Pastor Lon and Mrs. Brenda Solomon describe how God has sustained them through the emotional and spiritual challenges they've faced in raising their disabled daughter, and encourage listeners to embrace and support families with special needs children. (Part 1 of 2)
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John Fuller: I'm John Fuller and on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly, we'll learn more about special-needs children and the impact they have on a family, maybe your family. Here's what one father had to say.
Father: And I remember, Joey had just a tough week. I mean, he was having seizures for days on end and I was just out there in a daze basically. And Cindy's father said to me, "You know, someday you're gonna recognize Joey's just being a great blessing." And I my response at the time was, "Well, sorry, I'm not seein' that right now," you know, and I forget how old Joey was; maybe he was 10. And I look back at that time as one of those turning points for me of saying, "Look, this is my son, you know, and I need to step up to be the dad that I need to be for my son."
End of Teaser
Jim: Ah, John, I mean, what a clip there that really grabs the essence of what we're gonna talk about today, because so many of us, you know, Trent and Troy, they're healthy young boys and we're blessed in that way, but we have family members that have special-needs children and you know, our heart is broken, but they are coping. They're trying to get through it. They're doing all they can do. If you're in that spot or if you know someone in your family or friendships that are in that spot, I think today's program is gonna be a big help.
John: And we have Dr. Lon Solomon and his wife, Brenda here with us to talk about special-needs kids and Lon is the senior pastor at McLean Bible Church in Virginia and he and Brenda are the founders of a special-needs ministry center. It's called Jill's House and they have four grown children and eight grandchildren.
Jim: That's quite an accomplishment. Congratulations.
Brenda Solomon: Thank you.
Lon Solomon: Well, thank you.
Jim: Let me welcome you back to "Focus on the Family." You've been on the broadcast. It was years ago and it's great to have you back.
Lon: Thank you.
Jim: You're in a big church, Lon and Brenda, you're part of that as a pastor's wife. How big is McLean Bible Church now?
Lon: On the weekend, about 14 or 15,000 people come.
Jim: So, just a few people stop by to hear what you--
Lon: Yeah, well.
Jim: --have to say. (Laughing)
Lon: Yeah, but it's a blessing. I mean, I've just considered it a real privilege to be there
Jim: When you look at your circumstances, I mean, there's a lot of demand on a pastor's family. How do you manage that just regularly, before we get to your story? I mean, when you look at a pastor's family today and many pastors are listening, how can they manage that better
Lon: Oh, it's hard, especially I think when your children are in their formative years. Basically, when our children were younger, I did two things, which is, I took care of my responsibilities at church and I came home and loved my wife and my kids. And there wasn't time for anything else—no golf, no tennis, no ridin' bicycles. And I was okay with that. I understood that was my job and just keeping up with those two was exhausting.
But I also had a wonderful wife. I mean, I couldn't have had a better partner for the ministry, because in all the years, I've been at McLean 35 years now as the senior pastor, Brenda never, ever has complained when it's been something related to the work of God that I had to stay out late and do or be out of town and do. I mean, we got into marriage saying, we're in this together. It's not Lon in the ministry and Brenda helpin'. It's Lon and Brenda in the ministry and having a wife like that makes all the difference in the world.
Jim: Oh, yeah and Brenda, this is the moment of truth. I mean, was it biting your tongue or were you able to do that out of a certain deep strength that you have?
Brenda: Well, I was raised in a very much a Christian home and my parents were just faithful followers of Christ and even though when I married Lon, he was a young believer, I could see real potential in this guy (Laughter) as a Christian leader.
Jim: Well, paint a picture of that, because Lon, I read a bit of your background. You were a little bit of a rambunctious 20-something, weren't you?
Lon: Paul says that God displayed in Him His unlimited patience, but I think I could give Paul a run for his money. (Laughter)
Jim: What was goin' on (Laughing) in your life? I mean, that spirit in you at that time, that rebellious nature, I mean, it was drugs and--
Lon: Well, I--
Jim: --rock and roll--
Lon: --came out of--
Jim: --and everything that goes with it.
Lon: --yeah, I came out of a Jewish home obviously, born and raised Jewish and came to Christ in college. And my home was extremely dysfunctional, I mean to the point that I was so messed up emotionally, psychologically, in every way.
Jim: Lon, let me--
Lon: I was bad.
Jim: --let me ask you this, because I know the people are listening that don't know the Lord. I mean, we have people that don't have a relationship with Jesus and they don't understand it. When you look at your life before and what you're saying God did to change your life, I mean, people around you must've been goin', "Wow, who is this guy?" I mean, what does that look like when Jesus enters your heart? Talk in normal terms to somebody who doesn't know the metaphors here. When God came into your heart, what did that do to you?
Lon: Well, I was led to Christ by a street preacher in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I was goin' to UNC. And you know, he challenged me to invite Christ into my life and so, I did that one night when he had challenged me to read the Bible. I was reading Matthew 11, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. You'll find peace for your soul." And that's what I was lookin' for. My life had just degenerated to the point where I didn't even know why I got up in the morning and I was in deep depression.
And I just said, "Lord Jesus, I'm gonna give You my life for a month. I don't even know if You're real, but if You can't do this in a month, I reserve the right to take my life back."
Jim: (Chuckling) Oh, man.
Lon: "And if You do it, You got my life for good." And I had hair out to my shoulders, big old Afro and (Clearing throat) smoked dope and took LSD and used every other kind of drug we could get our hands on and I mean, I was just out of control and self-destructive.
And within a week, I got back on my knees and said, "Wow! I don't know what's happened inside of me, but somethin' that's never happened inside of me before has happened inside of me. I didn't look any different on the outside. I was still smokin' dope with my buddies, but man, I knew, Jim, somethin' on the inside was radically different. And the single greatest thing that was different was my conscience. I didn't have any conscience before and now I couldn't get away with doin' things that the week before I could get away with and never even think about it and that was the one thing more than anything else that I said, well, I know I didn't do that.
Lon: And so, then to make a long story short, the man who was responsible for me comin' to Christ, took me under his wing and started pounding biblical obedience into my brain, pounding in, "You know, Lon, you don't just give your life to Christ, you give your lifestyle to Christ" and just pounding into me and finally he said, "You gotta get out of Chapel Hill. All your old drug buddies are here, your drinkin' buddies, your girlfriends. You gotta go start fresh with a lifestyle that honors Jesus." And so, I did, about three months after I came to Christ and--
Jim: Isn't that neat?
Lon: --I've just never been the same person again.
Jim: Well, and that's God's grace, isn't it?
Lon: Oh, my.
Jim: Hey, let's talk about the family now.
Jim: So, you married this ruffian, Brenda--
Brenda: Yes (Laughter), yes.
Jim: --this tough dude and you have three boys and everything seems normal and real and now you're in ministry and the church is growin' and things are goin' great and if you don't mind me sharing, I know you don't, right about 40, you have a surprise, an "oops baby."
Jim: Which I was an "oops baby."
Jim: My mother had me at 42.
Jim: And so, it's always good to be the end of the road, you know (Laughing). You get introduced at parties as "the accident."
Brenda: Yeah, right.
Jim: This is our accident.
Brenda: Our accident.
Jim: But this was happening. You're pregnant. Talk about that moment, as you're pregnant, the excitement of it. What were you guys feeling?
Brenda: Well, we were shocked, because we were very happy with three boys and we were--
Jim: Well, that's a shock right there.
Brenda: --we were so involved as parents and we tried to do everything like Focus. You know, we followed--
Jim: Well, good for you.
Brenda: --Focus. We read the books on Christian parenting.
Jim:Dare to Discipline.
Brenda: Yes, Dare to Discipline, very involved in every aspect of their life and we loved it—sports events, church events, whatever. And we just loved it, so we just thought, well, we weren't planning on a fourth child, but we'll just pack this baby up and we'll be taking it to the baseball games and everything. God had a different plan. You know, that was our plan, but God had another plan. But when Jill was born, she looked beautiful and healthy and it was like on my side of the family, she was the first granddaughter. There were 10 grandsons and she's the only granddaughter, so she was like the princess, you know, the girl we always wanted and it was sort of like the icing on the cake for the Solomon family.
Jim: Just perfect.
Brenda: Perfect family.
Jim: And then you started to notice some things.
Jim: What happened?
Brenda: Well, at three months, one day I was changing her diaper and I noticed she got a tremor in her hands and it was just odd. I'd never seen it in any of our boys. And I mentioned it to Lon and he said, "Don't worry about it, you know, newborns, they do funny things. It's nothing to worry about." And I really didn't even think any more about it and that was a Tuesday. On the Saturday night before we had Saturday night services and [Lon] was putting the final touches on his message for Sunday, at 11:30 at night and I was getting her ready for bed and she started again, but it was on her opposite side and it went much longer. It was her whole other side, just tremoring, just shaking.
And I picked her up and I ran to Lon's office and I said, "See, Lon, this is what she's doing." And as God would have it, he said, "Pick up the video camera" and we videotaped it and that was Saturday. Monday we went into the pediatrician, because she was due for another round of immunizations and he looked and he said, "You need to go see a neurologist. I think these are focal seizures." And still as parents, we just said, we'll find the right medicine and it'll take 'em away, but that was the beginning of a journey of 23 years. Jill's 23 now.
Jim: Ah, Jill is--
Brenda: --we could have never imagined the journey we would be on.
Jim: Well, talk about those next weeks and month, Lon. What occurred? Where did Jill go from there? What was the diagnosis, if you--
Jim: --could find one?
Lon: --well, we went from neurologist to tests to EEGs and all this kind of stuff and then we started this real saga of medicine after medicine after medicine and nothing worked. And we at that point were still in denial. We were still saying, "Ah, we're gonna hit this magic medicine. Seizures can be controlled" and it went from bad to worse to worse to worse. And finally got to the point where Jill was having six, eight, 10 grand mals a day, every day. And in the middle of the night we were up. We didn't sleep through the night for eight years.
Jim: Eight years.
Lon: Eight years, 'cause she's had seizures every night. And I remember one time, it was her first Thanksgiving, she had 17 gran mals before the turkey came out of the oven. And we finally took her to the hospital. We had to take her to the hospital so our boys we farmed out to another couple. They spent Thanksgiving at another couple's house and we spent Thanksgiving sleeping in a chair, you know, in the pediatric ICU. I mean, that was life with Jill. It just got worse and worse.
Jim: Brenda, how did you respond to this with your mother's heart? You know, your three--
Jim: --strapping young boys.
Brenda: --a lot of tears. I was missing our boys. I was missing church. One of my most favorite thing[s] was going to worship service with our boys and sitting in church and we were lined up, you know, having the boys there and worshipping together. I couldn't even go to church anymore. There was nothing to do with Jill. I mean, for several years, I didn't go to church.
Jim: Was it depression? What do you think it was when it--
Brenda: Oh, no.
Jim: --hits, you are overworked?
Brenda: I was just, she was having seizures all the time.
Jim: So, you couldn't [go out].
Brenda: We had 911 and we were callin' 911 several times a week. We were in doctor's office. We were in the hospital. We were in the emergency room. We couldn't go to a ballgame, because I mean, you're calling rescue squad all the time. She's going into seizures that don't stop, so then you have to call the rescue squad.
Brenda: And it had flipped our family so upside down and we were missing family. We were missing our togetherness and we were hurting so much. We couldn't even talk about it at church. You know, you couldn't even talk about it from the pulpit. I said, "Lon, you've gotta share it with the people." He said, "Brenda, I can't do it. I can't do it. I'm hurting so much." It was almost like we were just saying, we trust God. We know God's in control, but this hurts; but this hurts.
Jim: Lon, there are people who are living in a spot where they're desperate and they feel abandoned by God, which is kind of what you're describing here. You feel like, God, where are You? And why would this happen to us?
Jim: And talk to that person who may be in that spot right now. It may be a special-needs child. It may be something else. It can be anything you fill in the blank with actually. It might be a prodigal child or a drug addicted child, something's going on there and they've done, you know, the recipe. They've done the Christian recipe. They've lived a good life. They've prayed, maybe every day and they follow the Lord in that way, but the recipe's not workin'. I'm not getting the end product that I believe God has promised me here. How do you begin to reconcile that and continue to have faith and hope and trust in God?
Lon: I went through all those emotions, every one of them and you know, I would say to Brenda every day, I would say, "Brenda, you know, we only have two choices today. We can trust God or we can doubt God. That's it. There's nothing in between." And I've been through too much in my Christian experience to doubt God. He's come through too many times for me.
So, as painful as this is and as much as I don't understand it and as much as I hate it, the only choice I've got is to trust God. There is no other choice. And so, we would pray and through the darkness and through the tears and through the exhaustion, we would just say, we're gonna trust God. At the time, there was nothing coming out of Romans 8:28 positive--
Lon: --you know, that our God works all things together for good.
Jim: I'm sure you couldn't even believe that Scripture.
Lon: I would never say I would doubt God's promise, but there was not human way I could see it ever coming true. But I believed what I said. I could not doubt God. I could not let myself go there. So, I just kept saying, "Lord, I don't know what's goin' on here and I'm in bad shape, you know, but I'm just gonna trust You."
Jim: Let me ask this question when it comes to specifically this area of special needs, where a child is physically or mentally impaired, talk about the dynamics of the family. What's happening in the family? What's happening in your marriage before you could--
Lon: All right.
Jim: --greater hope?
Lon: It's bad all the way around--
Jim: Talk about it.
Lon: --I mean, on the human level. Well, like Brenda said, we missed time with our boys.
Jim: So, the three boys are tryin' to cope, too.
Lon: Yeah and they were coping in silence, because we didn't know how at that point, to give 'em any way to get those feelings of anger that they were carrying and hurt and confusion out. I think they've processed it now. Of course, they're in their 30s and they've all come back and talked to us, but I wish we'd have known better. I wish we'd have taken 'em to a counselor. I wish we'd have had, you know, a ministry. There are ministries now to help siblings, you know, get that stuff out.
Jim: What did that feel like for them? What did you observe?
Brenda: You know, like children want to fix things.
Jim: Even at 8, 9--
Brenda: It's like--
Brenda: --oh, even at 8, 9, 10, exactly. If a marriage is breaking up, they take it on as their responsibility to save this marriage.
Jim: I won't cry; I won't do anything bad.
Brenda: I won't do anything. I mean, I remember coming back from Johns Hopkins one day and they were so sweet. They were always trying to fix things that were wrong. And on the way back, Jill had had two hard seizures in the car and we came back and they had made a candlelight dinner for us and to welcome us home. And this is what they tried to do. They [thought], if we can just do somethin', we want to fix it, but they couldn't fix it. They wanted their family back. They wanted their mom and dad.
Lon: Yeah, it was hard and only one of us, like you know, could go to their ballgames. Only one of us could go to back-to-school night. Only one of us could go to, you know, some recital they were having. And they felt that loss. And yet, we're trying to keep Jill alive. I mean, I'm not being "hyperbolic;" I mean, we're just trying to keep this girl from dying because it was that serious.
Jim: Yeah. When you would cope with all that, you're worried about the boys. You're not knowing how to communicate with them. You've got Jill and gran mal seizures. You're trying to keep her alive, as you said, physically. I'm sure you're laying your head on the pillow at night with one ear open to make sure that nothing would happen. Were you able to think about anything else?
Brenda: It was hard. I mean, I don't even know. You know, I don't know, but again, I think that's part of God's provision as we look back, how He took care of our sons.
Brenda: Our oldest son was in high school. I don't even know who his teachers were, but he was getting A's. He was doing well. He went to the Naval Academy. He's now a doctor and I think, "God, that's Your mercy and that's Your grace. You watched out for him," I mean, he could've gotten into anything.
Jim: Looking back on that experience though, specifically in your relationship with each other, is there some advice that you have for the couples who are trying to cope with something like this? How did you stay together?
Lon: Well, you know, I think I told you in our pre-meeting there was many a day I would drive morning car pool. I'd drive the boys to school. Someone else brought 'em home. And on the way back I would say to myself, now you know, you could just keep goin'. Just head West. Never show back up at the house again and you wouldn't have to be up in the middle of the night. You wouldn't be so exhausted. You wouldn't be.
And I don't know if that was me whispering to me or the enemy whispering to me or what. But I thought that, you know and then I thought, you know, Lon, you oughta be ashamed of yourself. So, I had these conflicting emotions, but you know, the Lord just gave me the grace to go back and pull in the driveway every day. But Brenda and I, I mean, you know, I'm fortunate to be married to such a wonderful woman, because she's like, I call her "True North" in my life, because I mean, her spiritual foundation is just so amazing.
Jim: Talk about divorce rates, though--
Lon: Oh, divorce rates are terrible.
Jim: --within families that have impaired [children].
Brenda: Fifty percent greater than the typical American [couple].
Jim: Fifty percent greater.
Brenda and Lon: Yeah.
Jim: I mean, if the divorce rate is--
Brenda: The most are--
Jim: --35, 40 [percent].
Brenda: --single parents and I have to [have] seen single fathers.
Lon: Where the mom leaves, yeah.
Brenda: But most are single moms and they just can't [cope]; the marriage is just so hard to sustain, a good marriage.
Jim: And we want to make sure people caught that. You're saying with, you know, physically or mentally impaired children, the divorce rate for that group goes up an additional 50 percent.
Lon: At least.
Brenda: Well, I'm looking here now and it says 80 percent.
Jim: Eighty percent.
Brenda: I think that's on our website. I think it's higher than 50, than the general population--
Brenda: --is 80-plus.
Jim: So, 80 percent, but the point there was that the single-parent moms typically, not always, but the single-parent mom [is the caregiver] 'cause dad has left 'cause he can't take it--
John: He drove like Lon. You said you were tempted--
John: --to go away.
Jim: --that they're left there. Man, our hearts should go out to them.
Lon: Well, you know, but I think it's important to say, it's not just children with special needs. It's any kind of chronic problem like that, caring for an aging parent, you know, having someone with cancer in your family. I mean, any one of those kinds of things that seem like they're never coming to an end, I mean, they put that same kind of stress on you.
Jim: Yeah, but Lon, I mean, and this is a calling-out moment. I mean, we're real tender toward each other in the body of Christ. We're willing to forgive all the way, but men need to turn back into the driveway. That's the bottom line. Some men are choosing to keep drivin' past the house.
Lon: But you know, Jim, I understand that. I mean, I have compassion on those men. I understand how that can happen. But that's where faith in Christ comes in. I didn't come home 'cause I wanted to come home and I didn't come home 'cause I felt bad that Brenda would have everything left on her, although I did. I came home 'cause Jesus Christ was the Lord of my life. I came home 'cause Jesus Christ commanded me to come home. And even though I didn't want to come home, I came home because when I gave my life to Jesus, I gave Him my lifestyle. And my lifestyle was, you go home and you take care of this family. And as hard as it was, I would say, "Okay, God; give me grace. I'm not sure I can do this, but in obedience to You, I made You a promise. I'm goin' home."
Jim: Well, and that's character. That's called character.
Lon: Well, I'd like--
Jim: I mean, it really is.
Lon: --to say that it's not true. My character wanted to go to California. (Laughter) But when I gave Jesus my life, I meant it.
Lon: And that's why I went home.
Brenda: Do you know, Jim, I don't know if this is the appropriate time to say it, but before I had Jill, there was a verse that God gave me and I have shared this many times in talks and things, but it's my life verse now. And it's Isaiah 41:10: "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you. I will uphold you." And I had no idea why that I couldn't shake that verse, but that is the verse I would cling to with Jill on the floor, every day having seizures. And I said, "Lord, I don't know what good can come out of this. This doesn't make any sense to sit here and watch my daughter, my only daughter go through this."
And it was two and a half years into this mess—seemingly mess—and Lon had left for the office and our boys had gone to school and I broke. I had a brokenness experience. And Jill was on the floor once again, having this gran mal seizure and I broke in a puddle of tears and said, "Lord, she's Yours. She's Yours. I have nothing left to give. I have nothing emotionally. I have nothing. Physically I can't do it anymore. I want You to step in and use her life in a mighty way. Don't waste this pain, because this hurts. But if You can use it, she's Yours. Now use her life, I plead with You."
And that was the beginning of God just stepping in and nothing had ever happened in my life like that before, but a woman called me that day I did not know and said, "I don't know why I'm calling, but God told me to call you. I don't know what God wants me to do." And I cried on the phone with her for two and a half hours.
Now here I am the pastor's wife of a large church in Washington. I don't even know this lady and I get off the phone and I got, "What did I just do? (Laughing) I just cried on the phone with this woman." But she said, "Can I come over and meet you and Jill? I want to meet you, because I don't know what God wants me to do." She came over a couple days later and she was there and met Jill and she said, "I'll be back in touch with you. I think I know what God wants me to do."
Lon: She got us our first caregiver.
Brenda: She got us our first caregiver. She formed a group of people around. To this day, we don't know who those people are and the only thing she required of us is that the Solomon family would give her a prayer letter once a month and they would pray for our family, the needs, of what we were going through. But I want to tell you, that was the first step to Access Ministries, to Jill's House, to everything that has happened because God had His own agenda and He knew just what He was doing.
Jim: Yeah, well, that's well said and we want to come back next time and talk about the hope and where you're at today all these years later, still some of the difficulties, but you now see more of a purpose in what God has done here and that's gonna be important for people to hear. So, let's do that. Can you stick with us?
Jim: All right, let's keep it goin' and we'll come back next time and talk about the hope that you see now.
John: And let me say, Lon and Brenda, how much we appreciate your vulnerability as you've shared your story with us and given us hope for when those challenging times come and how we just have to trust God for the outcome. Now I'm sure that when you hear about the Solomon's and a family like theirs with the struggles they've experienced, it touches your heart in profound ways. I hope it does.
And we'll encourage you to share that story with others, with your family and friends or with a small group at your church. And you can do that by ordering a CD of today's program by calling 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY Or look for the download and other resources for your family, including our mobile app, so you can listen on the go, at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .
And when you get in touch, I'll encourage you to support this family ministry. We rely on friends like you to give us the financial resources we need to strengthen and rescue marriages and to empower parents and to help people grow in their faith through acts of service like we've talked about today. You can help hurting families with a generous donation to Focus on the Family. And as you contribute today, we'll send a complimentary copy of our entire conversation with the Solomon's on CD as our way of saying thank you for your support. Donate and find resources at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-232-6459.
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, inviting you back tomorrow, as we hear more from Lon and Brenda Solomon about bringing special needs ministry into their own church.
Lon Solomon: Why doesn't somebody do somethin' to help these people?" And I think Brenda got mad at me and (Laughter) … and said back to me, "Well, if you're so worried about these people, then why doesn't McLean Bible Church do somethin' to help 'em?"
End of Clip
John: That's next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Lon SolomonView Bio
Lon Solomon has served as the senior pastor of McLean Bible Church in Virginia since 1980. He is a radio broadcaster who hosts a weekly 30-minute program called So What? as well as a series of radio spots titled Not a Sermon, Just a Thought. Lon is the author of two books, Brokenness and The 23rd Psalm for the 21st Century. He and his wife, Brenda, are the founders of Jill's House (named after their disabled daughter, Jill), a respite care ministry and resort center for families with special needs children. Lon and Brenda have been married since 1974 and have four grown children and eight grandchildren.
Brenda SolomonView Bio
Brenda Solomon and her husband, Lon, are the founders of Jill's House, a respite care ministry and resort center for families with special needs children. Brenda and Lon have a special needs child of their own – a daughter named Jill who was born in 1992 and began suffering with Grand Mal seizures before she was one year old. Intimately familiar with the struggles that families with special needs children face, the Solomons are now dedicated to giving help and hope to those families. Brenda and Lon have been married since 1974 and have four grown children and eight grandchildren.