Activity, My Friend Mary Jane Ponten

How A Little Old Lady Changed My Life

This article appeared in the Power for Living devotional published by David C.Cook Publishing in 2015. I was blessed to be Mary Jane’s friend for another 7 years before she went to be with the Lord. During this time we emailed, talked, traveled and worked together bringing her writings, bible studies and biographies into the 21st century. What fun we had sitting for hours at her kitchen table creating games and puzzles for her writings. It was one of my best life experiences and I miss her everyday. Originally titled:

We Have a Little Sister

When you first meet Mary Jane Ponten, (pronounce pon-tain) you are struck by her smile, a huge unashamed smile that cuts across an aged face, her eyes are bright, even though one is looking one way and the other is looking the other. Talk about  “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”, MJ wrote that one. Now 81, her life has been a testimony of facing giants, slaying dragons and daily battling demons. What she has overcome in her lifetime is testimony to the extravagant strength God places inside of one tiny person who was dealt a hand of cards most would be overcome by.
Mary Jane wasn’t overcome by her disability she overcame it. She wagged her finger in its face and told it exactly what it could do. Consequently she has been everything any “normal” person could be and much more. Mary Jane leads a crusade to dignify all those who are disabled. Whether in local schools, churches or conferences halfway across the world, she is there with her message. Her life best exemplifies her message, so she must go and be herself. Mary Jane made a decision to change the way people view those who are disabled and to even change the way most disabled view themselves. What Mary Jane knows, is that nothing can steel the spirit of God within a human being, not even a harsh disability like CP. She knows deeply that each and every beautiful or broken body on earth is just as valuable to our loving God. If you were to see Mary Jane walking the isles of a grocery store today, (tiny gray haired woman with spinal stenosis, arthritis, osteoporosis and cerebral palsy), you would be sympathetic, how difficult a trip to the store must be. HA! This is where you are wrong. She knows every one, and everyone knows her. She has her grocery list, calculating the bargains thoroughly, always on the lookout for a mom with a disabled child or an old person on oxygen to smile at and say something friendly to. This woman loves life to pieces. Her ability to correctly judge others comes from having been judged wrongly for over 81 years. She has cerebral palsy in her physical body, but her mind is one of the sharpest I know. Computer savvy, quick witted, she reads the Bible through several times a year. The value God places on each human life is embodied within her. With faith in a loving God, she decided being disabled was not an excuse to be bitter, helpless or self absorbed. She takes life by its bootstraps, straightens it up, cleans it up and presents herself as incredibly valuable to the world. Now a dear friend, my husband and I call her “mom”, she is proud of all her “kids”, even us. My husband has traveled with her on several occasions to South America with the Joni and Friends Wheels for the World teams. He claims she is the best traveler EVER. We laugh and cry together. While visiting the topic of family names came up. I mentioned my middle name was my mom’s name. Mary Jane said, “I have the name nobody wanted”. I asked what she meant. She replied, “when I was born, I was not suppose to live, the doctor advised my parents not to waste a good family name on a dying baby, and now I am 81!” We both laughed and cried about the irony. Mary Jane writes in her book “When Today Becomes Tomorrow”, a story I will share, to give you a glimpse of her personality and ability to laugh at herself. Mary Jane beat cancer twice! Not surprising to me, once cancer got the boot from her, it had to go. However it did take both of her breasts. The second surgery was as she calls it, “the big one.” When Mary Jane was coming out of recovery in her hospital room, her family, friends, a Pastor friend and his wife were waiting. Not knowing how MJ was really feeling about this monumental surgery, they awaited her awakening. One eye opened and then another, relief flooded the room. What would she say? Mary Jane asked in a breathless voice if her pastor had a Bible with him, the King James Version. He did have one; he asked her what she wanted him to read. Soberly th rough gasps she asked that he turn to the last chapter of Song of Solomon. She then asked him to find the verse that starts with, We have a little sister…” “Yes, I have it right here,” he said in the most sympathetic spiritual voice he could muster. “We have a little sister and she has no breasts.” Mary Jane writes. “After a few moments of total silence the room broke into absolute hysterics.” The nurse was afraid she had passed and they were all crying bitter tears. When she came in and realized they were laughing, she asked why. Once told she grabbed the Bible and went from nursing station to nursing station, laughter erupted throughout the hospital for hours. At twelve years old, she felt called to be a missionary. She stood up proudly at a Youth for Christ rally, knowing she was to become a missionary to China. At the time it didn’t occur to her no reputable mission agency would send out a person with such a disability as hers. This awareness came to her in college. Although she didn’t question her calling, she placed it in the heart of a loving God… for 52 years. As years went by, she was employed for years, she married, raised two children, served in her church and the community with her dear husband Bud. When Bud passed away in 1990, she became a disabled widow, but she didn’t wallow in her circumstances. Within two years she launched a ministry bringing dignity to the disabled everywhere. With the passion of a lioness she fiercely fights to change how others view and treat people with disabilities. The ministry is called “Mephibosheth Ministry”. It comes from Second Samuel 9 where King David fulfills his promise to his best friend Jonathan. David promised to take care of Jonathan’s relatives after Jonathan’s death. But the only relative found was a young man named Mephibosheth who was a cripple. Did this matter to David? No, David lavished Mephibosheth with  every privilege of his own sons. He asked that Mephibosheth   always eat at the king’s table and be cared for his entire life. The implication of this is so profound; those who are weaker ought not only be treated as equals, but also treated better! This is how God thinks don’t you just love it? Unfortunately this is not how much of the world thinks, there are many who believe those with disabilities like CP ought not even live, let alone flourish in life. But Mary Jane knows the heart of God, she knows different. How does a person with such a disability grab life and tell it what to do? (According to God’s will of course). How does a person who has been shunned, who has been minimized as a burden, even not expected to live, how does this person persevere, laugh and even trust God who could have made every thing so different for her if He had chosen to. How is this possible? This little woman who can barely speak clearly, has stood before church leaders throughout the world and told them they have been wrong, (with a twinkle in her eye and a huge smile). Wrong about disabled people and how to serve them. How disabled people can and must serve the church. This is a huge missing piece in the Church today. How does one take life’s pain and turn it around to joy? Yes, joy; Mary Jane lives a life of joy. It’s not fake, it comes bubbling up from those deep streams of living water the Lord speaks of in John 3:38. It is real, coming from a decision she made to allow God to be glorified through her life. Remember this is the same God who allowed cerebral palsy into her life. This is also the God who answered her prayers to ride a bike, graduate from college, marry, have kids and grand kids, become a missionary to China, Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, and to write curriculum for special needs kids and adults. Mary Jane’s mission to dignify all disabled has changed so many lives. It’s miraculous to me. The miracle didn’t come in her “healing”, although healing was desired and prayed for. Rather it came through how she lives, in fully trusting God. After all when you know how deeply God loves you, how vast heaven is and how long we will live in His presence, these earthly trials are put into perspective. In fact we can laugh at being human, we can enjoy being flawed and struggling in these bodies that are thankfully not our final home. by Carol Hope Brown