Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

Two years ago on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, our family woke up at 5:30 in the morning to the nightmare of our 3 ½ year old daughter, Annie, suffering from a seizure. I knew from her clenched jaw, staring eyes, and limp, blue, postured body that she was a thread away from death.

The medics got her to the hospital, her life was saved, and our new life caring for a severely disabled child began. I don’t believe in coincidences, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that Annie became disabled on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. I remember thinking, “What do you want to teach me God?—what is the lesson here, in light of this day?”

One result has been a re-affirmation of my belief that God created Annie; that she is made in His image, and because she is made in the image of God, her life has value regardless of her abilities, or lack of abilities. Her life has worth in spite of her weakness and complete dependence, simply because she is made in God's image.

Let me share 3 other things that God has taught us in these last 2 years. First--an eternal viewpoint is crucial. An eternal viewpoint reminds us that this life is brief; and if Annie lives, she lives for God’s purposes, if she dies, she gets to go to heaven. We want Christ to be magnified in her body, whether by life or by death. Paul said “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21)That is my prayer for myself and for Annie.

An eternal viewpoint reminds us that life is a test of our obedience to God. Mother Teresa said that every one of the people she cared for was Jesus in disguise. I think about that with Annie—someday in heaven she is going to sit with me over a cup of coffee—there will be coffee in heaven, otherwise it wouldn’t be heaven, now, would it?—anyway, she’s going to sit with me over a cup of coffee and recite to me everything I ever did for her or said to her. And I want those words to be sweet and loving. Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

A second thing God has taught us is that caregiving requires a team effort. The National Alliance for Caregiving reports that 1 in every 5 households are involved in caregiving roles. This means that chances are, either you will require someone to help you, or you will help someone else—or both—sometime in your life. So why should we value people who are sick? Because someday you’re gonna be sick and need someone to take care of you! I think about that with Annie—what if the roles were reversed and I was the one in the wheelchair?

I have been a caregiver 3 times—right out of high school I took care of an elderly stroke patient, then for Bill when he was sick, and now for Annie. And let me tell you: there’s no such thing as a heroic caregiver. The degree that we are doing a good job with Annie is the degree that we have a good team around us. A lot of my team lives in my house: Bill and my kids. But there have been countless times that we have been rescued by Donna and her housecleaning team, Kate and her food team, or Andrea and her garden team. Being a caregiver cannot successfully be done alone. I am not a heroic caregiver, and neither are you. We need friends who can bear this burden with us, so that we can successfully care for the people God has entrusted to us.

The last thing I’ll mention regarding what God has taught us in these last two years about the value of human life has to do with the disabled. What is a disabled person? We think disabled people are people who either can’t walk, or can’t talk, or whose brains don’t work like ours. So our culture—and sometimes even we--often look at disabled people as “less than.” In our culture, health, beauty, independence, and youth are valued. Weakness, infirmity, and the aged are de-valued.

But let me ask a question: we may be able to walk—-but can we walk on water? We might have a sharp intellect, but can we read people’s minds? We may be able to multitask, but can we hold the earth together in our hands? Can we calm the winds and the sea? Can we heal leprosy? Can we raise the dead?

Do you think God looks on us as having less value and worth because we can’t do what He can do? We need to compare our so-called abilities with God’s, regain some measure of humility, and thereby have more compassion for the weak.

We need to remember that God chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

We have learned through this experience with Annie that even though her body doesn’t do what we or she would like it to do, she is still “in there,” she is still “Annie,” and she is still worthy of dignity and respect. And now my other kids have a compassion for the disabled that causes them to stick up for them at school, befriend them in the cafeteria, and defend them at public bus stops. The empathy and compassion God has given them as a result of living with Annie has been a great blessing.

So—3 things:

1.An eternal viewpoint is crucial because Everyone is Jesus in Disguise.
2.Successful Caregiving is a Team Effort—There’s no such thing as a Heroic Caregiver.
3.We can’t walk on water, so we need to have compassion for those who can’t walk on concrete.

Now here we are on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday—2 years later. Would I change anything if I could? You bet. Is our lesson over? No--we're not in heaven, yet, are we? Do I look forward to Annie running, jumping, singing and dancing again? Soon—very soon!



Sue Powell said...

Jean, thank you SO much for sharing this with us in church this morning. You did a super job. Wow, it is amazing how much God has taught you through this and I liked the way you shared that there are no heroic caregivers and all need our support! I was thrilled to read the list of auction items... such variety and creativity. I can't WAIT for Friday night!

aunt rebecca said...


Annie Sullivan said...


uncle jeff said...

words aren't enough... but Jean's words help us understand and put things in perspective today.

thanks, Lord,,, thanks,,,

Anonymous said...

My one wish today is that we could ALL accept each other regardless of ability, race, status, etc. and love with the love of Christ!

God Bless you Jean! He is really using you to minister to us. Thank you for this daily bread.

Tanya W.

Gretchen said...

Thanks for ruining my mascara at church today. And a big howdy do to Sarah and Jim for the same.


This is beautiful. And so dang well said. I'm looking forward to Annie running, jumping, singing and dancing soon, too.


pam s. said...

Thanks, Jean, for this! I'm so glad you put it here, too,as I was trying to tell Luther all that you said, and wasn't doing a very good job. Now I can just aim him this direction to read!
Your "3 things" sums it up so well! I'm printing that and posting it over my computer at work! It certainly applies!


Rebecca said...

I am printing this off and posting it.
Thank you, Jean. Thank you, Annie. Thank you, Jesus.
Rebecca, SLP