By Jenna Ebener
In the past, I have described a picture hanging in my office from the movie “Finding Dory,” the story of a blue tang fish. The picture shows lines of shells spiraling out from a central point. Dory became separated from her parents when she was a young fish. Instead of giving up, Dory’s parents demonstrated the depths of their true love by following Dory into the ocean. Every day, they laid out shells with the hope that Dory would eventually find her way back to them. Dory’s short-term memory loss could have made this feat impossible. However, her parents knew something invaluable — every “person” has strengths.
When Dory first showed signs of having short-term memory loss as a young fish, her parents immediately dove into figuring out how Dory could still be independent. They did not give in to the assumption that Dory would never be able to play with other fish due to her inability to find her way home. Instead, they figured out how to help her develop the necessary skill in a unique way. You see, they knew their child so well that they noticed she had an attraction to shells. They turned this attraction into a strength by building on Dory’s inclination to follow shells. After much practice following a path of shells, Dory became independent enough to go play with her friends.
When Dory became separated from her parents, they held onto their faith in their child to find her way back to them. They had no idea where Dory was, but dutifully laid down shells in every direction each day hoping that she would one day pick up the trail of shells. It took years, and what I am sure was a roller coaster of emotions for her parents. Yet, Dory found her way home.
This movie is particularly dear to my heart because I am a social worker at a school for students who have numerous disabilities. Members of society may see these children as having no potential and so give up trying to teach them to communicate or learn. Yet, it is not true that these wonderful children do not grow — they only grow in a different way. It is not up to us to “fix” them. It is up to us to see their individual strengths and nurture them. The more we see their potential and empower them, the more independent they will become.
I imagine God looks at us in a similar light. We all have some sort of disability for we are disabled by sin. We are human, and so we are flawed. We live in a world that looks down upon “being different.” We often follow the guidance of society telling us who we should be rather than the Holy Spirit’s nudges to develop our strengths and individuality. We are blessed to have a Father who will never give up on us. He intimately knows our strengths and is constantly laying down the “shells” that will always point us back to him, even if we do not recognize the signs as coming from God.
At times, fear of failure may overtake us. Once Dory and her parents were reunited, they were afraid to let her out of their sight. Dory reminded them that she would always be able to find them, thanks to their nurturing. Just like Dory’s parents, God is always waiting for us with the knowledge that we can always find him again, even if we go astray. No matter how straight or jagged our path is to our Father, it is uniquely beautiful.
“Dory, don’t you dare be sorry. Look what you did…You found us!…We believed one day you’d find us again…So every day we go out and lay out shells…And you found us…You remembered in your own, amazing Dory way” (“Finding Dory”). “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14).
(Jenna Ebener, who has a Master of Social Work from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with disabilities.)