I’m excited to introduce my the second interviewee from the #momand series, Sara Jo Waldron! Sara Jo is a #momand pastor and adoptive parent of a child with a rare medical condition. She has three children: 8-year-old Penelope, 5-year-old Lydia, and 2-year-old Hezekiah. Her family lives in an apartment below the boys’ dorms at Tabor College in Kansas, where her husband Lee is a Resident Educator and sports chaplain.
At the age of 17, Sara Jo knew she was going to do some form of public speaking about The Good News of Jesus Christ. She is now a full-time youth pastor as well as a part-time worship director. She says that full time ministry has brought some of the deepest pain she has ever experienced but has also brought her so much life. Soon, she plans to start full time seminary. Though being a female church leader is difficult, she dreams of answering the call to have a preaching/speaking tour.
Sara Jo has seen clearly the grace of God through her career in ministry. In the summer of 2017, she was preparing to preach a sermon on social justice, and it was only the fourth time she had ever preached at their church where not everyone was supportive of having a woman preach. Monday morning of that week, she rushed to the hospital to see the mother of one of her students. The mother had trusted in Jesus and experienced a life transformation just four months prior. By the time Sara Jo reached the hospital, her friend had passed away. Later that day, she found out that her own mother was in the hospital and would need surgery the next day. Tuesday morning, she met at the funeral home with the family of her deceased friend, and they asked her to officiate the funeral—which she had never done before— on Thursday. She left the funeral home, drove an hour to the hospital where her mom was, and waited with her family during surgery before finally getting home that night. She sat on the floor of their living room and prayed desperately, “Jesus, I have to write this sermon. There is so little of me left. Please, just give me an outline.” She wrote the sermon, spent Wednesday with funeral preparations, and officiated the funeral on Thursday. Friday morning, she arrived at her office, afraid to even read what she had written for the sermon she had to preach on Sunday. Though she knew that what God had given her to say would be difficult for some to receive and she was filled with anxiety, she now says that it was one of the best sermons she has ever preached. She says, “That is Jesus. That is grace. 100%. It was fitting, too, because I had preached a few weeks prior about God’s power being made perfect in our weakness and I guess that got put to the test that week.”
Sara Jo also sees God’s amazing grace through parenting. Her third child, Hezekiah, came to their family through adoption. Interracial adoption adds another dynamic in their family as Sara Jo and Lee are white and Hezekiah is biracial. Lee and Sara Jo are conscious of the fact that while Hezekiah may be more accepted when he is with his white family, people might treat him differently based on his skin color when he is apart from his family. Sara Jo wants to really see her son and celebrate the things that make him who he is, including his black heritage. The difficulty of trying to find books with pictures of kids who look like Hezekiah is a small-scale example of the intentionality required for raising a child whose whose skin is a different color than your own.
Sara Jo’s family talks a lot about differences with respect to race as well as other physical differences. Adults often become uncomfortable and apologize when their children ask questions about physical differences. Sara Jo tells them, “It’s ok! We aren’t ashamed to talk about Hezekiah’s differences. I’m happy to answer their questions.” One of the gifts Hezekiah brings to the family is that his sisters have the privilege of growing up seeing differences as just differences and not as “less-than.” Sara Jo tells the story of when her sister was working on a degree in social work and asked Penelope, who was three and a half at the time, about how she felt when she saw children with differences. Seeing Penelope’s puzzled expression, Sara Jo’s sister asked, “Well, what about Hezekiah, like, does he have all of his toes?” Penelope jumped up and ran to grab Hezekiah’s feet and pulled his socks off, carefully inspecting each foot. She exclaimed with relief, “Yes! Yes he still has all of his toes.” Though Hezekiah has one big toe and two tiny toes on each foot, Penelope understood that he did, indeed, have all of HIS toes, and for him, everything was exactly as it should be. Penelope and Lydia have learned the art of loving in a way that protects and builds up their brother without shaming those who still need to learn the acceptance that comes naturally to the girls as a result of being Hezekiah’s sisters. The three children are privileged to have each other, and their mama says that the fact that they belong to each other is one of the most wonderful things in her world.
Hezekiah was born with multiple physical differences and medical conditions that are not life-threatening but are life-altering. Most of these differences are due to a very rare genetic syndrome called Hartsfield Syndrome, which was diagnosed when Hezekiah was almost a year old. He has had multiple surgeries for a severe case of bilateral cleft lip and palate, as well as ectrodactyly in both feet and syndactyly on his left hand. He is missing all or most of the corpus callosum, which is like the main highway of communication between the sides of the brain. Later, he was diagnosed with Panhypopituitarism, which means that his body doesn’t produce several necessary hormones, so he receives daily, life-long medication for treatment. Additionally, he has diabetes insipidus, an uncommon disorder unrelated to the more common Types 1 and 2 diabetes.
On a practical level, Sara Jo advises that parents of children with special needs let in as many people as possible by teaching trusted others early on how to administer medication, give shots, and watch for signs of crisis. Making videos and writing up documents can help parents let other people shoulder the weight of all the pieces that have to be managed.
Despite these medical conditions, Hezekiah continually exceeds everyone’s expectations. This joyful, delightful little boy has blessed their family beyond measure. Sara Jo strongly desires for others to understand that adopting a child with special needs is not a burden, but rather, an incredible privilege. Sara Jo has already learned so much about Jesus through her son. She would encourage moms who are considering adopting a child with special needs to trust in the grace of God. She says that His grace is so miraculous, so good, and so all-sufficient that even in the toughest moments, you will not view your child as anything other than a precious gift. She says, “You’ll be rocking hopelessly and exhausted in some hospital room in the middle of the night someday and be overcome with the weight of truth that this is exactly how your Heavenly Father looks at you.” Amazing grace comes to us in many different forms. In the Waldron family, it often takes the form of a beautiful 2 year old little boy.
If you would like to read about the sufficiency of God’s grace for parenting a child with special needs, see Sara Jo’s blog post called, “Grace is the how.” To read more about the origin of her desire to parent a child with special needs, you can read this post.