Thank you, Cheryl Lee, for this reflection and how you have been shaped by the life and work of Jean Vanier:
I was introduced to Jean Vanier’s writings while attending Barnabas Christian Fellowship in the mid 1980’s. I was struck by his humility and tenderness. I recall his emphasis on the vital role of those with developmental disabilities in bringing balance and equilibrium to our society. It all sounded good to me, philosophically speaking …on a cerebral level. Little did I realize the magnitude of influence this deeply loving and spiritual man would have on my life in the decades to come.
Fast forward 20 years – I am sitting around a conference table at the Alberta Children’s Hospital with a team of five developmental specialists. They inform me that they have diagnosed my young son with Autism and cognitive impairment: PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified) to be exact, if not specific. “Oh God, help!”
That day I was thrown into a raging river of fear and knew we would have to learn to navigate these unwelcome waters. A journey of early intensive interventions soon began – a revolving door in my home of varying specialists and therapists. My heart deeply broke for my little boy who would have to find his way in a competitive world that values things he would not fully possess: power, intellect, and competence. Another epic inner journey began for me – realizing my own implicit bias of valuing competence and intelligence.
Now I read the wise words of Jean Vanier from a different vantage point than I did 20 years earlier. He became a soul guide of sorts for me, at times offering a compass or handing me an oar to help me towards a new understanding of wholeness.
“Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed.” He gently challenges me by asking, “How can I welcome fully the weakness of another if I haven’t welcomed my own weakness?” “It is the broken ones that lead us to our brokenness, to the knowledge that we need a healing saviour.”
I continue to meet my own brokenness, my own inability, my own darkness …sometimes in shame and hiding; but sometimes in the deeper knowing that I am held in Love. My son now towers over me at 6’4” and his presence in my life is one of my deepest joys. Life together continues to bring both shining joy and raw pain as we each struggle to accept our own limitations and to see our own beauty and worth. I am so grateful for the tender compassionate heart of Jean Vanier that has been a light for me over the decades, showing me the heart of Jesus. I am deeply touched by the simple yet profound words he shared with Jeff many years ago: “Stay close to Jesus”. A deep thank you to all who have shared your experiences of Jean Vanier; you have blessed me!
We are grateful to you, Cheryl Lee for your honesty and openness.
Wm. Paul Young event in Calgary April 18, Lies we Believe About God
Being With Our Sorrow – Saturday March 28, 2020, St Lawrence Anglican, Calgary
Facilitators: Helen Barry and Pearl Nieuwenhuis
Brad Jersak opens us to A More Christlike Way