It was a cold and wintery Colorado afternoon, although the sun did hang in the partly cloudy sky. Traffic on the interstate buzzed by, oblivious to the proceeding inside the church. The only odd thing someone might have noticed was the crowded parking lot — not typical for a Monday.
There were more people present for this memorial service than usually occupy the sanctuary. The number of folks gathered spoke something to me of how her life had touched so many in just a few short years.
We came together to … what? Pay tribute to a life well lived? Celebrate the “home going” of a saint? Honor the family? Share their grief? It wasn’t apparent, even as we entered the great room. There was a somber tone, a conspicuous quiet, a lack of the usual laughter and conversation that takes place before a service.
The video screen at the front showed pictures of the girl, at various stages of life. Shots of her at the hospital, obviously physically afflicted in some way. There she is with her doting mother. Now she is a toddler being hugged by a relative. And the wheelchair … an ever-present part of her life. She spent all her years confined to a bed or in that wheelchair.
Katie suffered a particularly cruel sort of physical condition. Severely affected, she was very small and most fragile. Her head fell to one side, her eyesight unfocused on anything close … she seemed to be gazing off at something, someone in the far distance. She communicated with a simple smile, or by an utterance in an unknown dialect … sometimes grunting or groaning in such a way as to seem in agony. Those close to Katie knew her communications. They could tell in some way what it was she wanted them to know: her joy at someone’s kindness, or her displeasure at the country music being played on the radio.
Unable to do anything on her own, she was caught in a body that wouldn’t work as God intended the body to work. Not in a way our society understands or values. It would be easy to look away, to ignore the figure there in the chair, to wish she would not intrude into one’s comfort zone. Katie’s humanness pushed through her broken frame and confronted everyone with the courage to look closely at her, to talk to her, to stroke her. This much was clear by the dozen or more who shared in the memorial service.
The pastor opened up the time together, indicating that this was to be a time of reflection upon who she was and what Katie meant to us. As individuals shared, it was apparent that this girl who lived into her teens, about 15 years longer than doctors predicted at her birth, possessed the fullness of humanity, and of God’s beautiful design. She had touched many, many people. Tears were shed, some smiles and even a bit of laughter.
Many paid homage to her parents, who with undying hope and fathomless love tended to her needs and refused to hide her away. They included Katie in their family routines and events, which included trips to the store shopping, church services and even the burrito place. They deserved the kind words, the affirmation. They have been examples of how to parent a special child, how to offer unconditional love, how to honor the Lord’s handiwork, even when we don’t understand it.
One comment that stood out, which sounded out a loud and eternal truth to me, was something to the effect of, “God shined through her helplessness.” Oh yes. That seems so True to me. My soul said,
“Learn a lesson here. Don’t regale in your accomplishments, your abilities, your successes. Take a good hard look at your values and see what God considers valuable … a life of helplessness, a life which can be used to reflect His glory and His love. Don’t think for a moment that He needs anything you can offer in order to bring glory to Himself. On the contrary, He is best honored in our weakness and helplessness.”
Another thing that struck me. “She didn’t own anything.” Of course not. Few 15 year-olds have much in the way of material things. But this girl had even less than most. She couldn’t hold onto a book, a special blanket, or a prized stuffed animal. She had nothing to speak of. And yet, look around the sanctuary and see how God took her lack of possessions and touched so many through her. How often do I feel a need for things — things to signal my success, or my belonging, or my desire for earthly security and well-being.
And then we sang. And the thoughts became clearer.
“Though Satan should buffet,
tho’ trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well with my soul …”
I cried at the truth of that lyric, newly embraced by my heart and mind. Lord, let me not shy away from my helplessness, let me not get stuck in my own distorted priorities, let me not get sucked into a world which is upside down in its values. Let me instead consider all that You have done for me, all that You seek to do — and all You already do, in spite of my interferences and protestations. Your ways are not my ways, they are higher and more noble than anything I might dare to think of or embrace. Lord, let me say, with the saint of so long ago, “it is well with my soul” — even when my flesh struggles and refuses to see or believe it to be so.
And the overriding thought that melancholy Monday: life is sacred. All life is given by God and deserves our respect and love, from the cradle to the grave.
Not only the strong are made in God’s image, the weak are as well. That’s what Katie would have said.
Actually, that IS what Katie said for her entire 15 years.
Written by John Fuller (co-host of the Focus on the Family Daily Broadcast and vice president of the Audio team). Reposted with permission.