During my time working on a PhD at the University of Edinburgh, I had the privilege of attending a very special and unique conference on the subject of Theology and Disability, which was held in Holland. I stopped off and visited a dear friend in Amsterdam and explored the watery streets of that unique city before a brief train ride whisked me past windmills and tulip fields to a special community similar to the L’Arche model, where the conference was being held.

First envisioned and founded by Jean Vanier in the sixties, L’Arche communities are places where people with disabilities and those who assist them live together in community. The L’Arche model promotes developing interdependent relationships and the creation and maintenance of stable long-term relationships, believing everyone has the capacity to grow and mature into adulthood, and make a contribution to society. 

Over the course of this magical weekend, at this very special community, I was inspired to think differently about ability and disability, about a theological understanding of disability, about the places where the Church as a whole is missing the opportunity to give and to receive so much from the inclusion of people with special needs and disabilities.

One of the most special moments of the weekend, for me, happened quite by accident. I’d gotten to know a young woman in the community, incredibly well-spoken and friendly, and probably just a few years younger than me. I am not certain exactly what disability she had, but I don’t think it is important to put a name on it. She was special and unique, and full of life and energy.

At one of the meal times during the weekend, we sat together and she commented that she liked the necklace I was wearing. It was a necklace with a bright blue stone that hung low on a long and simple silver chain.

Though I’m not quite sure why, I quickly swooped the long chain over my head and immediately handed it to her, offering that if she liked it, I would love for her to have it.

I placed it in her hands with a big smile.

She clasped the blue stone between her small hands, some of the chain hanging down between her fingers, and said: “I will put all of my love in it, and give it back to you.”

I was completely surprised that she had received and re-gifted what I hoped to give her. And she added value to the gift, with her kind words, her sweet-spirited reply.

She chose to receive, and immediately, again to give.

Her kindness has reminded me of the simple verses that were a common thread throughout the discussions of that special weekend:

But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. {I Cor. 12: 20 – 24}

Although there is no doubt that the presence of disability can bring a different set of challenges to life — and to our abilities to receive and give to one another in the body of Christ — yet in this simple act, this much was clear to me: We have to receive the gifts we’ve been given by God for His glory. And those gifts come sometimes in the form of another person, a person who is different or other than how we perceive ourselves. We have so much to learn from people who are different. We honor and love God when we love one another.

We cannot say we don’t need the parts of the body that are more difficult to accept.

In all the years since that special moment on a fall day in Holland back in 2007, I have worn that simple necklace and that precious young lady has come to mind.

I long for the Church to be the hands and feet that include, welcome, seek and receive.


Caroline Collie loves to write, to read and to laugh. She and her South African Hero Hubs live in North Carolina with their two young boys. When she’s not mommying, baking, or serving as the Site Manager here at Signposts, she writes on her own blog, www.carolinecollie.com.