Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Grace to Walk in Obedience

Dannah Gresh: Do you trust God even when things don’t make sense? Abigail Dodds says . . .

Abigail Dodds: I have just seen massive unexpected grace in the hardest places! I worried, “Is this going to make my kids’ lives too hard? Is this going to ruin their lives?” And what God has shown me is, “You don’t understand My ways, Abigail!”

Dannah: This is the Revive Our Hearts podcast with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe: And the Truth That Sets Them Free, for May 7, 2021. I’m Dannah Gresh. 

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and today we’re going to hear a touching story from a mother’s heart. Whether you have children of your own or not, I think we all agree that life seldom goes the way we plan. So, the question is, when God’s plans are different from our own, how do we respond?

Three of my very dear friends—Mary Kassian, my co-host Dannah Gresh, and Abigail Dodds—have been talking over the last couple of days about womanhood and God’s design. It’s a really important topic, given the way our world is thinking about these things these days. 

If you missed any part of that conversation, or you’d like to hear it again, you can listen on the Revive Our Hearts app or you can find the audio and the transcript at ReviveOurHearts.com. Also at our website, you can order a copy of Abigail’s excellent book (A)Typical Woman. The subtitle is Free, Whole and Called in Christ.

That book by Abigail Dodds is available in the Revive Our Hearts Resource Center that you can access at ReviveOurHearts.com. To make it easier for you to find, there’s a link to that book in the transcript of today’s program.

Today Abigail is sharing a personal glimpse of how being the mother of a special needs child has helped her to see God’s faithfulness in a whole new light. Let’s listen.

Dannah: You have a houseful of children, Abigail. Five children. 

Abigail: Yes.

Dannah: And your view of motherhood has been idyllic and perfect, and everything has gone smoothly . . . like the rest of us?! 

Abigail: Right! Exactly how I planned! (laughter)

Dannah: Ah, God laughs at that, I think. He has things to teach us.

Abigail: That’s right. He sits in the heavens and laughs. 

Dannah: What has been the hardest thing about motherhood for you? How did God show up and say, “I need to teach you something, and I need you to trust Me?”

Abigail: WIth our first four children, in some ways things were fairly how I expected. The pregnancies were fairly uncomplicated, the babies came and did what babies do, they grew. It was hard, but nothing really ruffling in terms of something very unexpected.

And then with our fifth pregnancy, at the twenty-week ultrasound . . . You know, it’s your fifth one, you sort of think you know how this all goes. We go in for the ultrasound and they say, “We want to send you to a specialist ultrasound. We see some flags in the brain development.”

Mary Kassian: How did you feel at that moment? How did you feel right away when, “Hmm, this isn’t going exactly the way my other pregnancies went?”

Abigail: I was holding everything in tension at that moment. I didn’t really let myself feel everything. I didn’t go to a really dark place yet. I thought, We may go and it may be fine. It’s just that we’re going to look more closely. So I was really trying to stay very detached from assuming that I knew anything.

Even through the whole pregnancy, I would say that was both my husband’s and my posture: “We don’t know for sure; ultrasounds are not always right.” It’s more of an art than a science, ultrasound, and so we really had given ourselves permission to not really go there all the way.

But in our moments in bed at night we would sometimes talk. I think at one point I maybe confessed to Tom that, “You know, whatever it is, I really hope it’s not an intellectual disability. I feel that that would be very difficult. I’ve never thought about that or what that would be like.”

Then as Titus was born, we kind of thought, Well, maybe things are okay. He came. He was very small. And yet within about a month or two months, it was clear that there were some things that were definitely wrong and that those ultrasounds were true.

Dannah: What signs were you seeing, what symptoms?

Abigail: One of the big things was that he was severely cross-eyed. Every newborn is somewhat cross-eyed, and so you sort of wait. You don’t want to jump to conclusions. And yet, I’ve done this before, and so I know this is a little bit different than what I’ve seen before.

We went in, and immediately the pediatrician said, “Yes, there are definitely some significant things, and you need to go see an eye doctor today and a neurologist right away. I’m making the appointments for you right now.”

So I knew at that point, “This is a big deal.” Our eye doctor . . . what a wonderful woman. I’ll tell you, these people who work with these special kids are just the best of the best! But as I left that appointment for his eyes, she gave me a hug and she said, “I’m so sorry!”

She had communicated that his vision problems were not related to his eyes but to his brain. So I knew it was a bigger deal.

Dannah: Even though the eye appointment was probably horrific . . . I had premature twin granddaughters, and the appointment that my daughter-in-law braced herself emotionally for each time when they went in to see if there was eyesight loss due to being premature. The process of the examination itself could just leave a mom weeping!

Abigail: Yes, and I have been there. I have come out of those appointments definitely weeping. It’s very emotional to sort of be hit with these things. For me, having been a mom for a long time, I felt like I was a new parent. That’s really the best way to describe it. 

A new parent at a disadvantage, like a new parent who was completely out of their league! I didn’t have very many parents I could go to and say, “Well, what’s going to happen next? What should I do next?”

Mary: What did happen next? You went to the neurologist.

Abigail: Yes. We got an MRI, and we discovered that he has [deficiency in a] small part in his brain stem, the pons, which regulates swallowing and breathing. Then the small part that connects the hemispheres, that thin area just means he just has global delay. So he has an overall delay in every area. He has a feeding tube now; he’s had a feeding tube since he was fourteen months old.

Dannah: How old is he now?

Abigail: Now he’s six.

Mary: And the feeding tube, that’s just to give him nutrition, because he can’t feed himself. 

Abigail: The feeding tube is a permanent one, so it’s in his stomach. It’s called a G-tube.

Dannah: And so, he can’t swallow?

Abigail: He can, he can swallow, and he does drink, but not very well. And so, for years he would throw up multiple times every day. He also has sleep disruptions. For about the first five years, his sleep was extremely, extremely interrupted, dozens of times a night.

Mary: And you were the caregiver? You and your husband?

Abigail: Yes, so he’s been in our room for five years; he sleeps next to us still. I’ll tell you, it really undoes you. I just was undone. I was a homeschool mom, and all the sudden I realized, “I cannot homeschool.” I physically and literally could not homeschool. I was in appointments all week; I was getting no sleep.

So not only were we in the transition of, “Okay, we have a son with special needs and life is different,” we had to transition out of homeschooling. That was my community and my kids’ community. So not only was it that, I was having to think about, “Okay, my children are going to need to go to school. They’re going to be with different people. I’m not going to be part of my homeschool mom’s group anymore,” which was precious to me. So I felt such a loss of identity.

Dannah: And probably a loss of some of your purpose, right?

Abigail: Absolutely! I thought, I thought You called me to homeschool, Lord!? (As much as I didn’t like it at times.) And to have the Lord say, “No, no, this isn’t actually the plan that I have for you; it’s something different.” And just to have to walk in that obedience was hard.

Dannah: Well, you kind of make it sound easy, “Walk in that obedience.” Take us to a really hard day. Can you remember one of those days where you just maybe even said, “Why, Lord!?”

Abigail: Yes, well, I’ll take you to the hardest one, which is a little bit of an oxymoron. But I’ll explain that as I go. When Titus was fourteen months, we had friends over. Actually, my best friend was visiting with her family from out of state. She had her five children with us. We were having the best time!

Titus was sitting in his high chair. We looked over at him, and it looks like he’s choking. That’s not super uncommon for him, and so I didn’t panic. I went and I got him out very quickly, and he started to vomit some. He very quickly started to turn gray and blue. He was not breathing, and he was not moving, and he was totally limp.

I thought, He’s choked, and he’s dying! That was really what I thought. So my friend is calling 911 and I’m calling 911, and I’ve got Titus, and I run outside. Tom was working from home, but he was outdoors doing something.

I’m like a crazy woman wandering around the front of my driveway screaming Tom’s name, holding Titus. I literally started to think, I will just run down the street to the ambulance so that I can get there as quickly as I can!

The police arrived before the ambulance, and he looks at Titus, who is very gray and doesn’t look good, and after a while he put his finger in Titus’s mouth to see if he was choking (I had already done that). He said, “I think he’s having a seizure; I think this is just a very long seizure.”

And it was, it was a seizure. I had never seen anything like it. My idea of a seizure was jerking, convulsing, but this was a different kind of seizure, and it has a fairly high mortality rate, and it’s very scary. 

So we got in the ambulance, and we got to the hospital. I watched-—I think it was fourteen people—work on my son in the middle of the ER. They put an IV directly into his leg, like right into his bone. I didn’t even know that was a thing.

I just stood there and I thought to myself, Do not break down! It wasn’t because I was trying to be strong. I was just terrified they’d make me leave the room! Tom arrived and we stood there, and they got him intubated.

We went up to the PICU, and they did the EEG and sure enough. It had been just a horrible seizure. He did recover from that, and he’s been on meds ever since. That was when he got his feeding tube, because he was not thriving. They did some swallow studies, and he was aspirating everything.

That was a very pivotal moment of scare and worry and wondering what the Lord would do, wondering if I could survive the loss of a child, and really having to do business with God—that He’s in control; these children aren’t mine, and having to surrender all of that.

What’s so odd about that is, as hard as all that was, as scary as all that was, there was such a flux of help in that moment. The prayer chains are going out, and there are people showing up, and you are being carried on wings, and you get through it. We got through it ,and we came home. Then the sleepless nights continued . . . and continued . . . and continued.

I remember laying in bed one night. Every night Titus would wake up, and I would pray for Titus and I would say, “Dear Lord, please help Titus to go to sleep. Please help his brain to rest. Be with us!” It was kind of this rote prayer that just sort of got ingrained. I would just pray it dozens of times a night.

I remember getting angry and thinking, God, why won’t you answer my prayer? Why won’t You answer this prayer? We’re praying for sleep; we just want to sleep! You say that sleep is good; You say we need it. You say that sleep is an act of humility! I just want to be humble enough to sleep!

And He wasn’t allowing it. After a while, when Titus would wake up, he would turn toward me. He would fling his arm over, and he would say, “Mom, pray! Mom, pray!” And the Lord just flooded my heart at one point with the realization that this unanswered prayer for this sleep was the answer of a much bigger prayer: that my son would talk, that we would ask me to pray! 

Just the kindness of God in that, that He sees, that He may not be answering that prayer that feels so urgent right now, but that He may be answering a much more important one. That was just so precious to me, and reoriented me to His goodness.

Dannah: Can I ask you a question? Is it lonely sometimes to be the mother of a child with special needs?

Abigail: Yes, it can be lonely. One of my big thoughts, one of the big, giant, flashing red light questions that I had at the beginning of the journey was, “Lord, must I make all new friends? Who’s going to understand this? Who will come along with us in this? Who will want to love him?”

And God graciously said, “Abigail, do you really think that it’s your healthy children that bonds you to my people, or do you think it’s something more? Do you think it’s Christ?” I didn’t give my friends enough credit. They are God’s people, and when we invite them in with us, they walk with us. They don’t do it perfectly, and I certainly don’t do it perfectly.

I don’t do the inviting in perfectly, I don’t do the receiving perfectly. I’ve messed up much more on my end than any of my friends have. God just graciously showed me that His people are His people, and we are bonded by something so much more than our circumstances in this world. 

I don’t need somebody who has gone through the same thing I have to receive from them or to be understood. I won’t be perfectly understood, but that’s true of everyone! I’ve been so blessed to have God’s people around me to walk with us through this and to show me that my ideas of what community is are very small.

Mary: How has it impacted your family, your other children, having a child with special needs?

Abigail: Well, when Titus was born, my oldest was nine. When she was eleven, she was baptized. Part of her testimony was all about Titus almost dying and God being with her. I have just seen massive unexpected grace in the hardest places! 

I worried, “Is this going to make my kids’ lives too hard? Is this going to ruin their lives?” And what God has shown me is, “You don’t understand My ways, Abigail! I work through the broken things, I use the weak the things to shame the strong!”

He has just totally had to reorient me to His ways, and I pray that this continues to be true. I don’t want to presume in any way on God’s grace. But what we have seen is that this has been God’s outpouring of grace on our family.

Yes, it’s difficult. There are difficult things. I come down in the morning to take the kids to school, and my thirteen-year-old son—every morning—has made Titus’s food, has fed Titus his tube feeding and his meds. He just does that. It’s part of his life; he doesn’t have to be asked.

I can’t make kids do that. I’m not that good of a mother! God has done something so profound, and I’m so thankful. It’s broken—there are broken things about it—but it’s also beautiful.

Dannah: It sounds like you’re a woman who is holding the tension of the loneliness and the changes and the submission, and trusting God all in one complicated mixture . . . and you’re seeing the Lord show up in your friends, for your children. 

I want to say that if you’re listening right now and you have a child with any kind of a learning disability, a neurological deficiency, a physical deficiency, you’re not alone! You need to lean into the hearts and the voices and the wisdom of women who have gone before you. And, Abigail, you’re sitting next to one of those women. Mary, you’ve raised a son with special needs.

Mary: Yes, he is our third child. He lost his hearing sometime between ages two and three. We had to walk that hard path. He actually turned into an angry, angry, angry child. I thought at the time, “Have I forgotten how to parent?”

Just the self-doubt and then the long road of being diagnosed and the medical appointments. We were able to walk through it to a point where he is now able to function very well. But the hard thing about it initially for me—and I think the hard thing for families of disabilities—was the sheer unending nature of it. Would you agree with that?

Abigail: Yes, I absolutely would. I think that is the big challenge, and from where I’m sitting with a six-year-old, I think it can really be hard to look down the road and try and have an imagination for what that’s going to be. What’s this going to like like in the future? Who is going to take care of him?

Mary: Am I ever going to sleep again!?

Abigail: Right, and what will life be like? Will we be empty nesters or not? How are You going to walk with us through that, God? Sometimes I think that can be very overwhelming. I have really just taken comfort in only taking the step right in front of me. Because God has been so faithful to hold my hand one step at a time, it gives me a lot of courage to keep walking.

I’ve used the metaphor of walking in the tall grass: you’re walking in grass that’s so tall you can’t see anything at all, not one single thing. But I’m holding God’s hand, and He can see. So He’s going to lead me through the tall grass even though I’ve never done this before.

I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going, but He knows. So we can take one step at a time and trust that He’ll give me grace to figure out that situation when it’s in front of me. . .and He’ll give me grace to figure out the next situation the next time I have to get there and figure it out. 

I don’t have to have it all figured out right this moment. But sometimes you feel like you want to, because for your other kids, you don’t know what their life is going to be like. You have some ideas of what it could be, and you have some reasonable thoughts about their future. And that just doesn’t always hold true when you’re dealing with disabilities.

Dannah: What is a Scripture verse that would be a treasure, a gift that you can give to a friend that’s listening who is thinking, Yeah! The everyday-ness!

Mary: “The battle never ends!”

Dannah: “I’m so exhausted!” What is a treasure in God’s Word that you can leave her with today?

Abigail: Well my favorite passage I think, as we’ve walked through this, is from Romans 5, starting in verse 1:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (vv. 1–5).

I am so encouraged to know that this suffering is working something; it’s not wasted! And I love that God tells us that we have to endure. Because enduring is not like skipping and jumping; enduring is getting through it, like, “I have to get through this somehow!” 

And so it helps me to think, Okay, sometimes you just have to get through. You aren’t hop, skip, and jumping through it; you aren’t dancing around. It isn’t skippy, happy, chipper. It’s hard! But that endurance is producing character, and then that character is producing hope . . . and just, thank You, God! 

I think we deal with a lot of shame, sometimes, when it comes to disability. But this passage tells me that the hope does not put us to shame. The kind of hope that God gives us, we aren’t put to shame; we are never going to stand before God’s throne at the end of all of this and say, “God, You didn’t do right by me or my son.” 

We are going to say, “God, You did right by me! You did right by my son! You had a plan, and You did not put us to shame!” This just gives me such hope to know that He’s doing right by my son even in this hard thing.

Mary: I love that word “hope.” I did a word study on that recently, and that word hope doesn’t mean “wishful thinking.” It’s not the same kind of hope that the world has; it’s not a wishful hoping that things will turn out okay, a kind of wishful thinking.

That scriptural hope is a rock solid confidence in the character of God, that God will hold your hand, and God is sovereign and will see you through.

Dannah: Ah, those are not only some comforting words, but they’re words of truth. Mary Kassian and I have been talking with Abigail Dodds about being a mother of a child with special needs, and how the Lord worked in her life and in their family through that.

You know, Nancy, I’m just so encouraged by what she shared about the hope she has found in these challenges.

Nancy: Yes, Dannah. I followed Abigail for a number of years on social media, and she often shares these up-close and personal glimpses into her family. You see that sweet Titus and see the way that whole family loves that child and how they really do display their confidence in the faithfulness and the goodness of God.

As we heard today, the kind of hope that comes from the Lord isn’t just wishful thinking, it’s trusting in the faithful promises of God through any and every circumstance of life, because we know that through any and every circumstance, we know that He is faithful and can always be depended upon.

When we put our hope in Christ, He gives us what we need to trust Him, to endure, and to walk in joyful obedience, even through the hardest places of life as we follow Him.

Dannah: Yes, and Revive Our Hearts wants to help women all over the world experience that true hope. We do that through podcasts and programs like this one, books, digital outreaches and so many other resources. We’re just committed to pointing women to Scripture to help them thrive in Christ.

Nancy: In every season of life we need that, don’t we? And none of that would be possible without those who give generously to support this ministry. 

As you know, we’re a listener-supported ministry, which means that through listeners like you, God provides funding so that we can keep reaching women with hope.

I just want to say a huge thank you! When you pray for us, when you support us financially, you’re making a difference in the lives of women around the world. And what a privilege it is to hear sweet testimonies from women who have experienced God’s faithfulness! 

Here’s a woman who wrote recently to share how the Lord has been transforming her by redeeming her past. Let me read to you what she wrote. She said, 

I just wanted to tell you how much you have influenced my walk with God. I have a terrible past, and I’ve hurt a lot of people!

When I came back to God a few months ago, it was like having a whole new life! But because my past is so bad, a lot of fellow Christians have worked hard at sending me messages that I am beyond redemption and can’t be forgiven. But you have been such a shining light in a dark place for me!

You always talk about how God can not only change our hearts, but how He can use us in spite of our past.

And then she talks about some specific podcasts that God used in her life in a particular way. She says, 

It’s because of you and a few other close Christians in my life that I have a totally different view of God and His church now!

And then here’s this line—I love it—she says, 

I was almost convinced I was out of God’s reach, but you completely turned that around for me! So thank you! 

And I want to say to you, if you have ever prayed for this ministry, if you’ve given to support it financially, thank you! 

You’ve been a part of what God has done in the life of this precious woman and in so many more like her throughout the world. Your gifts truly make a difference! And throughout the past week, we’ve been sharing that the end of May coming up is our fiscal year-end. That’s when we wrap up our budget for the year and we make plans for the year ahead.

And, apart from the month of December at the end of each year, the month of May is when we need the highest provision of resources. This month we’re asking God to provide $750,000. That’s what it will take as we continue our existing outreaches and also respond to new opportunities to reach women with the hope of the gospel.

The woman whose email I just read said, “I was almost convinced that I was out of God’s reach, but you completely turned that around for me!” How many more women are there like her, who are on the brink of thinking they’re beyond God’s reach, but God wants to turn that around for them. You can be part of that miracle in those women’s lives.

So would you ask the Lord if He might want you to send a special donation to help with the need this month? You can go to ReviveOurHearts.com to make your donation or you can call us at 1–800–569–5959. Thank you so much for standing with us at this important time!

Dannah: Thanks, Nancy. 

You know, next week is Ascension Week. If you didn’t even know that that was a thing, that’s okay, because next week Nancy will explain as she takes us through Psalm 110. In fact, you might want to prepare for that by just opening your Bible to that passage this weekend and asking yourself, “What does this reveal to me about God?”

Nancy is going to show us that this Scripture in the Old Testament is beautifully fulfilled with Christ’s ascension to heaven, where He now sits at the right hand of the Father. I hope you have a wonderful Mother’s Day . . . and please be back Monday for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth encourages you with the hope we have in Christ. This program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teacher

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

When Dannah Gresh was eight years old, she began praying that God would use her as a Bible teacher for “the nations.” When she sees the flags of many countries waving at a Revive Our Hearts event, it feels like an answer to her prayer.

Dannah is the founder of True Girl which provides tools for moms and grandmothers to disciple their 7–12 year-old girls. On Monday nights, you’ll find Dannah hosting them in her online Bible study. She has authored over twenty-eight books, including Ruth: Becoming a Girl of Loyalty, Lies Girls Believe, and a Bible study for adult women based on the book of Habakkuk. She and her husband, Bob, live on a hobby farm in central Pennsylvania.

About the Guests

Mary Kassian

Mary Kassian

Mary Kassian is an award-winning author, an internationally-renowned speaker, and a frequent guest on Revive Our Hearts. She has written more than a dozen books and Bible studies, including Conversation Peace, Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, and The Right Kind of Strong.

Mary and her husband, Brent, have three sons and six grandchildren and live in Alberta, Canada. The Kassians enjoy biking, hiking, snorkeling, music, board games, mountains, campfires, and their family’s black lab, "The Queen of Sheba."

Abigail Dodds

Abigail Dodds

Abigail Dodds is a wife and mother of five. She is a regular contributor at Desiring God and the author of (A)Typical Woman: Free, Whole, and Called in Christ (2019).