What can I do if my child struggles with a birth defect?
Kay and I met as young people, and after two years of dating, we married. We both wanted to follow the Lord and longed for a closer walk with Him. We tried to make Christ the center of our home.
Within the first few months of our marriage, we began facing conflicts. We thought things would get better as we became more “adjusted” to married life and to each other. However, throughout the first year of marriage we encountered even more misunderstandings and tension. We both felt the need to become one and learn how to truly love one another, but the tensions only increased. We tried to change our lives and correct the problem, but our efforts were fruitless.
A Surprise and Our Reaction
In the midst of this pressure, we found out that we were expecting a baby. We were overjoyed, and we both hoped that a baby would give us a mutual focus of attention that would make life better.
The Lord saw through our selfish desires however, and He gave us a larger test. After much anticipation, our daughter, Kaylyn, was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. We were devastated. Instead of responding to this test by uniting to face the challenge and growing closer together, we allowed Satan to use the trial to push us further apart.
While Kay focused on the baby and meeting her needs, I sank into the pit of self-pity and focused on my work. I carry the genes for this condition on my side of the family, and I knew Kaylyn had inherited this physical defect from me. I could see no good in what had happened, and I felt that God was punishing me through our baby’s defect. It was not until some time later that I realized God was working out a divine plan for His glory and our good—He was not punishing us or our baby.
The next 18 months involved numerous surgeries and trips to the hospital. Although we pasted smiles on the outside and appeared to be a happy, “normal” couple with a new baby, our marriage was falling apart. We had no mutual respect or honor for each other, and our love was very superficial. Our tensions mounted and the atmosphere of our home became even worse.
God’s Hand at Work in Our Hearts
However, God was at work in us. At a camp meeting in Pennsylvania, Kay felt convicted of her attitude of disrespect and lack of love for me. She sought total forgiveness and cleansing from God and His Holy Spirit. The Lord began to work in her heart and was faithful to show her that genuine servant hood would lead to the restoration of our marriage. Kay was faithful to open her heart to God’s work, and the outcome was not only healing in the atmosphere of our home, but also the Holy Spirit’s work in my heart. As I saw Kay’s change in attitude and sensed her genuine love for me, I became convicted of my own attitudes and actions.
As a result, I began to seek God for a true understanding of love, honor, and respect. I desperately wanted to be one with my wife, and I asked the Lord to show me what true bonding in love was. First, the Lord graciously spoke to me about my guilt and self-pity. In John 9, Jesus told His disciples that the man born blind was not being punished, but that his affliction would bring glory to God. I began to see the need to accept and fully love my baby and wife with a true, Godly love. God is so faithful! Over time, He began to bring true healing to our marriage.
A New Response to Another Surprise
At this time, we were expecting our second child. We fervently prayed that we would be able to have a “normal,” healthy baby. God answered our prayer, but not in the way we expected. Not only did little Michael have the cleft lip, but he had a bilateral cleft (a complete cleft on both sides of his mouth). His condition was worse than Kaylyn’s.
Our faith and marriage were now being put to a big test! Even though we had normal emotions of sorrow and stress, we now began to bond together as a family. Instead of the condition being used as a wedge to drive us apart, this time we accepted the Lord’s grace, and allowed Him to mold us through this circumstance.
A Changed Life Through Acceptance
We had many issues to work through over the next few years, and God was faithful to lead us through each one. Through my book binding business, I came across a copy of the Basic Seminar Textbook put out by the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). I first began to critique the book for printing and binding until my eyes caught some of the words, and I began to focus on what was being said. I called home from the printing plant and shared with Kay my excitement over the information I had just read. That evening, we sat at home together and read more. The next day, Kay continued to read the textbook. Until then, neither of us had heard of IBLP, but we decided we wanted to know more about this ministry. I began to ask questions and learned that IBLP used this textbook in conjunction with a seminar called the Basic Seminar. We signed up to attend the next one closest to us.
The first night of the seminar addressed God’s design in our lives and described ten unchangeable things that God chooses for each of us. We struggled with thanking God for allowing our children to be born with birth defects, but finally through many tears and prayers that evening, we were both able to thank God for the way He had designed our children. The joy that followed was unlike any we had experienced before!
A children’s program was held in conjunction with the seminar, and Kaylyn was learning the same information that we had heard. Kaylyn, now seven years old, was having some problems with anger and bad attitudes. These issues were getting worse, but we didn’t know the root of the problem. The second day of the seminar, Kay spent time talking with Kaylyn in the motel room. She shared the story of how the Lord had dealt with Mom and Dad in the area of design. As they discussed the concept of the unchangeable features that God gives, Kaylyn seemed angrier over the fact that God had allowed her little brother to have a birth defect, than over her own.
When Kay told her the importance of thanking God for the way He had designed her and Michael, an angry battle began raging in Kaylyn’s little heart. She was bitter at God for allowing these things to touch our family. However, as she and her mother worked through each point, a light began to dawn in Kaylyn’s eyes and she began to really understand. God loves us and had let this happen for a purpose!
Finally, Kaylyn broke down and thanked God for her own birth defect and for her brother’s. This was a huge turning point in her life! Since that day we have not seen the rebellion and anger in Kaylyn that is often seen in children with birth defects. God honored her, as well as Michael, when they consciously verbalized gratitude to their Creator for something that could have easily been viewed bad or unfair.
Hope for the Future
Both our children are now in their teens. Since the day that Kaylyn thanked the Lord for putting a special “mark of ownership” on her through her birth defect, we have had to revisit that decision of gratefulness to help her through various times of life. Our son Michael has not had the same struggles with accepting his birth defect as a special mark from the Lord, and we thank God for teaching us how to guide him in this Biblical principle.
Our family will face more surgeries in the next year. Because of what the Lord has done through these birth defects, we have hope that our children will come through these surgeries with a strengthened resolve to rejoice in the midst of trials. We now see God’s hand in these difficult situations, and praise Him for the work He has done in our hearts. Because of His refining fire, we can now go through these challenges with unity in our family and in our marriage. Our desire as a family is to be pleasing to the Lord. May we be like Job, and come forth as gold! “When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
~ A family from Florida
Related Command of Christ
This testimony illustrates the command of Christ to Rejoice. (See Matthew 5:11–12.) When they accepted God’s design, this family found that the challenges of addressing birth defects became a path toward spiritual maturity and blessing. They now recognize their weaknesses as opportunities for God to demonstrate His glory and power.