A Father Shares His Heart: Disability and the Works of God in My Family


There I was in another doctor’s office.  As I sat listening to the doctor explain to me and Lauren that our son has Autism, a wave of different emotions swept over me.  Sorrow – at the struggle in front of us and him.  Relief – that we finally knew what was going on.  Selfishness – what did this mean for me and for my marriage?  Compassion – to scoop that little boy up in my arms and to defend him at all costs.  Helplessness – what do I do as the man of the family here?  I cannot fix this.  Wonderment – why is this happening?  What is God up to?

Take these emotions and lay them on top of the understanding that our daughter, Arsema, will be coming home soon with disabilities of her own.  Most of her fingers and toes are webbed together or missing entirely.  It seemed that in just a few months time it was becoming evident that God was shaping us into a special needs family.  Your son has Autism.  Your daughter will struggle walking and holding things.  Here is the application form to display a handicapped sign in your car.

Wow.  I was in emotional and intellectual overload.  Driving home, I knew just what I would do.  I needed guidance, and I needed reassurance.   That’s one of the reasons why I love the Bible.  It is does not sidestep or brush off hard questions and issues.  So I turned to John 9 and reintroduced myself to the man born blind.  Only this time, Jesus was speaking to me about my children.

The Bible is saturated with pain and suffering, and only the Bible is able to answer to the world’s question, “why does ‘needless’ suffering exist?”  Without help from God, suffering is simply unexplainable.  Why do children have Autism?  Why is a baby born with deformed hands and feet?  Why does God allow a baby to die within his mother’s womb, or be born without life?  Why, why, why, why?

This is exactly where I met the disciples as I sat down on the couch and picked up this story in John 9:1-41.  “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  In other words, “why did this happen – what is the meaning of this – who sinned here?”  It’s interesting how Jesus rarely answers the disciples’ (or anyone’s) questions on their terms.  Our questions about suffering are usually rooted in causes.  What caused this to happen?  Jesus answers, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents …”  So, neither is assumption is right.  Jesus was indicating this disability and form of suffering cannot be correlated with any specific sin.  He responds to their question on his own terms, not with a cause, but with a purpose.

This disability has a purpose.  “…That the works of God might be displayed in him.”  God’s works are gloriously displayed in His creation.  Psalm 139 beautifully describes God’s supreme control in a baby’s formation within the mother’s womb.  He sees the formation of the organs and the limbs.  “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11)  When something goes wrong, He could stop it.  Easily.  But sometimes He decides not to.  FOR A PURPOSE.

So as I continued to read the story, God showered me with His presence and reminded me freshly that He has a purpose for Mareto’s  and Arsema’s disabilities.  Yes, God chose to heal the man born blind, but He didn’t have to.  “The works of God” don’t require healing.  There are far greater and more glorious works of God besides physical healing.  Mareto has taught me more about God’s heart toward me than I ever knew.  I love that little boy so much, and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him.  I delight in his running to the door to greet me after work, and in his squeals of joy at me chasing through the house.  I catch glimpses of the Father’s love toward me in my little boy.  This is the work of God being displayed.  His sweet spirit is enough to make anyone melt, and his innocently curious personality attracts others to him.  They want to know his story.  They say he is so lucky to have us.  I say we are lucky to have him.  He helps us see God more clearly.  The works of God are being displayed in him for all to see even now!  I cannot wait to see the impact this little boy makes on the world around him.  And to think, Arsema’s story is just beginning.  But even still, God’s works and glory are already being displayed through her story.

I was filled with assurance.  Even inspired by the future of my family being a vehicle for God’s glory.  And so I closed the Bible resting the assurance of God’s purpose and control.  I may never fully understand why things are the way they are, and that’s ok.  None of us will probably know why on this side of heaven.  But I do know the purpose.  God will be made to look magnificent through it all.  And, in the end, every Christian is healed in due time.  Either way, God’s glory shines through and all over us.  So, Mareto’s Autsim is made to display the works of God.  Arsema’s hands and feet are made to radiate God’s glory.  Knowing this truth, I can say with the rest of my family that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” … and actually mean it (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Let me close with part of the vision statement of the disability ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis MN.  It captures my feelings as a father and husband very well:

                “Is disability hard? As fathers of children with rare disabling conditions, we can attest to the struggles men in particular face when their child has a disability. Disability is expensive—financially, emotionally, and relationally. It seems neither light nor momentary. The male myth of self-determination, control, and independence is exploded in the face of needing to turn to medical professionals, social workers and educators on issues we never dreamed of facing. To this we say, thank you, God, for not allowing us to live the lie that there is anything good or worthwhile apart from you. Thank you for showing us how much we need you! The struggles our wives endure is perhaps even deeper.”

                And so I lovingly dedicate this post to her, my crown and joy in life.  I love you Lauren.

  • elaine @ peace for the journey - You are an amazing family. God is already being glorified and lifted high in this struggle. Thank you for being the man that God has called you to be, for being the husband he’s called you to be, and for being the dad that he’s made you to be . . . a father not unlike Himself, loving, reaching, and extending grace to his creation.

    Live forward, friends. The best is yet to be. With Jesus, the best is always yet to be, and today is pretty grand as well.


  • Kathy Schwanke - Such a sweet surrender. From Streams Sept 10th: “When the suffering soul reaches a calm, sweet carelessness….smiles at suffering…not even asking God to deliver it…patience has it’s perfect work….then the crucifixion begins to weave itself into a crown.”

    …an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all….2 Cor 4:17-18

    Elaine directed me to your post. The heart of Jesus smiles through you.

  • Shannon Cook - Thank you so much for this post. We were directed to it and your wife’s by friends who also adopted this year from Ethiopia. Our daughter was diagnosed this spring with Asperger syndrome, so we can relate to SO much of what the two of you have shared. It is a lonely road and yet a beautiful one in which God is shaping us through her, but so gently and with such intimately delivered encouragements along the way. We have prayed for the four of you. Thank you again. The Cook family.ReplyCancel

  • Amy - I think it’s so beautiful how much God shows us through our afflictions. I really don’t know how people get through tough situations without Him. Though our circumstances are different, I have found so much of this to be true for my situation as well. And I truly understand the peace that passes all understanding. I pray that y’all continue to shine God’s glory through your beautiful family!ReplyCancel

  • Kristin - Thank you so much for sharing this! That was the best explanation I’ve ever read for understanding why god allows things to happen, especially as an adopted child struggling to come to terms with losing my mom, the only mom I’ve ever known. Yall have such a beautiful family and it has always brought me such joy to follow along with your story. Praying many blessings in the days ahead.ReplyCancel

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