It’s a balmy Saturday afternoon as I pull up in front of their charming home. The sun’s radiance magically highlights the soft green grass of the extensive lawn. As I notice the toys and sports gear, I imagine that this field has held many a ball game. Approaching the walkway with anticipation, I am barely able to contain my enthusiasm, for I am one lucky lady to be interviewing this family today. To anyone who knows them, the Wyatts are inspirational and that is why I’m here. I am welcomed at the door by Harold, handsome, gentle-natured and confident, as their chestnut-colored English Cocker leaps with delight at my arrival. A buoyant energy fills this place, and I notice it immediately as I enter. Harold’s wife, Lisa, a tiny little thing but with an extraordinary spunk and determination, comes around the corner with arms open as she flashes her gracious smile. She has a delicate beauty combined with an authentic fearlessness and strength. They are the kind of couple who make others feel welcome, appreciated, and accepted. Harold and I take a seat as Lisa finishes up preparing dinner to put in the oven. While all are getting settled, I get to sit back as a spectator in this sanctuary. I watch as neighborhood kids dart in and out of the house. I listen to the sounds of their two boys, twelve-year-old Harold and ten-year-old Russell, cavorting upstairs with their friends. I gaze at their beautiful, eight-year-old daughter, Mae, relaxing on the sofa as she plays games on her mother’s tablet. At one point, two youngsters come to the front door in search of Lisa, who apparently wears the crown on the street for pulling teeth. But the tooth fairy may have to wait tonight, as Harold politely asks them to come back tomorrow. Then a neighbor calls on the phone looking for his missing child. I giggle as I witness all this, as it seems everyone, not just me, wants to be in the Wyatt home today. I get the feeling that this is just the way it is in this house. And as we all finally gather together for our chat, I find it interesting that Harold and Lisa almost wonder why I’ve come to interview them. Amazed at this, I surmise that they just must not know, in their evident humility, their incredible impact on others. How they are an example of faith, perseverance, surrender and leadership. To view them today, you may think that they are just a regular American family. But that is not the case, because the Wyatts are so much more than that.
Fifteen years ago, Harold and Lisa were married and looked forward to beginning their lives together. As any young couple, they made plans to start a family and pursue career opportunities. Within a few years, their first son Harold IV was born, and their second son, Russell, arrived two years later. Big Harold had begun his career in commercial real estate investments, and eventually started his own company, Wyatt Capital. Life was good and the couple felt tremendously blessed. When Lisa became pregnant with their third child, Mae, they were thrilled and felt that life was going along as planned. But things seemed to change during this third pregnancy. Her first two had been quite routine. The boys were both big and their growth was normal, but with this pregnancy something seemed a little different. The baby wasn’t growing and Lisa was put on bed rest, but they were not given cause for alarm. At birth, Mae weighed three pounds less than their boys had been and also had trouble nursing. At the time, the Wyatts did not think not much of it, as they already had their hands full with the boys. “There was nothing out of the ordinary,” Lisa remembers, “she just wasn’t a great eater.” But when the pediatrician noticed that Mae was “failing to thrive,” not gaining weight, and not hitting milestones, the Wyatts realized that something might be wrong. They also remember that Mae never cried. Thinking that this was a blessing at the time, as they look back they realize that it was cause for concern. Another significant clue was when Mae was diagnosed with congestive tear duct issues at six months old, and they had to admit that this was unusual.
Over the next few years, they noticed various issues with her growth and lack of development. They visited doctors and specialists who conducted a litany of tests and performed many procedures, but these unfortunately did not lead to any real answers. Much of the time the process was simply ruling out what Mae did not have and they were repeatedly told to “wait and see” what happens. This process was an arduous one that took great patience. Much of their lives were filled with managing their worry and concern. The visits to specialists and the many tests lasted for years. Mae had five MRIs and even had a procedure where they took muscle from her thigh and sent it off to be tested in a special lab, only to hear nine months later that the results were “inconclusive.” Lisa and Harold remember being frustrated to not have a clear diagnosis for their child. There was something wrong with her and no one could give them any answers. What would her future hold? What would be her limitations? Harold and Lisa lived each day without knowing these answers and it was a challenge. Lisa remembers, “Our lives got edited,” and Harold adds that it “completely removed any inkling that we had control over what was happening.”
Have you ever had a situation in your life, my friend, that made you feel this way? You have expectations for your future and things just haven’t seemed to go accordingly? You’ve been hit with an unexpected curve ball in your career, health, finances, or relationships and you can barely catch your breath to handle it. The control you thought you had over your life seems to be slipping away. This control is an important thing to many of us, isn’t it? We seek control because we believe it gives us power, direction, and purpose in our lives. But is this actually true? When we don’t know the future, when the worries and concerns overtake us, when our circumstances change, we clamor to control in an effort to feel better or cope more easily. But often times, no matter how hard we try, no matter how tight the grip, this control still slips away. What do we do then?
For many years, the Wyatts continued on with very few answers concerning Mae, and their day to day lives were quite challenging in their care for her. After countless visits to doctors and specialists, ruling out various conditions, dealing with insurance companies and completing miles of paperwork, Lisa and Harold had to be content with a “working diagnosis” for their daughter. The doctors were fairly certain that she had a mitochondrial metabolic condition, and this realization completely changed the trajectory of their lives.
I asked Lisa how she handled this time. She says that she relied on scripture to carry her through it. She took pages of Bible verses around with her everywhere she went, pulling them out in waiting rooms and carpool lines. “They were so tattered and dirty,” Lisa says, “I relied on them so much.” Having no control over the future, while also feeling so limited in the knowledge of what they were actually dealing with concerning Mae, Lisa found comfort in the Word of God and received strength through trusting and believing in her Heavenly Father’s love and provision. I also asked Lisa what the day to day life is like with Mae and she says that it is like having an eternal baby. “Whatever we do for Mae,” Lisa explains, “even though now she is almost nine, it is as if she is a two year old: changing diapers, bathing, feeding, carrying her, getting up in the middle of the night.” She adds, “It never goes away. I’m never going to outgrow this phase.”
Anyone who knows the Wyatts knows that they do not complain. They do not feel sorry for themselves or feel like victims in any way, but the life they live is not an easy one. It would be understandable for them to feel that they had been dealt a bad hand. That somehow this life they must lead simply isn’t fair. But the Wyatt’s do not view it that way. Harold explains, “Once it became apparent that she was a special needs child, we may quietly feel sad sometimes, but we do not believe in the productivity of feeling sorry for ourselves. We weren’t expecting this…but it dawned on us early on, if a special needs child would be born into a family, this is as good a family as any to have been born into.” And Lisa adds, “I know God is in control. I’m sharing an experience as a mother with her, but He has her, whatever she is. He has us covered. We are just entrusted with her in this little point in time.”
Often times we move through life on a plan we set for ourselves in high school, college, or in our early careers. We can find ourselves operating as if we are on cruise control. Then something happens. Adversity strikes. The unforeseen occurs. Many of us choose to respond with a “take control” attitude. As a result, we may become distracted trying to control our lives, our circumstances, and those closest to us. But what if our Heavenly Father desires for us to give in to the reality of our life, including our adversities, and simply trust that He will take care of us? What if we spent that same energy seeking to believe and have faith? So often, it is this surrender that changes everything. The giving in leads to the pouring in of God’s loving presence that we have kept at arm’s length. But so many of us think we must go it alone – to earn our keep, pave our own way without seeking God’s direction. But what are we actually searching for? Is it really a change in our circumstances or could it be that we truly desire peace within these circumstances? If we simply let Him lead and believe that He is for us, we can see all the good He has planned and experience this peace. The Bible says,
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
As Mae grew older, the Wyatts realized the public school system was not a long-term solution for her, so they would need to make other arrangements. Lisa knew there were schools for learning disabilities, processing challenges, behavioral problems but they weren’t aware of a school that could help kids like Mae, with physical disabilities and neurological issues. They wanted to educate her, challenge her, encourage her, and help her grow. With this knowledge, although quite daunting, the Wyatts believed they knew what they had to do. They decided to start a school for Mae themselves. Harold says, “It’s an assignment that you didn’t ask for, or maybe you did ask for it…but how do you start a school, let alone a special needs school?” It is this path, presented by God, that carried them forward on their journey. Once again, they didn’t have all the answers, yet they stepped out on faith.
Are you, dear reader, willing to step out on faith as you navigate through the challenges in your life? While the Wyatts could have become discouraged and fearful as they gazed into the future, instead they clung to the promises of God and believed that He would guide them. They let Him have control of their future, but were willing to take the steps toward positive change. They believed that God was with them in their journey and trusted that He would show them the way. Do you, my friend, believe that God will help you? And do you trust that Your Heavenly Father is for you and will show you the way? The Bible says,
“Then He got into the boat and His disciples followed Him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” (Matthew 8: 23-26)
God has a plan for every life. He is a personal God who knows you intimately and loves you immensely. He is not going to leave you when times are hard. He is not looking the other way when you are struggling. What He desires of you, as His treasured child, is faith. The faith that He can work all things together for good. The faith that He has plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. No matter how strong the wind or how steep the waves, your God is right there in the midst of the storm. He can do anything in our lives, as long as we believe He can and we invite Him in, giving up the control and trusting in His goodness.
When doing their research in this incredible undertaking, the Wyatts were encouraged to go visit a place called Jacob’s Ladder, a Neurodevelopmental School and Therapy Center in Roswell, Georgia. Its founder and executive director, a woman named Amy O’Dell, is described by Lisa as being a “maverick and a sweetheart.” Jacob’s Ladder was founded in 1998, after O’Dell’s son, Jacob, had been diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Delay at 18 months old. As Harold and Lisa toured the school, they felt like they were walking through the headquarters of Google or Apple. The employees were all young, vibrant, joyful, educated. “They meet children right where they are…with a one on one facilitation with the students…they really are accomplishing miracles,” the Wyatts say.
The Wyatts soon learned all about this incredible place and the methodology behind what O’Dell and her team had been achieving within. From their website, “Jacob’s Ladder’s brain based methodology creates a unique educational environment for students facing issues related to Cerebral Palsy, Brain Injury, PDD, Autism, and other Learning Delays…Grounded in science, guided by love, and delivered with an unwavering commitment to see beyond diagnoses, our intensive, individualized, research-based approach works. Jacob’s Ladder’s students regularly reach milestones once thought impossible. On a daily basis, we see nonverbal children grasp language, autistic children establish eye contact and children who have struggled to learn take steps toward academic achievement.” www.jacobsladdercenter.com
When the Wyatts left Jacob’s Ladder that day, they realized they didn’t need to start a new special needs school. They needed to bring Jacob’s Ladder to their own neighborhood! It also became apparent that this was a lot bigger than Mae. Maybe the assignment wasn’t just about their child, but other children, too. To their delight, O’Dell was interested in partnering with them to expand her current school to the Atlanta / Buckhead area, and the timing just felt right for everyone. Being in commercial real estate, Harold was concerned about finding an affordable piece of land in this expensive part of town. But before they could even start looking, O’Dell called them with some incredible news. Northwest Presbyterian Church had approached her, as they had eight extra acres, and offered to lease their property to her if she would open a school there. They said that instead of selling the property, they wanted to use it as a ministry to serve God. The church was interested in staffing special needs Sunday school classes, as the Pastor’s wife is in Special Education. This was a match made in heaven! The Wyatts were overwhelmed. “God’s hand was all over this school!” Lisa exclaims.
They have attained the city permit and will start construction in June 2015, with hopes to open the facility in September. The Wyatts are thrilled that they will have a special school for their daughter, but realize that God had a greater plan than just Mae. He had great plans for many families. Harold and Lisa want to use their gifts and resources to facilitate long range planning, comprehensive fund raising and the establishing of an endowment program for Jacob’s Ladder in Atlanta. They look forward to helping it grow and expand and thrive. Lisa says, “We’ve always known that something good is going to come out of this. This is just our life.”
Do you believe that something good could come out of your present circumstances? Do you seek to find God in your life right now? Could the Wyatt’s realization that they were no longer in control, and their subsequent positive choices, being led by God, have placed them in the perfect location at the perfect time in such a way that their experience, work, connections, and influence now have a grand impact on dozens, if not hundreds of lives? The Bible often teaches us that God’s love and righteousness are all powerful. He often chooses the least to do the greatest. Maybe what many would view as “unfair” or an incredible burden in Mae’s diagnosis is instead a glorious blessing of which the Wyatts embraced.
But what if the Wyatts had chosen a different path? What if they became bitter, angry, resentful? What if they let Mae’s diagnosis cause strife in their home, infighting amongst each other? What if they disengaged from their child’s life altogether? And yet, there I was sitting in their happy home, filled with love, friendship, and peace. Why? Because they allowed God to lead. Because they gave up control.
What is happening in your life, my friend? What are you controlling? Could you be ignoring God’s hidden blessings? Perhaps the adversity you may be experiencing is a pathway to your Lord and Savior. A path that leads to an intersection with others where your talents and gifts are fully embraced. Much like the Wyatts’ realization that they needn’t pursue the path to organize, construct and manage a school and instead could contribute their gifts to something already in place, could you, too, allow God to lead and let go of control? In our times of adversity, it is normal for us to grasp to our own understanding and seek to control with our own efforts. But once we realize that by choosing God, our striving ceases, our fear subsides, while God’s hope and love bloom within us; we will finally be able to step into the life He desires for us. A life out of our control and in His…which is just the right place to be.
Please visit Jacob’s Journey for more on Amy O’Dell and Jacob’s story