KEREN GOT UP on stage, stood behind the pulpit, and began speaking,
“Please stand for the reading of God’s Word.”
She took a deep breath and began reading 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. She made it through, successfully pronouncing difficult words like “revelations”, “sufficient”, and “distresses”. Then, she read the last few words with confidence:
“ … for when I am weak, then I am strong!” (NIV)
The audience clapped. Keren grinned in the way that she usually did when she was happy. For a brief moment, time stood still, and I wondered in amazement over this situation. Here I was, witnessing the first ever Disability Ministry Sunday at my local church and seeing my sister participate, and I was happy. I had to take a moment to realize my joy, because my feelings towards my sister and her disability were not always this positive.
THE AUTISM CHALLENGE
Like other families affected by disability, our family’s journey with Keren and her autism was difficult. After receiving news of her diagnosis, my parents had to die to their dreams for their daughter, and they wrestled with that process in different ways. My mom struggled with an intense desire for a cure, but no matter what she did, it seemed like things would not get better for her beloved daughter. My dad, being an intellectual person, struggled with confusion and read as much literature as possible to understand Keren’s condition. Despite what he did, he could not fix the problem.
My brother and I also struggled. My older brother experienced extreme frustration in interacting with his little sister. As for me, I felt shame. I could not bear the tantrums, incessant mumblings, and strange behavior, so I pushed it away. With it, I pushed her away. In the deepest recesses of my heart, I hid the nagging question that I did not know how to answer: Why was my sister born with autism?
Rather than answering my question, God started me on a journey towards His heart and His passion for people affected by disability. One of the main turning points was when I read through the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John, where Jesus interacted with a blind man. Here, His disciples asked Him a question, one that was similar to mine regarding Keren:
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (John 9:2 NIV)
I pictured myself next to the disciples, waiting with anticipation and an underlying anger that God would allow such a person to exist and suffer from disability. Cutting to the heart of the question, Jesus answered His disciples, and in doing so, He answered me:
“It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3 NIV, emphasis mine)
BLIND TO LOVE
The message was clear, but I could not believe it; I could not see how God could showcase His works in a blind person or someone with autism. However, the words remained the same. Since then, I revisited that verse many more times, and it had the same ring heard in my mind’s ear after reading a profound, mind-altering, and life-changing truth. With each read, God took off the scales from my eyes and helped me see more clearly what He was doing in and through Keren’s life.
“Why do you want to get that?” I asked Keren one day as she brought a rose to the shopping cart. A red rose was not one of the items on the shopping list.
She hesitated and then responded, “I want to give it to Mrs. Liu.”
I was puzzled. I did not understand why she wanted to give a rose to Mrs. Liu, a lady we knew from church. We knew Jenny, Mrs. Liu’s daughter, but we did not know Mrs. Liu well. However, I knew Keren enjoyed giving gifts to people, so I conceded.
“Sure, you can put it in the cart.”
Moments like these were not unusual with Keren. Often, during our trips to the store, she would put things into the cart for people she knew from church: a bag of vanilla cookies for the Hsieh family, a coffee cup for Garrett, and a bouquet for Serena. The first two times, I tried to curb her gift giving because at times it seemed haphazard, and to be frank, I felt that we were wasting money. In spite of my responses, Keren’s efforts did not wane. If I did not buy the gifts for her, she would get them herself with her pocket money.
A BLESSED LACK OF FEAR
As I watched my sister think of ways to bless others, I saw that she knew how to love. Of course, she did not do it perfectly, but she did it better than many of us who had more to lose when loving others in this way. Before showing someone a sign of affection, I often had questions in my mind. What will she think of me if I give her this? Will she like it? Will she think I am weird? Answering these questions were helpful, but, in thinking through them, I often cowered and failed to follow through.
However, this was not the case with Keren. If she thought of you during a shopping trip to Trader Joe’s, she would get something for you and she will give it to you. The strange reality was that in a way, her disability enabled her to do this. As Mrs. Liu told me after receiving a red rose from Keren, “She is not afraid to love.”
Journeying so far with Keren has not been easy, but it has been good. Her disability is not good in itself, but it serves good purposes.
Primarily, the hardships of the journey shattered my sugary notions of a God who does nice things, and they pushed me to consider the true God of the Bible. Within the pages of Scripture, I also see someone who is not afraid to love. I see someone who fiercely resolved to pour out His life for the glory of His Father in heaven and for the salvation of lost, wretched, and undeserving souls.
Thinking upon the cross of Jesus, celebrated Christian author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada says, “This is love poured out like wine as strong as fire.” (emphasis mine) From the cursed wood, Jesus poured out His crimson blood, which burned away our sin and forever bound us to Him.
Through Keren, I see Jesus — the Lover who will do whatever it takes to love His beloved. I see now. Yes, I can see.