Art in the Brokenness

Jonathan Edwards claimed that beauty in art should contain moral and aesthetic/technical excellence. When we look at beautiful photographs, art, and sculpture, we feel that his wise words were completely true!  Our hearts and minds are clearly drawn to beautiful things that are made up of moral and aesthetic excellence.

But what about those “things” that do not promote aesthetic excellence? How do we see beauty in someone that does not have symmetry, no “technical excellence,” no beautiful mix of colors, no perfect design of abstract shapes? 

Jonathan Edwards also speaks to the purpose of our beauty.  He says that true beauty must be filled with both a minor theme showing the brokenness of this world and major theme displaying the story of redemption. 

Some individuals are born with disabilities that can manifest itself in something unusually adorable; however, the reality of many distorted bodies is much more grotesque to the eye.  Yet, in these broken faces and bodies, God can and does allow us to see beauty.  These glimpses of beauty actually defy all laws of art and moralism in our world.  Could this be one of God’s most remarkable ways for Him to reveal His very own beauty to us?  What if the most despicably disabled people on earth were shown to us to remind us of the minor theme of the abnormality of the revolting world and point us to the major theme of redemption?  How much more beautiful then would our Creator be in drawing together His diverse community of people in order to slowly reveal His artistic beauty to each of us.  Wouldn’t this realization in itself make you long to be in the company of the most physically, mentally, and intellectually suffering creature of the Lord?  I believe the beauty of the Lord found in these often grotesquely viewed people in the eyes of the world is the intense feeling that drowns out all the initial feelings and doubts therefore leaving God’s church longing for more.

“If man really is fashioned, more than anything else ‘in the image of God,’ then clearly it follows that there is nothing on earth so near to God as a human being.  The conclusion is inescapable, that to be in the presence of even the meanest, lowest, most repulsive specimen of humanity in the world is still to be closer to God than when looking up into a starry sky or a beautiful sunset.”

– Mike Mason

Although Lizzie Velasquez, “the ugliest woman,” is an incredible motivational speaker, her search for truth and beauty in life is actually quite empty. She claims: “The only way I could show these people that they weren’t going to become my definition and my truth was the somehow make myself better.”  Through this thoughts, Ms. Velasquez misses the entire point of truth when seeking to make herself beautiful through her actions.  She must instead watch and see that God can and will expose His beauty through His Creation of her.

This search for beauty in the world around us must be so much more than simply finding things that have aesthetic excellence.  We must be searching for things that remind us of the tragedy of this broken world and point us in hope of the complete redemption of our Lord’s Creation.  This is the beauty that God reveals to us through the lives and testimonies of so many individuals touched by disability. 

“They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”

– Isaiah 61:3b

Advertisements

Luke 14 Dinner 2014 “Better When Broken”

If you would have walked through the gym of First Presbyterian Church Jackson this past Friday night, February 7th, you may have seen a unique sight that is not often present in this church’s gym. Various people and colors whirled around the gym; sounds of laughter and screaming filled the enclosed space. Wheelchairs rolled, children ran, basketballs bounced, and hula hoops spun–this was a night that will be remembered by all who were blessed to be there. If you would have walked from the gym into Miller Hall, you experienced a completely different atmosphere. Over 350 people filled this banquet hall, enjoying conversation and a delicious steak dinner catered by Penn’s Restaurant and Catering. A quiet murmur filled this room as parents and caregivers enjoyed a night of spiritual encouragement and a restful dinner. This assortment of adults came from all different backgrounds, various homes, and even different states–but were united under similar experiences of suffering and longing for a time of true comfort.
For the third time, Joni and Friends Jackson hosted their biennial “Luke 14 Dinner” this Friday night at First Presbyterian Church Jackson. The Mission of Joni and Friends Jackson is to serve the community at large affected by disability by connecting them to the local church. This dinner offered a night of relaxation and spiritual encouragement through a semi-formal dinner and a guest speaker to families touched by disability. Volunteers from all over Jackson came to the church to provide fun respite care for the children or adults with disabilities and their siblings.
This year, Greg Lucas came from West Virginia to be the keynote speaker. He is a father of a 21 year old son with severe autism and is also the author of the inspiring book, “Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability, and the Lessons of Grace.” Lucas shared with the group a passage from 2 Samuel 9 on David showing Christ’s love and grace to crippled Mephibosheth. Many tears were shed as family members, parents, and caregivers of people with disabilities were filled with and reminded of the comforting truths of the gospel through Lucas’ message. Joni and Friends Jackson board member, Scott Coleman, also shared his testimony of God’s grace for his life with the group. Coleman was in a bike accident when he was 17 years old and has since then written a book about his faith called, “Better When Broken.”
This event was a wonderful picture of the what true community should look like—all God’s broken people fellowshipping and playing together despite all different races, backgrounds, and disabilities. It was a night of heartwarming sounds, awe inducing sights, and beautiful people that you will not want to miss next time around.
(check another report on the night at http://specialneedsparenting.net/shadow-suffering-presence-god/)

“When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you…Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” 

Luke 14

Faithfulness without Acknowledgement

This weekend was a Missions Conference at my church in Starkville, MS.  I always love these weekends because I walk away so inspired after listening to all the great things being done around the world to spread the gospel.  Just like previous years, I left the conference dreaming about all the great things I could do with my life and all the wonderful places I could go.  Then, of course, I sunk into deep thoughts wondering how in the world I could get there.  Am I on the right path to do wonderful and mighty things with my life?  Will I one day be able to stand before a congregation and talk about the ministries I have started and the hundreds of conversions that have taken place?  Is this really the most important thing in my life?

When I was younger, I read so many missionary biographies and I became determined that this would be my life’s goal.  One day I was going to just pick a country and move there to convert all the “heathens.”  Looking at my life now, I realize that this dream may not really be what my life will look like.  In the future, I could just be a unknown school teacher working way over the top trying to help those “retarded kids” learn how to read.  That doesn’t sound near as exciting or worthwhile! What a ridiculous and worthless thing to devote your entire life to!  This may never allow me to speak before congregations to talk about how great my work is going!

However, this is not the way Jesus lived while He was on earth.  Our mighty savior spent most of  His time humbly caring for the lowly and broken.  He walked the streets not broadcasting himself but rather kneeling down to pour out love to the disabled.  So many of the people of His time were astonished by the little amount of work Jesus was doing.  Jesus was supposed to come to earth with a might celebration and rescue all His people in unbelievable ways!  Yet just like He always does, Jesus gave us a beautiful and perfect example of humble and faithful service for all of His people.  He showed us that furthering His Kingdom does not necessarily mean doing huge things and converting whole towns at once.  Jesus teaches us by example that His ministry is about reaching the one lost person.  He rescues us and serves each of His children one-by-one through humbly and faithfully caring for us.  How much more so should we live like that in return!

If I truly believed that Jesus’ style of ministry is exhibited by humble and lowly service, than I would be thrilled to live like this.  I should feel incredibly honored to spend my entire life in faithful service to those touched by disability even if no one ever even realizes what I am doing.

I believe that God uses us the most when we are faithful and steadfast in seeking after His glory.  This is the greatest encouragement we could ever receive in devoting your life to disability ministry.  When I think how much Jesus sought after me, I am moved to be more faithful in my service for His people even if no one else may ever know what I do.  Jesus’ heart is for the lowly and outcast of the world… I pray that this is where my heart will remain daily as I move forward to teach and care for children with disabilities.

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Matthew 23:11-12

Stepping into a Parent’s Shoes

This semester, I am taking a class called Working with Parents for my Special Education major.  Hence the name, this class is all about how disability affects a family and what role a teacher can play in the lives of these parents.  It has been an interesting class to sit through and I have really enjoyed hearing many different perspectives.  But nothing could have made me understand the role of a parent more than an experience that I had recently…

One night, I offered to take a friend of mine to a football pep rally at our university.  I was really excited to be able to take her because I knew how much this meant to her, but failed to take into account the fact that she uses a walker and how difficult this would be.  As we were walking up to the football stadium, we ran into another friend of ours who uses a wheelchair to move around.  We began to walk into the stadium with him and were thrilled to see how many new ramps were put up around the stadium making it so much more accessible.  Also, there was a whole new wheelchair section in the middle of the renovated student section that gave an incredible view of the field! Our friend would not stop talking about how thrilled he was to have a new wheelchair section in the stadium.  However, when I turned to my sweet friend with the walker, I realized that she did not want to be stuck in the wheelchair section.  She is much more mobile than people in wheelchairs and so really wanted to be able to go sit in the stands just like everyone else.   But I knew this was going to be very complicated.  You see, we have steep and narrow stairs that go up and down through the stadium stairs.  I immediately looked over and thought about how crazy this looked to try and get both my friend, who has limited balance, and her walker down all those stairs! Even though it looked impossible, we were both quite determined and so left the wheelchair section and headed to the other side hoping to find a way to get her into the stands.  After multiple attempts of going through different entrances, we quickly realized that our great idea of sitting in the stands may not be possible.  We spent almost the whole hour of the pep rally trying to force our way into the upper level stands with the least amount of steps, but ended up just leaving frustrated.  Even the security officers were getting nervous and concerned for my friend with her walker, and so by the time we decided to leave they were much relieved.  At the end of our fruitless adventure, we headed back to the dorm and my friend just cried.  I sat by her and tried to talk her through it and remind her that none of this was her fault.  For this brief couple hours, I felt like a parent watching their broken-hearted daughter cry over her limitations in life.  I had never once thought about how different her life was from mine and how difficult even the most simple thing as finding a seat could be.  My sweet friend with her walker was feeling the harsh repercussions of living in a fallen and broken world.  This difficult realization sank deep into us that night…

Once I returned home, I immediately had to cling to God’s word for a renewal of my spirit.  I turned to Isaiah 35 and was reminded of the promises of God for His redeemed people.  The day is coming soon when Jesus is to return and heal His distorted creation and make everything beautiful again! I know that this promise can be as encouraging and uplifting to other families as it was to me in a sorrowful time.

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.”

Isaiah 35:5-6

Finding a “Shared Interest”

Recently, while my mom and I were watching a documentary on Autism, I was struck by a profound statement by Dr. Temple Grandin.  For those of you who do not know her, Grandin was diagnosed with autism, but now lives as an advocate for individuals with autism and seeks to teach others how the autistic mind works.  She also has her doctorate in animal sciences, is a professor at Colorado State University, and has made groundbreaking research on working with cattle.  In this documentary, she was talking with a mother of a boy with autism and told her that the best way for people to relate to a person with autism is to “find a shared interest.”  Now that statement itself is almost just common sense, but it made me think of something so much more.  What if our need for a Savior was the common interest that bridged us to people touched by autism?

So often we have the tendency to forget that people with disabilities need the Gospel just as much as we do.  Then we fail to remember that salvation is much more important than fixing someone’s hindrances in society.  As a future Special Ed teacher, I naturally want to write about all the different ways that we can help an individual touched by autism and make them more comfortable in society today.  I definitely think that we are living in a time that is full of so many breakthroughs for this particular disability.  According to recent statistics, one in every eighty-eight children is diagnosed with autism and daily more people are realizing the strong demand to find help for these families.  Yet, the Church cannot neglect the need to share the good news of our Savior with all those touched by special needs and specifically autism.  The story of Salvation is a simple yet complex truth that each one of God’s people can grasp through Him.  So why should we forsake sharing the gospel with those affected by disabilities?  During this time of autism spectrum disorder on the rise, we must rise up to give individuals touched by autism the “shared interest” of the love of a great Savior who has rescued us from our sins.  What an incredible opportunity for evangelism this can be!

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 15:5-6 

Joni and Friends

I am spending my summer interning with an international disability organization called Joni and Friends.  If you have never heard of this ministry, I would strongly urge you to check it out at www.joniandfriends.com.  It is an incredible organization founded by Joni Eareckson Tada and I am so honored to be able to be a part of it for three months.  Joni was in a diving accident when she was seventeen years old and broke her neck, which led her to spend the rest of her life as a quadriplegic.  After struggling with depression and dark times, she finally gave her life up to the Lord to serve Him.  She is now an influential speaker, an advocate for the disabled, and devotes her life seeking to fulfill the Luke 14 mandate.  I cannot speak enough on how much this organization means to me and the ways God has used it in my life.  I am now interning with Cause 4 Life (check it out on the website too) for my second summer.  While I am here, Joni and Friends pours into me so much and really seeks to further God’s Kingdom through everyone that works here.  You do not spend your internships just filing papers and doing a plethora of menial tasks.  Rather, you devote yourself to serving with this ministry and reap more blessings than you could number.  Cause 4 Life has often been used to redirect people’s lives, draw them closer to their Savior, show them the beauty and diversity of God’s Kingdom, and cause them to go out wanting to do more.  These are things that are not found in many other places.  And this is another reason why I know that God has blessed disability ministry… He is doing more with it than we could ever imagine.  Disability ministry touches more than just the disabled and their families; it drives the workers and volunteers to the cross.  Joni and Friends truly has the hand of God upon them as they serve in many countries abroad and across our nation.

“‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.  For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’”

Luke 14:12-14

 

David and Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9)

A couple of months ago, my campus minister preached a fantastic sermon on the picture of God’s faithfulness to His people in the lives of David and Mephibosheth.  The entire sermon was full of richness and definitely divinely inspired.  While I was sitting there listening, my thoughts kept drifting to how this passage is such a beautiful picture of how God works through our brokenness by showing His grace and love towards us.  The fact that Mephibosheth is a “cripple” only causes that passage to hit home with me so much more.  I think one reason that God gave us this story of David and Mephibosheth was to give encouragement for those touched by disability.  In this passage, King David is a beautiful example of showing kindness and true love to someone that is very helpless.  He took a guy that did not matter in the world’s eyes and placed him in a seat of honor.  Once we know the love of Christ it should move us to start sharing this love with others.  It will cause us to sacrifice for people who do not matter in the eyes of the world.  These actions of serving those that are outwardly broken and cost you time and money without paying you back show real Christianity.  Yet I would argue that working with those touched by disability could be the most rewarding experiences you could ever do.  The beauty of being around broken people is that it reminds us of how broken and sinful we are before the God of infinite mercy.

David gave Mephibosheth a new identity by drawing him into his family and placing him at the king’s table.  “Mephibosheth gave David an incredible opportunity to represent God’s grace.” And even though he did not deserve it, he would never leave the king’s table!  Yet after all of this, Mephibosheth remained disabled while he was on earth.  The final verse of the passage is my favorite as it shows the reality God’s grace even in the midst of our present sufferings: “And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’ table, and he was crippled in both feet.”  God did not just take away the troubles of Mephibosheth, but rather revealed to him His own gracious character in the way He never leaves His people.  Also, this passage shows the home of eternity when we will be made whole again and sit at the table with our Heavenly Father in a most glorious place.

I would challenge you and myself to read this passage of 2 Samuel 9 again and be completely amazed by the mercy of God and the promise of perfect eternity with Him.

“You will only know the love of kind jesus if you will actually see that you are Mephibosheth. Thats who we are… helpless, shameful, enemy of the king, and get ready to be amazed by the kindness of God”  

Rev. Brian Sorgenfrei