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 2 of 2)
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Jim Daly: There's nothing more precious to God than human life because we're created in His image. Hi, I'm Jim Daly and I hope you'll register to watch the Evangelicals for Life video conference that started yesterday and continues today. We'll have the entire program archived featuring great Christian leaders, who will encourage and equip you to protect and celebrate the value of human life just like God intended. Invite your friends and family to participate, as well. Register today at www.evangelicals.life.
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Brenda Solomon: 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."
End of Recap
John Fuller: That heartfelt plea reflects the kind of challenges, the daily difficulties that families with special needs face and it may be right where you're at today. Well, stay with us for our program. This is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and we have a lot of hope for you coming from our guests, Dr. Lon Solomon and his wife, Brenda, from whom you just heard.
Jim: John, let me just say this. If you did not hear the program last time, you gotta get a copy of it. Download it; go to the website, smartphone, whatever you use to listen to the broadcast, because you heard some very powerful, straightforward emotion from the Solomons and I'm so grateful for their ability to share the story in a very open and transparent way, because that's where we find healing and hope.
Last time we talked about having a special needs child in the family. Maybe you're in that spot. Whatever it is in your life, if may be a prodigal son as I said last time. Whatever that situation, I think listening to the program last time will give you hope in Christ. We ended right at the turn of discussing where God did show up and how He began to show both Lon and Brenda the way forward and we're gonna get to that story right away today and I want to welcome both of you back to the broadcast.
Lon andBrenda Solomon: Thank you.
Jim: There were tears last time and I'm grateful for those tears. We talked after tapin' the program, how God's people, we need to be more vulnerable in that way. Lon and Brenda, you're pastoring a church, a large church, McLean Bible Church, a well-known church, 14,000 people every Sunday showin' up. It can be hard, because you want to present something more perfect. Talk about that pressure a bit, in the midst of dealing with Jill, you're 20, now 23-year-old daughter, with her special needs, the challenges in your marriage, the challenges with your three sons and what they were feeling emotionally and having to get up every Sunday and smile and in many ways maybe, not feel it. So, it's not "pretend." We use that word, but it's putting on the best face when inside you're wrenching. Talk about that emotion for a minute and how you got through that.
Lon: Well, I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing.
Jim: Most men are.
Lon: Yeah, yeah, but it was very hard. I would go to church. Brenda would be home 'cause she couldn't come to church. Jill was havin' seizures all day long. And I would stand behind the curtain and be getting' ready to go out to the platform, to the pulpit to preach and I would say, "God, I don't think I can do this."
Lon: "I'm not sure I can." And I'll never forget the Lord used to always say to me, "Now look, you do your job and I'll do My job." I mean, I can hear it to this day as clear as a bell. "You go out there and do your job; I'll do My job. Your job is to preach the Word; My job is to take care of Jill. You do your job; I'll do Mine."
Lon: And that's the confidence in which I would go out there and do my very best, but I was … you know, it was almost like I was in a fog. I mean, it was hard, but we were still living in denial. We were still expecting Jill to get better. We were still expecting God to step in and just completely heal her.
And so, I didn't want to give out information. If God was gonna do that, then why, you know, why open myself up and become that vulnerable? That's not somethin' I'm really good at anyway. Raised in a really bad home, you know. I put walls up. I'm like Simon & Garfunkel, I am a rock; I am an island, you know. I touch no one; no one touches me, because I've been hurt so badly that, that was just my compensation. And so, even as a pastor, that didn't go away. So to let that guard down, it wasn't an artificial guard 'cause I was a pastor; it was a dysfunction in my life, but I think a lot of pastors have it. And to let that guard down and let people see the pain and the anguish, just everything, was very hard for me.
Jim: Was it scary?
Lon: Oh, terrifying, terrifying.
Jim: Why do you think, what benefit comes from that? Why do you think God puts us through these things?
Lon: Well, I don't know for sure all the reasons. I think God knew that I needed to get healthier and the only way to get healthier was to learn how to do that, drop that guard. So, He, you know, and He just flat smoked me out. I mean, I was runnin' as far as I could from doin' that and He just cornered me and just flat smoked me out, to the point where we just couldn't go anymore. I couldn't go anymore.
But I also think that it was good for the church, because they could suddenly see that there was a real person up there, that was really hurting and I'm convinced that most people who know Christ, who sit in church, they want to love their pastor. You know, they want to pray for their pastor. They want to support their pastor, but if you don't let 'em get close enough to see where those issues are, if you keep the walls up for any reason, you know, you don't want to be accused of being sinful; you don't want accused of being weak. You don't want [to be] accused of not bein' spiritual enough, all that stuff.
The truth of the matter is, most of the people out there in the pews would never think that of you. It's we, as pastors, have these fears that they'll think that. But when I found when I let my guard down and have kept doing that, the response of the people in terms of love and support has been overwhelming.
Jim: Oh, isn't that an amazing thing?
Brenda: I think when it touches your children, there's nothing that touches a parent more, that when your child is hurting and you can't do anything about it. And believe me, Jill has the best doctors. She has the best care. She had, you know, we tried, God knows, we tried to walk through every open door of medicine to help her and nobody has an answer, nobody.
Brenda: And so, but I knew nothing of the disability community. Lon knew nothing. We knew nothing of what these parents were feeling and experiencing and how can you help a community of people unless you go through it yourself in the trenches and that's what we were doing. We were in the trenches. We weren't sure if we were ever comin' out--
Lon: That's true.
Brenda: --but we were down there.
Jim: Well, and when you look at that in the churches today, there's so much going on, but human beings, we're quite uncomfortable with outside of normal. We don't cope well outside the boundaries of normal. So, when you're in a church and a child would shout out because, you know, they're not socially capable of understanding the circumstance they're in because of some impairment, people get nervous with that, to the point where a lot of churches, we have just kinda closed an eye to those families who have special needs.
Jim: And they don't feel welcome, so they don't come back. I mean, isn't there something better we can do as the church to say, "Let's create a space for your child and your family--
Lon: Obviously, yeah.
Jim: --to feel loved?" How do you do that? How does a pastor listening today say, "Wow, we have a great need here and we're not addressing it?" What can they do?
Lon: Well, I'll tell you how it started for us. This is a very quick story. We went to a back-to-school night for Jill. She was in an early-intervention elementary school.
Brenda: At 3.
Lon: She was about 3-years-old. Long story short, the meeting was boring. I wasn't paying a bit of attention. I was lookin' around the room just at the faces of the people in the room, almost all single-parent moms with children with disabilities. And when we left and we were walkin' to the car, it was in the evening; it was dark, I was pontificating to Brenda about, "You know what? Somebody needs to do somethin' to help these people, Brenda they're," I go, "Look at their faces; they're so exhausted. They're so wrung out. Why doesn't somebody do somethin' to help these people?" And I think Brenda got mad at me (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?"
And wow! I mean, I almost got no sleep that night. I was just like, "You know, Lord Jesus, that is so right" and so, that's how Access Ministry began in the mid-'90s with four children; Jill was one, a couple of volunteer[s], one Sunday school classroom and we watched those children so their parents could come and go to church. And that's how it all began right there.
Lon: And so, what I would say to pastors is, you know, there's the fear that we need professionals to run this ministry. That's not true. There is the fear that, you know, this is gonna cost us too much money. That's not true. It didn't cost us a thing. There's the fear that, oh, you know, my gosh, what about all the liabilities? Where is Jesus in this? I mean, come on now. Jesus said, Luke 14, "You bring the ill; you bring the lame; you bring the blind; you bring the crippled into the banquet and you will be blessed and you will be paid back at the resurrection of the just."
And I will say this, I don't know that I can prove it, but the growth of McLean Bible Church in every single way—spiritually, numerically, financially—exploded when we began a ministry to special-needs children. In my opinion, I believe it's because Jesus said, "Oh, you're gonna do that; okay, you do that and I'm gonna give you more resources than you know what to do with to do that." And all this stuff has grown from that one little classroom.
Brenda: But you know, can I say it did start even before Jill with someone walking through the halls. Well, they came to the pastor and they had a desire to start a ministry for children with disabilities. And so, they were a volunteer and they would just walk, say one child around the halls so that parent could go to worship. And so, you could already see God cultivating that in the body at McLean Bible.
Lon: And if you're a lay person in the church--
Brenda: Go to your pastor.
Lon: --go to your pastor and say, "I'm passionate about this.
Brenda: I have a passion.
Lon: "Will you let me gather a team of people together and go active?"
Jim: So, don't want for the pastor to--
Jim: --say, "Hey--
Jim: --could you--
Lon: Yeah, no.
Jim: --help me?"
Lon: And we'll come help you. I mean, we have a start-up team that we'll send to your church and we'll help you get goin'.
Jim: For training and teaching?
Lon: Yeah, yeah and you don't need any special training.
John: And we're gonna link over to resources, to helps for both special-needs families and churches, as you seek to reach out to these families. Stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio to find out more or give us a call and we can direct you to some of those resources.
You know, the kind of organic beginnings that you had at your church, I've benefited from that personally and I think I've shared this, Jim. We had a couple of years where we could not do church together because of our youngest and his special needs and we tried and it … it was just a failure, until the gal running the little Sunday school program said, "I'll take your son." And she did just what you were saying, Brenda. She walked around and let us go for the first time in two years, as a couple into the worship service. It was phenomenal.
John: And I get emotional just thinking about that dear young lady and her willingness to say, "I know it's important for you as a couple to be able to go into that room together. Let me help." It doesn't have to be a formal program, just a heart that says, "Let me help."
Jim: Well, John, you're raisin' a very good point and I want to ask you, Brenda, as mom, when that woman that you talked about last time, I think her name was Mary (Laughing), when Mary showed up in your life and made that phone call, a person you didn't know saying, "I just feel God telling me to engage with you." I mean, now you see how God was movin' her heart.
Brenda: He was the mover.
Jim: I would imagine for mom particularly, you're goin', okay, whoa. I don't know if I can relinquish this environment, 'cause something could go wrong. She could have a seizure. I won't be right here to help save her life literally. How did you go through that process of relinquishing control?
Brenda: It was very difficult. In the beginning, we would only hire nurses--
Brenda: --because I was scared to death and we'd start out somewhere and they'd say, "Oops, Jill just have a gran mal seizure. They're takin' her to the hospital," and we'd turn around. I mean, that happened so many times.
But then, you realize, you know, we could teach people how to do this. I mean, I'm amazed at the people that came forward and said, "Teach me how to do this. I want to help you. I want to help you." But as a mother, it's very hard to relinquish it to somebody else. I mean, I was scared enough myself seeing seizures, but to trust somebody else to take care of my daughter? It was very difficult.
Jim: What would you say to that mom listening that is struggling right now with that? What can they do? What handle would you give them to say, okay, it's all right; here's what'll happen. God's in control. I don't mean to use those words, 'cause I haven't been in that same situation. I can only imagine the fear that grips you and dads, too, but I would say mostly moms. We do it. Jean and I do it with our kids and they're healthy.
Jim: --in that way. And we're saying, "Oh, I don't know if we can leave 'em for a weekend."
Brenda: Right, well, you know, one thing, I still remember one time our son went to the Naval Academy and he was a Plebe. The Plebe year is very difficult and we wanted to go down and just encourage him, you know, but Jill had, had a rough day. She was havin' so many seizures and I said, "Lon, I can't leave her. I can't leave her." And we had a nurse there. He said, "Brenda, I want to tell you, you have another child who needs you, too." And he said, "I'm going; if you want to come, come get in the car." I went, but I was crying the whole way. It tore my heart out. I was a mother and I was just feeling the tension. It was in '95. I'll never forget it.
But he was right. If you have other children, your husband, your marriage needs it, your other children need it and if God provides somebody to step in and help, pray and ask God to protect that child and just give you that time. I know it's not easy. A mother to a mother, I can tell you, it's not easy.
Jim: But try.
Brenda: But try. I mean, I don't know if this is the point I should bring up Jill's House, but even at Jill's House, it's like an oasis for these parents. They walk in and yes, the parents say, "We don't go anywhere. We just stay by the phone." But at Jill's House, you can call them any time, day or night. They will send you pictures of your child, what they're doing. You can call and say, "How's my child doing?
Jim: Describe Jill's House though. We need a little bit of a--
Brenda: I just realized what a difference respite made in our lives. It just changed everything. We gave Jill better care. We could work on our marriage. We had time with our boys. I said, "Lon, I don't care what else you do for the rest of your life, I just feel God calling me to respite." And I don't even know what it's gonna look like."
Jim: And "respite" for those that don't understand the term--
Brenda: It's just a break.
Jim: --it's a break for the parents.
Brenda: So, we started Breakaway, which is a Saturday program for five hours. We started Breakout, which is on Friday nights for the other siblings and the child with disabilities.
But I still said, "Lon, there's nothing like a good night's sleep. There is nothing. And yet, I realized what a mountain, because we couldn't find an example of it anywhere in the United States. So, we're praying like, "Lord, I don't know how You're gonna do it."
But we found a model in Jerusalem, Shava and it was run by a rabbi and Lon was leading a tour and somebody on his tour said, "I want you to come look at this place." And at first Lon resisted, 'cause he's so busy when he leads these tours. And finally he gave in. He said, "Okay, I give you one hour. I'll go for one hour." He ended up spending four hours there. He walked in there and he knew it was a model that we could bring back and do in the States.
Jim: And that's Jill's House.
Brenda: And that is Jill's House and it's a God place, because I can't tell you how it was built, other than God sent people. I said, "Lord, how are people gonna understand why there's a need for this? This is not glorified babysitting. These are God's children that You have asked us to take care of and that are near and dear to the heart of God. Lord, You build this place. You build it and may it be an example of Your power and Your love for these children. And you walk into Jill's House, it's an overnight respite place, 45,000 square feet. It has an indoor pool. It has a computer room, gym for these children and when you walk in that place, it screams love and celebration.
Brenda: We celebrate these children.
Jim: --yeah, let me ask you that as a church at McLean Bible Church, as you've reached out to these families, describe what you see in their faces and hear from their hearts. What is the response from these families?
Brenda: It's just unbelievable. We have hundreds on the waiting list, just to get an overnight stay at Jill's House. That's how desperate the need is, desperate the need is. And it's a process. I mean, it takes 10 hours of intake process until we feel we understand that child well enough to take them for an overnight.
Jim: What are some of the things that they'll say to you, these families?
Brenda: "I can't believe you'd do this for us. I've never seen anybody do this." The neighbors fought us about building the building. They did not want this in their neighborhood and even now, we brought the neighborhood association through and they went, "Oh, my, we cannot believe it. We cannot believe you did this for our community."
Lon: And we'll have people show up. Brenda was just telling me about this last night at dinner. We'll have families show up that don't know Christ, don't come to McLean and I think it's 90 percent of the families don't even come to McLean Bible Church. This is open to anybody, but they'll say, "My church wouldn't do this." "My synagogue wouldn't do this." "My mosque wouldn't do this. Why are you doin' this?" I mean, literally, [they] ask the question.
Brenda: What a platform because Jesus loves your child.
Lon: You know, hello. (Laughter) I would answer that question. (Laughter)
Jim: And you create that environment where you could see it in the kids' faces, that they feel loved. I mean, even if they are impaired to express the way that healthy normal kids express, you can see a smile in their face or you can see joy.
Brenda: Can I just say--
Brenda: --many of these children who attend Jill's House or come for a visit, they're the children who are on the fringes. Those are the children who don't get invited to a birthday party. Those are the children that go … don't get invited to sleepovers. I mean, it's like they're not the prize athlete or, you know, the star cheerleader or whatever.
Jim: And they're the reason some families don't go to church.
Jim: I mean, think of that.
Brenda: So we, as the church, need to do it, because we value [them]. If we as Christians say, "All lives matter to God," that means all.
Brenda: And God has a purpose for all man[kind].
Jim: And you gotta--
Lon: Well, what did God--
Jim: --demonstrate it.
Lon: --say to Jeremiah? He said, you know, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you," you know and "Before you were born, I appointed you as a prophet to the nation." I mean, these children have a plan, each one and if we believe the Bible and we believe that's true, then we should celebrate their lives.
Lon: And our ultimate goal is to see a family come to Christ through their letting their guard down because of Jill's House. And we've seen so many families come to Christ—moms, dads, even the children. We pray with the children. We read 'em Bible stories every night they're there.
Jim: Pay attention to 'em.
Lon: Well, because many of these children can make a decision for Christ. But even if a parent never decides to come to Christ, we still care for the child.
Lon: Like at night, I lay down with Jill every night and pray with her before she goes to bed and I think about once a month, I'll have a salvation prayer, sinner's prayer with Jill. I don't know what she understands. She's not verbal. But I'm not willing to take the risk that she could've made a decision and I never helped her. And many of these children, they know the Lord because they came to Jill's House.
Jim: Well, and really, we didn't paint that picture of Jill's inability, but she can't speak--
Jim: --and struggles.
Brenda: She needs someone to care for her 24/7.
Lon: She can't dress herself. She is not fully potty trained. She can do a lot of things. She can eat food with a fork, but you gotta fix it.
Lon: But she would go outside in the middle of winter and freeze to death and never know she needed a coat.
Lon: So she's a person who's gonna have to be cared for, [for] the rest of her life.
Jim: When you look back on all these years now, over 23 years, do you see God's plan in this?
Lon: Oh, Jill is like the hub of a wheel and there are spokes goin' in every direction. There's a spoke for me. There's a spoke for Brenda. There's a spoke for McLean Bible Church. There's a spoke for Jill's House. You know, now we are trying to start an international cooperation with Joni and Friends to do some training overseas of how pastors can care for children with disabilities and all this from a little girl who can't even speak.
Brenda: Surely an answer to that prayer, "Use this child's life in a mighty way." And--
Lon: But you know, yesterday--
Brenda: --we're seeing that.
Lon: --you played a clip from a gentleman who said that, I think it was his father-in-law or someone told him, "This child is a blessing. You need to see this." And he said, "I'm not there yet."
Lon: I need to let you know that I wasn't there yet for many, many years. And somehow right around age of 8 or 9, when Jill was 8 or 9, I don't know what happened. I can't explain it to you, but God just totally changed my heart from seeing Jill as a burden, to seeing Jill as the greatest blessing God ever sent into my life apart from Him, my wife.
And I realized the Bible doesn't say serving other people leads to greatness. The Bible says, serving people is greatness in the eyes of God. And I have the privilege and I see it as a privilege, of serving my daughter for the rest of her life. Most parents don't get that privilege. I got it. It's a privilege. And I'm lookin' forward in heaven to when Jill is healthy and whole and can speak and she's way up there near the Lord and I'm way down at the bottom somewhere. (Laughter) And I'm lookin' forward to hearing Jill say (Emotional), "That's my daddy. Let my daddy come up here with me, 'cause he took care of me on the earth."
Jim: Well, I think most parents that are living this life with an impaired child, can envision that, to hear those children in heaven. That will be a day, I can't even express it, what heart is in that. And I believe with you that that's what heaven is like, that those children for the first time will run. They will sing. They'll dance and the Lord will be smiling.
Lon: Yeah and according to the Bible, that's not a "hope-so" hope. When you know Christ, that's a "know-so" hope.
Jim: Yeah, K-N-O-W.
Jim: Listen, this has been so good. I hope pastors and people in churches will have a different heart toward families with special-needs kids and that they'll open their heart to doing things differently, to bring them in. And like you said, if you need help, contact Focus. We'll connect you with McLean Bible Church, contact them directly. We'll have all the links at the website, but it has been such a privilege to hear your heart. And I want to say it again, Lon and Brenda, I'm so grateful for your transparency. Thank you for bein' vulnerable and real about what you went through and what you continue to go through, but seeing the blessing that Jill is today. Thanks for bein' with us.
Lon: Yeah, thank you.
Brenda: Thank you.
Lon: It's a privilege.
Brenda: Thank you.
John: Well, a remarkable conversation with Lon Solomon and his wife, Brenda. And I can't think of a better message for Sanctity of Human Life Week, this week where we really emphasize God's value of all life. And I hope you were inspired by what we heard today. Stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio to follow up on this topic of special needs or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
And of course, we hope you'll request a CD or a download copy of our entire conversation with Lon and Brenda. It may be that you know a special-needs family who would be encouraged by their story, by their perseverance, by God's comfort and peace in their situation.
And then, please consider how you can support the work of Focus on the Family as we create radio programs like this to encourage the Body. It's only through your prayers and financial gifts that we can do this. We rely on listeners like you to help us respond to hurting families across the U.S. and Canada and really, around the world. And if you're able to send us a gift of any amount today, we'll say thanks by sending you a complimentary CD of our entire two-day conversation with the Solomon's. You can donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio and while you're there, look for our mobile app, as well or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend with your family and inviting you back on Monday. We have a funny message about marriage and your attitude, from Pastor Mark Gungor.
Pastor Mark Gungor: Life is tough. Marriage is tough. It's hard. It's really, really, really, really hard. But it's supposed to be. Anything worth having is hard. Look, what your spouse does may very well irritate you until the day you die. The good news is, you die. (Laughter)
End of Excerpt
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.