WATCH: How Serving a Special Needs Child Changed Virginia Pastor Lon Solomon for the Better

Lon Solomon Joshua Yospyn/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Lon Solomon
Joshua Yospyn/The Washington Post/Getty Images

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus who freely chose to come to earth to serve and save all who believe in Him. We often don’t appreciate the importance of serving others until we have no choice but to do so. That’s the experience of Lon Solomon, senior pastor at McLean Bible Church in Virginia for 34 years. He and his wife Brenda have three sons, seven grandchildren, and one daughter, Jill, whose birth and life led to the founding of Jill’s House.

Did the problems with Jill begin at her birth in 1992? Everything at first seemed to be great, but then she started having seizures, and more seizures, six, eight, 10 a day. On our first Thanksgiving with her she had 19 grand mals before the turkey came out of the oven. We spent the whole weekend in the hospital.

What was the cause? We now know it’s Dravet syndrome, a chromosomal aberration that leads to massive seizures and mental retardation, but doctors then did not know. Jill lost the ability to speak. No medicine worked. We didn’t sleep through the night for years because she’d have seizures in the middle of the night. A hard time, and hard for our boys, because we couldn’t keep up with their schedules and still try to keep Jill alive.

How did this experience affect you? I never had that kind of suffering in my family growing up. If I saw a disabled child on the street, I’d cross to the other side. I was a pretty shallow person, and this was a very painful, very difficult, don’t-want-to-go-through-it-again, growth experience that I thank God for. I think I’m a better husband, better father, better pastor. I never used to cry, but now when parents tell me a story of their child, or even an aging loved one, I get it. God broke me down so I became more usable to Him.

The Bible repeatedly gives us such stories. God always broke down people before He used them: Moses, 40 years in the wilderness. David, seven years hiding in caves. Ruth and Naomi, losing their husbands. God has to break us before He can use us to the fullest.

This suffering gospel seems the opposite of the prosperity gospel we often hear. I don’t buy into the prosperity gospel at all. God’s general plan is to provide all kinds of benefits for His children, but Paul says in Philippians 1:29 we’re privileged to share in the sufferings of Christ, because we learn things through suffering that we cannot learn through success. I never saw anybody get humble through success.

At one point you viewed this whole experience with Jill as a curse, but now you see it as a privilege. I regarded Jill as an imposition. I don’t even know how the change happened—no epiphany moment—but when she was 8, 9, 10, I began to think, “Lord, I’m looking at this all wrong. You don’t say in the Bible that serving other people leads to greatness, You say it is greatness.” Most of us get to serve an infant for a short period of time, and then they grow up, but most of us don’t get to serve someone like an infant for 22 years. I change her diapers.

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Marvin Olasky

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