She was 23 and disabled from birth. Though you could see the outward trappings, she was anything but handicapped in her spirit.
Most of her hair was gone and her body was bloated. She wore hearing aids and oxygen was attached to the wheelchair lovingly guided by her mother. A sweet, innocent spirit radiated from her and she seemed to find joy in everything. Her mother wheeled her up to the counter and she asked if we had any angels in our store. “We do!” I assured her, and led the way to the various figurines that held such delight for her. She overflowed with excitement. “My whole room is filled with angels,” she told me, sharing a smile that would have melted the coldest heart. “I just love them!”
Her mother gave her time to examine these new found treasures on her own and stepped near the counter. We began to speak and I offered an endorsement of what she already knew. “You have a wonderful daughter.” “Thank you. She is. But … I won’t have her much longer,” she spoke quietly. “Her heart is failing. The doctors can do nothing more.” I had all I could do to fight back the tears and offer God’s love. Everything in me wanted this to be different. It seemed so unfair. She was such a gentle soul and her mother was so warm. I wanted them both liberated from the suffering that was robbing this young woman of a long, fulfilled life. Wouldn’t God want that, too?
She left with another angel to add to her collection and I remained with my question.
As the day passed, she filled my thoughts repeatedly, until at last, God impressed a different question upon my heart. What made me assume she was unfulfilled in the condition He had entrusted to her? She was not a soul in despair. Though I have no doubt she has encountered many discouraging days, she possessed an enthusiasm and love that is seldom evident among the most attractive, able-bodied and accomplished people. Could it be that God had bestowed upon this young woman a gift of immeasurable worth disguised in an overtly damaged package?
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 puts it another way: “God chose those who 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, so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God.” (NLT)
We live in a society that defines us by outward appearances; how we look, how we perform and what we accomplish. Handled appropriately, there is nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves, using our talents or achieving goals, but they are not the true measure of who we are, nor are they meant to be the motivating force that drives us. God is.
Apart from Him, what do we truly possess? If it is beauty, what will sustain us if it is suddenly altered or when it naturally declines? If it is performance, where do we find purpose when another’s ability exceeds ours or we face diminishing strength or alertness? If we strive only for wealth, power or fame, how do we measure our value if they decrease or are lost? We were made for something greater; something deeper. We were made for relationship with the One who made us, loves us and has given us purpose in the circumstances of life.
My wheelchair-bound friend possessed no physical beauty, yet radiated an astounding beauty of spirit. She had no ability to perform tasks that were common to others, but demonstrated uncommon gratitude for the simplest pleasures. For a brief moment in time, I was privileged to see a pure heart born out of weakness, yet perfected by God. That day a wheelchair became a pulpit and a woman of physical weakness delivered a testimony of the sustaining grace of Jesus Christ.
I have no doubt that I will see her again one day … on the other side. When I do, she will no longer be bound with physical limitations. Her unstopped ears, perfected body and eternal heart will be glorifying God in the company of His angels … and she will be radiant among them!