The 4th of July is a different sort of ‘Independence Day’ for me. On July 4, 1995 my multiply-disabled son entered the world and my life came crashing down around me—and would soon include a deep and intense bitterness toward God.
I never denied that God existed or is powerful; I concluded he was mean and capricious. But it also began God’s work of creating an affection for him and for the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. I am often astonished, when thinking back, that I am now able to praise God for his goodness in giving my son his autism and blindness.
None of this happened easily or by accident. I can point to five specific things that God brought to bear on my life:
1. Faithful pastoral leadership.
I can still remember Pastor Tom Steller, now leading The Bethlehem Institute, walking up my front steps with a note from Pastor John. And I remember sitting with and emailing Pastor David Michael.
These men, with great courage and biblical conviction, entered into dangerous territory. My attorney, a man trained in conflict, said that my intensity and bitterness frightened him. But my pastors never wavered from bringing a message of hope and absolute certainty in the sovereignty and goodness of God, even when I pushed them away.
2. Faithful people of Bethlehem Baptist Church.
Shortly after my son was born we dropped everything at church—our small group, volunteering, Sunday school class and attendance. One couple refused to let us go and loved us with a gracious, firm, consistent tenderness that made me want to understand how they could love someone like me, my wife or my son so completely.
3. A faithful father.
My own father was the first person in the world to understand and communicate my son’s value and inherent worth as a creation of a good and loving God to me. Through 13 years, he has stood with me through much pain and sorrow—and joy.
4. A faithful wife.
My wife and I have not walked the same path; hers has been much harder than mine for many reasons. But by the grace of God we are together and I thank God every day for this woman whose spine is made of steel and who loves me and our four children.
5. The sovereignty of God as revealed in his word.
I remember a particularly heartbroken, bitter email I sent to Pastor John. He had every right to discipline me, but instead wrapped the words of the bible around my heart. God used those words from the bible, among many others, to create longings I didn’t have, to start a dead heart beating, and to reveal, when I was incapable of seeing, the beauty, sufficiency, and majesty of Jesus Christ and his cross.
God has done it all, and it was his word that proved decisive.
Living with a boy, now a teenager no less, who will always be dependent on someone for all his needs is hard. I have a daily, often hourly, fight for joy in my salvation. Yet, through my oldest son’s daily care, through my youngest son’s premature birth, and now through my wife’s ongoing battle with metastatic cancer, God is not just sustaining me, but revealing more of his goodness because he is sovereign over all these things, for his glory and my good.
So, on this Independence Day I am grateful to Jesus for my real freedom in him and for giving me my boy to help me see it: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).
Happy birthday, Paul.