I'm writing this letter today to parents, family, neighbors, health care workers and anyone else who are caring for someone with severe mental and/or physical disabilities: you are listed among heaven’s heroes! I've seen you for years and your lives have inspired me. Your tears have not gone unnoticed, your heart has not ached alone, and you are a unique group who understand something about the eternal that others of us would do well to learn.
My expertise as a clinical psychologist is providing psychological evaluations. I do every kind of evaluation you can imagine. Whether its for fitness to parent, capacity to make decisions, or assisting the psychiatrist making differential diagnoses. I’ve assessed intelligence, autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and the list goes on. With COVID restrictions, I put 22,000 miles on my car in 2021 alone to get to prisons, social services, park benches, kitchen tables and backyard picnic tables to complete these assessments.
During the course of my work, I have been brought into contact with a special group of people, who have become my heroes and I know hold a special place in the Kingdom of God. Keep your quarterbacks who can sling a football 65-yards, you’re freak athlete that can jump 15-feet through the air to dunk a basketball, and your rockstar musicians that dazzle with incredible rifts on their guitars. While these skills are impressive, it does not and should not, elevate them to the hero status. Such talent often results in inflated egos and aggrandizement from the crowds and “hard work” simply means 2 extra hours in the gym, only to leave their team for another in order to make another $20 million per year. They have my admiration for their skills, but they are clearly not my heros.
No, heroes are those of character. They understand a faith that pleases God and that life’s events don’t always fit neatly into little theological boxes, complete with satisfying answers. No, the Heroes of Heaven have a different perspective. Take the Lowry’s (names are fictitious, but the details are real, albeit, a conglomerate of stories). They have a 24-year-old son in a wheelchair. Isaiah has never walked a day in his life. Mr. Lowry pastors a small church in a rural area, while Mrs. Lowry gave up a career in healthcare, to stay home and care for her disabled son. Mr. Lowery picked up a second job to make up for his wife’s lost income. Isaiah was born with cerebral palsy. He is nonverbal. His muscles often spasm but he can’t tell anyone he is in pain. All he can do is scream…loudly and piercingly, trying to communicate his suffering. He uses a sippy cup with marginal skill, and he can’t manage a fork to feed himself. He wears diapers because he has no control over his bodily functions. He has just enough control of his right hand to operate the joystick on his motorized wheelchair… a blessing, as he can mobile himself to various areas of the house; a curse, because now a whole new level of safety concerns is introduced. Somebody has to feed him, dress him, bath him, change and wipe him, make sure he doesn’t flip his wheelchair and monitor things closely so he doesn’t puts something in his mouth that will choke him to death.
And the Lowry’s? They wipe the uncontrollable drool from their son’s mouth, kiss him on the cheek, and talk sweetly to him as they whisper “I love you” in his ear. They make sure he is as comfortable as possible…all with smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts! My friends, the Lowry’s of the world are Heaven’s Heroes. They know something about the kind of love that denies self in favor of another, binding up broken hearts that feel damaged beyond repair and developing a deep, unwavering trust and abiding faith when there do not seem to be good answers in life. They are the ones that have successfully answered the question did you learn to love? This is who I want to be when I grow up!
I want you to know that you, those caring for a family member or someone with a severe disability to know that you moved my heart and are one of Heaven’s Heroes. Maybe you won’t have your picture plastered across a Wheaties box or an HBO feature movie about your life or even be the keynote speaker at the next conference. But hear this: Heaven esteems you! Jesus’ message to you today is this:
…if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Matthew 10:42
Did you hear it? Your reward is not lost! I cannot explain all the “whys”, the “where’s God?” or spiritual ramifications of severe disabilities, whether mental or physical. I’ve heard everything from “its demons” to “its for the glory of God” and it’s still unclear to me. What I do know is that Scripture teaches us that whoever is kind to the “least of these” has great reward and, “whoever develops faith finds God’s pleasure”.
God bless Heaven’s Heroes!
Dr. M. Russell Thomas, PhD