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.