Liz doesn’t know anything about theology. She doesn’t know the books of the Bible in order, or any Old Testament characters. She knows only one Bible verse by heart which took us almost 5 months to memorize. But Liz exemplifies this verse better than any person I know: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2, NIV, italics mine). NOTHING. Not a single thing, except Jesus. Liz may not know the definition of sanctification or even that a word like sanctification exists. But Liz knows and lives out the only thing that matters—Jesus Christ; His life, death, and resurrection, and that He changed her life.
For a long time, I had a very limited vision for Liz and her faith because to be quite honest—she has limited abilities. The extent of my vision for Liz was congruent with the extent to which I believed her abilities could perform—in life, in relationships, and in God’s Kingdom. Essentially, I was living and believing that our abilities determine our usefulness in the Kingdom of God.
By sheer grace, God began to use my friendship with Liz to reveal both the simplicity of His Gospel and the self-righteousness of my own heart. Each day, I would preach the Gospel of “justification by faith alone” yet live something completely different—and the more time I spent with Liz, the more this became glaringly evident. If I really believe that my faith is grounded and rooted in Christ’s performance and not my own, if my power and goodness and usefulness comes from Jesus Christ and Him alone, what makes me any more “useful” to God and His Kingdom work than Liz?
This past April, after a year of training, Liz was placed as a leader on our Capernaum team. My biggest fear for Liz as she entered our leadership community was that she would be viewed as a “nice addition” to our team. I worried that that she wouldn’t be taken seriously or that people’s automatic reactions would sound something like, “Aww, isn’t that sweet!” I didn’t want people to think we somehow did Liz a favor by letting her become a leader. Let me be blunt: Liz does not need our sympathy. She has everything that matters: Jesus Christ. Our Young Life community in Baltimore desperately needs Liz. We need the picture of the Gospel that she provides. We need her unique gifting. We need the freedom she offers each of us as she reminds us daily that we cannot earn our place in God’s Kingdom. Our community is more complete because she is part of it.
Don’t get me wrong, training Liz and finding ways to uplift her special abilities was not, and is still not, easy. It certainly isn’t convenient or efficient by any means, but it is necessary. I am thankful to say that our leadership has welcomed Liz and sees her as an integral part of our community, but this was not by happenstance. A community-wide, theologically-correct vision for Liz’s participation took great intentionality from myself and from the area director with whom I work. While people with disabilities do not need you and I to pity them, they do need us to advocate for them. We need to be the people who are willing get our hands and knees dirty as we bend down on all fours and invite them to stand on our backs. This is the position of true humility, and it is the very position Christ willingly took for us in order to restore our dignity and bring us to Himself. Jesus saw us as disciples long before He saved us. Do you want to walk in the way of the cross of Christ? Start by choosing to see a disciple, not a disability.
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.