For Missy and Jase Robertson, life hasn’t always turned out like they planned. Amid the wildness and joy so often seen in the A&E series “Duck Dynasty,” life for the Robertson clan took a sudden turn. After a difficult and risky pregnancy, their daughter, Mia, was born with a cleft palate – a serious condition requiring multiple cranial and facial surgeries. As their baby struggled to breathe, Missy and Jase had to ask: “Where is God in all of this?”
In her book, Blessed, Blessed … Blessed, Missy describes the lessons she’s learned as a result of having a child with medical needs, and how their family keeps the faith when life can’t simply be fixed.
Having a child with any type of special needs is not a neutral experience; it affects people – often profoundly – one way or another. If I had to summarize how Mia’s journey with cleft lip and palate has affected me, I would say it has been a learning experience. I hope and pray some of the lessons I have learned will strengthen and encourage parents who are walking a similar path to the one I have walked as Mia’s mom.
I have learned that when people endure suffering, there is a richness that comes to life that they would never experience without it. As I write this, our son Reed is 19 years old and his brother, Cole, is 17, and they have never dealt with the physical challenges and pain Mia has endured. If we did not have Mia in our family, I wonder if we would have lived a good but somewhat shallow life. She has brought so much depth to our lives and to our faith, and she has brought so much meaning to what life is all about.
Mia has taught everyone in our family not to take life so seriously. If anyone has a reason to be sober about certain things, she does. Instead, she is lighthearted, and she trusts God. She does not worry excessively, and she is not a complainer. Of course, she does not always want to do her homework, and she may not like to be encouraged to eat certain foods or to cut short her playtime. But she has never complained about her condition, and that is amazing to me.
I also believe having Mia has made Jase and me better parents to Reed and Cole. Without her, we might have been tempted to take them for granted. Because of the challenges we have faced with Mia, we have always been thankful for the boys’ health and well-being, and we have tried to value every moment we have had with them.
One of the lessons I have learned specifically about Mia’s cleft is that it is not a problem to be fixed; it is a process to be managed. In the beginning, I simply wanted the surgeons to correct the defects in her lip and palate. It’s not that easy. Humans will never be able to recreate what only God can create, no matter how skilled they are. What we can do is manage the challenges we face, get the best care possible, and aim for the best results so a child can have the maximum quality of life as he or she grows older.
That’s the way Jase and I approach Mia’s condition, but we had to learn to see it that way. We could both accurately be described as problem solvers. We like to fix things and move on, so being able to manage a situation with multiple steps over a long period of time instead of trying to fix it all at once was a huge learning curve for us.
Not long after Mia was born, my mother-in-law, Miss Kay, told me something I have always remembered. She said, “God gave her specifically to you because He knows you can handle it. He knows you and Jase will be the best parents she could possibly have.”
She went on to ask, “Can you imagine what her life would be like if He had placed her with an immature couple? They just would not be ready for her.”
“But I’m not ready either,” I said.
Miss Kay responded, “God is saying that you are.”
I understand mothers who also feel that the special needs of their children can be overwhelming at times. When Mia was first born, I didn’t want to be as mature as I needed to be, and I didn’t want to be as solid and steadfast as I knew I needed to be. There were moments I felt God had been unfair to ask me to deal with the situation He had given us. But God never says life is fair. His Word says He disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6). Every step of our journey with Mia, we have been aware of how much God loves her and how much He loves us.
I believe the most important lesson I have learned is the truth of Deuteronomy 31:8, which tells us not to be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord “will neither fail you nor abandon you.”
I remember having many questions about where God was in the midst of our situation. What just happened? I wondered. Did God get distracted when Mia was being formed? Did He turn His head for just a second, and this happened when He wasn’t paying attention?
I felt guilty about asking such questions, but I’ve come to understand that they are normal and understandable when facing a crisis, especially a crisis involving a child. Deep in my heart, I knew God was bigger than all my questions and bigger than the entirety of our situation. By that time, I had known for years that nothing happens that He does not allow. At times I could rest in that knowledge, and at times I thought, OK, then why has He allowed this to happen to me?
I know some people think questioning God represents a lack of faith; I don’t see it that way. I think questioning God is OK. In fact, it can be a really good thing to do because asking questions often is the only way to find answers. God himself says in Jeremiah 29:13, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” (NLT) Had I not allowed myself to wonder where God was at certain points along my journey with Him, I would not have come to the unshakable conviction I now hold – that He will never leave us, no matter what.
Because of Mia’s condition, our family has met people we never would have encountered otherwise. This also means we have had opportunities to share our faith in ways we might not have had. Early in our experience, I learned to say, “Because we are in this situation, God will be displayed to someone who might have never sought Him otherwise.” Boy, has that been true because of Mia!
This is where our faith and trust in God come into play. He knows so much better than we do what is best for us. I knew that in my head at one time, but our experience with Mia has made it a reality in my heart. I’ve also come to know that God loves my children even more than I do. At times, I wonder if that is even possible. I mean, I think I could stop an oncoming train if it were racing toward Reed, Cole or Mia. I have that much love for them and that much will to see them protected. As hard as the concept is to grasp, God loves my children even more than I do. That one thought helps my faith and trust that He is doing what is best, even if I do not fully understand why or how.
Looking back, I now know the answers to questions such as “Where was God when Mia was diagnosed?” I am convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that He was with us. He was right there that day. His eyes were on me; His Spirit was in me, leading me, guiding me, comforting me. Even during the times that I struggled to believe, God was loving Mia and caring for our family in ways I cannot begin to comprehend. Because this is true for us, I can say with absolute conviction and with gratitude that my life is blessed in every way.