The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving 2000 were a time of profound emotion for Larry and I. While overwhelmed with gratitude for an experience of remarkable community support, we had also just been told that our 2 1/2 year old daughter Carly had Angelman Syndrome. The news ripped our hearts. We suddenly felt strangely alone despite being surrounded by the love of friends and family.
Earlier that year, we had started an intensive home-based therapy program with Carly. Dozens of people from our church and neighborhood had stepped out sacrificially in a profound expression of practical helps and prayer. Yet for all of the developmental obstacles, a life-threatening seizure and then that devastating diagnosis, God had been using the love within that community to release miracles.
It wasn’t just about Carly. God was bringing about various kinds of unexpected healing. Carly was reaching surprising milestones but others were being shaped and changed through their intersections with each other too. Healing was unfolding in physical, emotional and spiritual ways. It was exciting and humbling to experience such a tangible sense of God’s power and love.
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:12
With the encouraging evidence of God’s presence among us, Larry and I were asked to share some of the story with our congregation during a 4-minute testimony at the Thanksgiving Eve service. We had overflowing reasons to share but felt our passion would not allow us to stay within the time allotment and our tears of joy and pain would not allow us to speak.
Larry wisely suggested we use a video. It proved to be an efficient and effective way to express the depth of our gratitude and the growing passion we had to advocate for community that delights God.
That original video — Carly’s Thanksgiving Story — is posted here. (It’s now about 7 minutes long with the update Larry added in 2010.)
Tragically, there are many facing life-altering challenges without support modeled after God’s design for thriving community. Our family is blessed to know what it feels like to be embraced by God’s love through others. But we also know what it feels like to be abandoned. We have not always known such remarkable support. Thankfully, God also uses seasons of hurt and disappointment to stretch and strengthen us. Only God can do that!
Years later, in our book, Finding Glory in the Thorns, we expressed gratitude and some insights about community this way:
“The sense of community that grew out of our crisis was a treasure we’ll be hard-pressed to match in our lifetimes. We were increasingly energized to see how God was magnifying His handiwork. God was bringing a ripple effect of healing into other people’s lives because of what was going on around Carly’s situation…a beautiful picture of how He designed community to work.” (Page 73)
“Yet for all the ways that community had the capacity for blessing, it also had the capacity to distract us from depending on Christ alone for our strength and solace. So maybe it should be no surprise that just when God’s light on that grand collective adventure was shining brightest, God chose that time to reveal the true nature of Carly’s challenge and reinforce our need to stay completely surrendered unto Him.” (Page 75)
With every passing year, we appreciate more and more how economically God uses life’s challenges. He is teaching us that there is a privilege and grand adventure in how life unfolds when it is wrapped within the power, love and grace of Christ’s presence.
So as we begin another Thanksgiving week, we are both grateful for how God uses community to reveal Himself and we are praying that His people increasingly learn how to live sacrificially and joyfully in the kind of Christ-centered fellowship He intended. But most of all, we are grateful to experience intimate relationship with the One who holds the world in His Holy Hands.
May you, too, personally experience the joy and peace of that forever Love Story!