Worship at the Church At Benjamin's Hope

Being Fed With Stone Soup

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This article is from the Benjamin's Hope 2016 year-end newsletter; republished by permission. The author is reflecting on a summer worship service at Benjamin's Hope which takes place under a big tent. 

The quiet surgeon went on to explain how his life had gone from being the doctor to being the patient in a span of 60 minutes. One moment he's a surgeon doing what God had designed him to do, the next moment he's looking at his own x-rays which reveal that he's now a cancer victim with less than 3 years life expectancy. Miraculously, now 10 years later, he was able to say, "I thank God for the cancer."

From that powerful testimony, Pastor Eric turned to face a tent full of individuals who have their own sobering realities stuffed into bodies that are "imperfect" by conventional standards. Eric spoke words that defy logic, about how each developmental difference was, in fact, more special than different, more a gift than a curse. That one set me back a bit. The tent was alive with human movement but little of it would be welcomed as special in most of the world. Jesus' absurd metaphor from Matthew 7 came to mind, the one where he says, "No loving father would give a stone or a snake to a hungry child who asks for bread." I wrestled with the incongruity. None of the people in this tent asked to have the disabilities that they carry. I sat there with a heartbroken, widowed father on my right, and my still-exhausted wife cautiously handing fruit snacks across an empty seat to an agitated Bethany—my beautiful daughter who lives with what seems to me cruel disability. The enormity of it all overwhelmed me.

I looked across the noisy tent and boldly used the word “disability” in my mind. I tried “developmental difference” and while it felt less offending a term to describe my daughter, it fell woefully short in capturing the ravages of the severe autism and self-inflicted blindness with which Bethany lives.

Then, bounding toward the tent came a young man named Max, visiting The Gathering for the first time. He too carried the label of “disability.” One of the Ben's Hope residents knew Max loved vacuum cleaners and had brought one to the tent for the sole purpose of affording him joy. Max began dancing with delight as he held onto the vacuum cleaner, leaping and running and pushing the thing like it was the greatest invention that life could offer.

I watched from 30 feet away and wondered about his disability. I saw no pain, no confusion. I saw nothing but gentle love for everything he encountered. I closed my eyes and listened to the cacophony around me, trying for the life of me to reconcile "No loving father would give a stone or a snake to a hungry child who asks for bread." My logical mind couldn't make the pieces fit, surely no one would ask for this.

My eyes opened to see Max, having now traded the vacuum for maracas. He danced with abandon, eyes lacking guile, full of wonder. My mind's eye turned inward, and I was suddenly painfully aware of my own flawed and broken thinking. I suddenly understood. I had viewed people as those with ability and those without.

In that moment it became clear. It's not my job to understand brokenness. It's not my job to fix brokenness. It's not my job to judge brokenness. Max's eyes were perfect; mine were occluded. I was the “broken-est.” Not Bethany, not the surgeon, not Max. Me.

Inwardly flooded with grief, I sat with the weight of the knowledge of my own profound brokenness. A clear truth came to mind. Jesus Christ, the perfect one, chose to be broken that I might be whole, that we all may be whole.

This tent on that night became the most beautiful place on earth. My only job was to be here in this tent, on this evening, with these people. To acknowledge that we are all broken is to find freedom and power in surrender. Perhaps that is what the surgeon meant. The people in this tent live each moment from a place of simple surrender. I yearn for the power they exude. I am learning. From Bethany, from Max, from a surgeon expressing gratitude for cancer.

"His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”

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 No, no one would ask for a disability.  The most you can hope for is to come to terms with it.  If I'd had to opportunity to chose, I would have opted out of schizophrenia but in so doing I would have missed what I learned from having it, and I might still harbor prejudice towards those who suffer from mental illnesses, whereas now I strive to help them and their families with information and resources.

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Michele, thanks for your comment. I do not live with a disability yet, though I assume I will someday. Our daughter taught my wife and me about living joyfully with disability, and in fact God used her to lead both my wife and me to the callings we have today. I serve the CRC as Director of Disability Concerns after 17 years as a pastor in parish ministry, and my wife once taught German and now teaches special education. I would have opted out of our daughter living with disability, but she has had a profound impact on many people because of and through her disability. 

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