by Candice Watters
There we were, all dressed and ready to go on a much-anticipated date, giving one another that knowing look — just 30 more minutes till the babysitter arrives! But the 30 minutes came and went and no babysitter. Then 45. Then 50. I dialed the phone, “Um hi, are you on your way?”
“Oh, hi Mrs. Watters.” Lots of happy noise in the background.
“I thought you were babysitting tonight? ”
“Well, when I didn’t hear back from you, I made other plans. I’m out with friends now. Sorry.”
Sinking feeling. Verge of tears. Date night hopes ruined. In the moment, it felt like so much evidence of the curse: surely this is pain in childbearing. It’s only happened twice that I can remember, and both times it was my fault. A failure to communicate and to confirm date and time. A massive disappointment. Genesis 3 strikes again.
This week I saw something that provided a needed corrective to what I tend to think are hardships and challenges in parenting. My friend Carolyn McCulley is an author and gifted film-maker whose Citygate Films tells stories that change lives. In a recent project, she produced a short film about Jill’s House, a place of respite for parents of disabled children. She warned me to watch with tissue in hand.
I vowed to be strong (I don’t like it when people predict I’ll cry). But she was right. By film’s end, tears marked my cheeks. The short film features Matt and Shannon McNeil, dad and mom to Waverly and Oliver who are suffering from Sanfilippo syndrome. The McNeils talk about their children’s condition, how they discovered they had it, and the challenges of caring for them. Their love for Waverly and Oliver is evident and they are utterly devoted to caring for them, but it’s apparent that doing so is an all-consuming assignment.
The McNeils can’t hire a babysitter like typical parents. Few caregivers have the qualifications needed to cover for an occasional night out: to be able to lift and move 100 lb. children, to handle medical monitors and feeding tubes and more. The girls in the church youth group are out for lack of training. And trained help is expensive. Enter Jill’s House, a very special place that provides something parents of special-needs children often only dream about: rest.
Matt McNeil says, “We took a vow when we got married, ‘Till death do us part.’ And both of us secretly hopes that it will be our death when we part … not theirs. The divorce rate for parents of children with special needs is unusually high,” he says. “And I can only imagine it’s higher for parents who’ve lost children. And we have two.”
This is a very real concern for parents like Matt and Shannon. But Jill’s House gives them time away from their burdens and responsibilities in order to focus on being together, have a date night, reconnect with “normal” life. Jill’s House provides overnight, qualified, exceptional care for children with intellectual disabilities in a setting that looks like a top notch ski lodge. It’s a delight for the children who can, at Jill’s House, do the normal things of childhood: swim, swing, play, jump, and make friends; the normal things that are often impossible in their everyday lives. But even more, it’s a bit of heaven on earth for their parents in its provision of rest. Etched in stone on the building are these words from Jesus,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)
Founded by D.C.-area pastor Lon Solomon and his wife Brenda, Jill’s House, named for their disabled daughter, seeks to minister to special families with God-glorifying rest.
Please watch this video and be encouraged in your own journey, whatever the challenges and complications you’re facing as parents. Hebrews 13:3 encourages believers to remember those who are in prison and those who are being mistreated as if you were suffering those things yourselves. We need reminders like this to help us bear the burdens of those who are enduring much suffering. And our children need to see stories like this to develop empathy for others who are different, and those who struggle to do the simple things they take for granted.
I’m thankful for Carolyn’s ability to so artfully tell the story of the McNeils and Jill’s House, that I might not turn away from the disabled and those caring for them, but rather give thanks for the opportunity to learn more about their story, to understand more of what they’re enduring, and to pray for them.
There are many burdens, heartaches, and challenges in this life in a fallen world, and the pain in childbearing is a real consequence of sin. We see it in the discouragement of infertility, the anxiety over a prodigal, and in this case, in the effects of disease. But we also see redemption. Jill’s House is one evidence of grace; of God’s work to restore this fallen world and to work all things together for the good of those who love Him. Be encouraged. And remember to pray for those who, today, are facing so much more than you are.