By Karen Jackson
One of the first mistakes I made as director of the newly developed Faith Inclusion Network in 2008 was a miscommunication about healing. I had been corresponding via email with a church leader who uses a wheelchair. I tried to share an idea about a healing service, and the pastor took offense. He thought I wanted to hold a service for people with disabilities to be healed.
My idea was inspired by speaking to people who had felt excluded in their congregations. Hurt by the church’s attitude toward disabilities, many individuals and families were in need of special welcoming and healing. In the end, he didn’t hear what I was saying. I had turned him off at the outset of our conversation with the idea of healing in relation to disability, and this was an important lesson learned.
As my experience and relationships with persons affected by disability have widened, I have come to appreciate the sensitivity many people have to the idea of “healing.” I hear story after story of well-meaning strangers approaching individuals in wheelchairs and offering to pray for their healing. I, unfortunately, continue to hear heartbreaking stories of congregations that insinuate that those with disabilities are not healed because they do not have enough faith. If you live with a disability, you may have your own story to tell of misguided or offensive efforts to pray for healing.
Yet, I also understand, from the parent point of view, the desire for healing of my child. When my daughter, Samantha, was first diagnosed with autism as a preschooler, I prayed and prayed for her healing. I prayed that Jesus would help her “grow out” of the autistic tendencies and learn to speak. Like any parent, I did not want my child to suffer. I wanted her to be healthy and whole; with my limited life and parenting experience, I thought that meant that she needed to be healed from autism.
Over the past 20 years, I have been asked more than once, “If Samantha could be cured of autism, would you want that for her?” The question often comes from the perspective of people who feel their disability is a part of who they are and do not feel the need to be “healed.” I respect this point of view but have always answered “yes” to the question. Samantha’s disability is significant and extremely challenging for all of us sometimes. If she had the ability to communicate more effectively and not be assaulted by so many sensory issues, I can’t help but think life would be so much easier for her.
However, I do not know if Samantha’s answer to this question would also be “yes.” Since she is not conversational and cannot currently answer these kinds of questions, I do not know whether or not she would choose to be healed. She has never experienced life without autism; perhaps it would be too strange to suddenly experience the world as a neurologically typical person would. I don’t know the answer; and that acknowledgement is an important step for me as a parent.
This past February, Samantha experienced a serious medical crisis. She was intubated and put into a medical coma for five days to treat a tracheal stenosis that blocked her airway. Although we have dealt with many medical issues related to autism, this was Samantha’s first time in the intensive care unit and in such a medically compromised state. The trauma Samantha and our whole family experienced left us exhausted. Yet we persevered through the spring, all of us in the family working hard to get Samantha healthier while pursuing our busy schedules.
Thankfully, when we recently began our family vacation at a peaceful, tranquil lake in upstate New York, Samantha was in a good place healthwise. I, however, arrived exhausted and depleted. I needed the quiet and restful waters offered in the 23rd Psalm. I needed rest and healing of my soul.
As I write, we are beginning our second week of vacation. I can feel the healing take place little by little. I watch Samantha, in awe of what the Lord has accomplished in her life — a complete healing of the tracheal stenosis as well as continued healing of the type 2 diabetes with which she was diagnosed while in the hospital.
In addition, I have been blessed with physical healing of my own. Inspired by Samantha’s health crisis, I recently implemented a regimented diet plan that has put me on a healthier track. God has amazing ways of taking care of us!
I am thankful for this time of healing and the opportunity to experience how much God loves Samantha and each one of us. We may not always understand God’s ways, but it is obvious that our Lord is a God of healing. I am also thankful for what I have learned and continue to learn from my friends living with disabilities. God wants us all to experience health and wholeness in our lives, whether or not miraculous healing is desired or experienced.
Karen Jackson is executive director of Faith Inclusion Network, Hampton Roads, Va., a nonprofit, grassroots organization dedicated to helping faith communities develop inclusive ministries for people with disabilities and helping families affected by disabilities to find welcoming and accessible places to worship.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.