This week we study perhaps my favorite Bible story in all of Scripture. I have enjoyed this passage for quite a while, but came to love it deeply about thirteen years ago. This week, I thought you might appreciate hearing the story of why.
What in the World Are We Doing?
My wife and I found out that we were pregnant with our oldest son Joshua in mid-2004. Like many (most? all?) first-time parents, we had no idea what to expect. So we went out and bought as many books on parenting as we could and devoured each one.
Waiting for Joshua to be born in April of 2005 felt like an eternity. When Tara finally went into labor, we went through another steep learning curve at the hospital through that whole process and then, yet another one when we brought Joshua home from the hospital less than a week later. We once again felt ill-prepared, despite the numerous books we had read. I remember Tara and me sitting in our car with Joshua in his carrier in the back about to leave the hospital asking each other, “Are they crazy? Why are they letting us take this baby home as if we know what we are doing?”
Again, like many (most? all?) first-time parents, we child-protected the entire house and tried to figure out what each cry meant and all of the other aspects of parenting. And by God’s grace, we began to figure it all out.
We’ve Got This
Then in early 2008, we learned that we were pregnant with our daughter Hannah. While we were just as excited and anxious as when we were pregnant with Joshua, we also had a much better understanding of what to expect. We knew the drill. We had been there before.
Although we didn’t recognize it then, looking back I can say that we were taking much of this pregnancy for granted. We were expecting this pregnancy to go just like the first one.
All so routine.
During our pregnancy with Hannah, we lived in a rural town about an hour outside of Gainesville, Florida. If you have ever lived in a smaller community, you know that you always try to take advantage of trips to the “big city.” When it came time for our first sonogram of Hannah, we decided to make the most of it. We had a dear couple in our church watch Joshua for the day and Tara and I planned on going on a lunch date after our appointment.
We arrived at the doctor’s office in Gainesville that morning and during the sonogram appointment, my wife was making casual conversation with the technician as she took measurements.
“Do you like your job? How long have you been doing this? Do you ever have to share any hard news?”
The technician showed us Hannah’s head, heart, lungs, and arms and tiny hands. She asked if we wanted to know the gender and because we did, she showed us that we were having a girl.
All so routine.
Afterward, we walked down the hall to the OBGYN offices and took our seats in the waiting room. I found myself absorbed in a magazine article and was still reading it a few minutes later when we were called back. Tara suggested I stay and finish the article and then join her in the back. After all, I would only miss the typical weigh-in and so forth.
All so routine.
When Life Goes into Slow Motion
My reading was interrupted once again only a couple of minutes later—this time by Tara. I could see something on her face I was not expecting: concern.
“Brian, the doctor thinks you need to come back right now. I think something is wrong.”
Now, my wife tends to be a worrier, so I quickly tried to calm her welling fears.
“No, I am sure everything is fine. They probably just don’t want to waste time repeating what they share.”
I believed every word of what I had said.
We sat down in the room with Tara’s doctor and looking at the doctor’s face, my confidence began to falter. She looked more serious than usual.
“So the sonogram shows that your baby is healthy,” she began. “Good brain development, good heart, good lungs.”
Have you ever experienced something that you would swear was in slow motion? I mean it. It feels like the world is literally moving in slow motion? With that single word—but—the world slowed down.
I don’t remember exactly what the doctor said next. Something about our baby not having a right foot. We should have a higher level sonogram done soon to confirm this and give the doctors a better view, but there was no mistake in what this sonogram showed.
Then we heard some of the most vile words we have ever heard, “I believe I know the answer for you two, but I need to ask. Would you like to terminate this pregnancy?”
Tara and I were both in some level of shock at the time as we were struggling to process what we were hearing, but this question snapped us out of it at least for a minute.
“There is no chance of us doing that.”
I don’t remember the rest of that appointment. I believe we were given the contact information for where to get the higher level of sonogram done. And then the appointment was over.
Our appointment had been anything but routine.
Making Sense of What Makes No Sense
We left the doctors’ offices and decided to try to eat lunch. We weren’t very hungry, but we knew it was a long drive home so we may as well try to eat something.
We went to a sandwich place and picked at our lunches as we tried to make sense of what we had just experienced. We had no categories to understand “no foot.” We didn’t know what to expect. The questions began to flood our minds and our hearts as tears filled our eyes, with a few escaping down our cheeks.
Will our girl walk? Run? Will she be made fun of? How do prosthetics work? How much do they cost? Who do we even talk with about them? What will she do when she needs to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Will I be able to walk her down an aisle at her wedding one day?
Let me pause the story here to share something I have learned about suffering. Suffering is not a contest. We are not to compare how we suffer to determine who suffers more and therefore has the greater right to share of his or her sufferings. I know that some people will read this and wish they could trade places with me and my wife. I know that many parents endure much greater trials than my family has. And I know others reading this may not be able to fathom what my family has been through. But what is true is that we have all endured trials—we have all suffered in different ways for different reasons to different degrees. And this shared suffering should draw us together, rather than divide us. With that said, let’s get back to the story.
These questions, of course, lingered well past our lunch that day. But I began to ask another question: “Why?” “God, why did you allow this to happen? Why would you give us a daughter who was not whole? Why should our little girl have to endure hardships that will follow her through her entire life? Why?”
Looking back, my heart posture at the time was mostly confused. I am sure there was some anger veiled within that. Some sense that God may not have wronged me, but surely had made a mistake—sort of like Job. I was wrestling with what I had taken for granted—a healthy baby girl, with two arms, two hands, two legs, and two feet.
But then God took a divine 2×4 to the side of my head. And I am so grateful He did.
“The value of your daughter—the goodness of my gift—is not based on whether she has one foot, two feet, or 20 feet. I am giving you the girl that I have knit together. And I don’t make mistakes.”
And then, one glorious day during that dark stretch of the heart, God drew the attention of Tara and me to John 9, specifically Jesus’ reply to the disciples’ question about why the man had been born blind.
Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus answered. “This came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him. (John 9:3 CSB)
He had been born blind according to God’s plan—so that God might be glorified through his blindness.
Oh, what surpassing kindness of God to include this passage in Scripture, as if He placed it there just for Tara and me. Our Hannah would be born without a lower right leg (we learned it was more than the foot at the other sonogram) according to God’s plan—so that God might be glorified through her limb difference.
We may not understand God’s plans at time. We may not like His plans at time. But we must cling to the truth of Jesus’ words here. We remember that everything God does is for His glory and our good. This is what began to bring comfort to Tara and me. This is what gave us hope. And this is what we knew we had to cling to in all the days of uncertainty that we knew would follow.
Hannah was born with fibular hemimelia—a rare condition where the fibula is missing or not fully developed, often resulting in a limb being short or missing. Hannah’s right leg stopped just past her knee. But our Hannah is rarer still—she has this condition in both legs, something we did not learn until her birth. Hannah’s left foot is narrow with four toes, her ankle is not fully developed, and her fibula is short in that limb as well.
When Hannah was one-year-old, she had surgery performed to remove a “primative foot” attached to her right knee so that she could be fitted for a prosthesis. She learned to walk and run with a series of prosthetic legs (a new one about every year as she grew) with a fixed ankle—limiting her in many other ways. When we moved to Tennessee, we became part of a nonprofit that provides running blades at no cost for amputees. When Hannah was about 8-years-old, she skipped for the first time in her life.
Since then, Hannah has competed as a gymnast, is now in dance. She will pursue cheerleading in the fall.
Hannah’s story has been told far and wide. She has been a patient ambassador for Shriner’s Hospitals, been in a television commercial, been featured in a news story, and met Winter the dolphin (of the movie Dolphin Tale).
Hannah is a blessing to us, an encouragement to many others, and a gift from God whom He is using to bring glory to Himself.
See how he became a herald of grace. See how he preaches the gospel. See how, once he is endowed with sight, he becomes a witness. That blind man testified, and the ungodly were troubled in their hearts because they did not have in their own hearts what they saw in him.” — AugustineAugustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John 44.8, quoted in John 1–10, ed. Joel C. Elowsky, vol. IVa in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2001) [Wordsearch].
Tips for Teaching this Week’s Session
Every week, members of The Gospel Project for Kids team offer guidance to help you as you prepare to teach every session to preschoolers and kids. Listen in as we discuss:
- The big idea of the session
- Any areas of caution or requiring additional prep time
- What we hope God will do through this session
This training is available on Ministry Grid, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and other podcast platforms.