From Moses to David to … Adalia Williams and Honora Sumereau?

God manifests his glory through those whom the world would never glorify.

François-Léon Benouville, “The Anointing of David by Samuel,” 1842
François-Léon Benouville, “The Anointing of David by Samuel,” 1842 (photo: Public Domain)

In the Bible, God regularly uses “damaged” people to accomplish miracles and other major accomplishments. These are the selfish (Jacob and David), the cowardly (Moses and Peter), the thieves (Zacharias and the Good Thief), the physically disabled (lepers and the paralytic) and spiritually bankrupt (Judas).

These stories often conflict with the hands-off approach God seems to take with my own life. Instead of miracles, I see a lack of support and guidance. Instead of rewarding my hard work to overcome failings, especially when they impact my family, it seems like God sits on the sidelines. And instead of rewarding our hard work on matters like kids’ sleep schedules, God thinks keeping my wife and me exhausted is a good idea.

Adalia Rose Williams’ death Jan. 12 was therefore a good reminder to focus not on what I can’t control — kids’ meltdowns, erratic sleep patterns and business prospects who think marketing and branding should be cheap — but rather what I can do with the exhausted moments, the irritable moments and the “how am I supposed to function well on no sleep?” moments.

Williams was a 15-year-old girl with a rare disease that gave her a life expectancy of 13 years. Despite weighing just 15 pounds at the age of 12, she punched above her weight with millions of YouTube and Facebook fans who followed her life updates, Cher imitations and nifty dance moves. Her family’s announcement of Adalia’s death has 971,000 interactions and 126,000 shares. In it, they describe her as having lived in pain, and they thanked “all her doctors and nurses that worked for years to keep her healthy.”

It’s clear that Williams and her family chose to define her illness, and to not let it define her life. She maximized her time on Earth instead of focusing on the negatives — the disease that only 400 people worldwide have, her constant pain and need for medical care, the loss of her hearing last November, and eventually, her death.

When I heard about Williams’ death, I was inspired to write something about seeing good in the face of pain and suffering, but I wasn’t sure what. So I asked a friend whose daughter will likewise have a life of physical disability. Stacey Sumereau hosts the Called and Caffeinated podcast, and is a public speaker. She’s also the mother of Honora, who has cerebral palsy and required life-saving care within days of being born.

“Throughout salvation history, we see God raising up the disadvantaged, the lowly, the disabled, the infertile,” Stacey told me. “He manifests his glory precisely through those whom the world would never glorify. I learned this more strongly than ever when my daughter Honora was born one year ago. It took 22 minutes of CPR to bring her heart back. She was left with a lifelong disability and needed four surgeries before she could come home.”

Stacey said the Honora’s miraculous recovery has been followed by other, smaller — but no less impactful — miracles.

“Despite her special needs, or probably precisely because of them, thousands of people rallied around us through her 126 days in the NICU. My social media following grew as people shared our story and tuned in to watch her progress. In a society that respects life less and less as a whole, vulnerable lives like Honora’s can draw out extraordinary compassion and love. Complete strangers sent us meal gift cards and presents. She’s our little apostle of hope!”

Williams’ life wasn’t all roses and flowers. Honora’s won’t be, either. But nor will my less-challenging daily life be simple and easy. I wrote most of this post at 2:30 a.m., when my wife and I were once again woken up for hours by one of our children. This morning, tired and irritable — and certainly annoyed at God — I can either let the negative emotions dominate. Or I can choose, as difficult and counter-intuitive as it has become, to do the best with what I’ve got. 

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

10 Scripture Verses to Strengthen You in Hardship

“The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history. The sacred books powerfully affirm God's absolute sovereignty over the course of events …” (CCC 303)