We knew that bringing an older child into our home would be a challenge. Though we thought we knew what we were getting ourselves into, the experience proved to be much more difficult than either of us could imagine. We knew that Jonalyn had cerebral palsy and that her speech was delayed. The cerebral palsy was something we felt confident we could handle. After all, the report stated that she could climb a few stairs even. We attributed her delays to orphanage living. Our son spent the first five months of his life in an orphanage and couldn’t even hold his head on his own when we first got him. How much more, than, a child who had spent five years in an institution.
I have a background in special education. In those first few hours with Jonalyn, I observed her closely. She was shy with us, but she seemed to have a sense of humor and interacted with her caregivers. She loved the bubbles we brought, but so does every five year old.
In the van on the way back to our hotel, the social worker who came with us for part of the ride gave Jonalyn a piece of paper. Our new daughter took that paper and was fascinated by crumpling it. Later, when we took her to play with the blocks in the playroom, she had no concept of stacking them. My stomach fell. There was something much more seriously wrong with her than orphanage delays.
Two months after we arrived home, our doctor confirmed that Jonalyn had microcephaly (literally small brain), leaving her with moderate to severe cognitive delays. We were told she would likely never live on her own. She also began having seizures during her sleep. Though we didn’t see the seizures, she was always sick afterwards. Caring for her was draining. She didn’t know how to come to us when she was hurt, was afraid of my husband, and couldn’t make decisions for herself.
But God is good and faithful. He upheld us during those very difficult days. He never left us and never forsook us. Slowly, things began to improve. We went to Disney World and took her on all of the rides she was tall enough for. She always went with my husband and during that time, learned that she could trust him, that he would keep her safe and love her. She is now a daddy’s girl through and through. Her seizures were identified and are now well controlled with medication. She has learned to love.
It was a time in my life when I had to learn to depend on God for everything. On my own, I couldn’t care for my daughter. I didn’t know how to help her. We felt rejected and alone. The Lord kept us together and kept us going through each new day. It was only in his strength that we managed to survive – no, we learned to thrive. He has given us a new normal and a daughter that we love more than we ever imagined we could.
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