The Struggles and Hopes of a Disabled Dad

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Ten years ago I was white-knuckling the handles of a raft in the rapids of Costa Rica while my wife and I were on our honeymoon.

Ten years later on our anniversary, a kind stranger offered his help to my wife who was trying her best to lift my disabled body into an inner tube at a hotel pool. I can only imagine what was going through that gentleman’s mind when he saw me struggling to float down a lazy river.

God’s Beautiful Design

Ten years ago I never would have dreamed that I would have a physical disability. But God knew the beautiful design he had for me and for the spread of his gospel would involve taking away the strength of my hands.

There have been times when I couldn’t lift a cup of water to my lips to take a drink or open the fridge to feed myself. Most mornings my preschool-aged daughters help me button my shirt. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been able to pick up any one of my three babies. Sometimes I can’t even shake hands.

On a trip to the States for a pastor’s conference I was eating lunch with a big group of pastors. Without a word, one of my elders leaned over and graciously cut my steak for me so I could eat it. Sensing the awkwardness around the table of men who were not aware of my disability, he joked, “This is the way you serve your pastor!”

It’s been over five years now since my doctor discovered that the nerves in my arms weren’t working — firing off chronic pain signals to my brain and twisting themselves into painful neuromas. I’ve had five surgeries on my arms, worked for hundreds of hours in therapy, and taken a cocktail of medicines to give me some relief.

While I’m thankful for modern medicines and the relief they can provide, I understand that my greatest hope doesn’t come in a prescription.

The Strengthening Word

As a preacher I have seen the power of God’s word in the lives of others. And as a disabled pastor I have felt the power of God’s word in my own time of need.

I need other believers to encourage me with the hard texts of suffering and God’s sovereignty. I need to be reminded that God has plans to glorify himself through me because of my pain.

As a person who experiences chronic pain and physical disability, I need to be reminded of God’s sovereign goodness. I need to know that God can use me no matter my physical potential. I need to see lightning bolts of God’s grace shoot through my depression as I wrestle with nerve pain in the middle of the night. I need to be reminded of God’s good design in my disability to strengthen me in the daily reminders of my physical weakness.

The Strong Grip of Grace on My Family

God in His grace and wisdom saw it fitting to take away my arm strength and ability. If God means this disability for my good then I can trust him even though it hurts. My arms physically hurt and it hurts me when I can’t dance around with my daughters or playfully wrestle with my son. At times I am tempted to discouragement about the long-term impact that my disability has on my children. This is all the more reason that I must trust that God did not design my disability to harm me or my children.

My disability instead highlights God’s superior ability. God is our Provider and Father. I may not be able to physically tend to my children’s needs or defend them against physical threats. But God can and he does.

In many ways my physical disability has prepared me to spiritually lead my family. As the head of my family I lead my wife and children, shepherd them, and invest eternally in their lives. God does this work of primary import in and through me — a broken vessel. God gets the glory as I rely on him for the strength I need to do these things.

And so I can say along with the Psalmist words in Psalm 90:17, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”

(@davefurman) has been married to his wife, Gloria, for twenty years, spending fourteen years living on the Arabian Peninsula to help start Redeemer Church of Dubai and other gospel-preaching churches in the region. Dave and Gloria have four children, and he is the author of Being There and Kiss the Wave.