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Overcoming the Obstacles of Cerebral Palsy (Part 2 of 2)

Original Air Date 01/15/2014

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Lisa Sexton discusses her experiences with raising her special needs son, Tyler. Lisa and Tyler also share their amazing story of how, with God's help, Tyler was able to overcome his limitations and pursue a medical degree. (Part 2 of 2)

Episode Transcript



Lisa Sexton: I closed every blind in my house. I closed every curtain and I mourned about two days. And what I cried about was, I needed to mourn that I lost the normal baby, that my life was not gonna be a white picket fence with a pretty house and goin' to the baseball diamond like we had dreamed.

End of Recap

John Fuller: Sharing very candidly what happened when some very difficult circumstances came into her life. That's Lisa Sexton and she was on the last "Focus on the Family" program, describing a deep despair as she tried to cope with her son, Tyler's diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Today we're coming back to one of our most responded-to programs of the year and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, I love this story, because it is a story of hope and it's a story of incredible passion for a mother and a father, who gave birth to a child who has special needs. And all those hopes that you heard in that clip, those dreams that parents normally have, they were all dashed when they realized their son would not measure up in that way. And you know what? Hang with us, because this is a story of encouragement for each one of us.

You don't have to live in that special-needs category to understand what God wants to do with each of our lives. We're all made in the image of God. We're all special and we need to lift up life no matter what form it presents itself in, in this life. He's a personal God who cares deeply about each of us, you, too, in whatever path you may be walking right now, whatever darkness you might feel. And He wants to draw you closer to Him through the trials that you're facing, what you'll learn through that, that resiliency and character that will be developed. And you're gonna, I believe, be lifted up today hearing this program.

John: And so, our guests are Lisa Sexton and her son, Tyler. And together they've capture much of the story, the joys and the challenges of their journey in a book called God Bless These Little Legs. Let's go ahead and hear now the second part of this Best of 2014 "Focus on the Family" broadcasts.


Jim: I want to pick up last time to talk about Tyler as a boy and where you were at, Lisa and your husband, Kevin. We talked about your wisdom and you gave it to the Lord and that was, you know, appropriate. But as a mom, you had to be coming up with all these unique and creative ways to address some of the sorrow that Tyler, I'm sure, you were feeling--

Tyler Sexton: Right.

Jim: --in your day-in and day-out experience, being a little boy and perhaps being teased--

Tyler: Right.

Jim: --and wearing braces on your legs and all those things. There was a story in your book that caught my attention where you creatively took a doll in a down moment, where Tyler was at emotionally that day. Tell us what you did with the Bert doll.

Lisa: Well, I want to encourage parents to, when you're desperate, desperation is not a bad thing sometimes. If it's long-term it can be. But desperation leads you to the feet of Jesus. If you see that, I mean, time after time after time in the Bible we see that. And so, a lot of times when you were saying, you know wisdom and different things, you're desperate for a way to figure this out.

And as you said, Tyler had all of these little tiny characters, Ernie and Bert and you know, the whole Sesame Street gang. And he would play with them all the time; it was his very favorite thing to do. And he would put 'em up on the hearth at the fireplace.

And one day he came home from preschool and everything was up on the fireplace. And Tyler's very meticulous. He's notices every detail of everything. And so, he asked me. He was sitting by the hearth and he looked up at me and he said, "Why is my legs [sic] different than all the other kids at my school?"

Jim: Hm.

Lisa: And I wasn't ready for that question. And I said, "Why don't you take your nap? We'll have lunch and then when you get up, we'll talk about it." So, I got Tyler all tucked in and I'm sittin' on the couch and I'm lookin' at those characters. And I thought, I'm gonna chop Bert's arms off with the butcher knife.

Jim: Oh. Now you're--

Lisa: What kind of mother--

John: Totally ...

Lisa: --does that?

Jim: Yeah, you're a completely sane woman; let me just reiterate--

Lisa: Yeah.

Jim: --that. (Laughter)

Lisa: I am sane, so I went to the counter and I got out my knife and my chopping block and I cut off Bert's arms. I threw Bert's arms away and I put him up by Ernie. And I knew right away that Tyler would notice it. I knew. So, pretty soon, Tyler would combat crawl, because he could not get up on his feet without his walker and his braces. So, he would "combat" with his elbows and then his little body would just kind of swirl behind him as he came down the hardwood floor.

So, he came around the corner and he noticed immediately. And he went, "Oh, my word; what happened to Bert's arms?" And I said, "Oh, you're not gonna believe what happened. He was in an accident when you were in bed. And the world is gonna call him 'disabled,' because they had to amputate his arms. But he can still be with Ernie. He can still hang out with Big Bird and Cookie Monster and he can still be a part of the Sesame Street gang, but he's going to be different and he's gonna be special."

And he said, "Just like my legs." I said, "Just like your legs. You're gonna have to learn how to do the things that Bert will have to learn about arms." And he said, "Okay."

John: Hm.

Jim: Did you make that connection? I mean, it sounds like you really caught it.

Tyler: Yeah, it just made sense. You know, like I said, at the period of time, it was what I needed to hear and it was it. It was just okay.

Jim: It amazes me, Lisa at how God gave you the right thought at the right moment, to kind of provide Tyler with the lesson he needed as a little boy. Let's move forward. We talked about Tyler's early years. Of course, he gets through high school. You know, you can hear it, just how bright Tyler is and you talked about that power of observation that you saw in him as a young boy. And here you are thinking, you know, what will he do vocationally? He has cerebral palsy. It's gonna be difficult for him to be mobile. What happens when college comes around?

Lisa: That was tough lettin' Tyler go, 'cause he needed us so much.

Jim: Did you feel fear?

Lisa: We felt a lot of fear and you're sending him in to the wolves. You know, as a normal child when we dropped our daughter off at college, you're fearful. You just ...

Jim: Now Emily is three years younger than Tyler.

Lisa: Three years younger than Tyler and she is just as loved and special as Tyler is. And she's "normal." And it was fearful dropping her off. And Tyler, you worried about doing stairs, things that other parents don't really think about. I didn't have to worry about the drugs, the alcohol, things like that. I worried about the safety--

Jim: Hm.

Lisa: --about him making friends, about him being included.

Jim: Yeah.

Lisa: And so, we were scared to death. His dad and I were both there and his sister and it was a tough time for our family.

Jim: Tyler, at that moment, are you thinking the world is my oyster, that you can do anything? Or are you even understanding the fact that you have these difficulties and the impediments?

Tyler: Oh, it was made apparent by others, not to me. Um ...

Jim: You have such a positive outlook. Where did that come from?

Tyler: Well, it really did first start from my parents; it really did. They desired me to dream big and they let me do that. So, for me, I wanted to achieve my goals and I knew I could. But some people in the world didn't agree with that. And so, I went off to college; college was one of the most difficult times of my entire existence.

Jim: Why was that?

Tyler: Well, one of the reasons is, I got made fun of almost every day I walked on the college campus.

Jim: At college level?

Tyler: You would think that as guys get older and we, you know, I mean, college is a vast array of personalities and people. And I was just a guy that kinda walks funny, mindin' my own business, that I'd be left alone. Every day I got made fun of.

The other thing was, about ambulation and moving from place to place throughout the campus. One of the things they said is, you should use a wheelchair. And I worked so hard to get out of a wheelchair, I didn't want to go back.

Jim: Oh.

Tyler: So, I thought, I've worked so hard to be independent and to be typical like everybody else, not that I viewed cerebral palsy as a blessing and I wouldn't change it for the world. But I worked so hard to stay away from a wheelchair and I thought, well, how am I gonna do this? How is God gonna do this?

And literally, what I saw, guys, at the beginning of all this, at the beginning of high school and on, every time there was a hurdle and [they] said it couldn't be done, God said, "We're gonna jump this hurdle hand in hand." And I remember specifically talkin' about ambulation in college. In high school, my senior year in high school, we took a senior trip. And I was at Epcot Center in Disneyland.

And you know the Segway human transporters that first came out-- those things that you stand on and move back and forth. I saw one at the Epcot Center in the Way of the Future area. And I said to myself, "That is the thing I'm gonna use to get around." And I went home and I said, "Mom, God showed me what I'm gonna use to get around." I did. And so, I got a Segway.

John: Ah.

Tyler: And I used a Segway to get around. And then, there was an issue of, can I do stairs on my own? Can I live on my own? Can I do some of these things? And I was on a waiting list for a service dog, Danny at the time. And Danny was that completion of pictures.

And you know, in James it talks about every good and perfect gift come[s] from the Father of lights, Who is in heaven." Danny was my good and perfect gift. [He] changed the way ... the last piece or the kink in my armor or the need that I had, Danny filled it in terms of bein' my stability, in terms of giving my confidence.

Now every day I still got made fun of on college campus. They thought, I mean, they thought I was blind. Of course, it would trip them out when I got on the Segway with my sunglasses on and didn't hit anything (Laughter) when I rode away.

But the issue was, at first and you were talkin' about how did I feel and the trepidations of these things, when I went off to college at first, gettin' made fun of every day--

Jim: Hm.

Tyler: --I became inverted. When I first got Danny, I lived in a situation with roommates that were livin' the college scene, were doin' some things. I got made fun of every day, like I said and I thought, "Man, if I just keep my sunglasses on, nobody's gonna mess with a blind kid." And so, I literally would do that. I would keep my sunglasses on. I wouldn't talk to anybody. And my vibrancy that you're talkin' about right now and I appreciate that, but it was lost to me. And I said, "This can't be; I can't let this be, 'cause I won't be the same man starting off in college to finish whatever I'm tryin' to do, I won't be that same man." So, I started to post Bible verses throughout my apartment.

Jim: Okay, now let me slow that down, because a lot of people, I want to make sure we're all hearing this. You're in college. I'm assuming you're taking science as your undergrad.

Tyler: That's correct; I got all ...

Jim: And you're struggling emotionally, I think it's fair to say.

Tyler: Correct.

Jim: You're wanting to hide--

Tyler: Uh-hm.

Jim: --as best you can, so you don't have to confront these bullies in essence. And that's completely understandable and again, the application there, Tyler, for all of us is, we hide in different ways, don't we?

Tyler: We do.

Jim: Especially in the Christian community we can use that to cover up that humanness, those things that we struggle with. How do you see that applying to those who are fully capable physically, emotionally and mentally?

Tyler: And I'm really glad you asked that question, because that's what the book's about. It's not just about a child with cerebral palsy and the mom. It's about identifying whatever part of your life you're goin' through and how God can use that particular portion.

The way I look at it is, I'm an art fan. I like mosaics. You know a mosaic, when you look up close, they are a random bunch of pictures. And you wonder, now what is this? You look through and there are certain times in our lives, there were many times I said, "God, why are You doin' this? Just give me one month of no ridicule. Give me one month of easy." And I used to say, one of the greatest things [is] you have to walk the rocks to see the mountain view.

Jim: Hm.

Tyler: And you'll be amazed; we all have rocks in our lives. You'd be amazed how God uses these rocks and turns 'em into amazing scenery of these amazing mountain views. Aptly we're in Colorado and around amazing mountain views. But it's incredible, because what I did at that time, I looked at a mosaic and I would see that randomness. And I likened it to life. Sometimes we don't know exactly what God is doing in our lives. And when you pull back on a mosaic, that picture's beautiful. It's cohesive. It's perfect and it's not missing a piece of that picture. And that's how life is. Sometimes we wonder exactly why we're goin' through that specific piece in our lives or that specific season. And if you didn't go through it, you wouldn't be complete. And God wouldn't have finished His work.

John: Hm.

Jim: Oh.

John: Well, there's some hope right there and boy, Jim, I so appreciate what we're hearing today from Tyler and Lisa Sexton. I'm John Fuller. Jim Daly is the host of today's "Focus on the Family" broadcast. And I'm gonna encourage you to get a copy of this conversation. Somebody in your sphere needs to hear this. They're up against hurdles that seem insurmountable. They're dealing with a darkness that just envelopes them. And I'll encourage you to stop by for the download or CD of this and for other helpful resources to really strengthen your faith.

Jim: Let me ask you this question, as well. Why did you have the determination, not the desire, but that determination that you could go to med school, that you could succeed, that you could pass and that you could make it? And now you're a doctor. Talk about that.

Tyler: It's a truly humbling thing. I stand here almost in tears of joy to say that it actually happened. I mean, it's a God thing. I mean, there is perseverance, those things, but I stand here before you as a medical doctor by the grace of God.

Jim: Oh.

Tyler: And I wanted to give hope to patients. I wanted to give hope to people instead of worst-case scenarios. I want to be honest with people; I want to be open with people, but I want to say, you know what? We're gonna do this, for whatever you're struggling with physically, but we're gonna see what God does with the rest.

Jim: You know, Lisa, I'm thinking back to something you said last time that has stuck with me. When Tyler was born and you mourned for those two or three days, where you pulled the curtains closed in your home and you literally cried and then came out of that and opened the curtains and symbolically, how that fed your spirit to say, "Okay, God, I'm gonna do the best job that I can do as this boy's mother." And I'm sure you were back at that point, you know, many, many years ago saying, he's gonna have a marginal life; he's gonna be ridiculed, all those things. We're gonna be his caretakers till the day we die and then we gotta pray that somebody will come along and pick that up, hopefully his sister, Emily.

Lisa: Uh-hm.

Jim: But lo and behold, how many times do we say, you should marry a doctor? I mean, think about the irony of this and God's sense humor. And then as you felt at that Easter egg hunt, when that kind person encouraged you to go and let him live and take him out of the safety net. And you were in tears behind those sunglasses as those kids took off to get all the eggs. And you thought you were gonna have to talk to Tyler about why his basket was empty. And yet, he found a way, divinely I think, to find all those eggs that kids were dropping out their baskets--

Lisa: Uh-hm.

Jim: --and put 'em in. When you look back on your journey now as mom and you think about the way God has stepped into Tyler's life and how He encouraged you to say, stick with Me, because his life is gonna show My power and My blessing, does your jaw drop? Mine does.

Lisa: I can tell you as we talked earlier, desperation led me to Him. And you have to remember, I was not raising an M.D. I was raising a little boy with CP. So, we had no idea. I didn't have Tyler going to school. I thought he was never gonna--

Jim: Right.

Lisa: --do anything. He's not gonna drive. Nobody will ever love him. He'll be alone for the rest of his life. And you know, as Tyler said, we serve a God that ... it's amazing. I mean, every dream that I could've possibly imagined and what I was asking God for was not near enough.

Jim: Oh.

Lisa: I was wrong. I was just prayin' to get by. And I think that sometimes when we pray, we just want to get out of that moment. Could You just do this? Could You just do that? And we're tryin' to make deals. And when we let God have that control, He already has it. So, just get down and give it to Him, because what I dreamed for my son and what my husband dreamed for his son and the talks that we'd have in bed and the prayer time is nothing compared to what happened in his life.

John: Hm. Well, and Jim, we live in a world of contradictions and unanswered questions and you've written about that in your book, Stronger. We all know people and this is an amazing story and as we've said, this is hope for so many, but Lisa, you've got to talk to the parent who's sayin', "I'm glad it worked out for you, Lisa. It hasn't worked out for me. My child hasn't been able to overcome those hurdles." Or we lost ... her child. Surely, you have people that you know who are struggling like that. Not to rob you of your joy or to take away the message, the beautiful message God has developed here in Tyler, but--

Lisa: Uh-hm.

John: --talk to the parent who's sayin', "Ah, that's enough."

Jim: John, can I make that a little more real?

John: Hm.

Jim: Because I can feel that and hear that in your own voice--

John: Hm.

Jim: --for you and Dena, thinking about Zane, 'cause you're not through it. I mean, Zane's a little boy still.

John: Yeah.

Jim: He's that 10-year-old.

John: Yeah.

Jim: And I'm sure that pain's comin' through your heart, 'cause you're not at the end of the journey like Lisa is now.

John: No and I appreciate that, Jim. We have hopes; we have dreams.

Lisa: Uh-hm.

John: And we see God working and we don't take any of that for granted, but I still got [sic] 10, 15 years to go before I can even get to a point, I think of saying, okay, we're through that. But there are parents who'll never have that.

Lisa: And that is a really tough thing and I don't have all the answer, but I can tell you this. Last night we had dinner with two boys with cerebral palsy. And one of them will never get out of a wheelchair. He will always hurt and he will always have to have a caregiver, unless God reaches down and touches his life. But he's the most kind, precious boy that I could ever meet. We even had him in our home for a week in Florida and gave him a Spring break--

Jim: Oh.

Lisa: --through my husband's sister, who's just amazing. And these children, the only thing that I know, we've devoted our lives to help families and to make a difference in their lives. But the one thing that I can tell you without a doubt in my mind, is that God is faithful and that if you draw close, you and your wife, you will have the richest marriage and you will have the most healthy home and every miracle that you have that God gives you, you'll hold onto it. You'll tell the world about it.

I'm not a speaker and now I am, because I cannot, not tell people what God has done. And when you talk about, people say well, your son's a doctor and he's this and that, so of course, you're thankful, I can tell you this. My son called me one night and his little sweet wife, Laura, they were on their back to the hospital and they had just worked a 16-hour shift. And I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "Sweets, Laura and I walked by a room and we saw a parent sittin' over by their little boy in the room. And we thought of you and dad and they had their Bible open and then they said, 'They're tired.' Their little guy's been in the hospital along time. Laura and I made 'em lasagna. We're takin' it up there and we told them, they have to leave the room. They have two doctors that are gonna sit right by their child and not leave him for three hours and they need to have a date night." I am more proud of my son for bein' that kind of man than I could ever be that he's an M.D. And you'll find that, too, if you allow God to work in their lives.

Jim: Wow. Okay, I got tears in my eyes here. I mean, that is talkin' about character. And when you look at this life, isn't that what it's about--

Lisa: That's what it ...

Jim: --for us as parents, to teach our kids that kind of character? Tyler, man, good job. You look at that; you got a proud mama right there.

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: ; And she's proud for the right reasons in what she sees in you.

Tyler: Wow, we appreciate it, but again, it is about God and when you serve Him first, it's all that matters. And I never would've made it this far without Him. And so, I often tell people, you know, I know, like you were sayin' John, it's hard to know what's goin' on and I often tell people, you know, in the Bible for example, when Paul and Silas were thrown in jail, what's the first thing they did? They praised Him.

John: Yeah.

Jim: Hm.

Tyler: And a lot of times in our lives, we're talkin' about these moments of turmoil or uncertainty. You don't know what to do. And the last thing you want to do is praise Him. But I challenge you, when you do, things will start changin'. In those moments, first praise. Find the blessing that you can say, "God, we're gonna work with this, 'cause I guarantee you will find a blessing and there's far too many to count.

Jim: Well, and Tyler, I think again, when we look at the early Church and I talk about this often, because they're close to the real deal. They knew the stories, some of them firsthand, about Jesus' parables and seeing the things that they saw. And then of course, the disciples seeing those things. And they had such humility. They approached their environment in such a unique way. And I think if we can do more of that, to fall into God's arms when we are hurting, when we experience difficulty, as opposed to maybe that selfish nature that is our flesh, where we start to question the Lord and despise our situation. I think there is great wisdom, both in observing them and hearing your testimony these last couple of days. And it encourages me. I know it encourages all of you, too. And when you're feelin' down, think of this story of how God has touched Tyler and his bride--

Tyler: Right.

Jim: --and their family. Thank you. Thank you for being with us.

Tyler: Well, it's my pleasure.

Lisa: Thank you.

Tyler: Thank you.


John: Wasn't that a great end to this Best of 2014 "Focus on the Family" radio program? We've been featuring Lisa and Tyler Sexton and their amazing journey of living with cerebral palsy.

Jim: Tyler and Lisa, I've gotta tell you, John, they're such an inspiration to all of us. And whatever journey you're walking with God, He sees you and He cares about you. And that's what I love about this story. I do want to say though, I realize that some parents are still and may be for an indefinite period, maybe until the end of their lives, they may have that special-needs child who, you know, didn't grow up to become a doctor. I understand that and we heard from some of you after this program. And all I can say is, we want to be here for you, as well.

And if you want to talk through the grief of that, call us. We have counselors here who are ready to chat with you and talk about that grief and what you're confronted with.

And I also want to turn and thank each and every one of you who have joined our team, who give here at Focus on the Family so generously. Because of you we're able to air broadcasts like this and give that hope that is so critical. Let me share a few comments that we did receive following the first airing of the program. A man wrote in and said, "As I listened to Tyler's story, it encouraged me to trust God through difficult circumstances and dark places. Nothing is wasted when surrendered to God." He caught it. That's obvious.

A woman also wrote and said, "My son has Down Syndrome and this story was so inspirational. Thank you for sharing. Someone else wrote in and said, "We have a 14-year-old son with ADHD. Thank you for sharing this story and giving us hope."

John, we could share so many more comments like these, but we don't have time and these are the things that encourage me so much. But I wanted to give you a glimpse of your partnership with us. This is the direct impact you're having in these people's lives. You're meeting some of their deepest needs and giving them hope where they feel hopeless. And that's what the Gospel is all about. So, if you can give to us today, certainly we want you to take care of your church obligations, but if we can be on your list of those organizations that you feel are worthy of your support, I hope we're one.

And right now we have some great friends, supporters of Focus on the Family, who have provided a matching fund. So, for a short period of time here, when you give, they will match that dollar for dollar. And it's a fun way to do it, I hope. I see it that way and it motivates them and hopefully motivates you to provide the gifts to keep this ministry going. So, if you make your donation today, it will be doubled. And let me say thank you in advance for your generosity to stand in the gap for these folks that need to hear from the Lord.

John: Yeah and in addition to your gift being doubled when you make a contribution today, we'll also send a CD set, a 2-CD set of the conversation with the Sexton's, which includes an entire conversation with Lisa about the depression she faced in the midst of raising Tyler. We'll also have Focus counselor, Jared Pingleton on how to walk through period of grief over lost dreams--the kinds of things we've talked about here these past couple of days. Make that donation right now at or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

In fact, you might ask for a copy of our entire Best of 2014 collection. It includes the discussion today, as well as conversations with Larry Crabb, Dannah Gresh, Dr. Kathy Koch and many others. These are the most responded-to programs of the year and you'll want to listen again and again. Also, these would make a great collection for someone on your Christmas list.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend and inviting you back on Monday, when we'll continue with our Best of 2014 lineup. You'll hear from Dr. Kathy Koch about how you can nurture your child's intelligence. It's an insightful discussion. It's next time when we once again, provide trusted advice to help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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Lisa Sexton

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Lisa Sexton is an author, speaker and Bible study leader. She currently works with parents of handicap children and has the privilege of sitting on the board of directors for the Bay Area pregnancy center. Lisa and her husband, Kevin, have two children.


Tyler Sexton

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Born at 28 weeks and diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, Tyler Sexton went on to pursue medicine and is currently completing his training at the University of South Alabama as a resident physician. Tyler has been featured on the 700 Club, The God Squad, Hour of Power and The Helpline.