Finding Abundance While Navigating an Intellectual Disability and Cancer
By Jodie Pine
This is the latest post in a series where guest bloggers share personal stories related to finding abundance. As we explore the unexpected circumstances that often arise in life, we’ll uncover how people found hope and encouragement along the way.
Probably similar to you, Jesus’ promise to bring life to the full is one of my favorite Bible verses. But I seriously questioned how “life to the full” could be true for my 13-year-old son with a worsening intellectual disability. His special ed teacher informed us after his first month in middle school that they might not be able to adequately support him because of his lack of ability to learn.
Those words cut like a knife.
And I felt the knife in my heart every time I observed Daniel’s disengagement or his increasing inability to remember. In his six years with our family, he had been recovering from a severe brain infection and I longed to see continued progress for him. Grief compounded with my sense of failing him as his mom, because of the pressure I felt to provide him with all the resources he needed to succeed.
We had hit a wall. And instead of moving through it, we were sliding downhill.
God, what’s going on and just how far are you going to let him fall?
I wrestled over the unfairness of Daniel’s situation and journaled this prayer last September:
“I would not have chosen this path for Daniel—but You didn’t give me that choice to make. I am choosing right now to stop resisting Your plans—even if that means regression in the future. You have committed to never leave Daniel and I believe that. You will never leave me either. I’m trusting You with future courage and comfort in walking this unknown path. There will be seeds that flower in righteousness.”
I experienced deeper peace after that surrender, but Daniel developed physical symptoms in the months to come, which added another layer of concern. School became too much for him, so we took him out in December.
Headaches. Sleepy all the time. Difficulty standing and swallowing. Tremors. Incontinence.
An emergency room visit in January led to a week-long hospital stay which included three brain surgeries and an eventual brain cancer diagnosis.
But surprisingly, it has been through his roller coaster of a cancer journey that Daniel has shown me what Jesus’ life to the full really looks like.
I could see “life to the full” when he was awake in his hospital bed at 3 AM, singing along to praise music on my phone and dancing with his stuffed bear. Asking the nurse for frosted flakes and pudding. And as I attempted to get a little more sleep on the pull-out couch I thought, he is not lacking in anything right now. This is the life Jesus came to give. He’s living it. With cancer.
I could see “life to the full” when he asked me one day if I was worried, and I confessed that I was. His brother had a fever and I was concerned that Daniel, with his lower immunity, might end up getting sick too. “Are you worried?” I bounced the question back to him. “About what?” he simply replied. And I realized that in many ways Daniel’s intellectual disability is actually a blessing. He doesn’t worry about the future because he’s living fully in the present.
I could see “life to the full” even when Daniel felt awful one day with nausea and told me, “Sometimes I think God is healing me and sometimes I just feel sick.” His faith has grown deeper as his trust in God has been tested. He remembers how God healed him after a six-day coma when he was seven, just before he joined our family. He recognizes how God often helps him when he struggles with memory, because of the damage to his brain from the infection. Daniel’s life to the full has come through difficulty, dependence, and determination to keep holding on to God, because God has proven over and over to be enough for him.
When I wrote my prayer of surrender to God last September, I certainly had no idea what was ahead. Looking back now, God’s handprints have been evident throughout the entire journey. In His merciful faithfulness, He provided the “future courage and comfort” that I needed. Daniel did indeed face further regression, but his faith also flourished in the midst of it all. Through 4 months of chemo and radiation, God never left our side. And just as we observed new life all around us this past spring, we also witnessed the seeds from Daniel’s cancer flowering in righteousness.
Life to the full can come in unexpected ways, and the depth of faith that comes through disability might be one of the best pathways to find it.
About the Author
Jodie Pine loves learning from her husband and 5 kids (ages 14 to 25) and is looking forward to becoming a grandma this year. She counts it a blessing to have lived 20 of the past 25 years in China and continues to seek ways to connect with people of different backgrounds. You can find her on Facebook and on her blog where she writes about her youngest son’s cancer journey, special needs adoption, interfaith, race, and embracing God’s mystery.