Today, I’m pleased to share with you a post written by Dave Deuel of Joni & Friends International Disability Center. It is an excerpt from his new mini-book, Help! My Friend has a Disability.
There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
I can affirm this biblical truth, because I’ve lived it. When I was two, my mother went to work outside the home. For childcare, she chose a trusted friend and neighbor who had several girls my age, one of whom had a disability. My mother was ahead of her time in wanting me to get to know someone with a disability during those formative years. She also worked in the field of special education.
Jane had polio. At the start of every day her mom would help her to put on her metal braces as I watched. I went home one night and asked my mother when I could get my braces. Seizing the teaching moment, she explained to me about polio and other disabilities. I expressed that this was unfair. As parents recognize, one teaching moment often leads to another! So my mother told me about life as God’s design, our need to accept and adjust to it, and our responsibility to lend a hand when needed, not so much in charity but in righteousness. A photo of Jane and me at age 3 graces the wall in my study.
When I was five years old my parents decided that I needed to spend time with boys! Being an only child, I just figured that kids were kids. Of course, I was wrong. As I started to make friends on the block, I latched onto a family of three boys all roughly my age. But I immediately noticed that one of the boys was very quiet and sometimes had difficulty with his emotions. Concerned, I (again) asked my mother why. She said, “Do you know how Jane has difficulty walking sometimes? Well, Calvin has difficulty understanding.” He had a developmental or intellectual disability.
Then she told me, “You need to make sure no harm comes to him and be kind to him. And if any of your friends pick on him, you need to stick up for him.” So I did. Calvin grew up with the rest of us, playing games, riding snowmobiles, and doing just about everything that we did. But one day, our school insisted that Calvin leave regular classes and go to special education classes. That was the day Calvin started pulling away from the rest of us. And we, him. It was never the same again during our school years.
I have since reunited with Calvin, and even go to church with him. But I grieve over the years we lost when he was segregated from his circle of friends. As a society we have come a long way in our understanding and practice of how best to support people with intellectual disabilities. And the women and men who staffed those early programs were nothing short of heroes. My aunt and my mother were two of them. But we need to continually grow in our planning and implementation around disability, and be willing to build our policies and programs of education and disability services.
Now in our sixties, Jane and Calvin, my childhood friends with disabilities, and I are still good friends. Although I once had questions about whether Calvin’s cognitive ability would be enough for him to understand and believe the gospel, all three of us believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and are involved in our local churches. We don’t see each other often. But when we do there is a wonderful reunion, with hugs and a few tears as we discuss the challenges of our lives, such as the passing of our parents. That’s because we are committed friends. And a day will come when we will attend one other’s funerals. It will be like losing a family member.
Margie went to be with the Lord a few years back. After her passing, I was cleaning out my desk one day when I found one of Margie’s handmade birthday cards that she had given me just months beforehand. I realized that in the rush of life I had simply brought it home from church where Margie had given it to me with one of her warm Margie smiles. When I opened the card, I read the words, “Happy Birthday, Dave. Thank you for being my best friend.” I was stunned; I had no idea.
C. S. Lewis wrote,
He works on us in all sorts of ways. But above all, He works on us through each other. . . . That is why the Church, the whole body of Christians showing Him to one another, is so important. It is so easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects—education, building, missions, holding services. . . . The Church exists for no other purpose but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs.
Get your copy of Help! My Friend has a Disability.