Disability as a Gift

“Did you understand what I said?” she asked me. I was speaking at a conference, was tired from a red-eye flight, and had one more session to teach that evening. I was listening to a woman whose speech was a little hard to understand, and the room was just loud enough that I was having trouble hearing anyway. Twenty years in Student Life will do that to you.

To that point, I had been nodding and making what I thought was appropriate interlocution. But Sarah stopped me. I wasn’t understanding her, and she knew it. And she wasn’t going to let me skate.

I’m so glad she called my bluff. She was telling me that she was going to share her testimony the next evening before I taught.

I should have known at that moment that I was in trouble. I had been asked to speak on Identity, and was going to teach from Ephesians 1:3-14: The one who believes in Jesus is blessed in Him because God has chosen, redeemed, adopted, sealed and lavishly loved that person to the praise of His glory.

I may have studied the passage, but before I got up, Sarah taught us all how it was to be applied. Find yourself 10 minutes and watch her testimony here. She starts around minute 17. Following below is fairly close transcript of her message so you can follow along. Oh. Also? You are going to need Kleenex.

Hello, my name is Sarah Irvine.  I am a member Hope Bible Church.  I am a homemaker and a wife to a wonderful godly man, Larry.  I was born with a condition known as cerebral palsy.  I briefly would like to share with you my journey as a believer with CP.

Today’s culture provides little room for those who are different.  Often I feel that I am an outsider and I remind others of the frailty of humans.  I sense the difficulties of people trying to cope with my disability. Today’s values appear to be too surface oriented.  But I have to realize that they are deep rooted in the lies of Satan who uses them to fill me with defeat, depression and despair.

As a child of the King I must realize that God has a radically opposing view.  God is my creator and He knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  He knows the number of days of my life.  He knows the smallest detail of my body and soul.  Psalm 139 says that I am not an accident.   I am fearfully and wonderfully made. In Ephesians He tells me that in Him I am chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven and been given the gospel which seals me for eternity. 

All my life I have struggled with the question: “Why am I disabled?” I guess it is an age old question that has baffled many theologians, and of course many inquisitive children.  I have not had many opportunities to discuss this question with theologians. However with kids that is a different story.  I get the why question or some variation of it a whole lot. I was asked a few weeks ago at VBS by a little one, “Why do you babel different?”  I attribute his question to hearing the story of the Tower of Babel taught at VBS.  I welcome children’s questions.  I try to answer them as honestly as they ask.  “God just made me different.” is my stock answer. 

As I mature in the faith, I am more able to understand why disabilities occur.  When I search for the whys I find myself in my Heavenly Father’s throne room studying His attribute of holiness.  I am then pointed in the direction of the Garden of Eden and the Fall.  The Holy God cursed the world as a result of man’s sin.  It was at that moment disease and death entered the world.  The Fall and the Curse are the reasons why I have a disability but more importantly they are the reasons I need a Savior.  The Bible says that because of sin I am born a sinner and the wages of sin is death.  Through Christ’s death on the cross I can have life.

In my journey there has been many obstacles.  I have learned that whatever obstacle that there is my way or God’s way of overcoming. Proverbs 3:5-6 is a precious reminder to trust him with life’s obstacles.  It says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  One of the obstacles I tried to overcome was unemployment.  I had the mistaken idea that having a career would make me look less handicapped.  After finding a job, I soon was humbled by the stress and strain of working and being a wife to Larry.  I became moody and depressed.  I had to quit.   I learned that a job is not a source of fulfillment. To be truly fulfilled is to tackle obstacles God’s way by placing your dreams, goals, and frustrations in His hands and allowing Him to use them for His glory.  This is called submission.  

God created me to have a relationship with him and relationships with other believers.  I am so blessed to be part of Hope Bible Church because I feel that I am a part of a loving family.   Yes, I am grateful for how the church has ministered to me.  It does not stop there.  I am not viewed as a perpetual needy mission project, but I am called to accountability to minister to others with my spiritual gifts and earthly talents. There are some things that I cannot do.  However, there are tasks in the body I can do and I must be faithful to do them.

It always amazes me how our Lord takes a disability and transforms it by His power to display His glory.  I have learned about many of God’s unchanging attributes which provides a blue print for obedience as I deal with others.  People have many different reactions to my situation, both good and bad. When I encounter reactions that are inappropriate, I am called to give grace by overlooking the transgression or when possible gently use the opportunity to educate. People will think I cannot speak for myself. For example a waitress may ask Larry what I said.  It is Christ’s example of grace that directs me how I need to handle the circumstance.  Conversations can be a struggle not only for me but those who are trying to understand.  I have no problem with the phrase: “Sarah, Could you repeat that?”  But some feel that they must apologize when they have to ask me to repeat thinking that they may have hurt my feelings because they could not understand what I am saying. 

Through my disability God Has taught me to have a heart of thanks.  Every gift is from him. I realize the more I am thankful for his blessings the less I bemoan what I think I lack.  1 Thessalonians 5:18  says “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” the Apostle Paul is not giving us a quaint suggestion, but a command. 

I truly believe that my disability is the primary tool the gracious Lord uses on me as I go through the process of sanctification.  Until the Lord calls me home, I can rest assured that having a disability is not so much a hindrance as it is a divine opportunity to become more Christ-like.

Sarah Irvine, July 2019
Trophy of God’s Blessing!

This. Is. God. At. Work! And I am so thankful for Sarah’s vulnerability and grace. She has recognized His hand in her life, and as uncomfortable as that is for her, she willingly is using her gifts to serve her husband and her church. And I’ll tell you, the ladies of that conference–I–walked away with a clear picture of what it means to wear the name of Jesus.

If you are interested in considering further the work of God in and through disability and are wondering how your church might better recognize His gift, I would STRONGLY recommend that you listen to this sermon by my friend Paul Martin, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto and check out the ministry of The Elisha Foundation.

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