Irene—whom you met yesterday—was unaware that we were planning to post Charlotte’s tribute to her when she sent us the following email last week. The thoughts she shared with us further illustrate her faith in God that Charlotte described so well. So we wanted you to hear from Irene herself about the grace of God she’s received as she cares for her daughter Bethany.
Thanks Carolyn for doing a series on this topic. As you know my first child, Bethany is severely disabled and this was such a surprise for us to be in this trial early in our marriage. But I must say to the glory of God and credit to our church and leadership that we’ve always felt cared for, loved, blessed beyond measure. I had moments in the beginning (when she was like two) of feeling awkward when invited to a “discovery toys” party and realizing Bethany wasn’t doing anything “normal” ...but my friends and the Lord Jesus Himself has always been a comfort. My husband had led me so well in never doubting the fact that “God is always good.” This has all helped in keeping us steady and strong. Not that we haven’t had our moments but for the most part God has given us grace not to get depressed or doubtful of His love. Somehow, in more ways than we’ll know (until we get to heaven) God is using our severely disabled daughter as “an arrow (though a silent one) in the hands of a mighty warrior.” We’ve met people and become friends with people we would have never known if it were not for Bethany. We’ve brought nurses to church and they’ve been able to see our lives and hopefully the gospel lived out because they’ve been in our home caring for her. Hopefully our kids will always be compassionate toward others in need because of their sister. There’s so much we don’t know but we are grateful that we know God and that we are in a local church. His grace truly is amazing… Love, Irene
This series on mothers of disabled children allows us to introduce you to some of our heroes. These women lavish their disabled children with love and care. Yet, very often their children are unable to thank them—in words anyways. So we want to say “thank you” on their behalf.
Today I want you to meet Irene—another one of my heroes. Irene served as my husband’s secretary before she married Jeff, and this dear couple have been faithful members of our church for many years. As with Diane, there is so much I could say about Irene, but I’m going to let my good friend Charlotte—who has observed Irene up close for many years—introduce you to this godly woman.
“What Irene Taught Me”
I’ve known Irene Herbert for almost 20 years but we were not close friends at first. She married five or six years before I did and had her first baby about a year later. Her precious firstborn, Bethany, is fifteen now. She has never walked or talked. She is fed through a tube in her stomach. She has several seizures on most days and sometimes she drools. Irene and her husband Jeff love Bethany passionately. They have taught their five other children to love her like that. I didn’t understand that love at first, but when my child, Valerie, was born with Down Syndrome, Irene taught me how to love Bethany too.
Irene has a tenacious belief in God’s sovereignty and in His word. She has always considered her daughter to be a precious gift from God, fearfully and wonderfully made. She beams whenever Bethany focuses her eyes on Irene’s face, even for an instant. “See how she knows me,” she’ll say. Though I usually can’t see much difference in Bethany on any given day, I know Irene can. She knows her child. Irene taught me to see Valerie like that. A precious gift, made in the image of God. She taught me that even when others don’t understand Valerie, I can. Watching Irene taught me that God helps mothers like us to see things in our children even when no one else can.
Irene doesn’t compare Bethany with any other child. To Irene, Bethany is complete the way she is. Though she has many serious limitations, Irene doesn’t consider her to be less “human” or “worthy.” Irene accepts Bethany’s disabilities and rejoices as she sees God’s hand in every tiny step of progress. She sees her other children that way too. Irene is keenly aware that all growth comes from God and she is grateful for evidences of grace in any of her children. She has taught me that comparison is so unwise. She’s taught me to love Valerie as God has made her and to delight to watch her grow on the unique path he has given her, and to do that for all of my children.
Though Irene sometimes wonders why God made Bethany the way she is, I have never heard her charge God or demand an answer. She doesn’t complain about caring for Bethany, bathing, dressing and diapering her. Recently, Bethany’s health began what may be a slow decline. Last month she spent several weeks in the ICU. Irene spent many nights at the hospital serving and praying for her child. “I know one day I’ll have a conversation with her,” she told me. “One day she and I will be in heaven together and we’ll have so much to talk about.” Irene has taught me to have an eternal perspective. This is not all there is, it’s just all we see now.
“The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps”—wise truth for all matters of life, but as John Ensor rightly observes, the stakes are high when it comes to matters of the heart.
In this book, as in Scripture, we are presented with two options:
1. Be simple—and believe in the “postmodern paradigm of meeting up, hooking up, shacking up, and breaking up” because “that is what most people are doing.” The results are “weeping into tear-stained pillows through sleepless nights…hot flashes of shame…spiritual incapacitation…self-doubt and self-loathing” for starters.
1. Be prudent—and “consult the Maker and Master of hearts when it comes to matters of the heart” and build a firm “foundation of lasting love and…enduring friendship.”
Maybe you have already been defrauded by the world’s way. It’s not too late to receive forgiveness and “do things right.” Or you may be a young women with no experience in matters of the heart. This book can be an invaluable guide. Or maybe you’re married and think “matters of the heart” are a thing of the past. Nevertheless, this book has some vitally important to convey to you.
Whatever your situation, John Ensor makes good on his claim: “I present a compelling vision of complementarity between the sexes. I propose action, but it is a complementary action for each.”
This book contains beautiful truth and and it also compels us to act. And we want to encourage you to take one action this week in response to chapter one. Read chapter two (of course). But also consider: Who in your life passes the pudding test? Who are the single women or married couples you know whose lives present “a compelling vision of complementarity”?
Once you’ve answered this question, go and tell them so. All too often we reserve intelligent encouragement for milestone birthdays or eulogies. But let’s not wait until then. Let’s thank those whose wise counsel is backed by real-life “pudding.” And let’s do it this week.
What’s more, let’s follow their example and the godly advice of this book. For if we do, someday we’re sure to have some pudding of our own.
As a pastor’s wife, I often have a front row seat to observe people walk through trying circumstances; and it invigorates my soul and builds my faith to see God’s grace at work in their lives. Such has been the case as I have watched Drew, Diane and their girls welcome, accept, delight in and care for their disabled son, Reid, for the past twenty years. What magnanimous grace this remarkable family has exhibited!
Yet, to be completely honest, I’ve also wrestled with questions, fears and doubts as I’ve witnessed godly people experience severe trials such as the one Reid and his family have endured. Why did God allow this to happen? Why hasn’t God healed Reid? What is God’s plan and purpose for our friends’ handicapped son?
Himself the father of a disabled daughter, Mr. Avery notes that, “Families never plan to have a disabled child. We live in a society that strives for and idolizes perfection, with people paying exorbitant amounts of money to have reconstructions done on their bodies.” But, he also observes that one in five of his native Australians have a disability.
So, he continues, “The question I want to ask is, ‘How do people with bodies that are less than perfect fit into God’s world?’ What is the big picture of how God views his creation? How does he view people with disabilities? How should we view them? How do people with disabilities fit into his plan?” In this honest, thorough, and hope-filled survey, Mr. Avery outlines what Scripture has to say in answer to these questions.
Even if you do not have a family member who has a disability, no doubt you know someone who does. This article will arm you with a biblical viewpoint and equip you to more effectively care for the disabled and their loved ones.
(Thanks to our friends at The Briefing for allowing us to make this article available to our readers free of charge.)
Here is the conclusion to Diane’s story... We are the happiest family I know. Reid is a part of our family and his smile is one of the biggest blessings of our lives. The girls are not shy of people with handicaps and disabilities. They are sensitive to others. They are kind. They are gentle. They have always lived with limitations on where we go and what we can do, so they are grateful for all that God has provided for us. We have all learned to love expecting nothing in return, as Reid has never spoken or reached out to hug us. One may look at a family like ours and wonder how we can even survive. We were encouraged to put Reid in a home for seriously handicapped children because our “quality of life’ was at stake. But we have learned what is important in life, so I think that we (especially Drew and I) are not tempted to have our way in petty areas. We don’t fight over which way the toilet paper is rolled out or how the toothpaste is squeezed! Life is far too short and precious for that nonsense. We laugh uproariously at the dinner table. We read books together a lot when the kids were younger, but now we discuss the books we are reading. We read to Reid. We play all kinds of music for him—everything from Bach to Leon Redbone! We take him with us when we can, although that is harder as he gets bigger. Mainly, I love God more and I am closer to Him. I come to Him on His terms, not mine, and He is the answer to all my prayers. Having a retarded or handicapped child does not mean you are sentenced to a life of hardship. Jesus makes us buoyant, and the Holy Spirit gives us comfort. I used to pray for total healing now. Now I pray that the Holy Spirit will speak to me and that I will know his voice. Our family is very close and very joyful. Life is good.
I was ten years old when Reid was born to our friends Drew and Diane. At our church’s school, my math teacher Miss Kisiel led our fifth grade class in praying for him. God, would you please not let Reid die, and Jesus, would you please help him to feel all better? God heard those child-prayers. He did graciously allow Reid to live. But for reasons known only to Him, He did not choose to heal Reid—in this life anyway.
Reid was the first severely handicapped child I had known. And in our church family, Reid was something of a celebrity. His parents taught us how not to be afraid to talk to him. His sisters Erin and Vicki showed us how to love him. And Reid taught us too. He is still teaching us.
Drew and Diane are long-time friends of my parents—they’ve known them since before they were married—and are vital members of Covenant Life Church. As my high school literature teacher, Diane inspired me to love and read the classics through the lens of God’s Word. She inspired me even more by her tender, joyful affection for Reid.
So to us, it’s only fitting that we begin this series for mothers of disabled children with our dear friend. Thanks, Diane, for sharing with us the grace God has given you in the gift of your son, Reid.
It is difficult to write down 20 years worth of lessons that God has taught me by giving birth to and raising a handicapped son. Nothing prepared me to give birth to a severely retarded quadriplegic. He came when I was 23 weeks pregnant. He had a brain bleed when he was 6 weeks old. He developed cerebral palsy. I had a 16-month old toddler. Things were chaotic.
The first lesson I learned was that God allows suffering, and that doesn’t mean he doesn’t hear my prayers. For two years I believed that God’s will had to be total healing for Reid, and that would result in the entire staff at Children’s National Medical Center converting to Christianity. For whatever reason God allowed Reid to born early and he allowed him to develop catastrophic conditions.
The second lesson that I learned is that my relationship with God is more important than having my questions answered. Every time I demanded to know “why”, I was plagued with the thought that maybe God doesn’t exist or that he doesn’t exist the way I have always believed Him to (Jesus as His Son, the Bible as His Word). I eventually came around to the resolution to believe in Him—even if I never know why he allowed Reid to be born early.
I learned how selfish I am. Having a healthy baby is enough to teach any woman this lesson, but to have a healthy active toddler plus a baby on life support who never gets toilet trained, feeds himself or dresses himself, and who is constantly needing to see doctors or be hospitalized, is beyond stressful. Erin spent her whole childhood going to doctor appointments with me!
I wouldn’t want anyone to think that we just breezed through the early years joyful every day. I had to walk through hardship and pain before the joy came.
But joy did come to Diane. Check back to read the conclusion of her story tomorrow.
Tonight we’re getting together for a girltalk dinner to celebrate Mom’s birthday (which was actually June 1.) But before I fight beltway traffic to meet the better three-fourths of this blog in Maryland, here are a few links and a preview of what you can expect from girltalk this week:
A Little Shopping
It’s summer, and the search is on for modest clothing. Here are three websites to assist you in your quest to be modestly minded:
DISCLAIMER: We at girltalk are not personally acquainted with the owners of these sites. Nor do we presume to put some sort of “girltalk stamp of approval” on their product or company. We simply want to point you in the direction of more modest and attractive apparel options. Please use the same discretion and biblical criteria when shopping at these sites as anywhere else.
A Little Reading No, in answer to your questions, we did not forget to start the book club. We were simply waiting to make sure everyone received their books. We’re patient like that. But we’re glad you’re impatient to start book club, round three.
About his book, Doing Things Right In Matters of the Heart John Ensor claims: “If you are ready to give thought to your steps and can muster the courage to be a nonconformist, this book will give you much to consider and lots of decisions to make.”
Are you ready? Then read chapter one by Friday and join our nonconformist discussion.
A Special Series
On Mother’s Day, we offered encouragement to moms who were encountering trials of various kinds. While we couldn’t speak to everyone, there is a group of women we especially wanted to encourage. But we decided to wait until we could do it properly—or at least as best as we know how. So please join us this week as we talk to, honor, and learn from mothers of children with disabilities. We’re sure you’ll be inspired by their sacrifice and love for the precious children God has given to them.
2007 at 12:56 pm | by Carolyn Mahaney
Nancy, we’ve come to the final day of our interview and I want to ask you about another major aspect of the work to which God has called you: writing. You’ve written numerous books—too many to list here. What do you most enjoy about writing? What do you least enjoy? Are you currently working on another book and how can we pray for you?
The Lord always uses the writing process to search my own heart and to sanctify me in deeper ways. However, to be honest, the only thing I really enjoy about the process of writing books is turning the final manuscript over to the publisher! For me, writing is an arduous, painstaking discipline that constantly requires me to say “no” to my flesh.
Dannah Gresh and I are co-authoring a book this year called Lies Young Women Believe. Our burden is to reach the hearts of 13-19-year-old girls with the truth that will set them free.
I am also in the initial stages of a new book on “gratitude,” which I hope to follow with a book on “contentment”—both of which are crucial qualities for Christian women to cultivate and are in rare supply today.
Recently I have sensed the Lord birthing in me another new book that I have been thinking about for nearly ten years—a call to Christian women to believe God for a counter-Revolution—a movement of biblical womanhood that will take back the ground that has been given over to feminist thinking over the past 50 years.
Are there any other major projects on your calendar for the coming year?
We have just finalized the decision to host a National Women’s Conference on October 9-11, 2008, in Chicago. FamilyLife Today and Moody Bible Institute will be partnering with Revive Our Hearts on this project. The purpose of the conference is to promote the mission and message of biblical womanhood. We are asking the Lord for 4-6000 women to join us for this special event. This is a huge faith venture for our small team. Please pray with us for the anointing of the Spirit on this undertaking and for God’s provision and enabling on every front. And pray about joining us for what I believe could be an historic occasion!
We are excited to hear about this conference and your upcoming books, Nancy, and we will be praying or you. On a different note, we’d love to know what you are studying in your personal times with the Lord. What is one aspect of God’s character you’ve learned about this past year?
For more than a year, I’ve been studying (and am now teaching) the life of Joshua. I was drawn into the study because my pastor preached a message from the last chapter of Joshua, which made me wonder how in the world he made it to 110 years of age, and was still a vibrant, faithful servant and lover of the Lord. (At that time, I was walking through some deep waters and wasn’t sure I was going to make it to 50!) I wanted to see how he stayed faithful all the way to the finish line, which is my goal.
It has been a wonderful study. When I got to Kadesh-Barnea with Joshua and Caleb (Numbers 13-14), the Lord opened my eyes to see the unbelief and rebellion that were at the heart of many of the struggles I had been having for months.
Finally, what in your opinion, is the most urgent need among Evangelical Christian women today?
To know Christ—really know Him; to trust Him enough to obey Him; to love and enjoy Him—“Christ in you, the hope of glory”; to “own” the Gospel in its incredible, life-giving, transforming fullness and implications; to be willing to lay down our lives for the sake of Christ and the Gospel.
Amen to that, Nancy. Thank you for your example of passion for Christ and the gospel. And thank you for allowing us to get to know you a little better over the past four days. We pray God will continue to bless your ministry and efforts to encourage women to greater love for our Savior!
2007 at 2:11 pm | by Carolyn Mahaney
Today I want to turn to a topic that is close to both our hearts—biblical womanhood.
Nancy, you have strong convictions about the importance of biblical womanhood. Was this always the case? Why do you think this is such an urgent topic today?
Theologically, I always had strong convictions, because I believe the Scripture is so plain on this subject. However, on a personal and emotional level, that was not always easy for me to embrace. As a young woman, I so wanted to be used by the Lord to proclaim His Word, and felt deep down that if I had been a man, perhaps I could have done that more freely.
The Lord graciously began to help me understand more of His calling and purpose for women and the ways I could distinctively reflect His glory as a woman.
As a single woman, what do you think is most important for single women to understand about biblical womanhood?
Regardless of our marital status, we were made to glorify God and to reflect Him to our world.
God has made women to be bearers and nurturers of life—we can do that whether or not He chooses to give us husbands and physical children.
If a woman has a contented, grateful heart, she will experience joy, regardless of her circumstances (or marital status). If she does not have a contented, grateful heart, there is no circumstance (or marital status) that can make her happy.
How do you personally cultivate feminine qualities commanded in Scripture in your unique role of public speaker and leader of a ministry?
I am intentional about being in accountable relationships and submitting myself to others in the Body of Christ. I look for opportunities and appropriate ways to come under the spiritual covering and protection of godly men—sitting under the preaching of the Word and being responsive to the spiritual leadership of the pastors and elders in my local church; seeking counsel, direction, and input from the director of our parent ministry and from the Advisory Board that oversees Revive Our Hearts.
I am blessed to have mature believers—women, couples, and men—who care for my soul and are committed to speak into my life, to help me see blind spots, and to call me to repentance as needed.
Though I can’t do it as much or as often as I would like, I love opportunities to practice hospitality in my home and look for ways to have a more personal, nurturing role in the lives of women, children, and families that the Lord brings into my life.