In Jesus, We All Belong
I am helplessly drawn to the biblical story of Mephibosheth, the orphaned son of Jonathan, who had died in battle and who was King David’s best friend. Mephibosheth was a boy with special needs, being crippled in both feet. Wanting to honor Jonathan, David reached out to the boy and offered to take him in. Said the king to the orphaned boy, “You shall eat at my table always.” (The full story can be found in 2 Samuel 9:1-21).
By taking Mephibosheth in, in telling his servants to let a hurting, scared child come, David mirrored what God had done for him.
Our friends, let’s call them Mike and Allie, did something similar when they declared that they would adopt an orphan—a little girl—from Uganda. After they had met the little girl and the adoption process was underway, Mike and Allie discovered that, based on Ugandan law, they would have to live in Uganda for two years before the adoption could be completed. This would mean relocating with their other three children to the other side of the world. It would also mean turning down Mike’s dream job that had just been offered to him.
As Mike and Allie wrestled with the potential implications, they began to ask, “What if this was one of our biological children, and the only way to get that child back was to move to Uganda for two years?” They concluded that of course, they would do whatever it took. They would move to Uganda for two years or twenty, if that was what it took to bring their child back home. So Mike and Allie decided that if the Ugandan courts wouldn’t grant them an exception (ultimately, they did grant the exception), they were going to leave home, family, friends and career behind. They would move to Uganda for the little girl who, just like the other three, had been promised a seat at their table always.
Both stories—the one about King David and Mephibosheth, and the one about Mike, Allie, and their little girl—demonstrate the high value we are supposed to place on children. But the twist is that we need the children to take us in just as much as they need us to take them in. We need them to raise us just as much as they need us to raise them.
Then children were brought to (Jesus) that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:13-14).
I don’t know about you, but over the years I have come to believe that I desperately need children in my life. This is especially true of children who have special needs. Children like David’s adopted son, Mephibosheth.
I get to be the pastor of a congregation filled with such masterpieces. Scores people with special needs quite literally take a seat at our church’s table every Sunday when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. These dear ones, by their mere presence, unfiltered honesty, and infectious hugs and smiles, routinely pastor me just as much as I pastor them…and sometimes more. To me they have become pathways to the knowledge of God, because in their faces I see the face of God. And in their stories, I see the story of God—the God who gives cripple-hearted, fragile, fearful people like me a son’s seat at his table.
Did you know that in many instances, children with Down Syndrome have a disproportionally high capacity for enjoying life? According to The American Journal of Medical Genetics, 99% of those living with Down Syndrome say that they are happy. 97% say that they like who they are. And 99% agree with the statement, “I love my family.
According to one study, people with Down Syndrome are—by a landslide—“the happiest people in the world.”
It’s crazy, isn’t it, that even though they have been identified as the happiest people in the world, children with Down Syndrome have been targeted for extinction. Over 90% of children in the womb with a Down Syndrome diagnosis are terminated.
This is tragic for all of us.
Our church would suffer a great loss if the men, women, boys and girls with Down Syndrome were not part of us. This is a population to which our church – both programmatically and relationally – has chosen to invest resources and give special attention. I firmly believe that the greatest beneficiaries of this investment are not those with Down Syndrome. No, the greatest beneficiaries are the rest of us who get to live a slice of our lives in their company.
I think of Katie who has Down Syndrome. She has the biggest smile and gives the longest and strongest hugs. I think of how she insists on a hug from me, her pastor, every time we see each other. I think of how she lights up when I tell her she is beautiful, and how she sweetly reminds me that I need to tell her she is beautiful—and that her name, Katie, means “pure”—on those rare occasions when I forget. I think of how she hands me pictures that she has drawn—pictures that represent her profoundly simple and simply profound interpretations of my sermons.
I also think of William—who also has Down Syndrome and is autistic and hits nothing but net when he shoots a free throw. William’s parents are stretched fully and on constant call working together to care for his needs. And yet, they never stop telling us how rich their lives are because of him. If not for William, they would know Jesus less. If not for William, we, too, would know Jesus less.
Hand a box of Cheez-Its to William and you might not get it back. If you look away for even a minute, he might disappear to another room. And he laughs at my corny jokes and gives me high fives and smiles ear to ear when our eyes make contact…even if only for a brief second. William, like Katie, insists on giving me hugs. He usually throws in a high five or two also, for good measure. William, with full awareness, belongs. Though unable to articulate his thoughts clearly in words, he hands out bulletins at church, passes the offering plate, and dances happy to hymns and worship songs. As he does all of these things—as he lives honest and true—he brings me back to the truth. He brings me back to grace. He shows me the King and the kingdom that I would not be able to see AT ALL without the likes of him.
We need little children just like Jesus’ disciples did. And we need Katie and William just like David needed Mephibosheth.
Because the kingdom belongs to children…
…and we all have special needs.
…and in Jesus, we all belong.
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