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Home > 2013 > March Web Exclusives > The Sightless, Wordless, Helpless Theologian

If a theologian is one who communicates the nature of God, one of the most effective theologians I've ever met was a child who never spoke a word.

When Mandy was born, the first utterance by the attending physician was "uh-oh." Then, "We need to measure that head."

To me, the proud father, this baby daughter looked as normal as our previous two. But to a neonatalogist's well-calibrated eye, the head seemed small. And he was right. Instead of a normal 35 cm circumference, Mandy's checked in at 31 cm.

We soon learned that Mandy's condition was called microcephaly (small brain), and it might cause some mental limitations. But over the next few months, we realized the severity of those limits. Mandy faced severe and profound retardation.

At first, we prayed that Mandy's skills would develop. But my wife, Susan, and I eventually had to accept the implications: Mandy would never talk, walk, sit up, or use her hands. She suffered frequent seizures. Cataracts had to be surgically removed from her eyes when she was three months old.

At a year and a half, she lost her ability to swallow, so we learned to administer her medications and formula through a tube surgically implanted into her stomach. We never knew if she could see or hear. The only time we saw her respond to stimuli was when she occasionally would visibly relax in a warm bath.

Yet this child that some may have considered an "uh-oh," a mistake, had an amazing ability to turn people's thoughts to God and to instill some lasting lessons about our heavenly Father.

A good Father doesn't treat all his children alike

Before I became a father myself, I assumed that parenting meant treating all your children the same. But identical treatment, I soon learned, is neither fair nor loving.

For some children, a stern look is sufficient to correct their misbehavior and cause them to dissolve into tears. For others, more painful methods may be required simply to get their attention and take seriously the offense. Justice does not trample a tender spirit or fail to reach a tougher spirit by treating every child alike.

On a deeper level, I've often wondered at the seeming unfairness of God's choices: Why was I born into a healthy home, to parents who loved each other, when others are born into painfully dysfunctional or abusive homes? Why do some hear about Jesus Christ early and often, in a warm environment, and grow naturally into faith, while others hear Jesus' name only in curses and find scant opportunity to learn of his love?

When Mandy entered our family, questions of God's justice and human inequities were unavoidable. At first I wanted to scream, "Unfair!" I would choke on Romans 8:28. Sure, I could envision all things working together for MY good, or our other daughters' good, or our church's good because of Mandy's influence, but where was the good FOR MANDY?

When I read the story of David and Bathsheba, I no longer cared about the adultery or the arranged murder. Those facets of the story were easily explained. No, I fixated on God's treatment of the two sons that came as a result of David and Bathsheba's union—one, a nameless son, died as God's judgment on David's sin; the second, Jedidiah (meaning "loved by God"), became Solomon and enjoyed God's most lavish blessing. Did God kill one to punish David (even though David didn't even grieve the death)? How is that just?

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Marshall Shelley is editor of Leadership Journal and an editorial vice-president of Christianity Today.

Related Topics:CommunityEmotionsParentingTrust
Posted: March 4, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 18 comments

n t

June 19, 2013  11:04am

I'll second Pablo. Very powerful. Thanks!

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Grace C.

April 07, 2013  1:09am

Thank you for sharing your personal life testimony and powerful gospel thru Mandy, you and Susan. I can understand what you and Susan have gone through because I have two "Microcephaly" daughters at home. Praise the Lord,their conditions are much better than Mandy. My husband and I have learned tremendously from raising them thru God's grace.

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Martin Stidham

April 06, 2013  11:49am

Thank you for sharing about Mandy and the work of God in and through her life. May He continue to comfort you and your family.

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April 01, 2013  1:48am

It was touching, thank you for sharing

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Marshall Shelley

March 08, 2013  3:59pm

I'm indebted to you, Howard and Joe and Lynette and Shirl and Celeste and JR and Sandy. Your comments, all personal and all gracious and thoughtful, mean a LOT to me.

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