Young Life Capernaum

Young Life Capernaum

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Disability to Disciple

by Kaitlyn Goehringer
Also, check out this video of Kate talking about Capernaum Friends Serving On Summer Staff and Work Crew

A tie-dye cat t-shirt, a bright pink backpack – straps pulled tight - resting uncomfortably high on her back, a contagious smile that makes you wonder what she’s thinking– Although she is surrounded by a sea of her peers, I can spot her almost immediately as she exits the school building. At first glance you might use a lot of words to describe Liz – joyful daughter, unintentional comedian, intellectual disability, but if you’re anything like me when I first met Liz, the word “disciple” probably isn’t one of them. I am ashamed to admit that for almost two years my self-righteous heart had kept me from seeing the disciple in Liz and so many others with disabilities like her. My prayer is that as you continue reading you will hear both the honest confessions of a self-righteous heart and the invitation of our gracious Father into the very depths of the Gospel through people with disabilities.

Self righteousness is our attempt – misguided as it may be – to try and earn or prove our rightness before God and others and even ourselves apart from the finished work of Jesus Christ. In all honesty, I live as if my own performance and abilities are somehow capable of earning or proving my worth to the world and to God. I live this way because at my core I want to believe it. I hate the thought that I can’t earn my own merit, because if I can’t earn it, I can’t control it, and I love being in control. What does all of this have to do with Liz or disabilities? Everything. You see, the way we view people with disabilities is a very clear window into the self-righteousness of our own hearts. Nothing diagnoses a self-righteous heart better than a poor or absent vision for people with disabilities in the Kingdom of God, and this is the very tool God used to begin to uproot the deep-seeded self-righteousness in my own heart.

Liz is 22 years old and was born with an intellectual disability. Make no mistake about it, Liz was created uniquely and purposefully this way to bring something to this world that I believe she could not bring if she fit our definition of “normal”. Liz lives life with an honesty and realness that I deeply crave. Nothing is fake with her and she doesn’t even have to try – it’s just who she is. When Liz prays, it is as if God himself is sitting right next to her, holding her hand and hearing her prayers. Liz’s relational lifestyle is one big, bold, risk – and so is her ministry. It doesn’t matter who you are – the grocery store cashier, a friend at school, the bowling alley attendant, the CEO of a fortune five hundred company – Liz will proudly and boldly share with you what she refers to as the “Gossip” of Christ. At this point I’ve lost track of how many people Liz has directly impacted with the Gospel. “Before I met Christ I struggled with my anger so much that I had to go to Shepheard Pratt Hospital for 10 days. I felt sad and worried and depressed. I didn’t believe in God or think he could help me with any of my problems” Liz would share. “I learned that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and came back to life. I decided I wanted a strong relationship with Jesus. I am more happy now that I have a friendship with Jesus. If you have a disability or don’t have a disability, God loves you the same. Don’t be shy about your disability. I thank God for giving me a disability because he made me special and he made you special too!”

Liz doesn’t know anything about theology. She doesn’t know the books of the Bible in order, or any old testament characters. She knows only one Bible verse by heart which took us almost 5 months to memorize. But Liz exemplifies this verse better than any person I know: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” NOTHING. Not a single thing. Except Jesus. Liz may not know the definition of sanctification or even that a word like sanctification exists, but Liz knows and lives the only thing that matters –Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection, and that he changed her life. For a very long time I had a very limited vision for Liz and her faith, because to be quite honest – she has limited abilities. The extent of my vision for Liz was congruent with the extent to which I believed her abilities could perform – in life, in relationships and in God’s Kingdom. Essentially what I was living and believing in relation to Liz was that our abilities determine our usefulness in the Kingdom of God.

By sheer grace God began to reveal to me both the simplicity of His Gospel and the self-righteousness of my own heart through my relationship with Liz. Each day I would preach the Gospel of “justification by faith alone” yet live something completely different, and the more time I spent with Liz, the more this became glaringly evident. If I really believed that my faith is grounded and rooted in Christ’s performance and not my own; if my power and goodness and usefulness comes from Jesus Christ and him alone – what makes me any more “useful” to God in his Kingdom work than Liz?

This past April, after a year of leadership training, Liz was placed as a leader on our Capernaum team. My biggest fear for Liz as she entered into our leadership community was that she would be viewed as a “nice addition” to our team – that she wouldn’t be taken seriously or that people’s automatic reactions would sound something like “Aww, isn’t that sweet…” – like we somehow did Liz a favor by letting her become a leader. Let me be blunt: Liz does not need our sympathy. She has everything you and I have that matters: Jesus Christ. Our Young Life community in Baltimore desperately needs Liz. We need the picture of the Gospel that she provides. We need her unique gifting. We need the freedom she offers each of us as she reminds us daily that nothing can earn our place in God’s Kingdom. Our community is more complete because she is a part of it. Don’t get me wrong, training Liz and finding ways to uplift her special abilities was not and still is not easy. It certainly isn’t convenient or efficient by any means, but it is necessary. I am thankful to say that our leadership has welcomed Liz and sees her as an integral part of our community, but this was not by happenstance. A community-wide theologically correct vision for Liz took great intentionality from myself and from the area director with whom I work. While people with disabilities do not need you and I to pity them, they do need you and I to advocate for them. We need to be the people who are willing get our hands and knees dirty as we bend down on all fours and invite them to stand on our backs. This is the position of true humility, and it is the very position Christ willingly took for us in order to restore our dignity and bring us to himself. Jesus saw us as disciples long before we could do anything to earn it. Do you want to walk in the way of the Cross of Christ? Start by choosing to see a disciple, not a disability.

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