I will never forget that day. We were sitting at a very routine eye doctor appointment, not suspecting that anything was wrong. When my very bright and precocious 9-year-old says, “I know the top letter is an E because it’s always an E. But I can’t see it.” It was as if time stopped. Wait, what? He’s kidding, surely…. “No, mom. I really can’t see it.”
Thoughts came flooding in. The boy who always had a book with him had recently stopped reading in the car. He said he just didn’t feel like it. And then there was the baseball game last week where he begged to play catcher, FOR BOTH TEAMS. He spent the whole game in mask and pads squatting behind the batter. I guess it feels better to be wearing all those protective measures when you can’t see the ball coming at you.
I felt like a terrible parent. How did I not know my poor boy was struggling to see?
That day began a long and confusing journey. At first, I thought we would just get him some glasses, and everything would be okay. But after a few different eye doctors and several scary guesses of what it could be, we had a diagnosis. Stargardt Disease. Retinal Degeneration in a child. It comes on quickly, and within 6-12 months he had lost all his central vision. It’s genetic. Nothing can be done. Glasses won’t help.
It sounds strange, but if you have to be blind, Stargardt Disease is the way to do it. While your central vision is affected, you retain your peripheral vision. After the 12 months of sudden vision loss, you stabilize and stay at that point until your 40’s when everyone has a mild decrease in vision.
It didn’t take long for me to remember and reread the passage in John 9.
“As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”John 9:1-2
This boy was my first baby. Did I do something wrong when I was pregnant with him? I was so very sick with morning sickness. There were a few weeks there that all I could keep down was McDonald’s chocolate milkshakes. Was that it? Or was it all my sin catching up to me?
In the passage, it’s clear that the blind man is close by when the disciples ask this question. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time he had wondered or been told that he or his parents brought this on themselves. My own sweet boy had the faith of a child and took his news with strength and positivity that left me humbled. But that day when his cousins beat him at ping pong, and when his younger brother got his driver’s license, I saw it. I know there have been times when his heart has cried out, “Why Lord?”
Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”John 9:3
Jesus doesn’t address the cause of the blindness. He goes straight to the PURPOSE! In our scientific day and age, we know exactly where the tiny little code on his DNA had a hiccup. We know it’s because my husband and I carry a recessive gene, one that had not shown up in either of our families yet. But that’s not WHY!
In Exodus chapter 4 God asks Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”
God knit my son together in my womb. He made him handsome and with a slightly too long second toe like his dad. He gave him a fierce determination and strength of character, and he gave him Stargardt Disease. FOR A PURPOSE.
Question one of the Westminster Catechism gets to the heart of this purpose and it’s true for EVERYONE.
Question 1: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
The blind man in John was born blind for that MOMENT. Jesus walked up to him and HEALED him. God was glorified! And I suspect that man enjoyed him forever! If my son is healed someday (which I pray for often) God will be glorified. If my son is not healed, if he, in fact, gets worse, God will be glorified! When my son graduates next Spring with a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, despite his challenges, God will be glorified! And if he had chosen to be a janitor, God would STILL BE GLORIFIED!
God takes our obedience and hard work, our disobedience and inadequacies and uses them all to make us into His very image. So, when my son graduates and people praise him, he doesn’t take that glory and hold it for himself. He reflects it right back onto the One who made him. When he has to depend on others to drive him somewhere or read him a menu, and he responds with grateful humility, he is still reflecting the glory of God.
Isn’t it the same for those of us who have perfect vision? Or Down Syndrome? Or Autism? Or superior athletic abilities? Oh, that we would see these things with His eyes and say with the famous Hymn…
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.
Photos by Joshua Earle