I recently became aware of a children’s book by Max Lucado, entitled The Crippled [sic] Lamb, because a local private school thought it would be appropriate to have an elementary class reenact it. If you ever think it might be good to reenact the story, or read it in public, or even just recommend the book, DON’T. (And certainly don’t have someone ‘crip up’ to play the part of the title sheep.)
The book is incredibly ableist, presenting disability as always involving inherent loss. It reduces disability to a ‘prop’ of the story and specifically seeks to incite pity at being disabled.
So I decided to make a better version. What follows is closely modeled on Lucado’s story but with a better approach to disability that I would like to see schools and churches understand.
I present, The Disabled-by-His-Community Lamb:
Once upon a time in a sunny valley, there lived a little lamb named Joshua. He was, well, his color doesn’t matter for the story; but he had sad eyes.
Josh felt sad when he saw the other lambs because he didn’t fit in. He felt sad when he saw the other sheep with their grown-ups because he didn’t have grown-ups and the other sheep failed to care for the orphans as they’d been charged.
But he felt saddest when he saw the other lambs running and jumping, not because he couldn’t, but because the other sheep valued him less as a result.
Josh had been born with one leg that didn’t work the same as others’ legs did. He was disabled. And the rest of the sheep didn’t care about accommodating how his body functioned differently.
That’s why he always watched while the other lambs ran and played. Josh felt sad and alone–except when Abigail was round.
Abigail was Josh’s best friend. She didn’t look like the other sheep thought a friend for a lamb should look like. She was a cow. But we shouldn’t pick our friends on the basis of how they look. And she alone didn’t care that his body was different.
Some of Josh’s favorite hours were spent with Abigail.
They loved to pretend they were on adventures in distant lands. Josh liked to listen to Abigail tell stories about the stars.
They would spend hours on the hill, looking into the valley. They were good friends. But even with a friend like Abigail, Josh still got sad.
It made him sad that the other sheep didn’t value him simply because he couldn’t run and jump and play in the grass in the same way they did.
That’s when Abigail would turn to him and say, “It’s ok to be sad. But have hope, little Joshua. God’s community will one day value you in the way that they should.”
Josh wanted to believe her. But it was hard. Some days he just felt alone. Because he was, through no fault of his own. He really felt alone the day the shepherds decided to take the lambs to the next valley where there was more grass. The sheep had been in this valley so long, the ground was nearly bare.
All the sheep, other than Josh (but he was used to being overlooked in this way), were excited when the shepherd told them they were going to a new meadow.
As they prepared to leave, Josh came over and took his place on the edge of the group.
But the others started laughing at him, because they were mean and callous.
“You’re too slow to go all the way to the next valley.”
“Go back, Slowpoke. We’ll never get there if we have to wait for you.”
“Go back, Joshua.”
That’s when Josh looked up and saw the shepherd standing there in front of him. “They are right, my little Joshua,” he said. “You better go back. We don’t care enough to make accommodations for you, or even to change our plans so that you can be included. Go and spend the night in the stable.”
Josh looked at the man for a long time. “You’ve failed to love as you should,” he thought. And then he turned slowly and began to go away.
When Josh got to the top of the hill, he looked down and saw all the other sheep headed toward the green grass. Never before had he felt so left out, despite a lifetime of being left out. A big tear slipped out of his eye, rolled down his nose, and fell on a rock.
Just then he heard Abigail behind him. And Abigail said what she always said when Josh felt sad. “It’s ok to be sad. But have hope, little Joshua. God’s community will one day value you in the way that they should.”
Slowly the two friends turned and walked to the stable together.
By the time they got to the little barn, the sun was setting like a big orange ball. Josh and Abigail went inside and began to eat some hay out of the feed box.
They were very hungry, and the hay tasted good.
For a little while, Joshua forgot that he had been left behind.
“Go to sleep, little friend,” Abigail said after they finished eating. “You’ve had a hard day.”
Josh was tired. So he lay down in the corner on some straw and closed his eyes. He felt Abigail lie down beside him, and he was glad to have Abigail as a friend.
Soon Josh was asleep. At first, he slept soundly, curled up against Abigail’s back. In his sleep he dreamed. He dreamed of belonging. He dreamed of being valued by the other sheep. He dreamed of being in a place where he was never left out.
Suddenly strange noises woke him up.
“Abigail,” he whispered, “wake up. I’m scared.”
Abigail lifted her head and looked around.
The stable was dark except for a small lamp hanging on the wall. “Somebody is in here,” Josh whispered.
They looked across the dimly lighted stable. There, lying on some fresh hay in the feed box, was a brown baby. A young woman was resting on a big pile of hay beside the feed box.
Joshua looked at Abigail, thinking his friend could tell him what was going on. But Abigail was just as surprised as Josh.
Josh looked again at the woman and the child, then went across the stable. He stopped next to the mother and looked into the baby’s face. The baby was crying. He was cold. The woman picked up the baby and put him on the hay next to her.
Josh looked around the stable for something to keep the baby warm. Usually there were blankets. But not tonight. The shepherds had taken them on their trip across the valley.
Then Josh remembers his own soft, warm wool. Timidly, he walked over and curled up close to the baby.
“Thank you, little lamb,” the baby’s mother said softly.
Soon the little child stopped crying and went back to sleep.
About that time, a man entered the stable carrying some rags. “I’m sorry, Mary,” he explained. “This is all the cover I could find.”
“It’s okay,” she answered. “This little lamb has kept the new king warm.”
A king? Joshua looked at the baby and wondered who he might be.
“His name is Jesus,” Mary spoke as if she knew Josh’s question. “God’s son. He came from heaven to teach us about God.”
Just then there was another noise at the door. It was the shepherds–the ones who had left Joshua behind. Their eyes were big, and they were excited.
“We saw a bright light and heard the angels…” they began.
Then they saw Joshua next to the baby. “Joshua! Do you know who this baby is?”
“He does now.” It was the young mother who was speaking. She looked at Joshua and smiled. “God has heard your prayers, little lamb. This little baby is the answer.”
Joshua looked down at the baby. Somehow he knew that this was a special child, and this was a special moment.
He also understood that while he wasn’t born with a disability for the sake of teaching the people that didn’t value him a lesson, God was able to redeem his oppression. While it would have been good to belong with the other sheep, God’s way is to lift up the lowly and cast down the mighty; to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty.
He turned and walked back to Abigail and took his place beside his friend. “You were right,” he told her. “God does have a special place for me, and for all those who are oppressed, mistreated, and excluded because they are different.”