Mary Mahaffy Bonner
The story of Jesse’s journey is one that is at the same time sad and joyful, ugly and beautiful. It raises a question we so often ask throughout our lives: “Why does God allow this to happen?” It seems to be a frequent question when you are a parent of a child with special needs.
As we watch the pain and feel the hurts, we frequently ask God, “Why?” Sometimes we see part of the answer in the life of our child, but so often we are left to wonder. It becomes a battle to accept these situations and acknowledge that God has his purposes in them, even though we don’t see the answers. Over the years, though I have often struggled, I have seen some of the reasons that my son Jesse was allowed to go through this journey. I have also learned that God’s ways are not our ways and eventually become willing to say with trust, “Thy will be done.”
In recounting a small portion of Jesse’s story, it is hard to imagine how a little four-year-old boy could affect as many lives as he has. From my perspective, the story began well before he was born, while I went through eleven years of infertility in my marriage, a heartbreak that only those who truly long for a child can fully understand. In my ignorance (and arrogance) as a Christian, I often cried out to God, questioning how he could allow this childlessness when he knew how much I desired to raise children for him. Over the years, as I grew in my faith, I realized that I had it backwards—that I was trying to mold God into my plans, instead of molding myself into his.
As for Jesse, his story began long before he was born and became part of the lives of several families. The first family, his birth home, was one where protective service caseworkers were frequent visitors; neglect and ignorance pervaded. His birth mother was a teenager, who did not understand that a man she met when she was nine months pregnant could not be the father of that child. Her crime was one of ignorance and neglect.
The year Jesse was born there lived a couple not too far from her who adopted a two-year-old boy that same year. Four years later this couple was to become Jesse’s third set of foster parents, and the adopted boy became his brother. In this home, there was not the same ignorance as before, but instead hypocrisy and well-hidden, horrifying abuse.
During this same year, in another town close by, was a couple—my husband and I—who wondered why God had not blessed them with children. Very often, with tears in my eyes, I asked God why he had given me a heart that longed for children, but closed my womb. If ever God’s providence was to be seen, it was seen in the way he worked to bring Jesse out of that first family’s home, through two other foster homes, into that abusive home, and finally into our home.
I was working as a nursing supervisor in our local hospital when I heard from one of my nurses about a little four-year-old boy in a coma who had been flown in by helicopter from a small area hospital after a severe beating. Those first few days I came to know this little boy well, as I was called frequently to deal with Child Protective Services, the foster family that had horribly abused him, and the medical and nursing staff.
I watched as he woke from his coma, paralyzed on the left side of his body and with the mental state of an infant, unable to speak the simplest words. Very quickly this little boy, in his third foster home, had become dear to the hearts of staff from every hospital department.
I came home frustrated and angry that this beautiful little child, already a ward of the state, had no home to go back to—only to be shocked when my husband, who had never seen the boy, announced that we had to adopt him.
That began a fight to bring Jesse into our home. It was not easy, as I had several criteria that I insisted be met, including being allowed to bring him directly into our home without him going into another foster home. The story of how God worked to allow us to become licensed foster/adoptive parents and eventually adopt Jesse would take a book, but it was a marvel to watch the events unfold.
Over the twenty-six years that Jesse has been in our home, I’ll admit to often struggling with the big “Why?” Why would God allow me, feeling that my calling was to be a wife and mother, to remain infertile for eleven years—and then bless me with a pregnancy shortly after adopting Jesse, and now with a family of five children?
Why would God allow Jesse’s biological parents to neglect him and throw him in a crib, causing his first bleed in the brain at six weeks of age?
Why would God allow him to go through delayed development and seizures in one foster home, only to have him placed in another foster home, where a second head injury as well as a great deal of other abuse occurred?
Why would God allow him to go through four homes before coming to us? Why would God allow this sweet, loving child to be so horribly abused in his third foster/adoptive home?
At times, I still struggle with why God allowed Jesse, now thirty-two physically, but forever about ten mentally, to be able to walk and talk again, but never regain the area of judgment in his brain.
Over the years, I felt akin to Joseph, who I have a hard time believing did not question why God allowed all that happened to him. How wonderful it is that God put Joseph’s story in his Word, so we could clearly see how he planned before the foundation of the world that the bad things in Joseph’s life would be used for a glorious end! Today I glimpse God’s work through Jesse’s life in bringing joy and blessing into our lives and the lives of many others. I have watched as my other children have developed a special compassion for those who are “different.” I have heard others testify to the joy they have received watching the outworking of Jesse’s simple, childlike faith. I stand amazed as I see bits of God’s plan and am humbled to know that he has all of our lives in his hand. He truly does not bring into our lives what he won’t use for our good and his glory. As Romans 8:28 says, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV). I have learned, and am still learning, that the One who holds us in the palm of his hand not only has the answers to all the whys, but also has a wonderful plan.
Today Jesse lives day by day, seeing simple pleasures in things the rest of us often miss. He has made great progress in many ways, but has areas, such as his judgment, that seem forever stalled. He loves to “help” his grandmother tutor special needs children. He loves to fish and to do things with his siblings and friends. The high point of his life every year is being on the work crew at the OP Presbytery of the Southwest’s summer camp for youth.
If you are the parent of a special needs child, you should look at the answers you see, such as the joy that your child brings to your life and how your child blesses others. Look at the spiritual growth that you have experienced as a result of your struggles. Look through your child’s eyes to find pleasure in simple things. Find reassurance in the Scriptures that God works all things to his glory and your good, and leave what you don’t know to the God who does.
The author is a member of Tyler Presbyterian Church in Tyler, Texas. This article is adapted from a blog, specialneedsspeciallove.com. New Horizons, January 2015.