April 10, 1990 | Our Member's Stories by Dorcas Thompson
My first response, when asked to talk about God’s faithfulness in my life, was to realize that God’s faithfulness began before I had memory of it. So,…. Here is my story of stories… and it begins many years ago!
At a church gathering where all those in attendance are encouraged to share their favorite scripture verse, a little girl stands up on the seat between her parents and recites her very first memorized verse of Scripture: “Casting all your cares upon Him; for He careth for you.” I Peter 5:7. She is too young to remember doing this, and probably too young to understand the meaning of her recitation, but her parents tell the story over and over, thus helping that little girl to remember, and to ponder the meaning, for many years to come. A few years later she receives a beautifully made apron as a Christmas gift from her Sunday School teacher. The teacher made aprons for all 9 girls in her class. This the little girl remembers! Sometime in the next few years, she receives a small New Testament from her father who has written in it one of his favorite Scripture verses: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness …” II Tim. 3:16. Here again, she has no memory of the day she received the New Testament, but later, as a grown woman, she wonders why her father didn’t continue on with the rest of the sentence, which becomes Verse 17 and says “so that the man of God might be fully equipped for every good deed”.
The child grows and at age 12 she is now a confirmed member of the church. She has a very good friend – they do everything together – but for some unknown reason they have had a disagreement and are not speaking to one another. Communion is scheduled. The friend comes to Alice (You have probably guessed by now that the little girl in these stories is Alice.) and says to her, “Alice, I can’t take communion if we aren’t speaking to each other”. Imagine a 12 year old with such a profound insight of the Sacrament. We hugged - friendship restored - communion taken, knowing we were forgiven. She died about 10 years later from a kidney disease that could probably be corrected today. Such a friendship is long remembered.
Several years later I marry a man with a strong Scottish Presbyterian background. Early in our marriage he initiated bedtime devotions.
Have you noticed that in all these stories that were important to my faith development, I was the recipient and not the initiator?? So often, God does for us, and reaches us, through the actions of others. We don’t tell our Creator how to do things, do we?
Back to my story: Our marriage was blessed with 4 children. In 1949 our third child was born and diagnosed as “Mongoloid”. Yes, that was the term used. Even though Dr. Down had described it as a syndrome in the late 1800’s, it was not until 1959, after the discovery that an “extra 21st chromosome” was responsible for the disorder, that the terminology was corrected to “Down syndrome”. Before I left the hospital with Beth in 1949, our pediatrician tried to prepare me for having a child that was different. After a few months he recognized my need for another opinion and he arranged for me to take Beth to see an endocrinologist in Philadelphia. We were living in Altoona. We made the trip, and saw the doctor – not a good experience. He held Beth up under her arms and said, “Floppy baby. You better prepare to institutionalize her”. From then on, and for all her life, my prayer was “God, Help me do what is right for Beth”. And God’s faithfulness has never failed.
Beth may have been born before appropriate terminology for her disability was used, or before there was widespread recognition of abilities within her disability, but God placed in my path people who led me to a way to live out my prayer. Some of those people were:
- my husband with the homespun wisdom to urge me to read out loud the story of Pearl Buck’s special needs child, and to say out loud those words that applied to our Beth,
- her siblings – an older sister and brother who taught her to swim, and helped her learn how to go to bed without Mommy staying by her side every night until she fell asleep, and a sister 22 months younger than Beth whom you know as Marty Laird – who was her mentor and best friend and for the last 1 ½ years of her life her care giver along with her good husband Scott.
- a kind and wise pediatrician in Altoona who supported our decision to raise Beth at home, and whose check-ups with Beth included asking her to count the buttons on his shirt, or to draw him a picture, and then keeping those things in his medical records of Beth,
- good neighbors who welcomed Beth in all neighborhood activities,
- a minister who worked with Beth in confirmation class, and was so impressed when Beth said she would try to read her Bible. Try was the key word!
- Other parents of special needs children who realized that together we could do more for our children than alone, and so we formed organizations like The Arc. Together we developed programs of support, changed public attitudes, and lobbied for appropriate education. All things we could not have accomplished by ourselves.
Believe me, I could go on and on mentioning people who took part in God’s way of helping me to do what was right for her. Beth had life experiences that I could not have imagined for her in 1949. The school system started a special education class – called “Trainable Day Care” – terrible terminology, but with wonderfully creative and caring teachers who helped Beth learn to read and add and subtract. Beth had job training through sheltered workshops and had three jobs in the regular workforce. She traveled - to Israel, Italy, and Disney World. She lived in her own apartment for 11 years, with county MR supports, and some guidance from Mom. Were there problems? Oh Yes – some of them really difficult, but my prayer remained the same, and applied equally well in all situations.
I have often said I felt so blessed, for Beth and myself, that doors of opportunity and community opened for her. Those doors didn’t open by magic. Rather they were pushed open, and held open by people whose actions became a part of my answered prayer.
Our actions have a ripple effect. We are often affected by actions of those who were perhaps not standing next to us, or even known to us, but we benefit from the ripple. When I have had the experience of an answered prayer, or an answered need, it has made me more aware of my own actions. It has placed in me the hope that with God’s guidance, I could be a door opener, that I could produce a ripple effect for others. It has brought me time and again to the study of Scripture, so that I might be “fully equipped for every good deed.”
I have had a few glimpses that I might have had a good “ripple effect” on others. One of my 10 year old Sunday School students once wrote a little play for us to perform – and he “dedicated” it to me. Several years later some adults with learning differences who attended my church in Altoona, approached me and asked if I could teach a Sunday School class for them, because they were having a hard time understanding the regular curriculum. I said yes, and decided to focus on a Scripture verse that we could study, and learn, and use. So of course I chose one that was meaningful to me. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4: 29 (NIV) That verse is rich enough for several weeks of Sunday School!
When I was active in women’s presbyterial, and in Presbytery meetings, I often opened with Psalm 118:24. “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I soon heard many others at those meetings using the verse just as I had. I know that another person’s use of Scripture has had a “ripple” effect on me. I remember being so impressed when Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Shapp used Micah 6:8 in his 1971 inauguration. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” When my husband Frank died suddenly of a heart attack the very next year, in 1972, I used that Scripture, knowing that it perfectly summed up my husband and how he lived his life.
One final story about Beth: But, come to think of it, this is really a story about God. Over the years Beth had many medical issues arise. One time she developed a large crack in her lower lip that defied the Dr.’s attempt to fix. He finally suggested a specialist at Hershey Medical Center, and even the specialist treated it for two visits without success. He then put in one large suture just to close the crack enough to prevent infection, and to give him time to pursue other possible treatments. He asked us to return in 2 weeks. When we did, he was amazed to find the crack closed and healed. He wrote a note to Beth’s doctor at home that said, “We doctors treat the wound, but God does the healing”.
God does the healing.
When I prayed my prayer for help to do what was right for Beth, I was perhaps without realizing it, harking back to that very first Scripture that I barely understood – Casting all my cares upon God, for he careth for me. It seems to be the echo that runs through all my stories.
God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.
And all God’s people said, … “Amen”.