My wife’s brother, Sam, has a cognitive delay. I have written about his specific limitations in the past, so I won’t revisit the details. An over-simplified description (not diagnosis) is that Sam is high functioning in many ways but has a simplified perspective of the world similar to that of a young teenager.
I don’t see Sam often as we’re separated by 400 miles of California coastland but when I do, we often go out for coffee or breakfast to “socialize” (as he likes to put it ). Sam is very open about his struggles, fears, likes and dislikes. In many ways, I considered our times together as an informal opportunity for me to disciple him but over the past eighteen years, I realize more often the roles are reversed. In Sam’s child-like faith, he disciples me.
Pastor Lee Jong-rak of the famed “Drop Box” says,
“Disabled children teach many people, change many people, and help people reflect upon themselves, which is why they are the educators of society.”
Sam is not a child but he is disabled and he is an educator. He teaches me to slow down. He teaches me core theology. He teaches me to be child-like that I might inherit the kingdom. He teaches me to worship.
First time I met Sam…oh, so long ago
Yesterday, Sam tutored me in the car while we were driving to pick up his brother from the airport. He was feeling really bad about a reoccurring sin that he currently wrestles with. He said, “I don’t know why I keep doing that (sin)! I don’t want to do it but I do.” Sam has read the entire Bible many times so Romans 7 could have been flowing from his heart or his memory. Either way, I could identify with his frustration with the old self. Sam wondered out loud if his sins were really forgiven even though he does the same thing over and over again. I reminded him that grace, not works, saves and secures his salvation. That was the limited extent of my discipling. Then we subtly switched roles.
Sam: “I think maybe because I’m slow, I can’t understand why God would keep forgiving me over and over and over again.”
Me: “It’s not because you’re slow, I think most Christians, including me, have a hard time believing that.”
Sam: “Yeah, a normal person wouldn’t do that. If I hurt another person over and over again, he would stop forgiving me a long time ago.”
Me: “You’re right.”
Sam: “That’s just craa…”
Me: “Crazy? That’s crazy?”
Sam: “Yeah, that’s just crazy love!” (no need to read Francis Chan, Sam already gets it)
Me: “It is! Do you realize when we were singing ‘Amazing Grace’ yesterday, that’s what we were singing about?”
Sam: “Yeah…”(looking off into the distance)
Sam looked pleased. It was the satisfied look of child-like wonder. Like rediscovering the vibrant beauty of a rainbow following a few rainy days. His response moved me to pause, look up in the sky and worship as well.
Yesterday, Sam taught me that God’s grace IS truly amazing. That His forgiveness is NOT normal. And that His love is just PLAIN crazy! As he did so, I discovered that a mini-van on the 101 fwy could be sacred space if I would just allow God to disciple me through the faith of my brother-in-law. Too often, I am too busy and too informed to behold God’s greatness in everyday life. I thank the Father that He sent Sam into my life to gently shame my shallow wisdom that I might rediscover the beauty of His grace. I can’t wait to see what Sam will teach me next…
(By the way, Sam gave me full permission to share our conversation. Thanks, Sam!)