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Eyes to See: On Disability, Spiritual Sight, and the Holy Spirit

March 8th, 2022 | 6 min read

By Rachel Roth Aldhizer

When I was pregnant with my son David Samuel, born in the heat of last July, I wondered if I could make a sort of bargain with God. I knew David would be disabled, and I prayed either that God would heal him completely or that God would take his life in mercy. I would walk my neighborhood with David Samuel in my belly, and cry and pray, sometimes twice a day. I was looking for God. Where could He be, in the face of such terrible news?

David Samuel is living and thriving, and maybe he is being healed–but it is me who is the main character of this drama. It is not David who has questions about his purpose or his presence; it is me.

David’s life is mysterious, to myself and all of our many excellent doctors. The map of his little life has led all of us through uncharted territory, spiritually and physically. There is much unknown about his future, yet he lives and breathes, and has a ministry given to him by God for a unique purpose. I’m catching on now that maybe I am that purpose– maybe God is using a blind baby to restore my spiritual sight.

David Samuel is the Lord’s child first and foremost, and it is my responsibility and privilege to accept what is good in the Lord’s eyes. I’ve become a spiritual cartographer, looking for God under every little log and spot of moss, seeing God in David’s face and eyes that don’t see back.

We chose Samuel as a middle name for David–God made it clear that was the right name for our boy. On one of our early pediatrician’s visits, a warm and kind nurse whisked David Samuel out of my arms and said, “David, like your name, you will be a worshiper. Although your parents have given you the first name David, you have the spirit of Samuel, like your middle name.” I’ve thought about this blessing many times, wondering what this could mean for my life and David’s. Another time, my priest’s wife told me that David would have the heart of a worshiper, like his namesake– even before he was born. David is already causing others to serve God, and serving God himself by pointing bodily to God’s kingdom and character. In God’s house, David is a beloved and mighty man of strength. He is also simply a little child used to show others God’s truth, like Samuel.

I’m not the same person I was a year ago. I’ve made decisions and talked about outcomes I couldn’t have imagined– my husband and I have talked about things like funerals, hospice, a DNR– at least, when David was first born. Now, I am open to hearing from the Spirit. He is giving me a soft heart through the soft hands of a baby, chipping away at my old stony ways.

I need the Holy Spirit to lead me through the valley of the shadow of death. I do not turn away from words of timely spiritual encouragement offered by fellow believers in times of great need. Instead, I am grateful. Spiritual encouragement is from the Great Comforter, to build us up. God will use anything and anyone to get our attention. God is waiting to meet us, should we have eyes to see.

I have seen God, as plain as day. Lauren Winner, in her book Wearing God, says God meets us in everyday things; that he uses groceries to talk to us. Bread and wine. God talks about himself in everyday words–God can be found in a cloak, a cloud, a fire–a still small voice. God uses metaphors like dough and seeds to show us his kingdom. Winner says that the Bible is an invitation to turn around and see how God is present and with us in our own life.

God is using a small, disabled baby to piece my puzzle picture of himself together, better than it was before.

Someone reminded me when David Samuel was born that I had mentioned casually a year or so ago wanting God to feel more real; more alive to me. I said I knew of God, but I did not know God.

I know God now, and not casually either. I have pledged my son to him; in life or in death, like Hannah in 1 Samuel. God is nearer than near to me and David Samuel. Sometimes, I wonder if he will wake up to meet me in the morning, or if his fragile life will slip away in the night, soft and breakable as a moth’s wing. But, God is watching. God never sleeps. He gathers us under the shadow of his wing.

A devotional by Charles Spurgeon has this thought–that we are happiest in trials because that is when we are closest to God. Nearness to God produces happiness. God gives us more of himself when we are needy and cry out to him for comfort. I don’t think it’s an accident that Christ was followed by poor, needy, limping, blind people—it’s the design. In Wearing God, Winner introduces readers to the thirteenth century mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg, who it is said had two visions. In one of her visions, Mechthild describes Christ asking her to “place in his left hand ‘all her pains and adversities’, so they may be ‘sweetened’ by union with him, ‘just as a crumb of bread dipped in honey takes on the honey’s fragrance.’” Something about our “pains and adversities” beg for union with Christ, and are sweetened by his nearness. My soul is sweetened by the nearness of Christ, paradoxically found only in suffering.

My dad, for whom David was named, calls our little David a litmus test of sorts. It takes thankful people to hold a blind baby born with a wide cleft lip and palate, not fearful people. He says David is doing God’s work by just being—David is ministering to us just by living. David Samuel is God’s servant despite being served by us. He may never say a word, but his presence makes God’s presence realer than real–like seeds, or bread, or fresh dew on grass, or a dogwood blossom opening in the sun.

David Samuel shows me the character of God. God does not love me because I am good, or because I am healthy, or because I am beautiful. God loves me because I am none of those things– I am deeply broken, ugly and sin-sick. Maybe it is David Samuel who is good, healthy, and beautiful in God’s kingdom, a holy innocent.

I read something when I was pregnant with David written by a father who had four children, two born disabled. These two disabled children had short lives; one son lived only a few hours. His older sister, also born with severe disabilities, lived until age two, and then followed her brother in death three months later. The father recounts how one of his daughters came to him some time after the deaths of her siblings. She was seven at the time, and said God woke her up in the middle of the night to tell her something. She said God told her, “Mandy and Toby are very busy. They are building our house, and they are guarding his throne.”

Even a child can do the work of the Lord. Especially a child. It may seem a curse to be born blind with facial deformities and brain abnormalities like David Samuel, but it is mysteriously God’s best for David, and gives him a special place of honor. Just like little Mandy and Toby, precious saints who have gone before us to God’s throne, David has a role of honor to play in God’s kingdom–on earth, for however long he is with us, and then for eternity when all is made right.

David is God’s beloved, like his kingly namesake, and like Samuel, has been chosen as a servant to show the majesty of God’s kingdom. The power of the stars is shown in the face of a disabled child. David was born with a message to share and a ministry to do, just by breathing.

As David’s mother, I am blessed. I am served by David by serving David. A poem fragment I remember goes something like this, “Oh angels, leave the windows open, wide as an English bathtub.” David Samuel has thrown the windows of my heart wide open. I’ve gotten a front row seat to the inner workings of God’s mysterious, upside-down kingdom–small as a mustard seed, yet mighty as an ocean, through the open window of David’s life. This is God made real to me. And it’s right here in my arms.

Rachel Roth Aldhizer

Rachel Roth Aldhizer lives and writes in North Carolina.