Here is the Introduction to my newest book, When Disability Hits Home: How God Magnifies His Grace In Our Weakness and Suffering, with contributions from Joni Eareckson Tada.
The idea for this book was conceived in April 2011 at The Gospel Coalition conference in Chicago, during two conversations that could only have been providentially arranged by God. The first was with a representative from a small publisher I had admired from a distance for a long time. The second was with a total stranger who, in a matter of hours, became a dear friend.
My conversation with Rick, the publisher’s acquisitions editor, began simply as two dads talking about our families, catching up with each other since the last time we had seen each other at a conference. Since he knew that some of our children had been born with hearing impairment, Rick asked if I’d ever thought about writing on the topic of disability and parenting. I hadn’t, but I was open to thinking about it. However, when I shared with him my passion for thinking through all forms of suffering from a theological perspective, he enthusiastically introduced me to someone else. “Come with me,” he said.
Rick brought me down the hall to the Desiring God Ministries display area. There I met a man named John Knight. “You two need to talk,” Rick said.
What commenced was a couple hours of kindred conversation, two dads bonding instantly, sharing our hearts with one another over matters related to God, disability, and the church. He then asked, “Have you ever thought about preaching a sermon series and writing a book about disability? I think it’s God’s will for you.”
Well, that was certainly bold!
We ended our visit by tearfully praying for one another and the church worldwide to awaken to the need to think biblically about disability and the suffering it brings. Then I found a quiet spot, sat down in a comfortable chair, and began writing in my journal. I was not, however, prepared for my emotional reaction. Here’s what I wrote:
April 13, 2011, 2:30 pm – Sitting in a soft, cozy chair at The Gospel Coalition conference in Chicago, I just wiped away tears that have been streaming down my face. For two hours we talked, cried, shared our lives and prayed with each other. Thank you, Lord, for bringing John Knight of Desiring God Ministries into my life. This divine appointment was such a display of your kindness to me! Why am I crying? I’ve not cried like this . . . over this [disabilities in our family] since Kayte was born [and she’s now six]. Yes, I’ve cried with you, my God. Yes, I’ve cried with Karen, my precious wife. But I’ve not cried with another father—a father of a child with disabilities. John’s son is not only blind, but he was born without eyes. My four hearing-impaired children at least have ears, and they are not at all disfigured. And three of them now have digital “ears” (cochlear implants). Here is a man who understands! Here is a 2 Corinthians 1:4 comforter! Yes, others have cared. Others have prayed. But not at this level. Not with a level of compassion that can only be birthed by suffering. O Lord, if this book idea ever comes to fruition, may it be that it will serve others as the Spirit served me, through John, today.
When I returned to the church that I pastored in Wisconsin, I knew that my next sermon series had to be called “Disability and the Glory of God.” The congregation welcomed and received the messages well, since the studies helped everyone to think more biblically about their own level of suffering, especially those whose families were in some way affected by disability. Those initial messages became the ground for multiple saplings to be planted, which have been growing for the past nine years.
The book you now hold in your hand is the fruit of the encouragement that I received from a handful of faithful friends. Rick wouldn’t let me leave the conference without my agreeing to send him a book proposal. And John has never let me forget his heartfelt conviction that it was God’s will for me, first, to preach a sermon series on disability and, second, to write this book. Little did I know that, many years later, the Lord would begin to nurture a relationship between me and the ministry of the Joni & Friends International Disability Center. Without the reassuring words of numerous brothers and sisters in Christ, and kind encouragement from Joni Eareckson Tada, who enthusiastically agreed to contribute a personal reflection to close each chapter, this book would never have been written.
Compared to the suffering of many others, my wife and I consider our family’s experience to be minor. Nonetheless, we are familiar with disability. Four of our ten children are affected by congenital hearing impairment, one of whom also has cognitive disabilities and autism. This ongoing experience, alongside almost three decades of pastoral ministry, has given me the opportunity to think about this topic from the viewpoint of Scripture. It’s helped me to embrace and articulate a theology of suffering that is strong enough to stand up to the challenges of disability. My prayer is that the rock-solid truths of Scripture explained in this book will bring comfort and stability to your heart and mind, and also enrich your faith.
May 2020, Mayfield Heights, Ohio