Monday, November 26, 2012

Disability Ministry Goes to Seminary...Pt. 2

Last week I let you into my inbox to read a conversation that I’ve been having with Daniel Thomson.  Here’s the rest!  

Jenny:  Daniel, when we met you had asked me about my story.  It seems that people are so candid within the disability community about sharing their stories, but I am still growing used to it.  Mine's painful and personal, but you can scroll down to the bottom of this page  on my blog and watch the YouTube video of the interview I did with my pastor talking about my walk with God and with CP.  

Daniel: I enjoyed reading your blog and watching the video—I am confident that what you are doing now is at least part of the reason for God not healing you physically –to shine for Him in your disability (and the spiritual healing that accompanied your journey)! Faith always shines brighter in darkness -- that's where people need to see and hear it. So, keep shining!

Jenny: Thanks for the encouragement!  Daniel, what motivates you to engage with disability ministry?

Daniel:  Part of the reason I am motivated to do what I do -- as a Physical Therapist and now as a teacher at Dallas Theological Seminary and Dallas Baptist University -- is to bring to light stories such as your own -- people who are suffering, disabled, often alone, often asking "why," and helping to get their stories told to those in the community who need to hear it. You see, there is such a need and a benefit on both sides to bridging the world between non-disabled and disabled. To bridge those who suffer and those who are not suffering helps to present a realistic picture of our humanity in this present world. And those Christians who suffer -- yet let their light shine -- display the truth of the Gospel in a way that could not come about if God did not permit the suffering in the first place.

Jenny:  What about Christians who believe in the “prosperity gospel?”

Daniel: Non-Christians and even Christians who hold a "prosperity gospel" view, look at stories such as yours and start to ask -- maybe there is something to this eternal hope that they cling to? Maybe there is something to this joy and peace of God that sustains one who suffers? Maybe you have come to realize as a dear friend of mine who has a severe disability once told me, "I believe it takes more faith to live well with a disability than to be healed of one!" It is this kind of faith that is real. It is this kind of faith that the church needs to see. And it is this kind of faith that witnesses to a lost world, especially the people of the world who suffer not knowing the hope and Truth we know. It is people like you that push me each day to press on! So, keep doing what you are doing!

Jenny:  Can you give another example of bridging this gap within popular culture?  

Daniel:  Case in point. I just watched tonight for the first time, the movie, the "Soul Surfer." What a great movie about Bethany Hamilton and her life story. Not sure if you know the story, but she was and is a surfer who got her arm bit off by a shark -- yet, persevered -- trusting ultimately in God's sovereignty and plan behind it all -- she kept surfing and used her disability as a platform to let her light shine -- and shine it does! You remind me of her -- keep shining bright and trusting Him -- people such as yourself are the heros of the faith, not ones who's faith is to be questioned. Some day we will all look back on this journey and marvel at all that God did and does -- through the jars of clay that we are just as we are -- yet each molded and being molded for a unique and specific purpose...PRESS ON!

Jenny:  Thanks so much Daniel!  I have watched Soul Surfer I love what she says, “Surfing isn't the most important thing in life. Love is. I've had the chance to embrace more people with one arm than I ever could with two.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Disability Ministry Goes to Seminary...Pt. 1

Last month I mentioned an iTunes course I stumbled upon called Theology of Suffering, Disability, and the Church, by Dallas Theological Seminary.  I’ve enjoyed watching the video clips and have been challenged and inspired by its messages….You can imagine my surprise when I happened to bump into the professor of this class, Daniel Thomson, at a conference I recently attended!  Our meeting soon led to a swapping of stories and an e-mail interview of sorts that I would like to share with you—this week and next.  Enjoy a sneak peek at a delightful conversation.

Jenny:  Can you share a little history about how this class came about?  It’s very unique.

Daniel: I practiced as a Home Health Physical Therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas -- and through that -- saw life with disability at its worst. I saw the tension on the caregiver. I saw marriages fall apart. I saw the stress and strain on those with disabilities just trying to survive. Through it all, I kept finding myself asking the question, "Where is the church?" I mean occasionally someone would bring by a casserole, but there was little organic community -- at least for an extended period.

Jenny:  I find myself also asking, "Where is the church?" often when I consider people living with disabilities.  Where did your experiences lead you?

 Daniel: So, long story short, my questions led to my coming to DTS in 2005 as a student. And I had questions not only about where the church was, but also, where was God? When I got to seminary, I quickly found out that nothing was being taught on both topics (and only one other seminary in the world offered a class on it -- Reformed Theological Seminary online -- which I took that course to learn more). Not even one lecture at DTS on ministry to those affected by disability was being taught -- and the light bulb went on -- if the leaders don't have a vision for this and are not teaching their churches, no wonder there are so few Disability Ministries. If the shepherds don't lead, the flocks don't follow.

Jenny:  Then what happened?

Daniel: So, during my first year at seminary, I started a dialogue with Joni Eareckson Tada and her team at Joni and Friends. After one trip to L.A. to meet with them, I drafted the following weekend a syllabus for a course called, "A Biblical Theology of Suffering, Disability, and the Church." I basically put in it what I would want in a course on suffering and disability -- half of the course putting forth a biblical view of suffering, the other half more of an application to those affected by disability. After a three year journey to get the course approved by various committees -- we taught the course for the first time in the Fall of 2009 -- I graduated from DTS earlier that spring. We have since offered it online every semester since, live twice. 

Jenny:  There’s a book that goes with this class too, right?

Daniel:  The book, Why O God, came from the class. Many of the lecturers we used wrote a chapter for the book. We have since created a sister version of the class at Dallas Baptist University and will teach a doctoral version at DTS this coming summer. So, our hope is to give future pastors and Christian servant leaders a vision for ministry to and through those affected by disability with a grounded Biblical view of suffering -- this is how God works -- we just need to shed light on it and help the church (through its leaders) to get on board….

…to be continued.  Next week Daniel is going to share what motivates him to minister to people with disabilities.  See you then!

Want an inside look?  Take a seat inside Daniel’s course singing “It is Well.”

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

God, Today I Am Thankful For...

As I spend more time interacting with people who have disabilities, I spend more time thanking God for simple yet profound things:

A voice that speaks
Two hands that work
Arms that bend
Feet that walk
Legs that stand
A mind that learns
Ears that hear
Eyes that see

When I open my wallet I am again overcome with thankfulness….

I have a driver’s license…even though it was challenging, with much encouragement I learned to drive.

I have a credit card….I made it through college and am gainfully employed.

I have a health insurance card…and can access specialized health care whenever I need it.

I am learning that these are not just things that I have earned, but things that I have been given by the grace of God.  Not only has He blessed my life with His providence, He has spared me from so much…..

If you were to make a list of things that you are thankful for, what would be on your list?  I know some of you reading this may be unemployed, disabled, or discouraged.  Your body may not work the way you wish it would and your life hasn’t turned out how you had planned.  Will you join me despite these challenges in thanking God for His goodness?  

“God, today I am thankful that you created me.  You have given me breath and life.  Thank you that you sustain me through the struggles of life.  You have redeemed my life and while I walk with you here on earth, I look forward to the day when I will see you face to face—where you will wipe every tear from our eyes.”

If you created a board of thankfulness where you daily stuck things you were thankful for upon it, what would you post?  Watch this video of a young married couple giving thanks in this way in the midst of living with traumatic brain injury.

(If you can't see the video below, you can view it at:

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Caryn Turner's Story

I met the Turner family this summer while attending a Joni and Friends Family retreat.  I asked Caryn to be a guest blogger,
  sharing where she has seen God at work in the midst of parenting a son with Sturge-Weber syndrome.  Enjoy what she has to share.

On the morning of February 10, 2003, my son, Christian Anthony, was born at 25 weeks gestation.  He weighed 1 lb. 13 oz. and was 13” long.  The doctor informed us that we had a long road ahead of us and that our son had a 50/50 chance of living.  
We had a very long, excruciating journey in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  Some of the things Christian had to go through were…                 
·         Breathing machine for 2 months
·         Feeding tube for 2½ months
·         6 blood transfusions
·         Surgery at 2 weeks old
·         Several life-threatening infections

But by God’s grace, that journey didn’t end in death.  We brought our baby home from the hospital on June 25, 2003—135 days after he was born.  We thought our trials ended with the 4½ month journey in the hospital, but we were sadly mistaken.  At 9 months old, Christian had a seizure.  We rushed him to the hospital.  After a CAT scan, he was diagnosed with Sturge-Weber Syndrome.  This is a rare syndrome that causes developmental delays, glaucoma, seizures and possible decrease of brain function over time. 
We have been on this journey for 9 years now.  The doctors told us that Christian would never walk.  Praise God, he’s not only walking, but running, and climbing.  They said that he’ll most likely have several seizures every day.  By God’s grace, he celebrated One Year Seizure-free in December.  We are also rejoicing that he started feeding himself this past summer.  However, there are still many challenges.  He cannot talk or dress himself, he still wears diapers, and he has the development of a 1½ year old.  I have been upheld these past 9 years only by the power of God and His sustaining grace. 

During all my difficult times, the only place that I find hope & help is through God’s Word.  Jesus is the only constant during my journey.  He said that all believers will go through hardship (John 16:33).  God’s Word is our only lifeline from drowning in the sea of our difficult circumstances.  Every promise of God finds its Yes in Christ - 2 Cor. 1:20!  When I am discouraged, I strive to find specific scripture to combat any feelings of despair & hopelessness.  In the disappointing seasons that I’ve endured, I know God is sovereign, but I tend to doubt His goodness.  I would think that #1 – God was not good and #2 – There was nothing good about my circumstances.   By God’s grace, I was led to seek the scriptures & study the verses about God being good and giving good things to His children (e.g. Psalm 31:19;  Psalm 34:10; Psalm 119:68, 71; Romans 8:28).

Praise the Lord that those of us who have put our trust in Christ can claim all His promises as our own.  No matter what hardships we face, our good God will never leave nor forsake his blood-bought children - (Hebrews 13:5Eph. 1:7)!
The Turners at Joni and Friends Family Retreat

You can check out Caryn's blog at: