It was still dark and somewhat cool outside when my oldest son and I stepped onto the front porch. We set down our coffee cups (mine a double espresso and his a decaf with plenty of milk) and opened up our Bibles. I was distracted, as I often had been as of late, by thoughts of my children, the developmental struggles two of them are facing, and the child with Down syndrome we are currently pursuing through adoption.
Isaiah 35 was the daily reading our church had recommended. As I read the promises of future restoration for the world, I was struck by the language that was used. "Strengthen the weak hands, And make firm the feeble knees. . . .Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing" (Isa. 35: 3, 5-6).
These verses leapt off the page and seemed to highlight something I had recently been wrestling with regarding what we refer to as "special needs," or "differing abilities," depending upon your preference of terminology.
This label applies to two of my children. My 9-year-old son has what is called enlarged vestibular aqueducts as well as global hypotonia. In layman's terms, it means he struggles with low muscle tone throughout his body and progressive hearing loss. These are aided by orthotics, years of physical therapy, hearing aids, and potentially a cochlear implant in the future.
My 3-year-old daughter was born addicted to multiple harmful substances before she joined our family. As a result, she faces auditory processing problems, overstimulation to a sometimes alarming degree, and a various assortment of other -isms and -ations that bring a continually changing set of challenges to her young life.
This label also applies to the son with Down syndrome whom we are pursuing through international adoption.
What I’ve wrestled with comes from how we define these differing abilities. Unfortunately, there is still a too-large percentage of the population that views people in this "category" as damaged or less-than. This is, of course, a lie from the depths of hell and must be answered with the truth whenever it is encountered.
Yet, there is also another extreme that I have seen more and more in our modern culture. It states that those with special needs are perfect, and there is nothing at all negative or less than ideal about their physical or developmental abilities. What’s more, it’s the idea that we are all perfect as we are. While I see the right-hearted nature of this avenue, it seems that this extreme also misses the mark of truth.
Though hopelessly imperfect on our own, we are invited to "put on" his imputed perfection through Jesus Christ.
This is why Isaiah's words in chapter 35 hit me so hard. He recognizes that there are blind, deaf, weak, and (for want of a more appropriate descriptor) disabled people on this side of heaven. And God plans to bring healing to them! We live in a world that waits to be put back in order. A world that, since the fall, has been spinning in brokenness, longing to return to the rule of its Creator.
And one day, the rule of the King will return. He will unstop the ears of the deaf, open the eyes of the blind, and make his creation new. My son won't need his orthotics or his hearing aids, my daughter's behavior and reactions won't be a puzzle of neurological responses, and our newest addition won't be defined by his chromosomes, but by his Creator.
A God who heals
And God isn't only in the business of healing those with "special needs." He is on a mission to heal all of us. Maybe that's why I so strongly disagree with the statement that those with differing abilities are "perfect just the way we are." The truth is, none of us is perfect (no, not one). But though hopelessly imperfect on our own, we are invited to "put on" his imputed perfection through Jesus Christ. Like the Mephibosheth, lame in both feet, we eat at the King's table as sons and daughters—not because we are swift of foot, or for what we bring to the table, but because, pure and simple, he is good.
We can all agree that to treat any of God's children as less-than is to sin. But to pretend that differences don't exist, or worse: to assert that anyone is "perfect" in this fallen state, is misguided and harmful. When my son fails to hear the lyrics of his favorite song, he knows that things aren't "perfect," yet as he grows in his young faith, he understands that perfection is ours through Jesus.
When my daughter walks into a room full of people and her pupils suddenly dilate and her body goes into fight-or-flight mode, she knows, deep down, that things are not as she wishes they were. But as she grows, she will learn that all things are made new through the Son. And she, along with anyone who calls upon the name of Christ, is welcome at the table with the King.
Instead of seeing an imaginary perfection in a broken world, we would do better to marvel at the beautiful tapestry that is creation, all of whom need healing and restoration.
While we wait for his return, we embrace those with special needs and differing abilities not because it is up to us to give them worth, but because they have already been given such great worth, bearing the beautiful image of their Creator. Yet, we also look ahead with anticipation for a time when none of us will be limited by the physical, mental, emotional, or developmental—a time when we will dwell with him in his perfection.