What My Daughter’s Disability Taught Me about Grace
June 2020

Digital Only

What My Daughter’s Disability Taught Me about Grace

Experiences with my disabled daughter have strengthened my testimony that God loves us—and that the gospel is still true in the foyer.

Adapted from a Brigham Young University devotional given on July 10, 2018. For the full address, go to speeches.byu.edu.

McClellan family photo

Our daughter Caroline is 17 years old, though she functions at a three-month-old level. She cannot walk or crawl or roll over. She cannot talk, and we are unsure what she understands.

Just before she was born, a still-unexplained loss of blood resulted in a lack of oxygen to Caroline’s brain, which suffered severe damage. She now has frequent seizure-like tremors, is fed through a tube, and sees a variety of doctors.

The good news is that Caroline is adorable. She has the biggest smile and the greatest laugh. She loves hugs and kisses, a cold wind on her face, and the rumble strips on the freeway. She makes cute, soft “aah” sounds and really loud “AAH” sounds—often in the middle of the night. She smiles big when we sing, “[We’re] so glad when daddy comes home,”1 which we sing every day.

When Caroline was five, she woke between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. for many nights in a row. One night after this unwelcome wake-up call, I wrote this:

As I was changing her diaper just now, I was absentmindedly singing one of the [Primary] songs that Lizzy [our older daughter] has declared we shall now sing for bedtime every night. … “God gave us families to help us become what He wants us to be.”2 And I looked at Caroline and suddenly the words came to the forefront of my consciousness.

God gave me a family—including this 2:00 a.m. waker—to help me become what He wants me to be. … “This is how He shares His love,” the chorus continues, “for the fam’ly is of God.”

That night I felt a brief, blessed communion with God, a confirmation that He was, in that moment, personally aware of me and Caroline and our family. He loves us. And He, my Father, gave me encouragement by teaching me why we face such challenges: “to help us become what He wants us to be.”

Caroline often makes her loud “AAH” sounds at church. When she is especially loud, my wife or a kind ward member or I will take her out to the foyer, where we push Caroline around in her wheelchair, calming her with the movement.

One Sunday a few years ago, I came to church pushing an especially sad Caroline, thinking we might only stay for the sacrament. As I walked the foyer and Caroline remained sad, I began to wonder if we would even make it until the sacrament. All my efforts to comfort her seemed fruitless.

But then the sacrament hymn began. I put my face close to Caroline’s and sang. She quieted and listened. The hymn was “Reverently and Meekly Now,” which was written as if the Savior were singing. Admittedly, I was focused on Caroline and not on the hymn—until we came to the fourth verse, when I found myself singing these words to my daughter:

I have loved thee as thy friend,

With a love that cannot end.3

I looked into Caroline’s big blue eyes and felt deeply the tender, personal truth of those words. Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world, loves Caroline with a boundless love. When she is sad or hurting, when her parents are clueless and incapable of comforting her, there is One who is her Everlasting Friend, who knows how she feels and how to succor her.

I felt the Spirit in the foyer that day, and I was impressed with this thought: The gospel is still true in the foyer.

We all spend time in the foyer, figuratively speaking. We each face challenges that make us feel on the margins of the congregation. But the gospel is still true in the foyer.

Caroline lives her life in the foyer, so to speak, but even there, in her less-than-ideal state, Caroline is loved by Jesus, her friend, whose infinite Atonement covers every infirmity and imperfection.

In the foyer, our tribulations provide a workshop for the amazing grace of Jesus Christ. In the foyer, we face distress that causes our hearts to break and our spirits to become contrite. And in the foyer, the Master Healer takes our broken hearts and gives each of us a new heart, His heart, which was broken, and then made whole, for us—for you, for me, and for Caroline.


  1. “Daddy’s Homecoming,” Children’s Songbook, 210.

  2. “The Family Is of God,” Friend, Oct. 2008, 28–29.

  3. “Reverently and Meekly Now,” Hymns, no. 185.