While Visiting Lesotho With My Special Needs Son Taught Me About the Heart of the Father
(Written by Mike Verkaik)
If you know me in real life, then you probably also know my son Chad. Chad is an energetic, 6 foot 5 college sophomore who has been developmentally delayed since birth. These past 2 years Dawn and I have seen so many of our prayers for Chad answered in Calvin College’s Ready for Life (RFL) program. For the first time this fall he is living independently in his own apartment alongside a fellow RFL student. When I visit him in his new place, I can’t help but rejoice in the way God has shown up in the life of my son through this program.
When I think of life with Chad, I often think of a scene from the movie The Incredibles. At the beginning of the film, our main characters (all superheros with extraordinary powers) are all sitting around the dinner table talking about their school day when the oldest daughter, Vie exclaims: “Normal, what does anyone in this family know about normal?”
This line has stuck with me since the time I saw the movie, and often pops when I think of Dawn and my parenting journey with Chad.
When Chad entered our family, we spent many of his childhood years asking this same question: “What is normal?” At church, is it okay that Chad sits down with head bowed every time we pray even when the congregation is standing? What about when he sings boisterously with a joy not typically seen in Reformed Churches?
What is normal?
Chad’s heart and perspective have shown me that the way you and I define “normal” doesn’t always line up with the heart of our Father. Chad lives without concern for what others think and if the spirit leads him to share or pray he does so loudly. One of the most Christ-like things about Chad is his concern for others, he never wants anyone to feel left out.
Many of Chad’s better qualities were brought into sharp perspective for me this past August when he joined me on an Ocean’s trip to Lesotho. Simply put, I saw the heart of our Father explode through the actions of my son.
1st John 4:18 says: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” Chad’s openness to the Spirit astounded me in Lesotho. Putting off any doubts or fears, he responded to everyone with the freedom that comes from living fully alive, just as you were created to be. While in Lesotho Chad prayed freely over the staff and directors of Beautiful Gate. He worshipped openly through song, with inspired motions and dance. He happily shared his testimony to teen moms at the Good Shepherd Center, connecting with them in beautiful authenticity.
Throughout the trip Chad continuously concerned himself with the needs and inclusion of everyone around him. He was the one to ensure all birthdays were celebrated with cake and singing. Every visitor that entered the campus was always invited to dinner, or on a trip, or into a conversation. No one got out of dish duty with Chad on the watch, and if someone was not feeling well, he made sure he found a replacement. Most memorably, when one student, Peter, asked to rededicate his life to Christ through baptism, Chad taped the entire sacrament and made sure Peter got a copy.
Life with Chad, both in Lesotho and at home in West Michigan, has shown me that our normal doesn’t always line up with the life of freedom our Father calls us to live. Without the insecurities and fear that sometimes hold us back, Chad’s heart pours out Jesus to everyone as he naturally fulfills the command to “Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
What a blessing to call him my son. He has taught me not to live normal but live like the Heart of the Father!