What will the Reign of God look like?
For the last eight years, our family has gone to Joni and Friends Family Retreat, a special needs family camp in Northern Michigan.
Too often we limit our vision and faith when we look at only those who look and act like us. We often miss out on the movement of God’s Spirit because we focus on differences rather than the image of God in each person.
So let me share with you about a part of God’s spectrum of colors that we encountered in Michigan. Many people will see the families we met and see only autism or cerebral palsy or developmental disability. They will miss out on the gifts and insights these children of God will share.
There was the joy of Keto, who from his wheelchair and limited words, has a smile and a laugh that will light up every person he meets. When you hear him sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” tears will come to your eyes at the pure joy and faith he expresses.
There was the incredible faith of James. If you only saw his cerebral palsy, you would miss out on how James witnesses to every person he encounters, how he would ask about your favorite Bible verse or what God is doing in your life.
At a talent show we saw so many of these gifts and witnesses. James took up a guitar and sang “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” At worship on Sunday, he led us all in “Amazing Grace.” With all of our voices – in our many different keys, squawks, and sounds – you heard a beauty beyond any choir or chorus.
Every year we have gone to Joni and Friends, we have seen Nicole. Nicole has a form of cerebral palsy, but she refuses to let the limits of her disability from touching our lives by her wisdom and insight, by her faith and creativity.
This year she shared with us about her sister Angie. Some of us remember Angie. Born to an immigrant family and first adopted by a family that believed that they could “pray away” her disability, Nicole’s parents adopted her as a child who suffered from spina-bifida complicated by other medical factors. Angie’s speech and movements were limited, but those limitations never prevented her from sharing a joy and love of life. Angie died six years ago at the age of 23.
Nicole shared with us the many different ways that Angie touched her life and the lives of her family. She shared, “Here’s something that is rather irksome to me. Many people in our society assume those like my sister have no soul. No likes, no opinions, no desires, no dreams: they don’t understand anything. This is quite naive. Angie knows what she likes….
“…the coolest things about my sister is she understands what love is. “Mom” she says as she rolls in from the bus. “No Nikki in the morning.” she’s remembering the days when we rode the bus together: she cares. When someone sneezes, Angie is the first one to say, “Bless you.”
When a family member is sick Angie will say, “Mom, I think they need some Motrin.” “I think they need a drink.” She is a “mother hen”.
“Angie lives simplicity. In Angie’s world, nothing is old. Everything is brand new. She can snatch memories out of the air, and go back in time. Unlike you and me. In Angie’s world she can run. She can walk. She can fly. She can fall. In Angie’s world, anything is possible. Her world is perfect.”
As I listened to Nicole’s words about her sister, I caught a glimpse of the Reign of God. Yes, I believe that there will be no more sorrow or suffering or pain. But I also believe that we have misunderstood what “perfection” is all about. I am now more convinced that what we thought were disabilities or limitations may really the “perfect world” God desired for us to join. I say this, because I cannot imagine heaven without Keto’s smile or James’s faith or Nicole’s wisdom or Angie’s love. I cannot imagine heaven without the pure joy that our son Christopher shows.
God uses all of our abilities and “disabilities” to make this world a better place. So let us open ourselves up to how the Reign of God manifests itself in all places and in all peoples.