However, our story does not end there as God always has something bigger and better on the horizon for us as believers and little did I know fishing was only a small part of His plan for the coming season of our life. You see while consulting and working from home, Leanne and I also got involved in a local disability ministry (per some persistent prompting from a neighbor) and joined the board of the DFW Joni and Friends field office in 2005. Soon afterwards, we were invited to attend and help out at our 1st Family Retreat hosted by the area ministry. We were excited thinking we had so much experience and wisdom to share but as usual God turned things all around on us at camp and changed the direction of our lives.
Up to this point in my life I had rarely been around others with disabilities since leaving rehab in 1984. I had been mainstreamed through my education and job so much that the only time the topic of disability came up was when my colleagues would see someone else using a wheelchair and ask if I knew them as a joke (like we were all in a club). In turn, I was not sure what to expect at the Family Retreat. However, once we arrived the sense of God’s presence and unconditional love overwhelmed me to the point it felt like a small piece of heaven on earth.
The real game changer though camp the last night of the camp at the talent show. This is the time when the campers and their families get to be the stars and given praise for not what they can or cannot due but because they are created in the image of the only most high God. About half way through the program two sisters, Leslie and Lauren came up to sing “I can only imagine” and although Lauren had a beautiful voice and sang like someone you’d hear singing a solo in church, all eyes in the chapel were focused on her sister Leslie. You see Leslie had severe cerebral palsy. She used an electric wheelchair like me because of her spasticity and contractures but was also virtually non verbal used a communication board. But the look on her face and in her eyes as she struggled past the limitations of her body to make movements and sounds to honor and worship Jesus ushered everyone in that building into the most powerful place of worship I have ever experienced.
Up to that time I had always known God had a purpose and plan for me. But what about others with more severe and profound disabilities? That night God hit home with me that yes, He does have a plan for everyone regardless of their abilities or disabilities. In fact, there are things He wants accomplished thru people with disabilities that He cannot do thru others.
Soon after this epiphany God began working in our hearts and minds as well as circumstances for us to going into full time ministry serving individuals and families affected by disability. In April of 2007 we went on staff with Joni and Friends in Florida and held several Family retreats of our own as well as church training conferences and other programming. Then in 2010 Leanne and I had the opportunity to start our own ministry, Access-Life.
Through this journey God has stretched us and shown us many things but the true purpose of disability ministry is of the most significant. It is not just a benevolence ministry but rather a two part holistic life intervention. First to share the hope, love and gospel of Jesus with individuals and families living with disability but secondly to make sure they know that God has a purpose and a plan for them and wants them fully integrated into the body of Christ!