This is why it’s my delight to introduce to you Jen Forsthoff, author of Chosen for Charlie: When God Gifts You With a Special Needs Child. She is the mother of Charlotte (“Charlie”), who was born with Down syndrome. Jen’s journey from fear to faith-fueled freedom inspired and encouraged me to view my own challenges in a different light. To trust more wholly in the goodness of God and His faithful providence over every detail of my life. I’m confident Jen’s story will do the same for you.
Jen, welcome to Your Story Matters.
You were a young woman when you had Charlie and didn’t fit the high risk profile for conceiving a child with Down syndrome. Since Charlie was your firstborn, were you nervous about getting pregnant a second time?
Yes, we had heard that our chances of having another child with Trisomy 21 would increase after having Charlotte. One of are biggest questions with Charlotte was, “Was it our fault?” My husband and I went to a geneticist to get our question answered, only to find out that there was no known cause. The doctor gave us the simple, yet frustrating answer, “It just happened.”
I was fearful of this “just happening” again in future pregnancies, but after prayer and taking these fears to God, my fears turned to faith. Though Charlotte had special needs, she has blessed our lives more than I could have ever imagined; if God was going to give us another child with special needs, I knew that God would give us grace and the child would be a blessing to our family, just as Charlie has been. And one thing that we have learned to embrace is that God’s plans are different than ours, His ways are higher, and continue to prove better!
You’re only about four years into this journey of parenting a child with special needs. Given that you’re relatively inexperienced and have many challenges yet ahead of you, what gives you the confidence to be a voice of hope in this area?
My confidence is not in my experience or knowledge, but in God as He graciously orders our steps and speaks to us in each circumstance and season. Before writing Chosen For Charlie, I wondered if I should wait to write once I had more experience as a parent, but I realized that if I waited until there was nothing more to learn, I would never put pen to paper and share our story. Much of my experience comes not from getting it right, but getting it wrong and learning and growing along the way. I had to write this book while we are still in this season of beginning parenting — every experience and feeling is still so fresh in my heart that I wanted to communicate it the best I could. And If I could have been handed a book like Chosen For Charlie four years ago when this all began, I would have been so grateful to have something that could help me work through my faith and struggles as a new parent to a special needs child.
While your story specifically centers around parenting a child with Down syndrome, it speaks to a much wider audience in that it is also about handling disappointment and embracing the unexpected. What word of encouragement do you have for the woman who is right now struggling to come to terms with bad news?
First of all, you are not alone. You are not the first to feel heartbroken, not the first to be feel hopeless, not the first to wonder if you are going to make it. The enemy wants to isolate us and tell us it’s our fault, it’s bigger than us, and we can’t overcome. While these lies are in our head, we have to listen to the whisper of God that says His grace is sufficient, and He can heal even the biggest heartbreak. He can turn our mourning into dancing and we will find strength in His joy. God sees our heartache, our pain, our tears and can pull us out of the pit, set our feet on the rock, and put a new song in our hearts.
My first step towards healing was reaching out to others. Don’t keep your sorrow to yourself. Begin to reach out to others to share your pain, ask for prayer, and you will find others who have been through similar pains and have not been overcome. This was one of my main goals in Chosen For Charlie — to be transparent and as honest as possible so that readers might know they are not alone and can take their first steps towards healing.
[Tweet “On fear, faith, and facing the unexpected #chosenforcharlie @JForsthoff”]
As you share in your book, you experienced a pivotal moment when you realized you needed to invite others into your struggle and allow them to come alongside and help you. What advice would you offer our sisterhood of readers who struggle to ask for help; and on the other side of the coin, struggle to know when and how to offer it to others.
For those who struggle to ask for help, ask God to give you courage to share. It can be a scary thing to bring others into your pain — you don’t want to be judged or feel like a burden. You may not want their pity. Don’t let what you think could happen hinder what will happen — your burden will be lighter as you share the load. God has designed us to live in community, not isolation, so allow others to care for you.
And for those who may not know if or how to offer help to a sister you know is struggling — I would encourage you to make it known that you love them, are praying for them, and are available. No one wants someone to force themselves into their private life. While some are eager to share the nitty-gritty, others process on their own or more so with the Lord, choosing to share only with one or two close family members or friends. Don’t insist on being the “fixer” of your sister, but be willing to pray that she might find someone who they can look to and share their story with, even if it’s not you. Being “there” always goes a lot further than we think.
You feel called to “bring spiritual breakthrough and victory for every parent, grandparent, and individual entrusted with a special needs child.” What does “breakthrough and victory” look like in your life? How might it look for someone else?
My breakthrough and victory are in the fact that I don’t live in fear of the unknown. I don’t live wondering if it was my fault. I didn’t get a hard heart towards God. I am not bitter towards those who have healthy, typical developing children. I can live with peace and joy and with gratitude for God’s sovereignty and faithfulness in our lives.
I think breakthrough for others, even with different circumstances, can be much of the same. If you have had a hardship, loss, or life-changing circumstance, you know you have victory when you are living with hope, you trust in the goodness of God, and you can walk in love towards Him and others.
God’s Word, the Bible, is central to your story of overcoming fear, doubt, and disappointment. Clearly, you’ve been able to find the help you need in Scripture. What encouragement would you offer the woman who struggles to find relevance to help her unique challenge in the pages of Scripture?
Keep at it! Keep reading, keep studying, keep engaging. Reading the word of God has been a life long pursuit. Through reading devotionals that focus on key Scriptures, sitting week after week in a church where the Word of God is constantly taught and given life application, and taking time to think on, pray over and apply the Bible has given me a path to follow. Through the years I may have been confused what a Bible verse or story meant, or perhaps I misinterpreted this passage or that parable — but if we read the Bible with humility and commit ourselves to discover all that God wants to speak to us through it — we will be forever changed by its relevance and power when applied to our every day lives!
Ours is a community of Christian women who believe in the power of story to make a world of difference. How has the sharing your story made a difference in the lives of people who have heard it?
I am finding that as I share my story, it is a story that needs to be told. In our faith community, we more often hear of each other’s victories and successes, but when we share our fear and frailty, there is a healing and hope that can arise in others. My story really isn’t my story, but God’s story. It’s not mine to keep to myself, but His to share so that others might turn to Him and know His goodness. And the more I share my story, the more I overcome and am reminded of all that God has done thus far.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Jen! It’s been a pleasure having you here today.
Connect with Jen (who loves hearing other’s stories and connecting with readers):
Friends, whom do you know that might be encouraged and empowered by Jen’s story? More about her book and links to purchase, here:
When faced with a diagnosis that says your child will never be “normal” or that he or she will always have “special needs,” you don’t feel chosen. You feel fearful, angry … confused. Questions race through your mind:
Why did this happen?
What am I supposed to feel?
How do I raise this child?
What do I do now?
When doctors told Jen Forsthoff that her daughter had Down syndrome, her emotions swelled. And then, God spoke: “I chose you to be her mom.”
Those words brought clarity and helped Jen see the privilege she’d been given–the honor of loving and caring for her precious daughter.
If you are the parent (or parent-to-be) of a special-needs child, you may feel lost, scared, hurt, angry, or confused. But know this: You are not alone. In Chosen for Charlie, you will find hope and encouragement for living with faith and finding the blessing in the most challenging circumstances. No, you are not alone. You are chosen.