Institute in Basic Life Principles

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How do you respond when a child faces prolonged physical challenges?

Encountering the Unexpected: Physical Challenges
facing ongoing medical needs and finding God in the midst of pain

My wife and I began our marriage with excitement, looking forward to serving together through an evangelistic ministry in prisons. All options seemed wide open, and with the birth of our first child, things seemed to get better all the time. As we traveled together on various outreaches, life was full of wonderful things.

Then came a day when our son was five months old and our lives changed forever. Little Austin had been fretful for a couple of days while we were out of town on a crusade, and we decided to take him to a local doctor before beginning our trip home. Some sort of infection seemed to be present, so the doctor gave us an antibiotic and we began the drive to our home in Pennsylvania. Little did we know that God had some very difficult and very special things just around the corner.

Facing a Startling Challenge

While we cruised down the interstate, Austin suddenly went limp in Cindy’s arms. With pounding hearts, we watched in horror as his eyes rolled back, his breathing ceased, and our small son became unresponsive. Nothing can adequately describe what a parent experiences in such an emergency.

Suddenly helpless, time seemed frozen as we rushed to the closest gas station and I ran inside with Austin cradled in my arms. “Call an ambulance quickly!” I heard myself shout, as I laid him out on the counter and began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Through a fog of fear for my son’s life, I saw people in the store praying for us and heard the tense wail of ambulance sirens. Austin was rushed to the local hospital where it became obvious that he was in a very serious condition. This condition was not a simple infection or an ordinary seizure. Plans were made to transport him to a children’s hospital.

Waiting in Uncertainty

Perhaps you have been separated from your child as their life hangs in the balance and doctors struggle to understand what is happening in their feeble little body. If so, you understand the agony of the waiting, the pacing, and the praying that we experienced as doctors and nurses labored over our son. Other members of the Body of Christ joined us in prayer, as churches from Pennsylvania to Florida petitioned God for aid. In a priceless gesture of kindness and love, inmates we had ministered to on death row in a Florida prison met together to pray for our son.

Finally, the news came. It wasn’t hopeful. Austin had a very serious heart condition with a thirty percent chance of outgrowing it, a thirty percent chance that it could be treated with medication, and a thirty percent chance of requiring a heart transplant that would hopefully save his life. We now had to decide how to treat him.

Crying Out to God for Wisdom

Our first and natural response to these situations was to pursue the best medical care that we could find, putting our confidence in specialists and medical science. In the world of intensive care units, transplantation and schools of medicine, sorting through the options becomes extremely complicated. Should we try to wait it out and hope that his body would heal itself? How would intensive drugs affect this tiny child? At that time the oldest heart-transplant patient was only 10 years out from their transplant, so there was no way of knowing if it was a long-term solution. What a weighty decision we faced, the results of which could mean death for Austin.

Both of our sets of parents traveled to the hospital as we attempted to sort through each option. As a young married couple, we felt totally overwhelmed in these circumstances, and our inadequacy was obvious. The Creator of our son’s body held the answer to the heavy questions before us, and we sought Him fervently. He was faithful and began to guide us step by step.

Entering the Whirl of Medicine

Eventually, the Lord directed us to take Austin to one of the hospitals that performed heart transplants. This decision didn’t make sense from our perspective, since at that time the waiting list for transplants was eight months to a year long, and the prognosis was that Austin would only live a couple more weeks. It was decided that if a heart became available, we would allow the transplant to take place. We serve a gracious and merciful God who provided a heart a week later.

In the three-month hospital stay following our son’s surgery, we became very familiar with ventilators, IVs, and hospital life. Again, God was merciful beyond anything we could have asked, as fellow believers gathered around us offering support, love, and encouragement in every way imaginable.

What adventures those early years of our marriage held as we saw God work through the illness of our son! Little did we know, the adventures were actually just beginning. In 1996 our family expanded to receive precious little Brianna. Two years later, Alisha arrived, and our lives were again plunged into the uncertain when it was found that she too needed a heart transplant.

Austin was also diagnosed with two types of cancer: Burkett Lymphoma and Squamous cell carcinoma. More long hospital visits, constant consultations with specialists, lab work, medications, multiple surgeries, pain, intense cardiac follow-up and chemotherapy became a way of life. As Alisha grew older, she developed severe chemical sensitivity, making her allergic to almost every material in our home—from the paint on the walls to the insulation. This required building a special house to live in made from materials specifically engineered to reduce her exposure to chemicals.

The Source of Our Strength and Courage

Currently, we have ongoing medical care for the children. We are not promised tomorrow. Our family often talks about the reality that we don’t know who will be the first one to go on to eternity. Alisha continues to need a stringent diet and a highly controlled living environment, while Austin is regularly screened for the possibility of more cancer.

We have found that our personal relationships with God are the vital source of strength and courage to face the challenges given us. We can continue walking in victory only as we daily find nourishment from God’s Word. By nature, we have such a narrow perspective, but God’s ways are beyond our comprehension and are always ways of peace.

The things God has allowed us to walk through have stretched our family far beyond our comfort zone. Yet in equal proportion with the challenges, the Lord has provided peace to enter the unknown. We have discovered that as we turn to Jesus with every new source of stress, it becomes easier to live in a constant awareness of our dependence on Him. The storm around us may not change, but God has calmed the storm in our hearts and has created peace where turmoil once reigned.

Each of us has asked all the questions that come to mind in these situations. Why on earth would God allow children to experience this pain? Can any good come from such suffering? God has not given us all the answers to our questions, but He continues to give us His sweet assurance that He is in control and is doing a work in our lives that is bigger than we can see.

Related Command of Christ

This testimony illustrates the command of Christ to Hear God’s Voice. (See Matthew 11:15.) Through all the challenges the Mullett’s face, they find encouragement and refreshment through the Word of God and fellowship with Him. Duane and Cindy have sought God’s wisdom for making medical decisions, and through the years God has been faithful to lead them one step at a time as He provides for their needs.

About the Author

Duane and Cindy Mullett live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina with their five daughters. They have authored two books, Big Mountain, Bigger God and I'm a Winner Either Way. Their family travels and sings, proclaiming a message of hope to those who are hurting and facing difficulties. Visit their family website »


The views expressed and information given in this article are those of the author and are not necessarily those of IBLP.

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