Disability caught parents Quinn and Mariah by surprise. Their son, Malakai (now 9) had his first grand mal seizure as a baby. At 4 months old Malakai was diagnosed with epilepsy; by age 2 he also had an autism diagnosis. He didn’t speak until age 3 ½.
“Finding out that Malakai had special needs was not something we planned for. We’ve had times of grief, especially when he was younger and we were first accepting his diagnoses,” said his parents.
It hasn’t been easy for Quinn and Mariah raising two children—Malakai and his older sister, Kaiah—while learning the world of disability. Initially meeting Malakai’s needs put a financial strain on the family as Quinn stayed home to take Malakai to medical and therapy appointments. And on top of meeting Malakai’s needs, the couple also wants to give his older sister, Kaiah, a full and connected life. But Malakai’s disability makes getting out and about as a family challenging.
“With Malakai’s seizures and behaviors, we mainly stayed home and isolated ourselves as it was comfortable and predictable,” says Mariah.
When the family did manage to get out, they rarely got to share experiences all together, finding it easier to “divide and conquer” to get Kaiah to birthday parties and events without bringing Malakai along.
New Freedom at Family Retreat
Quinn, Mariah, and their children came to their first Joni and Friends Missouri Family Retreat in 2021. They came back in 2022 and plan to come again. Why? Family Retreat provides exactly what each member of the family needs:
For Quinn and Mariah—respite and quality time as a couple.
For Malakai—a chance to be himself, finding total safety and acceptance.
For Kaiah—time with other siblings who “get me” and acceptance for her whole family… “We don’t have to worry about getting embarrassed,” she said.
Quinn and Mariah not only feel more connected to one another and their children because of Joni and Friends—they also discovered a bigger, stronger support system and the unshakeable foundation of faith in Christ. As they said:
“We’ve met families and volunteers from our area that we’ve been able to connect with outside of Family Retreat. It’s comforting knowing they have similar struggles and that we don’t have to isolate ourselves from others.”
Overcoming “What-if” Fear
God worked in Quinn and Mariah’s hearts at Family Retreat, helping them conquer “what-if” fears about Malakai. As they put it:
“We found ourselves putting limitations on Malakai for fear of the unknown. At Family Retreat, Malakai rode on a motorcycle, wall climbed, and went down a huge water slide. These are things we never would have tried with him if we’d not been at Family Retreat! Going to Retreat helped us realize we need to get uncomfortable more often and not let the fear of ‘what-ifs’ stop us.”
God continues to show himself strong and faithful to Quinn, Mariah, and their family. And the confidence, faith, and relationships they build at Family Retreat follows them home. Now even in hard moments, like in the middle of one of Malakai’s seizures, his family can sense the presence of Christ.
As Kaiah says: “Jesus proves that He’s there. When Malakai has a seizure, there’s nothing he can do to help himself. God is there to help him, or else Malakai wouldn’t be here.”
Thank you for helping Joni and Friends Missouri bring joy, respite, and support to families living with disability like Malakai’s. You can help send more families to Family Retreat, and bring them into the body of Christ!