It was a surprising Sunday morning in the spring of 2016 when we were told by our head pastor (at the time) that he felt God calling him away from our area. We had grown to appreciate the teacher and leader that we were losing, and were not looking forward to the “growing pains” our church was inevitably going to face as we searched for a new lead pastor.
But God is God and He is good. He knew exactly what our church needed, what I needed, and He brought an incredible pastor… and his wife; who I am proud to stand beside and support.
She is a friend who loves deeply and lives passionately. She follows Jesus, even when it means personal sacrifice, and is someone I respect and look to for guidance. She speaks grace and truth into the hearts of all she meets. Please welcome Ashley Karschner to Bare Feet and Curls as she shares what it’s like to be the adoptive mom of a child with special needs.
My name is Ashley Karschner. I am married to my spouse of 14 years, Drew, and we have three kiddos. Joelle is 5, Malachi is 3, and Ruby-Kate is 2. Drew and I met while I was in nursing school and he was in Seminary to become a pastor. I was a nurse for years and then in 2014 became bi-vocational as I started doing interior design work. As of 3 years ago, I transitioned from working to staying home with our children. I do, however, still continue to run my part-time design business from out of our house.
My husband and I are super passionate about whatever ministry we are involved in. For (almost) 10 years that was in youth ministry with teens. We both are total go-getters and love challenges. I’m a crazy extrovert; however, growing our family these last 5 years has taught me how to put first things first and prioritize a really tight schedule at home.
What kind of struggles does your child face because of their condition?
My son was adopted from China at age 2. When you adopt through an orphanage, they don’t really know what is going on with your child. The child gets super poor care and has minimal medical help. We were told through our son’s Chinese file that he had a cleft lip, cleft palate, developmental delays, malnutrition, and was born prematurely. Upon bringing my son home, we noticed other issues.
In Chinese orphanages, there is a staggering number of kiddos. There isn’t enough help to care for all the babies. Due to being confined in a metal crib 20-23 hours a day, my son needed leg braces and had no sense of balance. He was missing many of his reflexes too. He didn’t know how to protect himself when he fell, he had no musculature and had sat all day in the “W” position. We immediately sought out Early Intervention for physical therapy and speech therapy and had the plastic surgeon repair his clefts. But that was just the beginning.
My son didn’t know English and had no communication skills. Even with his lip and palate repaired, forming words was incredibly difficult. He didn’t understand that others wanted to communicate with him. He didn’t understand that if he cried, we would help. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I’m learning that God created babies’ bodies to immediately feel safe when they cry and are near people who readily respond to all their needs.
10 months after being home from China my son came into the kitchen without crying or screaming, pointed to his cup and, for the first time, used sign language for “more” to communicate with me. It was a huge day in the life of our family.
My son also struggled with attachment. In China, whichever Nanny was on for the shift that day, was referred to as “mama”. When my son first came to live with us he would run up and hug random people in Target and call them mommy. This is mortifying for a sleep-deprived mom who has dedicated every day to making that child feel safe. It didn’t help that when I googled things, I realized children who fail to attach can have a long term poor prognosis when it comes to meaningful deep relationships.
What do you wish people on the outside knew about your family’s everyday struggle?
I wish people knew that, as a special needs parent, it’s really hard to dream or live beyond each individual day. I’ve never been flakier than I am now. I just cannot physically extend myself some weeks beyond my son’s needs, our church commitments, and just basic life. The flaky is the part of you that wants to fill your schedule with coffee dates, play dates, and lunch outings but soon realizes it’s not possible.
My son receives six various therapy sessions a week – some are inside the home while others are outside the home. This doesn’t include goals we work on at home or the busyness of my other two children’s schedules. I will say, I have amazing friends who walk beside me. Even though they haven’t known me very long, they seem to love me despite all the ways I cannot give back right now. I feel supported in so many ways. I think I want those around me to know that I feel their prayers and love. I know the way they are giving so much while expecting nothing in return from me… and that feels amazing. Especially as we adjust to this new life.
What has God taught you (or is teaching you) through your child?
God has taught us so much through Malachi. And I would encourage EVERYONE to consider adoption, or special needs adoption. My son has a lot of needs. He doesn’t have my blood coursing through his veins. He doesn’t look like me. No one in my family has an Expressive Speech Disorder, or a Cleft Palate, or Attachment Disorder. But when I was far from God, I didn’t look like HIS child either. I looked a mess. I was in a miry pit and he reached into that pit and brought me home. He called me “Daughter” and gave me a new life as his adopted child (Galatians 4:7). He gently helps me as I fall. He puts a new song in my mouth.
Malachi is a picture of all of us. We are needy and messed up, God loves us anyway. Where would I be if I had no struggles? Before my son came home, life was pretty good. I have no health struggles. My marriage is joyous. Where would I be if I stayed at “I’m good”? Complacent. Bored. Legalistic. That’s where I would be, personally.
I often say: “I cannot unsee.” I cannot unsee that orphanage and all those babies. I cannot unsee my son with an open cleft palate and no family. I cannot unsee my child falling over and over as he tried to learn his body outside of a crib. God had me see all this so I could marvel at his grace for me, and so that I can continue to extend grace to others. So that His Gospel Truth would be enough for me, every day. So that I wouldn’t need to become complacent or bored.
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for mothers who are in the same stage of life as you?
I know the world is yelling at you about “clean and simple” these days. Simple Decor, clean half-empty closets, capsule wardrobes. Keep it simple. You should keep it simple!! *(All special needs moms are thinking: “SIMPLE???”) I have a lot of trouble with simple, both as a special needs mom and as a Christ-follower. We aren’t called to simple. Life is messy. People are messy. God entered a messy world to be involved in our very complicated sinful lives, and to save us. All the pretty Instagram feeds you see, they’re not real. We all have a mess.
Before and after we had our kids. Before and after our kids got diagnosed. Everyone has a fire to be put out. If they don’t have a battle to fight, they will someday. God will strategically put hardships in the lives of HIS CHILDREN because he loves them. Unfortunately, we are all stubborn and he often must use hardships to draw us to his heart.
Look at your life and your child. Does your overwhelming sense of need (in regards to your life or your child’s life) draw you to Jesus? One morning I was in the bathroom doing my morning quiet time with the Lord. I do this often, in this tiny room that has few distractions. And I was crying out, scribbling frantically in my prayer journal. I suddenly turned back in my prayer journal and realized, many of my prayers seemed identical to the prayers I had prayed a year ago. The pages were filled with the EXACT same prayers! Frustrated I thought: “Lord, why can’t you deliver me from all my worry and anxiety surrounding Malachi and his future? I’m praying the same thing day in and day out!”.
It was as if the Lord softly spoke to my heart and said: “Would you meet me here, every morning if you didn’t need me for this very thing?” Dependence. God requires dependence. The opposite of what the world requires. Ironically, your special needs child will help drive you to a beautiful dependence on Christ. What a special plan the Lord has for you. That he would specifically call you to THIS child so he could intimately know you through the special dependence on Him, a child with extra needs draws. Corrie Ten Boom’s words are so comforting to me: “When we are powerless to do a thing, it is a great joy that we can come and step inside the ability of Jesus”