By Sharon Gartland

A Fond Farewell

I just finished reading A Good and Perfect Gift by Amy Julia Becker, a memoir of a young mother whose first-born daughter has Down syndrome. I loved it, not only for the beautiful and honest way it was written, but also for the truths I recognized which are very dear to my heart. As an occupational therapist I have often been told how noble I must be for working with children with disabilities. This always startled me, because the truth is so much more complex than that. Sure there were days when it was difficult, but more often I was grateful that this is what I get paid to do. I have been profoundly shaped by the privilege of spending so much time with people whose bodies and minds work differently from my own.

Becker describes the challenge of being a high-achieving, intellectually-successful woman with a child who will never reach the same milestones that she has. Her book is really a memoir describing the heart-change God worked in her as she adjusted to the presence of a daughter with very different abilities than her own. The gift of working with people who can’t “do” like the rest of us is that it begins to challenge our ridiculous assumption that we are loved and valued by God for our achievements.

One of my most significant achievements in the last seven years has been, in conjunction with an awesome team, launching The Well. As National Director of Women in the Academy & Professions for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, I have written numerous articles and grants, spoken to groups of graduate students and faculty about the unique challenges of being female in academia, advocated for the perspective of women’s needs in the Graduate & Faculty Ministry leadership planning and discussions, raised a lot of money, and listened to many amazing women. I’ve loved the opportunity to interact with high-achieving, brilliant, and gifted women in the academic world. There were days that I felt inadequate to the task without a PhD or seminary degree. Through it all, I have needed a regular reminder that God loves me regardless of how my ministry is going and what I have accomplished.

I find myself now receiving a new invitation from God — to return to a more full-time practice as a clinical instructor and lecturer in occupational therapy for children with developmental disabilities. At the same time, I am re-starting the doctoral process that I left 11 years ago. As part of my job, I will regularly work with children with disabilities such as Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, and cerebral palsy. I will also be training students from all health care fields to be leaders in the provision of services to the developmentally disabled population and their families. I believe there is beautiful symbiosis in this job — clients need the health care providers and the health care providers and their trainees (the cream of the crop, of course) need to learn what the clients with disabilities can teach them. Not just about disability, but about life. I am saying “yes” to these big changes, not because I need to accomplish anything more for God, but because God has invited me to join him in this part of his kingdom work.

My prayer for all of you is that you, too, will experience the truth that God loves you regardless of your accomplishments in the world’s eyes. Academia is not always a healthy place for the soul with its lies about status and intelligence and power. May you know the depth of God’s love for you as you offer your gifts and abilities for holy purposes. It has been a wonderful gift to serve you in this ministry position and I invite you to pray for the person who will step in to replace me. I will continue to be a regular contributor and volunteer at The Well, and to be an avid reader of the great content here. I say goodbye with gratitude and thanksgiving for the opportunity to serve in this capacity and with hope for what is in store for us all in the future.

About the Author

Sharon Gartland, OTD, OTR, is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Occupational Therapy Program at UW-Madison where her specialty is in developmental disabilities.  She enjoys the combination of teaching, administrative and clinical responsibilities that makes up her job. She is the former national director of Women in the Academy & Professions and continues to participate in the ministry as a volunteer and frequent contributor. She is married to Craig Gartland, a local church pastor and former long-term InterVarsity staff and leader. Together they have four children who are gradually getting launched into the world as functional adults but continue to store a lot of their stuff in the basement. She believes strong prayer practices and a supportive faith community are key to flourishing in career and family life. 

Comment via Facebook