A tie-dye, cat t-shirt; a bright pink backpack—straps pulled tight, resting uncomfortably high on her back; a contagious smile that makes you wonder what she’s thinking… this is Liz. Although she is surrounded by a sea of her peers, I can spot her almost immediately as she exits the school building. At first glance, you might use a lot of words to describe Liz – joyful daughter, unintentional comedian, intellectual disability. But if you’re anything like me when I first met Liz, the word “disciple” probably isn’t one of them. I am ashamed to admit that for almost two years my self-righteous heart kept me from seeing the disciple in Liz and so many others with disabilities like hers. My prayer for this blog is that you will hear both the honest confessions of a self-righteous heart and the invitation of our gracious Father to experience the very depths of the Gospel through people with disabilities.
Self-righteousness is our attempt—misguided as it may be—to try and earn or prove our rightness before God, others, and even ourselves apart from the finished work of Jesus Christ. In all honesty, I live as if my own performance and abilities are somehow capable of earning or proving my worth to the world and to God. I live this way because, at my core, I want to believe it. I hate the thought that I can’t earn my own merit, because if I can’t earn it, I can’t control it, and I love being in control.
What does all of this have to do with Liz or disabilities? Everything. You see, the way we view people with disabilities is a very clear window into the self-righteousness of our own hearts. Nothing diagnoses a self-righteous heart better than a poor or absent vision for people with disabilities in the Kingdom of God. And this is the very tool God used to begin uprooting the deep-seeded self-righteousness in my own heart.
Liz is 22 years old, and she was born with an intellectual disability. Make no mistake about it, Liz was created uniquely and purposefully with her disability to bring something to this world that I believe she could not bring if she fit our definition of “normal”. Liz lives life with an honesty and realness that I deeply crave. Nothing is fake with her, and she doesn’t even have to try—it’s just who she is. When Liz prays, it’s as if God himself is sitting right next to her, holding her hand, and hearing her prayers. Liz’s relational lifestyle is one big, bold, risk—and so is her ministry. It doesn’t matter who you are—the grocery store cashier, a friend at school, the bowling alley attendant, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company—Liz will proudly and boldly share with you what she refers to as the “Gossip” of Christ. At this point, I’ve lost track of how many people Liz has directly impacted with the Gospel.
Liz shares her hope in Christ by saying something like the following.
“Before I met Christ I struggled with my anger so much that I had to go to Shepheard Pratt Hospital for ten days. I felt sad and worried and depressed. I didn’t believe in God or think He could help me with any of my problems. I learned that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and came back to life. I decided I wanted a strong relationship with Jesus. I am more happy now that I have a friendship with Jesus. If you have a disability or don’t have a disability, God loves you the same. Don’t be shy about your disability. I thank God for giving me a disability because He made me special and He made you special too!”
Check back on Friday for part 2 of this blog!
Kate Goehringer and her husband, Ty, live in Baltimore, Maryland, where Kate is the Director of Young Life Capernaum. With very little experience serving the disability community, Kate felt called to accept a position with Young Life Capernaum in 2013. Since that time, she has had a growing passion for exploring how God uses people with disabilities to give us a clear picture of His Gospel.