“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Marriage itself can be challenging, but when a spouse or child lives with a disability, couples face an added layer of pressure that the rest of the world just can’t comprehend. The additional responsibilities and pressures that come with parenting a child with special needs can be exhausting and, unfortunately in many circumstances, disastrous to a marriage. When divorce strikes a marriage navigating disability, the aftermath is compounded by the loss of caregivers and often the reality of no respite help whatsoever.
Joni and Friends Missouri recognizes the increased strain that COVID-19 added to marriages living under the weight of disability, and we are committed to doing everything possible to help keep families together. We provide support and encouragement to the special needs families in our communities through all of our excellent programs and outreach events, but it’s our Marriage Getaways that are specifically designed to bring couples closer to each other and closer still to Jesus.
Bryan and Cheryl have experienced the blessings of our marriage ministry firsthand. They have two beautiful daughters, Sonya and Sophia. Sophia, now 17, has Down syndrome and a heart defect that has required four open-heart surgeries.
Bryan and Cheryl vividly recall the impact Sophia’s special needs had on their marriage in the beginning.
“It was a different dimension. We had to look at things a different way.”
Sophia’s disabilities were a game-changer for Bryan, too.
“It impacted us greatly. It was a big change for our family. We’d never really been around any special needs children… it was a real eye-opener.”
The blessing Sophia is to her family doesn’t discount the stress Bryan and Cheryl experienced as they adjusted to their new normal and its accompanying strain on their marriage. Prior to Sophia’s birth, Bryan and Cheryl were a two-income family. Cheryl recalls the moment all that changed for her.
“Our doctor told us we were going to have to change our lifestyle if our baby was going to survive. I was going to have to stay home and nurture our daughter. I’d have to wake her up regularly to eat because she was too tired to wake up herself.”
Due to Sophia’s extreme medical needs, Cheryl spent her days serving as her daughter’s caregiver while Bryan became the sole breadwinner.
Emotional and financial stress left Bryan and Cheryl craving support and encouragement, which they found at Family Retreat. Cheryl smiled wide as she remembered her Family Retreat experience.
“We never imagined we’d have someone to help us with Sophia so we could have some time alone.”
All of these factors contributed to creating a sense of isolation for this special family, but when COVID-19 entered the scene, that isolation was greatly magnified. Sophia’s heart defect makes her especially vulnerable to coronavirus. Protecting her has limited her whole family’s ability to interact with others outside of their home.
Bryan summarized how he and Cheryl feel, “The pandemic has us worried more about Sophia than anything.”
And when coronavirus restrictions shut down our in-person Family Retreat, Bryan and Cheryl were the first to sign up for Family Retreat at Home, which included an intentional marriage enrichment component. This focus on strengthening special needs marriages blossomed into our Joni and Friends Missouri Care Group for Couples, which has met twice a month ever since – blessing Bryan and Cheryl as well as countless other couples impacted by disability like them.
“Through the marriage group, we’re gaining the skills to make our marriage stronger. We look forward to connecting with the other couples and love each of them.”
And Cheryl continues, “We appreciate the resources Joni and Friends Missouri puts together for us. They touch on issues we need to consider to make our marriage stronger.”
Bryan sums up their experience perfectly.
“Joni and Friends has been incredible for our whole family!”
He and Cheryl celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary this year. The reality of disability is an added challenge to their relationship.
But, the love of God poured out through Joni and Friends Missouri is helping their marriage stay strong even in the midst of day-to-day challenges.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”