Wonder, the book, was written in 2011, and the author, R. J. Palacio was awarded the Newbery Award for it in 2012. Because of the sensitive nature of the content – and my own emotional state at the time, I delayed reading the book. Finally, in 2017, I was talking to a fellow educator who was reading Wonder for consideration as a part of her school’s curriculum. As a result, I read it, too. I’m glad I took the plunge.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Wonder is a work of fiction, but it has a powerful message. It’s the story of 10-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with a craniofacial malformation. To protect him from the bullying they feared he would encounter due to his less than normal appearance, despite repeated surgeries, his parents chose to home school him. As he approached fifth grade, they feared that his academic needs would exceed their capabilities and so they enrolled him in a nearby charter school. The head of school placed him in the care of three students. Unfortunately, his differences proved to be more than challenging for them, and so the feared bullying occurred. Yet, Auggie eventually rose to the occasion and proved himself to be truly a wonder.
Palacio was asked how she came to write such a story and reported that it was born out of an encounter she and children had with a child who had a facial deformity, and rather than using it as teachable moment, she rushed her children from the scene. Realizing she had missed an opportunity, she began writing the story that evening. It appears that title of the book is closely connected with a song by Natalie Merchant; the lyrics may be found here.
It is here that Wonder becomes closely associated with my life. I was born with a neurological disorder (Von Recklinghausen’s NF!). It brought some physical challenges and some unusual physical appearances – one boy called me “the girl with the stretched head” when I was in elementary school. I did have coordination issues and wore a back brace for several years, and I often felt like “damaged goods.”
In my young adult years, I began to be beset with severe pain, primarily headaches and balance issues. It seemed that the hydrocephalus that had been discovered in childhood was now causing more severe problems. My parents had opted not to go for the shunt when I was a child because of the risks involved, but now the need for it was inevitable. So we had the necessary surgery. As I lay in the bed recovering, a doctor on call stopped by to check on me. Incidentally, he was the one who had seen me when I was a child and had wanted to implant a shunt. Bear in mind that I was now over 30. He turned to my mother and began discussing my medical history. When he learned that he was the doctor who had initially suspected hydrocephalus, he asked my mother. “Well has she had a normal life?”
Mom answered him, “Well, yes, she just completed her second Master’s Degree.”
He replied, “Wow, I wish I had done the surgery when she was a kid. Everyone would have been amazed at what I had done with this kid who might have been disabled.”
I remained silent, but as soon as he was gone, I turned to my mom and said, “That turkey! Does he think he can take credit for what God did?”
That’s where my connection to the book Wonder comes to play. When I read the book, it immediately resonated with me. One of the principles on which I hang my life is that I was made by God for His glory. Psalm 139:14 states, “I will praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 states, “… most gladly will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” As I mentioned earlier, Palacio notes that the title of her book was taken in part from song by Natalie Merchant:
“Doctors have come from distant cities, just to see me
Standing over my bed disbelieving what they’re seeing
They say I must be one of the wonders of God’s own creation …”
As I read this book, I was reminded that I am God’s wonder, created for His glory. There have been days filled with pain and frustration at what I can’t do when I questioned the purpose and validity of my birth, and thought creeps in just maybe I should have been aborted. Auggie’s story and the truth of God’s Word, turned these doubts and questions to praise that my parents chose to give me life. On days, that I sense discouragement and frustration because of my pain and limitations, I will give praise that I have been chosen to be one of God’s Wonders. May He be “glorified in me at my expense.”