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When Leisa Williams learned that her son, Justin, had autism, her hopes and dreams got sidelined. At first, the burdens of disability—denial, exhaustion, and nagging grief—made Leisa want to withdraw from Christian community. She found herself shutting down and pushing others away. Then she reached a turning point…
“I realized that I did need people.”
Leisa’s realization became key to finding hope, both for her and her family. Now, twenty years into parenting a child with a disability, she tells others about the importance of “Having Other People Engaged,” her personal acronym for HOPE.
How can I practice “HOPE: Have Other People Engaged”?
When Leisa recalls Justin’s early childhood, she thinks of the constant stream of people who entered her family’s world: a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist, a pediatrician, and the list goes on. Managing Justin’s appointments and interventions became like a job, but the presence and care of Justin’s many helpers also brought comfort and stability.
Beyond Justin’s medical and therapeutic teams, church community rallied around Leisa’s family, and never abandoned them. “Some of them have stuck with us for nearly twenty years. And that engagement has been the stability that was needed to transition Justin into each section of his life. They are the people I can call on the phone and be really raw and real, vulnerable, and honest when times are tough. And so one thing I like to talk about is how to build a powerful, caring support team,” Leisa says.
What Leisa realized is that having many people engaged—not just the core specialist teams, but the body of Christ through church, school community, and other parts of community—kept the family going when waters got rough. The solidarity and unity Leisa experienced with fellow believers imparted sustaining strength.
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
1 Corinthians 1:10
Who has been there for you through life’s ups and downs? Who can you support in the same way?
Leisa acknowledges that connecting at church, or with Christian community in other settings, can pose a challenge, especially to families living with disability. Not every church has readily embraced Justin or met the whole family’s needs. She addressed what to do when a church or community falls short.
“If we didn’t feel like our needs were being met, we would trust Jesus, that his way is the best way, even though we might not have perfect churches—and there aren’t perfect Christians, as we all know.”
Leisa and her husband made a commitment to keep showing up at church, through thick and thin, and learning to be there for other people, too.
And throughout their journey, God has shown himself faithful time and again.
Leisa recalls taking Justin to be prayed for at church when he was little. She prayed the prayer of Hannah over him. She prayed for Justin’s healing—as she prays for his healing to this day—but regardless of healing, Leisa dedicated her son to the Lord.
“And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life…”
1 Samuel 1:11
In praying Hannah’s words over young Justin, Leisa couldn’t imagine the seeds that the Lord planted in her son’s heart, which have since come to fruition. As Justin has grown up, gone through multiple surgeries, and struggled with ongoing challenges and delays, God has proven himself faithful over and over again. Even as Leisa has suffered a health breakdown under the pressures of being a special needs mom, God has walked with her. She knows that she and her family have never been forsaken.
“God is protecting us and walking with us through those times…he answers our prayers.”
Do you trust God with your uncertainty about the future?
Reminding herself of God’s faithfulness and promises, Leisa entrusts Justin’s future, and her own, to God. But even faith can’t answer all Leisa’s questions about how life will turn out. “We have financial needs coming out of our ears. Life with disability is not cheap. We’ve had to take out another mortgage.”
Leisa and her husband need to secure housing fur Justin. They pay for 24/7 care, as Justin can’t be left alone. They go to God frequently with needs, and often feel like they are watching their resources be multiplied like the five loaves and two fishes in the feeding of the multitude. They have to trust Jesus, that he will provide, for themselves and for their children.
In the midst of mounting financial pressures and resources stretching thin, Leisa has learned to take the days one at a time, walking with Jesus, and trusting him. She has learned to let go of worry. In trusting God, she says, “He gives us his peace. He gives us this incredible peace.”
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Now twenty years old, Justin has experienced the love of God through the engagement of fellow believers; through the years, the seeds of faith God planted in his heart as a child have matured. Justin now wants to be a pastor. Leisa and her husband prayed for a place for Justin to serve and spoke to a pastor, asking if his local church would embrace Justin. His response?
“Who am I to stand in the way of God’s call on someone’s life?”
So now, Justin is an intern at that church. To Leisa, this opportunity for Justin demonstrates the power of having fellow believers engage in your life.