An Introduction to Special Needs Financial Planning

We’ve been sharing a lot lately about cultivating robust supports around your family impacted by disability. Since financial planning is one part of that process — and an intimidating part for many people, indeed — we wanted to take a side step in this post to share a some very practical insights from a respected friend. The following article first appeared at the Thrivent blog on June 24, 2021. It is re-shared here with the permission of Alex Gonzalez, the author of the article and a current Board member here at Walk Right In Ministries. Please feel welcome to make an appointment with Alex if you have specific questions about your own financial planning process.


Raising a child with special needs can bring joy and challenges in equal measure. Alex Gonzalez and his wife, Simone, know this well because their oldest son, Jake, lives with autism and Asperger syndrome.

Alex sums up his experience as a parent and his guidance as a Thrivent financial consultant with this simple message: “Try not to go it alone.”

“It’s stressful when a parent receives a diagnosis that their child’s physical or cognitive challenges will continue for life,” he says. “It’s normal to feel anger and grief. My wife and I needed to adjust our thinking in those painful times.”

Thanks to a supportive school district and careful planning, at 26 years old, Jake is working full time and living independently. Here is what you can learn from the Gonzalez family.

Create a financial plan unique to your family.

It is common for parents to prioritize their child’s needs over their own, especially financially. Studies by the American College of Financial Services indicate that 90% of special needs and disability family members and caregivers admit that caring for their loved one is more important to them than planning for their own retirement. But it could be even more difficult to help your loved ones if your financial future is in jeopardy.

Start by mapping out your own long-term financial needs.

Alex recommends parents work with a financial professional to create a financial plan* for long-term clarity. “It’s like the scenario where you’re on an airplane and the flight attendant tells you to put on your oxygen mask first before helping your child,” he says. For example, “If you don’t have the right kind of disability income insurance and become disabled, you will have a harder time helping your disabled child.”

Update your retirement income plans to include your child’s needs.

Putting together a solid retirement plan is also vital. From calculating retirement income needs to setting strategies to optimize Social Security or other government benefits, there are many things to consider. “Parents realize that their retirement budget could have an extra line item for their child’s supplemental costs,” Alex says. For example, accounting for the expense of experiences or services that aren’t covered by government benefits such as transportation expenses (car, travel, etc.) or therapy that isn’t covered.

And making sure that your beneficiaries are in good order is critical. Alex tells of a young adult whose parents passed away after naming their son as beneficiary of their 401(k) retirement accounts. If they had a financial professional helping with their plans, the parents would likely have known such a decision would jeopardize their son’s ability to receive the need-based government assistance he qualified for. While a situation like this is able to be remedied, it would likely take time and resources to help ensure your wishes are carried out as you intended.

Leverage the tax-advantaged ABLE account.

What is an ABLE account? An ABLE account (Achieving a Better Life Experience Act) was established by Congress in 2014 and offers individuals whose disability began before age 26 a tax-advantaged way to save money without affecting their government benefits. 

The law was in response to a potential roadblock that families faced in the strict qualification rules for need-based government assistance. Assets in the child’s name must not exceed the threshold of eligibility to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federal program that provides money for food and housing; and Medicaid, a state and federal program that pays for medical expenses.

The list of ways ABLE accounts may be used includes:

  • Basic living expenses
  • Housing
  • Education and training
  • Transportation
  • Assistive technology
  • Financial management and legal fees

ABLE account earnings grow tax deferred, and withdrawals are free from income tax if used for qualified disability expenses. ABLE accounts are set up through a state or state agency that administers them.

Family members and others may contribute up to the maximum yearly limit of $15,000. Government benefits will not be affected if the account stays under a total of $100,000. Any funds remaining in the ABLE account at the beneficiary’s death may be required to repay government benefits received while the account was funded. 

Consider setting up a special needs trust for your child.

An irrevocable special needs trust is a more complex planning tool that allows you or loved ones to leave assets to your child without affecting the individual’s government assistance. There are two types of special needs trusts, commonly referred to as first-party and third-party trusts.

First-party special needs trust:

A first-party special needs trust is funded with assets from the disabled individual, such as from an inheritance in their name. At the individual’s death, proceeds in a first-party trust may be required to reimburse Social Security and Medicare for services received.

Third-party special needs trust:

A third-party special needs trust is funded with assets from other loved ones, such as with proceeds from a life insurance policy. No payback is required from a third-party trust at an individual’s death.

Funds in either type of special needs trust may be used for a wide variety of expenses, including:

  • Education
  • Travel and recreation
  • Assistive and electronic equipment and appliances
  • Companion assistants
  • Vehicles

Special needs trusts are meant to supplement but not replace benefits an individual receives, making it especially important that a trust be properly drafted to accomplish its goals of preserving benefits.

Find the support you need.

Every family needs support—both personal and professional. Your inner circle for your family’s journey may Include grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles. You might also lean on friends, your community and parent support groups.

You also may need to call in experts as well. Depending on your child’s needs and age, seek support from:

  • Your local school district.
  • A disability consulting service that can advocate for you and your child.
  • Housing assistance for special needs adults.
  • Employment agencies that encourage independence.
  • A special needs tax advisor.
  • An attorney for necessary legal documents and trusts.
  • A financial professional to help you implement your long-term financial strategy.

“These are not easy conversations, but empathetic financial professionals can help facilitate them as part of a special needs financial plan,” Alex says.

Connect with a Thrivent financial professional to create a comprehensive financial strategy that considers the overall well-being of your family. They can also help you find advocates and legal advisors who can assist your family.


Click here for the WRIM profile on the Thrivent Choice catalogue.

Walk Right In Ministries is approved as a Thrivent Choice organization meaning that Thrivent clients can direct their Choice Dollars to WRIM. If you are a Thrivent member, would you consider WRIM the next time you are dedicating Choice Dollars? (Thrivent pays the processing fees so that 100% of every donation through Thrivent Choice goes to WRIM and to build faith and community with special needs families. WRIM is also eligible to receive grant funding.) Find our profile link here.

We would also appreciate very much if you would take just a moment to give WRIM an online recommendation in the Thrivent Choice catalogue. You can do that here

Kelley Chose the “Yes” of Faith

As every mom has, I have been faced with some difficult decisions. And with five children, three with special needs, one might say my faith has been flexed. Several early life experiences contributed to my learning to be a caregiver and advocate. One season in my life presented extraordinary challenge to the trust I have in my Savior. 

As the oldest child in my family, I developed a nurturing protective spirit with my siblings. I also grew up with a father who was a veterinarian. He gave me perspective of the emotions and dilemmas I would later face as an adult.

By the time I was ten years old, I was feeding and caring for five orphan dairy calves. I would arrive at the dairy with my father, and the farmer would announce that an orphan calf would cost too much to feed out. This was completely unacceptable to me. So, I would commence pleading with my father to let me care for the calf. Usually, we had a baby calf in the floorboard of my dad’s truck on the trip back to the clinic. My mom would roll her eyes and sigh, “not another one.”

My father would talk to me about anatomy, chemistry, and critical thinking. I remember watching him do exploratory surgery on his patient, working out loud through his process of elimination. This instilled a passion for research and learning. My core values expanded to include a wider view of the world and, by the age of 10, I had simultaneously experienced a spiritual awakening.

I married young at the age of 20. I had my first child a year and half later. We welcomed our second child twenty-one months after that. My husband was working at a wonderful church as a youth pastor. We owned our first home and we all enjoyed good health. I’ve come to appreciate the saying,” health is wealth.” We found out we were, unexpectedly, having another baby.

When our third child, Conley, was born, we immediately knew something was very wrong. He was not breathing. Nurses and doctors worked feverishly to save him. It was almost as if it was happening to someone else. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. For the first time in my 24 years, I was completely helpless and terrified.

I remember finally going to meet Conley the next day. Tears fell uncontrollably as I stared at this infant with tubes and monitors. I lived at the Dallas Ronald McDonald House for three and a half months, seeing our older children on weekends. I knew my life had forever changed in the blink of an eye. 

Tears fell uncontrollably as I stared at this infant with tubes and monitors.

Conley went on to require frequent hospitalizations and over twenty-five surgeries and procedures. I wrestled hard, asking God “Why?”

I underwent a procedure to ensure our family was complete. However, God had other plans. Almost eight years later, I discovered I was pregnant with our fourth child.

About eighteen weeks into my pregnancy, we learned there were major complications. I was pressed to have an abortion. The influences and morals instilled in me could not justify an abortion. I deeply believed that God, like a maestro, was creatively composing every life event.

Much like during the nightmare of Conley’s birth, our fourth son, Camron’s, birth required the immediate work of a medical team to save his life.

For the next five months, I lived in a hotel in San Antonio across from the hospital. We had moved to Austin a month prior so Conley could attend Texas School for the Deaf. My husband lived in Austin and commuted to work in San Antonio. I stayed at a hotel in San Antonio with our older sons, to allow them to finish their school year. I vividly remember the day I found out Camron’s diagnosis and prognosis. It was grim. He was profoundly deaf and blind with a feeding tube and tracheostomy at age three weeks.

As I left the hospital and approached the bus stop, I sat on the bench watching the buses come and go. I was mapping out my plan to step in front of a bus.

As my spirit warred inside of me I finally acknowledged and grasped the promise of an inherently good God. Just like Job, God blessed the later part of Job’s life more than the first. He said, will you still love me through these circumstances? Job’s response in faith was “Yes.”

I chose “Yes” that day.

I have learned through these experiences that God is the Maestro of my life. Sometimes he calls me to rest. Other times I am called to action. In all things I understand He is the center of every life event, and only He understands the intricacies of my ultimate purpose.

God continues to connect the dots in my life, through advocacy, service, and community. One of my favorite Bible verses, encompasses both my spiritual and world view:

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.

Colossians 3:23

RELATED: Community Story (Camron’s Birthday)


Kelley Cagle, beautiful woman and writer

Kelley Cagle is a freelance writer and special needs advocate with a passion for mentoring young moms who have children with special needs. Kelley shares from her own experience as the parent of children with disabilities. Kelley has five sons. Two of her children have CHARGE Syndrome, a micro deletion affecting a multiple body systems and organs. Both boys are deaf-blind and on the Autism spectrum. Kelley and her husband Chris have been married over 26 years and live in Texas with their two youngest boys.

Kelley’s husband, Chris, shares a Community Story celebrating life, faith and fellowship.

Special Needs Dad Shares Hope for a Redeemed Life

Our guest writer today is Ken Atkins, a man who grew up in the pleasant surroundings of a small North Texas dairy farm during the late 1950s. From there, he wandered through a career that included schoolteacher, newspaper writer and editor, advertising executive and construction sales. When his son Danny was born in 1992, Ken faced the life-changing reality that Danny would require full-time care for his entire life. Ken’s journey meandered through the early days of doubt and discovery about Danny’s neurological and related medical issues, over the hills and valleys of a parents’ worst fears and highest hopes, past the financial and marital issues that eventually crushed his family, and into the deep pit of lifelong struggles with alcohol and relationship addiction.

But Ken’s story doesn’t end there. Read on as Ken shares how he found transformational hope and life-saving tools in taking one step of faith at a time.


“I am a grateful follower of Jesus Christ who has been redeemed from a life of alcohol abuse.”

For nearly eight years now, that is how I have introduced myself to the small group of other men I meet with each week in Celebrate Recovery. Celebrate Recovery, also known as “CR,” is a Christ-centered, 12 step recovery program for anyone — men and women — struggling with hurt, pain or addiction of any kind. It is a program that changed my life and the lives of my two children.

But if our introduction is meant to give others a quick glimpse into the truth of who we really are, I probably should amend it to:

“Hi, my name is Ken, and I am a grateful follower of Jesus Christ raising a son with Angelman Syndrome. I have been redeemed by a loving Savior and have experienced the joy of being forced into a world that I am totally unequipped to manage on my own.”

My son, Danny, recently celebrated his 29th birthday, but developmentally he is basically a happy, healthy 2-year-old. He can’t speak or walk unassisted. He is incontinent and his basic needs must be met by someone else, which would be me, at least 95 percent of the time. Danny has been my constant companion through career changes, divorce, bankruptcy, a couple of major relocations and more emotional roller coaster rides than any amusement park.

Danny sat next to me through many of my recovery meetings. This is fitting since he was the only person in the room or the truck as I fought my single-parent battles for years with a Bible in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other.

Stock Photo: Pick-up truck parked in Wildlifepark Dulmen, Germany.

Step One in Celebrate Recovery, as well as in Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery programs with slight wording variations, is this:

“We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

One of the first and hardest lessons many parents of children with special needs learn after we get the news that our child has some physical, neurological or development issue for which there is no cure or even successful therapy, is that we are powerless. Initial attempts at denial include thoughts like: the diagnosis isn’t correct, we can fix this, we just need to look harder and do more, and God wouldn’t do this to our family. Eventually these arguments lose their sway to the preponderance of evidence that we must adjust all our thinking, hopes, plans, and dreams to this new reality.

RELATED RESOURCE: Discovery Your Course for Life, One Step at a Time by Ron Keller.

By the time we give up on our denial, we often do so out of sheer exhaustion and the depletion of our finances, if not our hope. Only then do we admit that our addictions, compulsions, or other problematic behaviors — like trying to “fix” our kids, or clinging to control over their lives, or unfettered devotion to our family’s dreams and traditions — are a greater threat to the emotional and spiritual well-being of ourselves and our children (including those without special needs) than whatever lifelong diagnosis we are confronting.

Only with that admission can our healing begin. Because only then are we ready to take the next steps in the recovery process where we come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore our lives to normal. It’s a new normal, to be sure. But at least it is our normal. Only then can we make the decision to turn our lives and our families, over to the care of God.

Ken coaching Danny and their adapted baseball team.

One of the many truths I have learned in Celebrate Recovery is that any addiction or compulsive behavior has its root in the same sinful place—pride. We believe that we can (and should) handle any challenge in our own strength. We think we have a God-given right to live our lives on our terms. Whether it is a drinking problem, or uncontrollable rage, or soul-shattering depression, or the physical and mental exhaustion of caring for a child with special needs, we are tempted to believe these are our issues and we can handle them.

But it was never meant to be that way.

God didn’t give us these challenges to show us how strong we are, but to show us our dependence on His strength and His faithfulness. We are entirely dependent on God to meet the special needs of our child, and our own special needs in the process. We get the joy and the honor to have a front row seat to what He can do in all our lives.

There is a saying on t-shirts at many church camps that we should, “Let Go and Let God.” In recovery, and in my life as a parent of a special needs son, I have found this message being worked out again and again.

God has blessed me and my son in many ways these past 29 years. But before He could do what He wanted to do, I had to quit trying so hard to do what I could not do.

Psalm 107:13-15
They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.


Ken Atkins is the author of Silent Son, the story of how God turned one man’s mess into a life-giving message through his non-verbal son, Danny. Ken has been serving in Celebrate Recovery ministry leadership for more than five years. He leads men through the 12 Steps that have given him the tools and support he needed to face the challenges of raising a son with special needs. Ken and Danny enjoy multi-generational living in Newport News, Virginia, with Ken’s daughter and son-in-law.

When Lions Come, We Can Rely on Palace Training

When I was 7 years old, I was diagnosed with Ectodermal Dysplasia. I vividly remember driving to the University of Texas Health Science Center with my mother and father. I remember them telling my parents the diagnosis and prognosis. The tears rolled down my mother’s cheeks. I was terrified of the new unknown. I was told I had only developed 3 permanent teeth. Period. I began learning to follow my heavenly Father without knowing what the future would hold.

I’ll be honest, this part of my story is hard to tell. There are things about it that are extremely painful. But I want to share it because I see God’s ”palace training” in my life.

Yet, God has NOT given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and sound mind.

1 Timothy 1:7

The phrase “palace training,” evokes ideas of unfamiliar practices and experiences we are not privy to. Only the elite living in the palace are trained to reflect the honor and respect of their king or queen.

Moses is an example of someone God put into palace training. God had a plan for his people. But to accomplish this, He needed someone with specific training. Moses’ mother placed him in a basket at the river where Pharaoh’s daughter bathed. She trusted that Moses would be part of a greater plan God would bring into motion.

Moses was a Hebrew, being raised in a palace. He was being taught the rules and persuasions of a king who would, one day, free God’s people. God was providing palace training for the man He would use to bring about the Exodus — the leading of His Chosen people to freedom and promise. 

Navigating childhood and teenage years with a noticeable disability was difficult. I was accepted into a study program at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda Maryland. I spent most of my high school years enduring surgeries and procedures so I could have teeth. During the spring of my junior year in high school, I underwent the final surgery. It was excruciating. During my convalescence, I was homeschooled for three months.

Finally, the time came to place my prosthetic teeth. I looked in the mirror and began to cry. My gratitude was overwhelming. The healing was long and painful. As my body healed physically, God was working on a calling in my heart. I had no idea what would come, or where I would serve, but emphatically acknowledged His voice. 

I met my husband, Chris, in my junior year of high school. It was just months before my implant surgery. I was still wearing dentures. One night, he picked me up for dinner and a movie.

While we were eating, I realized he had a strange look on his face.

I asked him, “What is wrong?”

He replied,”Uhh….your tooth is gone.’ My front tooth had broken off of my denture and I hadn’t noticed.

I was mortified!

Later on, my husband told me he fell even more in love with me at that very moment. God had sent me a man that loved all of me —because of Whom I loved. 

When God takes us through palace training, the outcome is always meant to foster wisdom and courage. You see, God knew Chris and I would, one day, have two children with special needs.

God knew our children would endure countless surgeries, procedures and hospitalizations. God had prepared me, through palace training, to empathize and love these children with a honed personal experience.

It is true. I have wrestled mightily with God over the why of my special needs kids. Ultimately, I accepted the peace God brings in trusting Him even when.

Sometimes God sends a lion into our lives. Rest assured, that if he sends a lion, you will be equipped with the training to fight.

“The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!”

1 Samuel 17:37

In March 2016, I wrote the poem, The Lion Awaits. It is a testimony to God’s faithfulness in my life. The lions have come. But my Father has taught me well. He has trained me with strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

 THE  LION  AWAITS

The soul rejoices, day and night, to the peaceful presence of His strength and might.
We hear his voice in the soft still night.
“I have blessings untold,” the Messiah invites.
The heart beats out, ”the joy of the Lord is My Strength!”

An unknown test is silently delivered
         swiftly with one blow.

A soul screams, “Why? Have you forsaken me?”
The Father says, “I love you child. I let the lion come.”
The soul wails, “I will be destroyed!”
The Master soothes, “It is for your good.”
The soul fights and curses the lion.
Emmanuel says, “Stand up and face the lion, for I am with you!” 
The soul whimpers,” Why, my Lord do you stand far off?”
The Creator says, ”Stand firm that I may glory in the power of your endurance.”
“I am slain,” wept the soul!

The Redeemer said, “You must endure unbelievable pain to join me someday.”
The soul reverently surrenders, and tells the Healer,
         “When I despaired even of life, a whisper was heard.“

“You will have trouble, but I have overcome the world.”


Kelley Cagle is a freelance writer and special needs advocate with a passion for mentoring young moms who have children with special needs. Kelley shares from her own experience as the parent of two children with disabilities. Kelley has five sons. Two of her children have CHARGE Syndrome, a micro deletion affecting a multiple body systems and organs. Both boys are deaf-blind and on the Autism spectrum. Kelley and her husband Chris have been married over 26 years and live in Texas with their two youngest boys.

The Secret to Thriving, Not Surviving

It was a quiet morning at the oceanfront hotel where we were staying at Virginia Beach. The breeze off of the Atlantic Ocean gently combed the beach grass. Families of birds chased the retreating waves, their footprints too light to make any impression in the sand. I walked alongside the beach, taking in the overcast grey sky blending into the waves. The beach approached a peninsula, promising a view that would surely not disappoint.

As the beach rounded the corner, another expanse of beach came into view with the same grey watercolor. I kept on walking. The horizon continued to taunt me as I walked closer to the end of this beach segment, followed by another bay of sand to trudge through. I kept my eye on the next corner. But each corner rounded to a similar scene. It seemed to be never-ending. It was beautiful, but it was also the same view no matter the number of steps I took. 

This walk felt like my life — a “Groundhog Day” of caring for my disabled daughter. There are beautiful moments. But most days are focused on each step without seeing the view. We are dealing with many of the same issues that we have dealt with for a long time. Only now, we are older. And my daughter is now bigger. It is becoming more physically challenging to keep up. Our patience has grown greater. Our wisdom has grown deeper. But our fatigue has grown more real as well. 

On my walk, I was looking for the beauty around the corner. I wanted the AHA! moment that would allow every grain of sand in my shoe to be worth the gritty journey. But each turn of the corner proved to be more of the same.

A vertebra "shell" found on Virginia Hampton Beach
A vertebra “shell” found on Virginia Hampton Beach

Chronic suffering is being trapped in a never-ending cycle of the same. We all have a painful thorn in our side that does not let up — an unanswered prayer, a salt-wound relationship that never heals, a broken heart that cannot ever be whole, a dream we must mourn. The reality is this broken world is marred by loss. 

I want to thrive in loss. Just survival is not enough for me.

I want a thri-vival

So how do we answer the deep aching feeling that there must be more? 

For the Christian, there is more. 

The only way to understand the intersection of a suffering mankind and a good God is to interpret this life through the lens of eternity. 

The only way to find purpose in our suffering is to know that our lives exist for more than this world. The more we accept decay — and, for that matter, learn to embrace it — the more we become thrivers rather than just survivors.

Decay is everywhere.

When I was walking this beach with the repetitive view, I finally looked down. Shells, seaweed, and abandoned nettings were peppered amongst the sand. All were carcasses of life that once was. The beach is a battlefield littered with the remains of an ocean ambushing its prey. What is one’s child’s playground is the cemetery of mollusks. What is one woman’s treasured pearl is the oyster’s expulsion of waste. What is one family’s treasured keepsake of vacation, is the skeleton of a conch.

Decay co-exists with beauty.

In fact, decay is required. For the beauty that emerges from decay is richer, more fruitful, and lasts forever. Like the compost that enriches the growth of a garden, decay, disability, and death are the fertilizers of a richer beauty to come. Yet decay occurs at the same time that flowers bloom. Beauty and pain can be enwrapped in the same moment.

There is no better example of this paradox of beauty and pain than the cross. The cross is the intersection of many contrasts — injustice and justice, death and life, hatred and love, grief and celebration. When Jesus died on the cross, He did more than punch a ticket to heaven. Purposeful suffering was exemplified. 

Still, living the joy of the cross on a daily basis is not easy. Especially in the mundane everyday struggles of motherhood or caring for the disabled, suffering can feel purposeless and never-ending. We can be deceived into hopelessness if we allow emotions to overshadow truth. The energy needed for everyday surviving makes thriving seem impossible. When the days of survival mode stretch into weeks, months, and years, we must learn how to thrive in the pit. So how do we seek thri-vival?

  1. To thrive means that we change our expectations about decay. Our decay is not unique to our generation and decay will continue until this world belongs to Jesus again. We can certainly point out the decay of others, but we are often unaware of our own decay. We expect progression, not regression. And yet our society, many of our relationships, and our own bodies are fighting the natural decay that comes from the fall of man. We would like to believe that we are always getting better, but in reality, we ourselves are not immune to entropy. As our bodies and minds age, our ability to process our worlds is also dampened. But one day, this decay, too, will lead to eternal beauty. And decay will not exist in heavenly realms.
  • To thrive means we recognize our need for rescue. Grace covers our sin, for our salvation. But sanctification requires us to embrace pit-dwelling. He gives our feet a place to stand between each rung on the daily climb. This state of dependence is uncomfortable and yet necessary for our trust in God’s goodness to grow. The Gospel is lived daily in our lives when we are in a state of dependence. For our need for a Savior is often when we are at the end of ourselves. 
  • To thrive means we learn to abide in Jesus daily. We rely on His mercies to be new every morning and enough for today’s trials. We humble ourselves to be a servant rather than the source. Abiding in Jesus is trusting Him to fill in the cracks daily. Abiding involves constant connection with our Source of strength. We are emptied continuously so that He can fill us continuously. And we must ask for help. Ask for His wisdom. Ask for eyes to see His care for us. Ask for a heart of praise. And these one-second prayers build our relationship with Jesus and help us see the treasures in each exhausting step. We must sit under the Bible as a servant and not stand over the Bible as a critic. As we learn of God’s plan for the decay of this world, our souls are comforted and reassured that He has an ultimate plan for redemption. 

That is thri-vival — where pain and beauty co-exist. It is possible to be a thriver and not only a survivor. To thrive is to abide with Jesus. Because when we look only at ourselves and our circumstances, the decay is discouraging. But when we look at the cross, decay is defeated. It is in the daily struggle of chronic Christian suffering that we learn to abide. We learn to trust in the One who carries us from birth to death to eternal life. God alone sustains us.

Our walk on the beach becomes about Him, not about us nor the view that we think we deserve. 

The walk to heaven is more pleasant when we let go of the “should be” and “should not be.”  We will stop walking for the purpose of the view. We will walk because we are called to walk. And then we will start to see the treasures in every step. We will expect decay in this world rather than be disappointed by it. And one day, at the vantage point of heaven, we will look down at all of the faded footprints in the sand and we will understand why. The deepest sinking sand will be the sweetest places we thrived as we learned to abide in Christ.

This is the hope of the Christian in chronic suffering: There is more. And for today, He is enough.

“Listen to me, house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been sustained from the womb, carried along since birth. I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you. I will bear and rescue you.”

Isaiah 46:3-4

Rachelle Keng is a physician practicing Obstetrics & Gynecology in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she lives with her husband Michael and their two daughters. She cares deeply for people and has a passion for writing about her reflections on life and faith. Rachelle’s oldest daughter has Angelman Syndrome. Her experiences as a special needs mom are often the inspiration for her writing.

One Mom’s Unexpected Call

Today’s guest post comes from a woman who has discovered our life’s purposes often take time to unfold. Although Kelley sensed promptings from God from a very early age, she was well into her parenting years before her calling became clear. Truly, Kelley was created with unique gifts then put in a family and circumstances that have shaped and equipped her for something very specific and important. Today, with remarkable perseverance and purpose, Kelley is walking out her faith in unexpected and beautiful ways!


Philippians 3:12-14
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

I grew up in a Christian home with Christian parents and grandparents. One Sunday morning during church the pastor spoke about Jesus fishing with the disciples. He described how Jesus calls us to be fishers of men. For the first time in my life, I simultaneously became aware of my sin and salvation. I invited Jesus into my life that day at the tender age of 9 years old. My journey with the Savior had begun.

I am inquisitive by nature. And my desire to learn propelled me closer to Christ. After my life-changing experience with Jesus, my siblings and cousins took notice. I was overjoyed to be able to lead my siblings to Jesus as well.

I continued to explore trust, faith and perseverance.

Shortly after I started high school, I came face to face with my need for an intimate daily walk with My Lord and Savior. I stepped into deeper waters realizing Jesus longed for me to trust Him in every facet of life.

In the years that followed, I leaned into our youth ministry at church and became a leader within the student ministry. During my sophomore year in high school, I was voted into a peer leadership role at my high school. I was invited to serve our high school’s peer assistance leadership (PAL) group.

During that time with PALS, my responsibilities included weekly visits and special outings with life skills and special needs classes. Up until then, my experience with service revolved around rehabilitating animals.

Kelley and one of her beloved dogs.

Growing up a veterinarian’s daughter allowed me to be front and center to the elation when animals were born, as well as the grief during times of loss. I developed a strong heart for service.

God used my father to teach me how to react during varied scenarios of medical emergencies. Often, while my father worked feverishly on a sick or dying animal, God was nurturing an empathetic heart in me to soothe and comfort hurting people. Dad also taught me the importance of discussing medical procedures and anatomy with accuracy and correct pronunciation. Little could either of us have known then, how God would use that training in His bigger plan.

God always invites us to join Him. He doesn’t pressure us. He doesn’t manipulate us. By the end of my senior year in high school, I felt God was clearly calling me to serve. He was busy bringing things together in my life, giving clues about direction and lining up circumstances to guide me. Still, I had no clear or direct leading as to what type of ministry I was called into.

I fell in love with my future husband at age 17. We met at church and quickly knew our future would be together. I shared this calling with Chris and we began to pray together. One Sunday in the spring of 1993, I surrendered to the calling in my heart in an official way. You see, that day, I trusted my Savior, walked an aisle in my church, and prayed a prayer for ‘Special Service’.

Fast forward 28 years. I have two special needs children. We have five sons, two of whom have CHARGE syndrome.

My sister recently reminded me of that public profession of service I made that Sunday in 1993. She sent me a church bulletin that read, “Kelley Weatherly surrenders to special service.”


I realized the special service God had in mind was very different from what I had imagined. To be honest, my idea of special service was much more glamorous!

My Heavenly Father has always bent his ear down to listen to me. His hand has always been outstretched. As a parent of two deaf-blind children, the word sight is equivocal to trust. I trust Christ to lead as I cannot see. He is my intervenor, interpreter, and advocate. I’ve experienced deep grief and pain. But his faithfulness is unwavering.

Today I can say without a doubt — “Yes!” — He called me to special service.

God called me to the highest honor: being a momma.

God makes all things good in its time. My journey to fulfilling His calling has been difficult. However, I have embraced this charge to serve my very special needs children with honor, joy and humility.

1 Peter 4:10-11
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.


Kelley Cagle is a freelance writer and special needs advocate with a passion for mentoring young moms who have children with special needs. Kelley shares from her own experience as the parent of two children with disabilities. Kelley has five sons. Two of her children have CHARGE Syndrome, a micro deletion affecting a multiple body systems and organs. Both boys are deaf-blind and on the Autism spectrum. Kelley and her husband Chris have been married over 26 years and live in Texas with their two youngest boys.


When God Calls Us Back To Something Forgotten

Inspiration often comes from unexpected places. Sometimes it comes through friends, family or even strangers. Other times it comes straight from God Himself. That’s the lesson guest-blogger Maureen Pranghofer is sharing on our blog today.

Have you ever created something and then totally forgotten about it? Well, what causes that? It might be that someone destroyed the masterpiece you’ve just painted, written or baked. It might be that there was a pandemic which interrupted everything. And it might be that the thing you created wasn’t born out of your ideas but someone else’s.

That’s what happened to me about 7 years ago. My totally well-meaning step mom kept saying, “You should write a book.” She wouldn’t stop. For some reason she thought growing up legally blind and with a bone disease would make a good story.

Paul, Maureen and Walter Pranghofer celebrating Christmas 2020 in their home.

Finally, I’d had enough. To get her off my back, I wrote an autobiography of my childhood called Driving in Squares. My step mom and dad made sure that the formatting looked okay, made a cover for it, and coil bound it. When I visited them in Tucson, we gave about 10 copies away to people they both knew.

I said when I got home. “That episode in my life story is done.”

Sometimes, though, when we think we’re done with something God has other ideas.

I recently asked my friend Elizabeth to come over and help clean off some shelves. We sorted through things and threw piles of junk away. She was picking up each book and CD and telling me what it was. As I responded to her descriptions, off each item went into the “keep” or “toss” bin.

“Driving in Squares” she said.

“What?” I asked. I didn’t remember ever buying a book called that. Then I remembered what it was and told Elizabeth I was surprised I had a copy of the book.

“Can I read it?” she asked. “Sure” I said.

When she brought it back six months later I held it and wondered if I should toss it. Then I set it down by my computer.

Six weeks later I got an email from my father who said, “Just to relax, I like reading your book. I’ve read it about four times. When are you going to write the next one?”

“The next one”, I thought. I haven’t ever done anything with this one!

My dad reminded me that at the end of the Driving in Squares book I’d said there would be a sequel.

And somehow, that’s how I’ve found myself in this New Year, consumed with thoughts about writing.     

Isn’t it amazing how from just mundane chores like cleaning off a shelf you can find yourself with desires that are new and changed? My writing only because I was bothered by what I perceived as nagging by my stepmom is evolving into something beautiful. And God is the only One who can bring about those surprising events that turn us around to where we find ourselves moving forward.

In 2021, we can be picking up what we had once forgotten. It may take us to new and fresh places we never imagined!

If you’d like to read my little book Driving in Squares, email me at maureensmusic@comcast.net. Let me know the name and address where you’d like it shipped. Also let me know if you’d like it in a hard copy or pdf file. Happy New Year!


Maureen was born legally blind and with a rare bone disease. Neither has ever slowed her down. She is a songwriter, author, speaker, music therapist and brailleist who also tests websites for accessibility. Since the mid 90’s, Maureen has run her own business called Braille It where she produces material in Braille for a variety of customers.

Maureen holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music Therapy and has worked as a therapist with terminally ill children, the elderly and those dealing with addiction. She has also done intake work at a rehabilitation center.

Pranghofer’s children’s book, Ally’s Busy Day: The Story of a Service Dog, is available on Amazon along with her music which includes numerous recordings. You’ll find her blogs The Walter Report and Maureen’s Musings at Maureen’s Facebook page.

Maureen lives with her husband Paul and service dog Walter in Golden Valley MN.