Brady Murray
April 29, 2024

7 Inspiring Lessons on Disability, Adoption, and Trusting in Your Abilities as a Parent

I recently had the opportunity to interview Rebekah Lyons, who is a mom of 4, a podcaster, an author, and a disability advocate. As a mom, her life was changed forever when her son Cade was diagnosed with Down syndrome shortly after he was born. Since then, she’s walked an inspiring and challenging road – one that has given her insights about embracing both joy and pain. Her experiences raising Cade eventually led her and her husband to adopt their daughter Joy, who also has Down syndrome.

Rebekah’s story is nothing short of inspiring, and I wanted to share with you the top 7 things I learned from listening to her story during our interview.

1. Navigating the Early Storm of Diagnosis 

Receiving a disability diagnosis can send you into survival mode initially. But turning to your spouse, God, or a supportive community can help you weather the storm. When the Down syndrome diagnosis came for Cade just hours after his birth, Rebekah candidly shared she felt terrified and unprepared. As a young mom, she felt she had just barely started learning how to be a mom. 

This traumatic moment is one so many parents can relate to - suddenly feeling the weight of caring for a child with seemingly overwhelming needs. But Rebekah emphasized that despite collapsing on the floor in tears after the diagnosis was confirmed, she also felt God's comfort grounding her with the clear words, "You might not know what to do, but I'm going to show you what to do, and you can trust me." 

For Rebekah, that first year with newborn Cade consisted of a new, deep kind of dependence on God and "a new kind of trust" as she learned to fight for his life while he was on oxygen and feeding tubes in the NICU. With God being "loud" and prompting growth in reliance, plus the support of family and community, Rebekah was able to weather this life-changing storm. 

2. Letting Go of Society's Metrics for "Success"

When Rebekah looks at her son Cade, now nearly 24 years old, she doesn't focus on common societal measures of achievement or "success metrics." In those early newborn days when well-intentioned loved ones would inquire, "How bad is it?" and "What level will he function at?" Rebekah confesses this type of measuring felt irrelevant. "Nobody asks a typical kid, what GPA will you have in fourth grade?" she amusingly points out. 

Over two decades later of ups and downs, what has remained constant with Cade is the embodiment of presence, joy, fun, and loving embrace - "he does not have the emotional setbacks that [his siblings] do," Rebekah shared. Letting go of society's metrics frees families to value most what really matters - not stair steps of achievement but intrinsic character.

3. Disability Creates Holy Interdependence  

When one member of a family lives with a special ability or learning difference, it often creates beautiful interdependence rather than rigid independence. Rebekah described how Cade contributes such emotional stability and commitment to valuing the things that really matter - presence, attunement, joyfulness, and fun. Yet because of his physical and cognitive limitations, the family actively rallies to support him in his independence, whether helping with self-care or speech and communication. 

Rebekah says disability allows and even requires family members to humbly acknowledge their own limitations and give/receive help. What that ultimately cultivates in a relationship is interdependency. Disability becomes not one person's hardship but an opportunity for all family members to admit places of shared weakness and come together in mutual dependence.

4. Navigating Challenging Seasons with Grace   

Give yourself grace during seasons when caring for someone with a special ability feels more challenging. Rebekah shared openly about one of the hardest seasons for her son Cade and their whole family - the COVID-19 pandemic and social shutdown from 2020-2022. For Cade, a very social individual who thrives on community, school, and friends, the abrupt isolation and constant change sent Cade into distress. "His window of tolerance was greatly reduced," Rebekah explained. "He was locking down, and it was probably the hardest years of his life." 

She described heart-wrenching moments of Cade experiencing defiant meltdowns, anxiety, inability to explain his feelings, and even siblings resenting the disruption and attention on him. Looking back, Rebekah explained that God was with them the whole journey, teaching them adaptability and new ways to love and connect with Cade's needs. Seasons that feel crushing often have a purpose our human eyes don't yet see. As parents, we must lean into God's grace for ourselves first in order to make it through the difficult times.   

5. Leaning Into God's Surprises Along the Way   

God's nudges towards adoption were unexpected but undeniable for Rebekah and her Husband. Rebekah shared that while she and Gabe had loosely discussed adoption for years, they always found reasons to dismiss it as unrealistic. When their daughter Kennedy even began praying for parents to adopt her a baby sister, they gently assumed that calling was for her own future motherhood someday instead. 

Then, out of the blue came a text from an orphan advocacy friend in China asking if the Lyons would consider adopting "Chara," a little girl with Down syndrome. To their shock, they suddenly realized this hoped-for "Joy" had literally arrived after so many years of praying. 

And just four days after that first photo, the adoption paperwork was started and before they knew it, Joy was home. Sometimes, God's invitations require short-fuse obedience that leaves little chance to overthink. Leaning into the unknown rather than logic is where the real adventure begins.  

6. Disability Can Compel Us to Embrace Hard Things

While most prospective parents envision adoption one day far down the line, Rebekah believes God orchestrated Cade's Down syndrome at birth and the richness it brought their family to prepare their hearts for daughter Joy. Rebekah even laughs now that as "empty nesters" with kids still at home needing rides and homework help, sometimes Joy's extra needs feel exhausting to parents as mid-40-year-olds. "They want to do fun stuff all the time!" She related about Joy and older brother Cade's shared excitement for adventure that never seems to end.

Yet despite the sacrifices, there is wonder at the beauty of answered prayers and the honor of welcoming someone once rejected by the world into their own family. We can trust that God sometimes leads us into unexpected, hard places because He's already gone before us to prepare the way for us. 

7. Considering the "Least of These" despite Hardship  

Being a parent, no matter what your kid's story is, is hard. Rebekah reminded us clearly that all parenting journeys, whether adoption or birth, disability or not, contain profound hardship. However, she leaves us with the gentle challenge: since hardship awaits us regardless, why not consider offering that love to marginalized children whom others may overlook?

But as Rebekah's family discovers each day, the most vulnerable among us often gift the very joy and closeness to Christ we need. If God asks us to step out in faith to welcome them as sons and daughters, their lives speak of transformation into our own, just as Cade and Joy have imprinted their beauty on the Lyons family. 

A Call to Expand Your Definition of Family

Rebekah's story serves as an inspiration to widen our lens on what family can look like. She and her husband chose to lovingly accept their son Cade as he is rather than get hung up on societal assumptions about disability. Later, they opened their hearts and home still wider by adopting their daughter Joy, also born with Down syndrome. 

Rebekah challenges us to consider - what if an unexpected but beautiful transformation awaits by welcoming a child that lies outside your original vision? Whether through foster care or adoption, a vulnerable child with special abilities may hold unseen gifts that could blossom in the right home. 

Of course, stepping outside comfort zones requires working through fears, unknowns, and sacrifice. Yet, as the Lyons’ journey illustrates, embracing those once rejected often brings newfound joy. Making room in our lives plants seeds of change we never anticipated.  

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