugh.
The day she died was a sad, beautiful, happy, and celebratory day. The moment was full of joy and laughter. She slipped away from us, while we were surrounding her, straight into the arms of Jesus, who she loved more than any human.
Her most intense desire was to be with the God she loved and to hold her son, who she lost when he was a young adult. I can picture the elation she had as she walked up to the gates of Heaven and received her reward. At that moment, all the pain and suffering would have been forgotten. Life finally made sense.
Grandma deserved to receive that reward. She deserved to die and embrace the God she loved more than life itself. Anna Mae Esary died September 17, 2007.
She had the last laugh. I miss her.
I’m still her favorite.
We all have those people who really stand out to us in life. Perhaps it is a sports figure or someone in Hollywood. They may have great integrity and may even market themselves as a role model for younger generations. When we choose to admire these people, we understand that they are human, and they have faults…but there is a part of us that desperately hopes that they are the same in private as they are portrayed in public. It would devastate us to learn of their recent DUI charge or adultery….because in the most recent episode of their show…they showed such great character.
This week, I, along with hundreds of other people, paid tribute to a man who was looked at with such admiration. It was my grandfather, Byron “Barney” Wright. Papaw passed away on Sunday and left a void in all of our lives… The people who wept at his funeral only did so because they were not going to be able to talk to him anymore (for now) or hear him sing or dare to stand in the same room with him as he prayed (I don’t like to watch anyone get beat up, but the devil seemed to come out very bloody in these cases). His life touched so many that we, as a family, were overwhelmed by the amount of people that came to support us…people of every walk of life, skin color, and age group came to celebrate the life of a man who knew Jesus so well, that joy was always present. These same people lingered for a long time at the celebration to tell stories we had never heard about how they were introduced to Jesus Christ through my papaw.
As I reflected on this tribute, I believe God whispered a convicting and powerful concept into my ear. It is simply this…Our life is only a small part of our life. What do I mean by that? Well, as was the case for my grandpa, it is obvious that a life truly sold out to God is one that naturally pours into others. So, in this case, our life is only the vessel by which other lives can be changed. What an incredible mission to dedicate ourselves to!
There are so many incredible stories that one could tell about his life that, to write them down in blog form, they may break the internet. I can tell you this…he was the same in private as he was in public.
I could write more but I feel that papaw would want me to tell you the most important thing about his life. He would tell you that, 63 years ago, he was the most vulgar sinner…undeserving of any abundance God had for him. Yet, for some reason, God wanted him to help clog the gates of heaven. 63 years ago he asked to God to cleanse him of his sins…
That man could pray. And if you knew him…you were on his morning prayer list…I think one of the reasons he died was because he fell so in love with God that he couldn’t wait any longer… like a bride and groom anxious for their wedding day.
Papaw…even though you are currently busy celebrating and probably won’t read this….Well done good and faithful servant…well done.
(1 Corinthians 11:1)
The conversation started after a few attempts of trying to reach my brother. My parents also tried, and were already stressed because of the circumstance we all now found ourselves in. We knew we were never going to go about life as usual. Nothing was going to be the same.
Finally, my brother picked up the phone.
Me: We have been trying to call you…Papaw didn’t wake up this morning. He is gone. Mom and Dad just told me. I can’t believe he is gone.
Rick: What?! How? What happened?
Me: He went to sleep last night and he didn’t wake up.
Rick: (long pause) Ok…..yeah…..ok….yeah…You know. I have peace. I have peace about this…it’s all going to be okay. So, he died last night..as in Saturday night?
Me: Yeah…awesome huh? I think he knew the whole time. He has known for a while.
Rick: Yeah…it’s exactly what he wanted. He always wanted to go in his sleep and wake up in Heaven in time to sing in the choir.
The difficult conversation was followed by laughter and rejoicing. We had just lost a giant of a human being. He was a man who walked with Jesus daily and did not compromise his faith for any earthly comfort. Jesus was more than a storybook character to him. Jesus was friend, confidant, brother, teacher, master, and king. Jesus was everything.
If you have ever know someone who can be described this way, you can understand our reaction to Papaw’s death. While it was devastating that he was gone, our hearts were full of gladness and a sense of worship. It was a sad day, but a glorious one.
We felt a loss in our hearts, but it was a different loss than we have ever felt. The pain felt like one that a person would feel when sending a loved one to deployment (obviously multiplied). We knew we would see him again and could picture him dancing, eating, and rejoicing.
It was hard to explain it to my son. “Great Papaw go?” (translated: Where did Great Papaw go?) was a question we would hear often. So, we told him the truth. Papaw went to live with Jesus. We won’t see him anymore, but he is very happy. You can imagine the rest.
What is the point of this story? Well, when a person has lived a faithful life, centered in Jesus then death is simply a right of passage. While sadness, and grief is natural and healthy, there must be acknowledgment that the ultimate mission of the individual was achieved.
I want that. When I finally leave, I want people to laugh and be inspired to dedicate their lives to that which they may have once considered a hobby. Jesus is all.
Papaw left a void that no one will fill…and that’s okay. It was for a great cause. Do I think he is looking down on me right now, smiling? Um…I am not sure. He is probably too busy serving God, singing, and doing the work he was made to do. Worship.
I thank God that I had him as one of many examples.
Several days ago, Jesus was greeted as a rock star as He rode a donkey into Jersusalem. This was the moment when everyone assumed that Jesus would give this big speech and rally the nation of Israel for the biggest revolt they had ever seen against the Romans. Quite frankly, Jesus could have done it. He could have pulled a “Braveheart” and got people excited enough to do it. The problem was, these Israelites had become so comfortable with their slavery. Sure, they wanted to be free, but did they want to be free enough to actually do something about it? Nope.
The Israelites were sort of busy celebrating Passover. When Jesus made a spectacle of himself it was cutting into their feasting time. They would have feasts, parties, and gatherings year after year for hundreds of years, and they knew that each one of these holidays symbolized something about their heritage. Deliverance from Egypt, the wandering in the dessert, and salvation from sins on a yearly basis pretty much explained all their celebration. The odd part was that no one ever questioned why they celebrated these things in the way they did. Could it be that these feasts and festivals were not meant to only remind them of what God had done, but also prepare them for what God was going to do? Nah….If that as the case God would have just told them. Anyway, the feasts were fun and all, but there was something about them that was so…empty.
Think about it. This nation was so used to annointed individuals being sent from God who possessed God’s favor enough to do amazing things on their behalf. They were used to Sampson slaying thousands of soldiers, Moses looking pharaoh straight in the eye and walking the Israelites out the front door, and David slaying the giant that was standing in their way. In their perspective, this is how God operated; through humiliating the enemy and showing His power through force and deliverance.
The one they called Jesus was breaking this mold. A week later, as He dragged this cross of humiliation through the middle of town, people realized how weak He was. He didn’t even defend himself when mocked. He seemed like he was so preoccupied with what He was doing that He could not even muster the energy to fight back. Did He even care that He was being led to slaughter?
What these people didn’t realize was that Jesus had one focus in His life, and at this point in history, was so close to actually seeing it happen. His mission was about complete and He could care less about the mocking, spitting, and rocks being thrown at Him. Granted, He cared about them all, but He had one goal in that moment…He ignored the world’s collective tantrum so He could fulfill His purpose.
I am so glad He never lost sight of His goal. The fact that His death was not permanent means that mine doesn’t have to be either.
Today is Good Friday. This is the day we remember what Christ did for us in the powerful act of dying on a Roman cross. This cross is a torture device that the Christian Church has decided to adopt as a symbol of who we are and with whom we are associated. I have often been curious about why we have chosen such a symbol. How many subcultures wear guillotines, brass knuckles, or a small electric chairs on chains around their necks? None. Then why a cross?
Scripture tells us that the concept of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are saved it is the power of God. So, what does this really mean? At first glance, the cross is an odd object to mount in churches, but when we really think about it we realize that the message of the cross is not about what this symbol represents, but what it lacks…
To understand this, we have to look at what happened on this day almost 2000 years ago.
Jesus was the life of the party. He fulfilled every prophecy to prove He was/ is the Messiah. The miracles, the preaching, and the interaction He had with the “least of these” seemed to point to the savior the world was looking for. Then, this man who was revered and followed by so many, disappointed them all when He failed to do what He was supposed to do; lead a rebellion. This was what this Jewish messiah was supposed to do, right? Frustration grew. They needed to get rid of this guy, and restart their search for the one who would come to save them. They were under great oppression by the government, and they just wanted to be free.
Freedom. Really, they had no idea what that meant. When that word rolled off their lips, thoughts of liberty in all action came to mind. Freedom for this people group meant that they wanted to enjoy God’s blessing while also living a life that completely rejected Him. Little did they know that this Jewish carpenter would turn out to be exactly who He claimed to be…
So, the message of the cross is not about how much power this pile of lumber contains, but what it lacks; a body.
Jesus, the king of the universe, died. He actually stopped living. It was painful and terrible. He didn’t stay dead though. This is why we celebrate this season. In a few days, people are going to discover an empty cross and an empty grave. Nothing has gone according to plan.
These things are empty, and somehow this idea can fill our emptiness.
…to be continued