FamilyLife This Week®

God-Glorifying Disability

with Dave Furman, Gloria Furman, Jay and Katherine Wolf, Julie Denker | June 5, 2021
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Being equipped for every good work takes on a whole new dimension for Dave and Gloria Furman, Jay and Katherine Wolf, and Julie Denker as they share what it's like to care for or live as an adult with a disability.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Being equipped for every good work takes on a whole new dimension for Dave and Gloria Furman, Jay and Katherine Wolf, and Julie Denker as they share what it's like to care for or live as an adult with a disability.

  • Michelle Hill

    Radio has been ingrained in Michelle for most of her life. This love for radio has taken her to various radio stations and ministries in places like Chicago, Alaska and other snow covered terrains like her hometown in north central Iowa. In 2005 she landed on staff with Cru/FamilyLife®. While at FamilyLife she has overseen the expansion of FamilyLife Today® internationally, assisted with the creation of Passport2Identity™-Womanhood and is now the host of FamilyLife This Week®. For the last 15+ years Michelle has been mentoring young women and is passionate about helping them find their identity in God. She also has a fascination for snowflakes and the color yellow. Michelle makes her home in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dave and Gloria Furman, Jay and Katherine Wolf, and Julie Denker share what it’s like to care for or live as an adult with a disability.

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God-Glorifying Disability

With Dave Furman, Gloria Furman, ...more
June 05, 2021
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Michelle: Dave Furman has a degenerative muscular condition. This condition keeps him from opening doors, buttoning his shirt, or typing on a keyboard; but here’s the rub. His condition is not obvious to most of us who watch him; but for Dave’s wife Gloria, this presents some unique challenges, especially when they are together in public. Here is Gloria.

Gloria: I unlocked the car and got Dave in, buckled his seatbelt, got the baby into her car seat, and started loading the back of the trunk. Then, when I brought the bellhop cart back to the inside of the hotel—there’d been some ladies who had been watching me the whole time—they started heckling me and said things like: “You don’t deserve that. You deserve a man who can do these things. Your husband is no good. Why do you put up with that?”

Michelle: Have you ever been one of those hecklers? I’ve got to admit I have, at least, in my heart; because I misunderstand the situation/I misunderstand what’s really going on. We’re going to talk about disabilities today and how we can be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. Stay tuned to FamilyLife This Week.

Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. You know, for those of us who are Christians, we understand that God is making all things new. Yet, we live in a broken world; and we face suffering every day. Helen Keller once said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” Sometimes, that suffering is because our bodies don’t work well; they don’t work the way we would want them to. Helen Keller knew this well, because she lost her sight and her hearing at a very young age.

Over one billion people in the world live with a disability; and 20 percent of the US population is disabled in some way, making it the largest minority group in America. You know, disability is not just always something that we are born with. Sometimes, it comes on as a surprise, or an accident, or through an illness. Disability is hard; but when it touches a marriage, it has its own dynamic.

Katherine Wolf and her husband Jay found this out, but their lives looked normal. In fact, they were almost star-crossed when they moved to California. She was an aspiring model, and he was in law school. They were pregnant with their first child; but shortly after their son was born, she was in kitchen, preparing a meal, when she experienced a brain stem aneurysm.

Now, the thing about aneurysms is that they are usually fatal; but Katherine didn’t die, although she did spend one year in the hospital and one year in rehab; and that’s a long time. For her husband Jay, well, this raised a whole new set of questions in their marriage.

[Previous FamilyLife Today® Broadcast]

Jay: We didn’t know what we were signing up for—so all of us—like: “Wait a minute. This is what I thought my reality was going to be…”—my future, and my wife, just my whole situation. That was really personified in my marriage, early on, to say, “I didn’t know this is what our life was going to be.” The question becomes: “What do I do with that? What is commitment? What does covenant look like, even if it looks different than I thought it would look?”

There was a lot of loss that was made very apparent in that: “Who are we now together? We’re very different.” There was a relearning who this spouse was that: “If we are one, then, how can we come back together in every sense of that?” It really/there was a long process of relearning who Katherine was and who I was.


Michelle: Jay Wolf talking about his marriage to Katherine and all that they had to overcome.

Now, put yourself in his shoes. That had to have been difficult; right? I mean after all, you had this wonderful marriage; and then, all of a sudden, your wife was not who she was before when you said those vows.

Now, for Katherine, who has ten years to process all of this, she sees what God is doing in her life; and she also sees that her disability is, perhaps, a foreshadowing of what we all deal with. Here’s Katherine.

[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]

Katherine: I have a paralyzed face; and yet, who feels beautiful?—or doesn’t have appearance issues, even if they look totally normal? I have a very messed up vocal cord; I can’t speak normally. Yet, who feels understood all the time, even if they can speak? I have no fine motor coordination in my hand; it makes it very difficult to do a number of tasks, including caring for a child. However, who doesn’t have issues with the type of parent they are? The reality is my body is actually a very accurate representation of what we’re all feeling on the inside anyway.


Michelle: That’s Katherine Wolf. As Katherine said, we all have disabilities, just some we can see and some that we can’t. Now, what about those, who have disabilities that you can’t see? What’s life like for people with hidden disabilities and their families? Dave and Gloria Furman know this reality well.

Dave is a senior pastor of Redeemer Church in Dubai. Over 15 years ago, Dave developed a nerve disease, and that means he struggles with disability in both arms. There are times that Dave couldn’t touch anything: he can’t feed himself with a metal fork, can’t take a drink; he can’t pick up his children; he can’t type on a keyboard.

Gloria is his wife and his primary caregiver. In a recent interview with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine, Dave and Gloria remember what it was like before this disability.

[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]

Dave: Well, Gloria and I got married 14 years ago. There is a picture in my office, actually, of the day we got engaged; and I’m actually holding Gloria, picked her off the ground; I’m holding her in my arms in Boston, like the moments after we got engaged. At that point, we got married three months later; and we thought we were going to change the world.

We had no idea that, a few years into marriage, we would be at a hotel; and we would try to be floating down the lazy river of a waterpark. I literally got stuck in the inner tube, and I couldn’t get out; because during those first years of marriage, I developed a nerve disability in my arms, where I ended up not being able to carry anything, pick up anything, even shake hands, or drive. We went through a number of surgeries, a number of procedures, and nothing seemed to help.

Dennis: What’s it called?

Dave: Well, there are different names for it; but one name is reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Basically, the ulnar nerve in both my arms—the nerve that connects with your two smaller fingers—just doesn’t work. Almost the exact month that we made plans to serve in the Middle East, my nerves just kind of went.

We were, actually, living here in Little Rock, Arkansas. We tried to get all the help we could. My health just went down further, and further, and further until we moved over to the Middle East. One night, I was driving the car. During the drive, Gloria had popped in [a store] to grab some groceries. When she came back out, I was literally in tears, not being able to control the car anymore. That really led me into just a real deep, dark depression. The pain was so severe; we really couldn’t make it.

Dennis: So Gloria, you had to drive—

Gloria: Right.

Dennis: —today?

Gloria: Yes, today—every day, all the time, every trip. [Laughter]

Bob: Not just drive, but you have to cut food.

Gloria: Yes.

Bob: You have to open doors,—

Gloria: Yes.

Dennis: —carry bags.

Gloria: Yes.

Dennis: In fact, you tell the story in the book about bringing some groceries out.

Gloria: Right.

Dennis: You pull up—

Gloria: Oh, yes.

Dennis: —in front.

Dave: Where was that?  Was that Nashville at the Opryland Hotel; wasn’t it?  [Laughter] We were loading the car.

Gloria: I was loading the car. I had one of those bellman/bellhop carts with our suitcases on it, a Pack ‘n Play for a baby. Stroller—I was pushing that—and pulling the cart at the same time. Dave just kind of walked up to the car. I unlocked the car and got Dave in, buckled his seatbelt, got the baby into her car seat, and started loading the back of the trunk.

Then, when I brought the bellhop cart back to the inside of the hotel—there’d been some ladies who had been watching me the whole time—they started heckling me and said things like: “You don’t deserve that. You deserve a man who can do these things. Your husband is no good. Why do you put up with that?”—just heckling me. I had a moment to collect my thoughts, as I put the bellhop cart back, and then, walked back out toward the car. All I could say is, “He’s disabled,” and just keep walking.

Bob: But Gloria, we go back to your wedding day. This was not—I mean, you said, “…for better or worse…”—you didn’t know this was coming.

Gloria: Right, right; right. I think, if someone had pressed me and said, “When one of you gets sick, what will you do?”  “Oh, of course, I will serve!  I will gladly serve. I will serve with the strength the Lord provides.”  I just/I don’t think I envisioned that as something—

Dennis: No; yes.

Gloria: —that was eminent, around the corner, and then, chronic and ongoing.

Bob: Yes; do you think, if somebody had said: “I’ve seen the future. Let me tell you what’s coming,”—do you think you would have rethought, “I do”?

Gloria: I would have had some serious soul-searching to do: “Am I able to do this?”  I would have asked myself: “Can I?  Can I? Can I?”  And then, hopefully, Lord willing, the Spirit would assure my soul: “No; you cannot!  With the strength the Lord provides, you can do all of these things that God calls you to do.”

Bob: Has there been a time, over the last five years, as you’ve adjusted to this, has there been a time when you’ve thought: “I didn’t want this. I didn’t sign up for this. Why this burden on me?  I mean, we’re trying to go reach the world for Christ. We should get the easy path, not the hard path”?

Gloria: I think I have thoughts and questions. Sometimes, those questions do tumble around in my mind; but I’m assured very quickly, because I’ve seen the grace of God at work in our own lives and in the work of the people whom we serve in the Middle East.

One particular example that comes to mind is when people come—and they come to our church—perhaps, they’ve been exposed to Christianity before. Maybe, they’ve seen a preacher on the TV claim crazy things about what godly, holy people get to do because of Jesus’ favor on them. Then, they come and they see a disabled pastor, it doesn’t make any sense with their worldview; it doesn’t make any sense with the Christianity that they thought they knew.

Then, Dave gets to minister to those people. He talks them out of their prosperity cult—[Laughter]—and shares the true gospel with them—that just because you follow Jesus, doesn’t mean you get an easy/physically-easy path.

Dennis: Yes; I was going to ask you: “Did you ever think about suicide?”

Dave: Yes; I never planned suicide. I never thought deeply about it; but I said a thousand times a day: “I wish I was dead,” “I wish I was dead,” and “I wish I didn’t have arms.” Those thoughts just filled my mind, and filled my heart, and soul on a regular basis. That went on for a year-and-a-half, so these verses weren’t true in my heart.

Then, about a year-and-a-half in, God’s kindness, we were rebuked by some friends—got ahold of some good material on the gospel, and applying it to my heart, and applying it to my trials—I began to see a little bit of what Paul’s talking about here, that your joy needs to be tied into your identity in Christ, and not your ever-changing circumstances, but the one great permanent circumstance that is the gospel/that is our union with Jesus. Finally, a year-and-a-half in, I began to see that there was more to this life than healthy arms and that I could, in fact, have joy, even in pain.


Michelle: You know, Dave and Gloria shared some verses that got them through this time, and really got them over the hump of accepting the journey that they were walking, and the life that God had given them. That was Philippians 4, verses 4-7, which say: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything; but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

You know, as I said before, there were times that Dave couldn’t touch anything—just the physical contact on his skin gave him pain that was unbearable—he couldn’t hold his wife’s hand or stroke her face, and he got depressed. That was during the time, as he said, he just wanted to die; but it was during that time that some doctors began to think that Dave would be a great candidate for a surgery that could restore his arms. Here’s Dave.

[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]

Dave: We were getting ready for this surgery. It was amazing that these Johns Hopkins physicians were actually going to be in Dubai and were going to do surgery in Dubai. They had promised about 85 percent chance of full healing, that I would be healed of this disability/be playing tennis in no time.

We go to the hospital on their very last day in Dubai. We got there about noon; we were there all day long. I am ready for the surgery. The problem was, as the day went on, no one was ready for me. I am there, hooked up to the IV. Finally, eight or nine hours in, I get wheeled down to the surgery. I wait there for about two hours, and then the crushing news came that it was too late in the day. The doctors needed to catch their flight, and the surgery was completely cancelled.

Bob: Wow!

Dave: I remember lying, all by myself, down in the basement, outside the operating room. They actually forgot about me for about an hour and left. I remember just letting out this loud scream. I was so discouraged. I placed so much hope that I was going to have arms again. They had this miraculous surgery, and I would be healed of this nerve disease. Now, that hope was just shattered!

In those moments after that, Gloria stood by my side through those days of depression afterwards. She just reminded me again and again, very delicately, and with a lot of silence interspersed in between, that Jesus was enough/that Jesus was enough to sustain us.


Michelle: Dave Furman reminding us of something that is so key in our lives—and something that we easily forget—that Jesus is enough to sustain us.

You know, Gloria serves Dave selflessly. During one of their visits back to Little Rock, I drove them from the airport to our offices. She opened the door for him; she buckled him into his seat in the car and attended to his every need. Their life is a difficult life.

Maybe, that is the life you’re experiencing right now; or maybe it’s the life of someone you know. Unexpected circumstances that have washed you over like a hurricane and the pounding may seem unrelenting; but as Dave said, “Jesus is enough.” He is always enough to sustain you. He is our safe harbor from the storm; isn’t He?

Hey, we need to take a break; but when I come back, my good friend, Julie Denker, is going to join me. She’s going to talk about her experience in life with a disability, cerebral palsy. Stay tuned.

[Radio Station Break]

Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. Today, we’ve been talking about the difficulty of living with a disability. We heard about the complexities that Katherine Wolf and Dave Furman deal with on a daily basis; but both Katherine and Dave’s disabilities came on when they were adults. I wanted to take a few minutes and find out how different it might be to have a disability from birth.

A friend of mine, and coworker here at FamilyLife®, has lived with cerebral palsy from infancy; but she doesn’t let that define her. I’m talking about Julie Denker, who is a producer here. She oversees the production for FamilyLife Blended® with Ron Deal. She would define herself—and maybe, I should just let her talk—but as I see, she defines herself as somebody, who has perseverance and also daily dependence on God. Julie, welcome to FamilyLife This Week. Thanks for joining me.

Julie: Well, thank you for having me on. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Michelle: So Julie, can you quickly tell us your story?

Julie: Sure; I was born ten weeks early, and only weighed two pounds when I was born.

Michelle: Oh wow! That’s tiny.

Julie: Yes; yes, I was very little. Spent two months in an incubator at a preemie center in Illinois and was diagnosed with CP/cerebral palsy when I couldn’t walk when kids were supposed to be able to walk.

You know, to my parents’ credit, they never said, “No,” to me doing anything physical, which took a lot of courage on their parts; because the CP affected my lower extremities and my waist, and some in my upper body, but not as much. They really encouraged a can-do spirit. I have had three surgeries that have helped in different ways when I was a kid.

Living with cerebral palsy is definitely different as an adult versus as a kid. There is blessing, and there are challenges.

Michelle: Yes.

Julie: Because my parents never said, “No,” to anything physical, I learned how to ride a two-wheeled bike; I played kickball; I played football; I played basketball. I did a lot of different things, which helped build confidence; but it was still always apparent/it was still always—

Michelle: —that you had something.

Julie: Yes.

Michelle: Now, I know you are a big basketball fan. In fact, don’t bother Julie during March Madness. Julie is basically gone. [Laughter]

Julie: That’s very true.

Michelle: I know you used to love playing basketball.

Julie: Yes.

Michelle: As life—as you got older, and the spasticity started to wear away, or you  weren’t able to do what you used to do—

Julie: Right.

Michelle: —because your body was just aging—the fact of life—

Julie: Right.

Michelle: —did you sit there and go: “Why God,” or “Please heal me!”

Julie: I don’t know that I’ve spent a lot of my life asking God, “Why?” Early in my walk with the Lord, I came to understand that He is sovereign and that nothing comes into my life that doesn’t first go through His hand. I think about John 9, and the man who was born blind, and trying to attribute sin to either him or his parents; and Jesus’s response was: “This is for the glory of God.”

We live in a fallen world that has pain and suffering, and it’s hard.

Michelle: Yes.

Julie: And whether it is cerebral palsy, or alcoholism, or conflict that is not resolved in a relationship, it’s hard. I mean: “Would I like to be healed?” “Have I prayed to be healed?”—yes, but it’s not my focus—in that God is God; He sees the whole picture, and I just see a thread of the tapestry a day at a time.

Michelle: One of your focus points, also, is the fact that you encourage so many people, because you are a prayer warrior. I thank you and I thank God for how He has created you.

Julie: Well, I appreciate your encouraging words. I think one of the things that I realized, probably, ten years ago or so, was—as I am able to do less physically—I started asking God: “What can I still do?” “How can I be of service to You?” “How can You use me?” The reality is prayer is something that everyone can do.

Michelle: Yes.

Julie: It’s an incredible privilege. It’s a lot of hard work; it’s just I love it. The more I do it, the more I want to do it. You know, it comes back to the relationship with who God is; because it’s not just doing, if you know what I mean.

Michelle: Oh, yes.

Julie: I love praying for my family—they live hundreds of miles away—and I know God loves them more than I do. The most I can do is pray for them; the most I can do is pray for my friends and those that I even don’t know. I’ll read the newspaper, and I’ll see a tragic story; I’ll just say, “Okay, Lord, I pray for this person.”

I think probably that’s going to be something that He’s going to continue to develop in my life; because I think that it’s going to become more challenging, physically. I mean, I’m doing everything I can right now with riding bike, and doing water aerobics, and just getting myself an opportunity to move, and be as able-bodied as possible; but the reality is I am starting to feel things in joints that I’ve never felt before—

Michelle: Right.

Julie: —and different things. That’s just part of wear and tear.

Michelle: But it is neat how you said it—and I think you’ve probably said it best—is: “The more you are building these spiritual disciplines,”—and for you it’s prayer—“the more you want to do it.” So while your body is slowly decaying—like all of ours does—but you feel/you feel the decay more than I do.

Julie: Right.

Michelle: Yet, God is building other things into you that is incredible.

Thank you for how you live your life, Julie; and thank you for joining me today and helping all of us understand what day to day is like for you.

Julie: Well, I appreciate the opportunity to be on; and all I can say is: “All praise to God.”

Michelle: Most definitely: “All praise to God.” Thanks, Julie.

Well, I hope what you’ve heard today has been encouraging to you. I know it’s opened my eyes to some things and helped me understand better.

Hey, you’re probably familiar—or maybe, you’re not—with the phrase, “Approved workmen are not ashamed,”—or maybe, the song—“We are sparks for Jesus, Sparks to light the world.” Well, next week, we’re going to talk with Larry Fowler about Awana and also memorizing Scripture. You’ll want to tune in for that.

I want to thank the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, and the cofounders Dennis and Barbara Rainey, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Keith Lynch; to our producers, Phil Krause and Marques Holt. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin our production coordinator, who is not coordinating today; because she is at the zoo with her daughter, Abby, doing the things that all moms like to do.

Our program is a production of FamilyLife Today, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.

I’m Michelle Hill, inviting you to join us again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week.

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