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Thoughts on life by Teri McCarthy

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What’s So Special About Special Needs?

Posted by admin in October 27th, 2009
Published in Blessings

Retarded. That’s what we called folks back in the day when I was an MR education major at Southwest Texas State. MR = Mental retardation.

I was actually a member of a group called TARs: Teens Aid the Retarded. But people started frowning on calling kids retarded. So, it went from retarded to mentally handicapped. But that was determined too derogatory. So, we switched to mentally challenged. Uh…still too derogatory and finally, years later we came up with special needs. Special. Well, I don’t know what’s so special about special needs.

Sunday as Daryl and I were pulling into a space in the church’s parking lot I saw this big guy, 6’2” maybe 6’3”, leaping out of the passenger side of a big old Buick barely waiting for the car to come to a complete stop. He was dressed nicely in a pair of crisply ironed khakis and a navy blue V-neck pullover. But his running was…well…spastic. Very spastic.

Daryl and I got out of our car and I said with a smirk, “Look at that weirdo guy running…” And then we got closer, ‘cause he didn’t run too fast, and then I realized he’s a “special needs” guy. He’s so tall and has beautiful blond hair, very well cut. His outfit is so sharp and if it weren’t for his motor skills being a bit off, you might not notice his issue at first glance.

He stopped running and held tightly to the handrail to negotiate the fifteen or so steps up to the church entrance. We caught up with him on the stairs and I couldn’t stop looking at him. Sorrow entered my heart, deep and heavy. I whispered over to Daryl, “Another one of those God mystery things. Think about it man, one chromosome off and he’s ruined for the rest of his life.”

I saw his Dad get out of the car. He was a senior citizen, well into his 80s.

Watching this guy, 35 to 40 years old, I could see what he could have been—a handsome athlete, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher—there was a real essence about him like when someone’s fragrance stays in the room after they’ve left. It was like that—a hint, a glimpse into what he might have been. It made me grieve. That was my attitude as we entered into the church Sunday morning.

We go to a big church. A traditional church. The kind of church where people sit in the same pew, the same row, the same section every single Sunday. Even though I like to mix it up a bit, Big D is a creature of habit and likes to sit in the same pew, the same row, the same section every Sunday. So we do. But oddly enough, for the first time, the special needs guy came and sat right in front of us. I’d never seen him before. I watched him. Sorrow filled and disturbed, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

He on the other hand was so happy. He was looking around at everyone smiling and greeting folks, totally uninhibited by anything. Then he sees a friend of his and with the delight and joy of a child he leaps up from the pew bounds over to grab his friend, a girl of the same age, who is not only retarded, but blind. He walks her carefully over to the pew where his stuff is. He carried a Bible. I’m thinking, “Uh-oh! I’ll never be able to focus on the message today because I’ll be staring at them.” I’m so easily distracted. Oh brother.

They talked a little bit to each other. He was very protective of her, the way our grandson Jack, who is three, acts around his three-year-old girl cousin Carrie Lynn. Exactly the same.

We are all standing up singing. The blind girl was wearing a heavy down jacket, it was like 50 degrees outside, but anyway, she decided to take it off and it was hung on her bulky woolen sweater, so I reached out (shut up) and helped her off with her bright red, fur trimmed, down filled jacket (did I mention it was like 50 degrees outside?). I pulled off the jacket and folded it carefully and placed it next to her. Then the blind girl, totally unexpectedly, turned around and with total abandonment and deep sincerity she hugged me. Big and strong and awkwardly long, but it happened. And suddenly, I felt God. I felt Him in that hug. It was as if His arms were around me; it was His warm embrace and it felt good, really good and full of unconditional love. I didn’t want to let go and neither did she. By the “American standard of hugging” it was too long; for a hardened fifty-year-old, menopausal, grumpy woman, it was perfect. I felt myself melting and all the hard, ugly stuff that had built up over the week was rapidly evaporating. I was in the presence of the Lord and I knew it.

After singing we did the obligatory uncomfortable handshake with our neighbor. The big guy turned around, “Hi! My name is Todd. What’s your name?” A little too loudly; a little choppy. In all of our months of attending this huge church, it’s the first time anyone has asked me my name—week in; week out, handshakes every Sunday and yet it’s Todd who is the first to ask me my name. Sharon gives me another hug and tells me her name, sweetly, shyly, beautifully.

As the announcements were being read and business was being handled I couldn’t take my eyes off of Todd and Sharon. I started thinking about how excited Todd was to enter the house of the Lord. How he ran to enter the church. I thought about how he came into the sanctuary with a big, unreserved smile on his beautiful face and how he looked to and fro for his good friend Sharon. I thought of Sharon’s blindness, her “handicap” and her ministry to me. They sang so joyfully, uninhibited, smiling, happy, worry free. And as I watched my little special needs couple I realized they are the lucky ones. They are the blessed ones. They are God’s gift to all of us here on this earth. They are free to love without reservation. They don’t know how to be rude, or cruel or unfriendly. I began crying as I realized they should be feeling sorry for me. I am the pitiful one.

Jesus said that if anyone wanted to enter the Kingdom of Heaven they had to become like a little child…Todd and Sharon will always have the hearts of children and that missing chromosome is a gift that allows them to love God and others fully, unconditionally and without shame.

Corrie ten Boom (yes, I just had to mention her) worked with special needs kids before WWII and her imprisonment by the Germans. The Germans knew of her work with these kids and it frustrated many of them—confused them; irritated them. Nazi policy was to execute all handicapped citizens. Mental or physical handicaps were not part of the program so anyone with these challenges was killed.

One German officer at the concentration camp was so irritated by Corrie’s work among the mentally retarded that he called her into his office one day to question her about such meaningless and worthless work. Corrie tells her story in her book, Common Sense Not Needed. Here’s an excerpt:

“Once, in a concentration camp, I was questioned by a Nazi officer. He asked me much about my life, about my work in the Underground, and about my spare time. I told him that I had given Bible lessons to subnormal people.

“‘Don’t you regard that as a waste of time?’ he asked. ‘Surely it is much better to convert a normal person than a subnormal one.’

“This was fully in accord with his Nazi way of thinking. So I told him about Jesus, who had always cared for all who were weak and despised, adding that it might well be possible that the officer and I were much less important in the sight of the Lord Jesus than one of these poor creatures. I was sent back to my cell.

“The next morning the officer sent for me and said that he had slept badly. He had thought much about what I had said.

“‘You spoke about Jesus,’ he said, ‘I don’t know anything about Him. Tell me what you know of Him.’

“I then spoke of the Lord Jesus as the Light of the World who can lighten our life, if we give ourselves to Him and receive Him as Savior and Lord. Three days I was questioned and three days I had the opportunity to speak about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“A conversation about the feeble-minded had changed a most dangerous moment for a prisoner into a testimony to the glory of God.”

Corrie goes on to say, “I like Mongoloids. Often they are such lovable people. Why does God allow them to be born to quite healthy parents, who neither drank nor committed those sins which so often cause the birth of subnormal children? I don’t know. Mongoloids are sometimes as sweet as very little children. Their IQ is exceedingly low.

“Anton was a Mongoloid. He could neither speak nor walk along. He was for a very short time in my class. He listened to my Bible stories, but when I spoke too long to suit him, he yawned like a monkey. I did not know how much Anton understood really.

“Once I took his hand and touched his five fingers one after another and said, ‘Jesus loves Anton so much.’ The next week, immediately Anton saw me, he took my hand and with his fingers outspread he just looked at me with a face full of longing.

“‘Jesus loves Anton so much,’ I repeated, touching a finger at every word. Then I taught him to do it himself.

“After that, every week, Anton showed me with his fingers how much Jesus loved him. The last time I saw him, I told him while he touched his left fingers with his right hand, ‘Jesus loves Anton so much. How thankful I am for that! You too, Anton?”’

“‘Yes,’ said Anton, as his face lit up.

“It was the only word I ever heard from Anton. It is the most worthwhile word that any normal or subnormal person can speak to the Lord Jesus.”

I Thessalonians 5:14-15 says, “and we exhort you, brothers and sisters…comfort the feeble-minded, support the infirm, be patient unto all; see no one renders evil for evil, but always pursue that which is good one to another and to all…”

I saw clearly Sunday morning how Todd and Sharon lived out that Scripture because I am the feeble-minded, not them. And I suddenly realized what’s so special about special needs. Peace.

6 users Responded In This Post

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265. Kevin said,
October 28th, 2009 at 7:12 am

That was a beautiful story Teri, thanks for sharing it. It reminds me of how incredible the human body is and how much we take our normal healthy bodies for granted. There are so many developmental processes that could fail during the early stages of life and yet it rarely occurs. God has given us such a remarkable vehicle to use in this mortal life.

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266. admin said,
October 28th, 2009 at 9:01 am

Amen.

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267. texas sister said,
October 28th, 2009 at 9:31 am

Jennifer’s roommate from college is 6 months pregnant with their 1st child. She absolutely glows… but docs have told them there is a 1 in 120 chance their child will have down syndrome.
I told them they will have the chance to parent one of the most loving hunman beings on earth and I don’t know a better woman to mother her “special needs” child than Katie!!
thank you for sharing

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268. admin said,
October 28th, 2009 at 9:34 am

Praying for Katie, her husband and their baby. Keep us posted.

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269. Texas cuzzin Linda said,
October 28th, 2009 at 10:31 pm

What a lovely story! Thanks for letting us experience it with you.

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270. Cuzzin J'Lynn said,
October 30th, 2009 at 5:48 am

Another awesome eye-opener, Terri. Thank you.

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