About the Guest
Life's twists and turns can be unexpected and unimaginable. Brenda Solomon knows. In 1992 she gave birth to a daughter, Jill, who had a severe seizure disorder, which would eventually leave the child with intellectual disabilities. Brenda explains how the 24-hour care her daughter required sapped the life out of her family and lead them to nearly total exhaustion. But as she prayed for help, God stepped in with respite, and the idea of Jill's House, a full-service, overnight respite center, was born. Joining Brenda is Jill's House President, Cameron Doolittle.
Life’s twists and turns can be unexpected and unimaginable.
Bob: Everything changed for Lon and Brenda Solomon and their whole family when their baby daughter, Jill, started convulsing uncontrollably daily. When the doctors had no answer, no way to fix her, Brenda says, “In times like that, you better have a deep well.”
Brenda: To have the Word of God inside of you before you hit a crisis, I learned is so important. There was no time for Bible study. There was no time to go to church. There was no time to do anything except take what I had already in my heart, already in memory, and just keep saying, “Lord, I know You say this. I know You say this. Show me. I know You say You will never leave me nor forsake me—just show me today that You know where I am.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, August 30th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Brenda Solomon joins us today to tell us about the events in her life that taught her that God really is more than enough.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. A lot of the journey of life that we’re on, there are some tweaks along the path where you have to make some adjustments, but there are times when the journey, when instead of a tweak, there’s a hairpin curve, life takes a new direction, and everything changes.
Dennis: When you’re in the hairpin turn and the forces of gravity are pinning you against your seat and you feel like “This pain is too great. I want out from under this. How can anything good come out of what’s happening in our situation?” But Romans, chapter 8, verse 28, is a passage of Scripture that is true. It’s one that is going to be illustrated in the story we’re going to hear today.
Let me just read that passage for you. “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.”
Now, I look at that passage, and I think that is either true or not true—nothing in between. Do we really believe that for those who love God and are called according to His purposes—does He really work things together for good? Well, I can assure you it is true, and you’re going to hear and find out how that was true and continues to be true through a great story we will share today.
Brenda Solomon and Cameron Doolittle join us on FamilyLife Today. Cameron, Brenda, welcome to the broadcast.
Brenda: Thank you.
Cameron: Thank you, Dennis.
Brenda: Thank you.
Dennis: It’s great to have you two with us. Brenda is the cofounder of Jill’s House, along with her husband Lon. They live in the Washington, D.C. area and give leadership to a little, country church called the McLean Bible in Vienna, Virginia. Anybody—it’s not really in Vienna, though, is it? It would be—
Brenda: No, it’s just—
Dennis: It would be in McLean.
Brenda: Well, it is in Vienna, but it started in McLean. We’re just around the corner.
Brenda: It’s hard to explain where we are.
Bob: It is hard to explain.
Brenda: We’re just across the street.
Dennis: This church has no identity crisis, though. It has 15,000 people attending and is a very influential lighthouse within the nation’s capitol.
Cameron is the CEO and the President of Jill’s House. They give leadership to a ministry that started because of, well, really, some circumstances in your life, Brenda, that you didn’t bargain for, and certainly would never have dialed up for your life.
Brenda: No way. No way.
Dennis: Share with our listeners what happened.
Brenda: Well, it was in 1992, and we had three boys. I was so happy being a mom. I loved being a mom. I always wanted a little girl, but I just figured that wasn’t for us. Then, we had a surprise package when I was almost 40 years old.
Bob: Oh, my.
Brenda: So, she looked perfect when she was born, and her name is Jill. We were so excited. The first thing Lon said to me is “Brenda, you got your little girl.” We figured this wasn’t what we had planned, but this is exciting. We have a little girl. It’s going to really be fun.
Everything was fine until three months. One day I was changing her diaper, and I noticed she started tremoring in her hand. She was having, what I didn’t even know existed, focal seizures. This is our fourth child. I didn’t think too much about it.
I went out to Lon before he left for the church, and I said, “Lon, you’re not going to believe what Jill just did.” He said, “Oh, Brenda, don’t worry about it. You know babies do funny things.” I didn’t worry about it. I didn’t even think a thing about it after that. He just brushed it off and so did I.
But that was on a Tuesday; and Saturday night, he was working. It was before he had Saturday night services at McLean. It was late. He was still working on his message and going over it, and she did it again, but this time on her opposite side. It lasted a lot longer.
I grabbed her, and I took her to Lon. I said, “Lon, this is what she’s doing. Look what she’s doing.” We just had the presence of mind to grab a video camera. We were going into the pediatrician that Monday for the second round of immunizations, and we took that in.
He said, “What she’s having are focal seizures.” I still—it just didn’t even hit me. I just figured, “Give her a pill.” He said, “You have to go to a neurologist,” but “give her medicine. All the medicines we have today just stop these seizures.” But they didn’t stop. They got worse—just worse. They grew in frequency. They grew in intensity.
This fun, smooth-running family just fell apart. I mean we were living in constant stress mode. I cannot even tell you how it impacted our family.
Bob: When you say frequency and intensity, was she having daily tremors?
Brenda: All the time, all the time. I mean, she just grew—like the first Thanksgiving, this was in May. The first Thanksgiving, she had 19 grand mal seizures. We finally ended up in the ICU.
Dennis: In one day?
Brenda: In one day.
Bob: And a grand mal seizure is the whole body?
Brenda: Whole body seizure.
Bob: Eyes roll back in the head kind of thing.
Brenda: Yes, exactly. I mean it’s something—
Bob: And she’s a six-month, seven-month old little girl?
Brenda: Exactly. It’s something you couldn’t even dream could be happening to a child, your child. So, I was busy anyway like all mothers are in Northern Virginia before we had a baby with these boys just carpooling. Well, you can imagine that all stopped. It stopped.
We just wanted to fix this problem. Now, Lon was pastoring an ever-growing church at the time. I was happily involved in ministry and getting my kids to church programs. This all stopped, and the stress, the discouragement, the sadness, the—I just can’t even put into words what we were going through.
Dennis: Your marriage, your family was completely reoriented around this little girl.
Brenda: Exactly. You know what? I didn’t like what was happening. I liked our family before, and I wanted to go back to that happy family.
Bob: What were the doctors telling you about her prognosis? That she’d grow out of this or that they’d be able to treat it with medication? What were they saying?
Brenda: They just kept saying, “There’s always new medication. We can always—there’s always a new medicine we can try,” but we weren’t seeing progress. We were seeing her go downhill pretty quickly.
Bob: So, it was the daily routine of your life at this point?
Brenda: It was just like every day was the same as the day before. I couldn’t take her in the car. We couldn’t go to the sports events. We couldn’t go to church, and it was just impacting. There wasn’t an area of our life that went untouched by this trial, this suffering, this pain.
I think Lon and I both began to deal with it in two different—we just sort of dealt with the grief separately. It hurt so badly we couldn’t even talk about it. I mean it was just like I would cry in the shower, and he still had a ministry. He never missed a Sunday preaching in the pulpit. I don’t know how he did it, honestly, because we had the rescue squad coming to our house several times a week. We were in ICU. We were out of ICU. We were—I mean every—
Dennis: How would you get a good night’s rest?
Brenda: We weren’t. Eight years, we never made it through the night. She’d have seizures day and night. So, somebody had to be watching her all the time because if she had a seizure, you had to go and flip her on her side, so she wouldn’t choke on mucus and things like that.
A lot of her seizures wouldn’t stop. Then you’d have to call the rescue squad. They’d have to come, and they’d have to give her IV. They’d have to either take her to the hospital or stop this—if the seizure wouldn’t stop, they’d have to take her.
Dennis: Then, your boys, how old were they?
Brenda: They were 14, 11, and seven. So, at a very busy time, they really depended on their parents to take them places, to do things with them.
Bob: Nobody’s got a driver’s license yet?
Brenda: No one has a driver’s license. Forget the family dinners together, the hurrying to get through your homework so the family could have devotions together, play board games together—just what you thought of a happy family; and this was all gone.
They were suffering, but they looked at us, and they felt like “Our parents are going through so much. They don’t need any of my problems.” So, they held their problems in and tried to be strong for us.
Dennis: You mentioned earlier that the boys, at a point, felt like they were losing their parents—
Brenda: Oh, yes.
Dennis: —to your attention to this little girl.
Brenda: Right. You know what? I had two prayers that I prayed all the time: “God, help them not hate You and help them not hate their sister.” Because, basically, when that little girl came into our life, it took us away from them. I’m happy to say, by the grace of God, both prayers were answered.
They loved their sister. We had one son who went away from the Lord for awhile in law school, and Lon wrote a book on brokenness. He read it; and in that book, he explains a lot of what we couldn’t even verbalize of what we were going through during that process.
My son said—he was sitting in his room reading this, and he just broke down and sobbed. He had to get up and close his door. Then he put the book away. Then he would get it out and read it. That’s hard for a parent to hear.
Dennis: I’ve asked the question of how your marriage was doing, how your boys were doing. I haven’t asked how you, how Lon, were individually handling these circumstances. Were you questioning God in the midst of that? I mean Romans 8:28 is a hard verse to hear.
Dennis: As Bob talked about being pressed against the hairpin turn—
Dennis: —you’re in the turn, you’re in it for eight years—
Dennis: —day and night.
Brenda: Day and night, no end in sight. No end in sight. It wasn’t like she was getting better, and I wasn’t—I could see what was happening here. All these seizures were going to damage her brain if we didn’t get them stopped. You know she met her milestones up through two-and-a-half. It was a miracle. She was talking. She knew her colors, but little by little, it started slipping away until she got to “Momma” and “Daddy”. Those were the last two words.
I said, “Lord, you can’t lose those two things.” That’s what you dream of your baby saying, “Momma, Daddy.”
Dennis: So, she was losing her cognitive ability to—
Brenda: Right before our eyes, we could see it happening. I mean it was just all slipping away gradually. Then we started fighting for her life. Then it didn’t quite matter if she could say “Mommy” and “Daddy” anymore. We were just fighting. She got to the place where she couldn’t sit up. It was just something you couldn’t write a story about. You couldn’t understand. You’re watching your little baby suffer.
We were about two-and-a-half years into this, day and night, day and night. We finally—our bodies just wore out. We were just depleted emotionally, physically, spiritually. Yet we had all those biblical truths that we’d been taught all our lives. I grew up in a wonderful, Christian home. I memorized Scripture.
I was a little bit frustrated with myself that I couldn’t get a grip on this, that I couldn’t say, “Okay, God, I don’t like this, but I know You have a plan.” But I couldn’t. I was just like, “Lord, this can’t be what you have for our family. This just can’t be.” So, it was a little hard for me. But one thing that happened before I even had Jill, there was a verse of Scripture that just stuck to me. God gave it to me, and I claim it as my life verse right now.
It’s Isaiah 41:10, and it’s, “Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you.” I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t shake this verse. I thought, “Well, maybe it’s because I’m having this baby, and I’m a little older. I’m going to really need God’s resources.” But it was much more than that. So you don’t know how I just held onto that verse. That verse became so real to me. I just wouldn’t let go.
I remember two-and-a-half years into this. One day I just broke. Lon had gone off to church. The boys had gone off to school. Again, it was just like any other day; and I was on the floor. She had just had a major seizure. I sat there in a puddle of tears, and I said, “Lord, I can’t do this anymore. You have to step in. Do something. I can’t do it. I have nothing left to give.” I said, “I just pray, use her life in a mighty way. Don’t waste this pain.”
It was almost like, at that moment, it was like I was finally embracing this and saying, “God, she’s Yours. Do with her what You want.” Things didn’t get better after that. They got worse; but at that point, that day, some lady called me. I had never had anything happen in my life like this, and she said, “Brenda, I don’t know”—we never met. I had never met her before. “I don’t know why I’m calling you, but God told me to call you.”
I knew right away--an answer to that prayer, “God step in and do something”—and she said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Can I come over and see you? Can I visit Jill? Can I just see what we’re dealing with here?” She came over, and she said, “Give me a few days.” She came back to me, and she said, “I know what you need. You need respite. You need to get some rest.” I mean she could see it. This woman had dealt with disabilities herself.
So, she organized a group of people around us. She said, “The only thing I ask is that you send us a monthly prayer letter of all the needs your family is facing that month, and we are going to pray for you. You will never know who these people are, but I need—we will pray for you.”
It revolutionized our lives. Our lives changed. Our perspective on life changed, and God could really minister to us because we were—our body was being—they were being refreshed physically. Then, you could hear spiritually. I don’t know how. It’s just the way it is. I was so tired I was feeling ill. I was feeling sick; I was so tired. Anyway, that was life-changing for us.
It wasn’t long before—it might have been a couple of months. I said, “Lon, I know what I need to spend the rest of my life doing. We need—if we are struggling this much as a pastor’s family, we know the Word of God, we know the truths, we have a wonderful body of believers at McLean who love us—and if we’re struggling this much, how in the world are other people making it?” So, then, we started praying about what God would have us do.
In 1996, we started—because I couldn’t bring Jill to church. There was no class to put her in. So, in 1996, we started with four children, and it was just a Sunday school class. Second week, it doubled in size. Then, it just kept exploding. It was like build it, and they will come.
Bob: All special needs kids?
Brenda: All special needs kids, and at first, it was just so the parents could worship. That’s what they needed. They needed to be refreshed. They needed to get in there and hear the worship songs and hear the message and know that God cared about what they were going through.
Dennis: And they needed someone who knew what to do and how to care.
Brenda: Exactly. They needed someone that was going to love their child. At that time, we had one-on-one for these children because they needed it. That grew and grew and grew. Then we started Friday night to have break out, break away, I guess it was called. That was for the child and the other siblings so the parents could have a date night. So, we started that. Then, we started break away which was on Saturdays for five hours, just for the child with the disability.
That also grew, but I just still felt—Lon and I both felt like God wanted us to do more. So, we just kept praying about it and praying about it. God just really showed us there is a center—there’s a respite house like this called Shalva in Israel, in Jerusalem. Lon leads tours to Israel, and he had a man on his trip who said, “I want you to come see this place. I want you to come see this place.”
They’re very busy on these trips. I mean it’s exhausting; and Lon said, “I really can’t. I don’t have a break.” He said, “Just give me one hour, one hour.” Well, our youngest son was with Lon at that time. He was in the habit of taking one of our sons with him when he would go there. They spent four hours in this place.
Lon said he walked into the lobby of Shalva, and he said, “Oh, my gosh! This is it. We can do this. We can do this back in the States. We can build a respite center, and help these families make it, get a break.” So he called me right away as soon as he came out. He said, “Brenda, I’ve got to show you—you’re not going to believe this. I think we found what we need to do for the people in our community raising children with disabilities.”
So we were incorporated in 2003, but we actually didn’t have opening day until 2010—in the fall of 2010. But the only thing I can say—I can’t explain it. I just know it’s a God thing because there is no explanation how God put all the pieces together and built this house. It’s just God. It’s a God thing. The need is so great. We have a waiting list, but you should hear the responses, and Cameron has so many great responses.
Bob: Oh, yes, Cameron is here. Cameron, hi.
Brenda: Yes, I’m so sorry I’m dominating the conversation here. (Laughter)
Dennis: We’re going to hear more from Cameron later—
Dennis: —but this house has 45 beds.
Dennis: It’s for families to be able to leave a child that does have special needs but also there are other children as well.
Brenda: Well, if a family doesn’t feel comfortable to send just their child with disabilities, we have some rooms that are semiprivate, and you can bring a sibling, a normal sibling. Sometimes, parents feel more comfortable—
Brenda: —if another child comes with them.
Dennis: It’s for single parents. It’s for folks who are divorced, who find themselves in a very difficult situation. It’s for families that have these challenges.
As we were hearing more about your story, I made the statement to you—and you know what I’m about to say here. These needs across the nation are huge. We’re touching on something that not only touches individual lives of people like, Brenda, you and Lon, who have a child like this but also people who’ve been wanting to do something. They wonder “What could we do? What could we do in our community, in our church? “
Here’s the deal: The church is—it’s the readymade place to begin to address the spiritual, emotional, physical well-being of single parents, of families, and of young people in situations like this.
Bob: You may not be able to build a house; but you can do a Sunday school class—
Bob: —or you can do a Saturday. I mean, again, there are all kinds of small solutions, steps that you can take and then see what God does with that.
If you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, there is a link you can click on the website that will take you to an area where you can get some ideas. You know what? This is something that anybody can do.
You show up at church and say, “We’d like to take this on as a project. There are some other families. We’re all going to team up and do this.” People would be thrilled to know that this is an area of ministry that you want to engage in.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com, click on the link to get more information about what you could to do to have a ministry like this in your community; or to find out more about Jill’s House, again, FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s a link for Jill’s House there.
We’ve got some resources we think can help you as well. Our friends, Joe and Cindi Ferrini, have written a book called Unexpected Journey where they talk about their experience as special needs parents. You can find out how to order a copy of that book when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us toll-free at 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
This has been a neat month for us here at FamilyLife Today. We’ve got a lot of folks who we know listen regularly to FamilyLife Today who we’ve never connected with. We’ve seen the information, and it looks like we may hear from maybe ten percent of our regular listeners here at FamilyLife Today.
This month we’ve been hearing from some of you who have been long time listeners but have never gotten in touch with us before. It’s been great to know that you’re listening, and we appreciate you getting in touch to make a donation to help support FamilyLife Today. Because we’re listener-supported, we depend on donations from folks like you to continue this ministry.
We had a goal this month of trying to hear from about two new families in every city where FamilyLife Today is heard, and I think we still have a ways to go with that goal, but a lot of you have gotten in touch with us. We appreciate that.
In fact, we have been saying thank you to first-time donors this month, by sending out a copy of the DVD, October Baby, which is just coming out in stores. This is a movie that was in theaters a few months ago, and we’ve been sending out the DVD as a way of saying thank you to those of you who have made a first-time donation to FamilyLife Today this month.
Some of you have been able to make a donation of $100 or more, and we’re grateful for that generosity. In fact we’ve been sending a certificate to first-time donors who make a $100 donation or larger. We’ve been sending a certificate, so that you can attend a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway as our guests, or you can pass that certificate along to someone else you know.
Today and tomorrow, we’re asking those of you who are regular listeners but who have never gotten in touch with us, “Would you help us meet our goal of 2500 new friends this month and let us send you the October Baby DVD; or if your donation is $100 or more, send you a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway gift certificate?” We would love to hear from you.
Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to make a donation or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, thanks for getting in touch with us, letting us know that you’re a listener, and that you believe in what we’re doing. It is great to hear from you.
We want to encourage you to join us back again tomorrow when we’re going to hear more about the work of Jill’s House in the Washington, D.C. area, how it all works, and how you could do something similar in your community. That comes up tomorrow. Hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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