“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14)
“One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, ‘Praise God!’ He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done…” (Luke 17:15–16)
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*****It is that time of year again: Fall stories! Wholehearted Woman Ministries’ mission is helping women be fully surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ and courageously on-mission for Him – one heart at a time. One of the ways we do that is by sharing real-life stories of Christian women both past and present who have decided to follow Jesus wholeheartedly in this way. No matter what season of life you are in, God is calling you to a place of deep and wholehearted relationship with Him. We pray that each story told over the next few months is used by God to fashion your individual heart, to know and experience Him even more deeply, and to joyfully do His will to His glory! “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” (Psalm 107:2) Read on!
We (Beth & Jenni) attended a Christian university with people from all over the nation and even the world with a sense of mission and purpose to bring God’s light into the sphere of influence He had called them to. Whether in the legal field, the classroom, business, the medical field, church planting, and much more, the vision at Oral Roberts University was emphasized to us as students over and over again: “Raise up your students to hear My voice, to go where My light is dim, where My voice is heard small, and My healing power is not known, even to the uttermost bounds of the earth.”
It was here that I met Jen, a mighty woman of God with a heart that overflows with God’s love and relentless service to Christ. Today, she and her husband have three children, one of whom has special needs. Her website, jenforsthoff.com, describes the many callings the Lord has placed on her life: “She is a mother, author, worship leader and advocate within the community. She serves alongside her husband in ministry at Cornerstone Church in Highland, Michigan. Jen continues to pursue the call of God on her life to serve the local church, bring a message of hope to parents called to raise a child with special needs, and advocate within her community.” We are thrilled that Jen agreed to share with us from her heart. May God use what you read today to birth something afresh inside of you for His purposes, your good, and His glory. This is Jen’s story…
Will you tell us about your journey and calling as a mom of a special needs child? How has God led you along the way?
It was love at first sight. After thirty-eight weeks, I finally held my firstborn. My beautiful Charlotte Joy. “Charlie,” as we would call her, lay on my chest and wriggled under the bright hospital room light. Not knowing how to comfort her, I held her the best I could. Her sweet cry was music to my ears; to finally hear her voice and see her face was more than I could bear. Though nurses buzzed about the room, cleaning and prepping for Charlie’s first bath and such things, for those initial moments, the world seemed to shrink to just the three of us.
My husband and I stared at her blinking blue eyes, the tuft of strawberry blonde hair atop her head, her tiny shriveled hands, her precious little body. “We’ve been waiting for you,” I cried. I couldn’t look away from her precious face. “Momma loves you so much.”
As new parents, we knew we had much to learn. But with soaring hopes of a bright future, we felt sure that, together, we could conquer whatever might come our way.
Just a few days later, we received the phone call that confirmed the doctors’ suspicions: Charlie had Trisomy-21. This genetic abnormality, commonly referred to as Down syndrome, was something we never imagined for our family. We knew, of course, that parenting would be a challenge. But parenting a special-needs child, who could possibly be ready for that?
I don’t think any parent can ever be prepared for that phone call or those test results. If you’ve heard those words of finality, you know they set you on a path you might never have chosen for yourself. And although you may never have chosen it for yourself, or for your child, I have come to believe that you have, in fact, been chosen by God; He chose you specifically to be the parent for your child.
The test results didn’t surprise God. He didn’t worry when the doctors expressed their initial concerns…In God’s great design, He has chosen me out of everyone else in the world to be a part of this precious child’s life. Viewed this way, we are the lucky ones. We are the ones who are blessed to be given such a precious opportunity. From this perspective, we can view this new life for what it is: a priceless gift.
But I’ll be honest. I didn’t feel “chosen” when I first heard our daughter’s diagnosis. Instead, sad and afraid, I initially turned to anything I could get my hands on that could teach me about this disability. I searched for information on how to best parent our precious Charlie. I found endless information in books and articles, most of which left me more fearful.
In the midst of reading of all that could go wrong in my daughter’s body, I found a few personal testimonies of families facing our same situation, stories that stirred hope. But I didn’t find anything for parenting a special-needs child. I needed something to help guide my faith through this journey. Out of the need I faced years ago, I wrote Chosen for Charlie: When God Gifts You With a Special Needs Child. When we published Chosen For Charlie, the door was opened to bring a message of hope through radio, television, in schools, various churches, local events in the area, and countless one-on one-conversations that led to profound impact.
I can tell you that God has already graciously and specifically ministered to our hearts in every season we have faced thus far. And I simply can’t keep the hope and strength He has given us to myself. Oh, I know I still have a long journey ahead. And I know I will make mistakes and learn the hard way. Some days will be wins and others will call for do-overs. I want to share what God has already done—what He is doing… He wants us to thrive as we raise our children and lead our families to walk in victory because our lives can be living examples of His goodness and grace!
How have you cultivated wholeheartedness as a follower of Jesus?
To be a wholehearted woman, it to live countercultural. The world has a way of pulling at the pieces of our hearts and lives, leaving us fragmented, weary, and anything but whole. But to live according the ways of the word of God, and His loving design and purpose for our lives, we will live whole, complete in Christ.
I want to bring to the surface something that is essential to our wholeness as women, daughters of the King, sisters in the faith. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 says, “Rejoice always.” These two simple words have the power to transform our lives, our families, our marriages, our future. To rejoice always, to be thankful and express gratitude will bring wholeness to our hearts. It’s one thing to express gratitude on our good days, but to be thankful, to rejoice even in the hard times, when we fix our eyes on Jesus and the goodness of who He is, the perfection of His plans unfolding in our lives, trusting in His sovereignty – it is in this grit of gratitude that God is glorified and our hearts will be made whole in Him.
We see this type of wholeness experienced by one leper in the book of Luke. “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed” (Luke 17: 11-14, NIV).
Ten lepers were miraculously healed by Jesus! The pain of their disease, the rejection they had experienced, the hopeless future they had just moments before, was erased and replaced when Jesus miraculously healed them. What an incredible day it was for these ten men! They could be restored to their families, be welcomed back into society, and live a normal life. I imagine they were filled with joy and renewed passion for life. But in all the excitement, these ten men all had the same opportunity to show gratitude. But only one healed leper showed grit.
“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ (Luke 17:15-18, NIV)
Just one had the courage to return and thank his Healer. He “threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him” (Luke 17:16, NIV). His grit of gratitude caused him to drop to his knees, and give honor and glory to the one who heard his cry and healed his body.
When was the last time you showed this kind of gratitude? How often do you stop to tell God thank you for meeting a need or answering a heartfelt prayer? Do you make it a habit to “rejoice always” and express your gratitude to your Father in heaven? Don’t miss the opportunity to show gratitude, because when you do express thanks to your healer, your provider, your helper – he is moved to respond to do even more for you. He will make you whole.
“Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’“ Luke 17:19 (NIV)
Jesus was pleased with this man’s grit, and it caused him to do even more for the grateful man. The healed leper’s gratitude opened the door for Jesus to go beyond a physical healing. Many commentaries reveal that the man experienced a healing in his soul when Jesus said, “your faith has made you well.” His gratitude led to a deeper level of healing for not only his body, but his spirit as well. The leper was made whole, inside and out.
You may find it easy to express gratitude when you experience miracles. It almost comes naturally for the believer. But, if we are honest with ourselves, gratitude is a difficult thing amidst difficult seasons. Looking back on my own difficult seasons of life, I can honestly say, when my conversations with God shifted from griping to gratitude, my heart found healing. Let me share just two personal experiences with you.
This year, my older brother would have turned 42 years old. Just a few years ago, he unexpectedly passed away in his sleep and went on to heaven. This brought a tidal wave of pain and grief into my life and my entire family. Our loss left us broken, questioning God, confused and overcome by sorrow. We couldn’t believe that God wouldn’t let my brother live out his life here on earth. I was anything but wholehearted. My heart was shattered to pieces carrying my own grief and the grief of my parents and my older sister.
But there was a shift that began in our hearts when we chose to shift our prayers. Rather than praying, “God, how could this happen?” we began to say, “God, thank you for the 38 years you allowed us to love and be with Daniel here on this earth.” This wasn’t an easy prayer, but the more we thanked God, the more we expressed our gratitude, the more our hearts could begin to heal and be made whole. Our gratitude only grew as we continued to pray, “God thank you for the joy Daniel brought into our lives. Thank you that he is in heaven with you. Thank you that we will be with him once again. Thank you for the impact you made through his life. Thank you that he is in perfect peace with you. Thank you for the reality of heaven.” Gratitude made way for our healing.
One more example I will share. When our daughter was diagnosed with Trisomy 21, my initial thoughts as a mother were, God how can this be? God I don’t think I can raise this child. This changes everything. Why can’t my family just be normal? Why does she (another mother) get to have healthy children, and I don’t? My heart was hurting, bitterness was taking root, frustration towards God and a lack of trust and hope crept in.
But again, when the Holy Spirit helped me to change my prayers, my hurting heart began to become whole. There was a shift towards gratitude – God, thank you for choosing us. Thank you that we get a front row seat to the miracles that will unfold in our daughter’s life. Thank you that you will be with us as we parent this child. Thank you that out of all the families that could have been gifted with this child, you blessed us! To be grateful is to find healing and be made whole.
Is your heart whole today? If you are lacking peace, joy, strength, a sense of purpose, I would encourage you today to begin developing the grit of gratitude. Start thanking God, even if it’s just one thing you can be thankful for. He will grow your gratitude as you continue to choose thankfulness. God will be glorified and you will find wholeness in Him!
***Click the link below to learn more about Jen, her heart, and her book Chosen for Charlie!
***Coming this fall: Jen’s newest book entitled Champion for Charlie.
“We have a new message to bring to families! Many know they are CHOSEN, but now it’s time to CHAMPION for our children with special needs. Many parents are discouraged and overwhelmed and need encouragement to rise up, advocate and become a champion for their child.” Watch Jen’s website for the fall release of this incredible book. It is also available on Amazon!
***Hear more from Jen’s heart HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6NaSdfAYmA
Photography by KendraReneePhotography.