November is here — the time of year when we can all pause to catch our breath and think about what we are thankful for in our lives. Thanksgiving gives all of us a perfect opportunity to try to slow down, even if only for a moment, and reflect on what we are truly grateful for this year. These Johnston residents have much to give thanks for.
Out of Africa
A few years ago, Jay Quick was trying to figure out what to do with his life. His senior year of college was approaching quickly, and he had no idea what was to follow. He did know that whatever he was doing, he wanted it to be something he was passionate about.
“I remember praying for guidance, and each day a stronger stirring came upon me to move to Africa,” he says. “The Lord made it clear to me that I was supposed to move to Africa and serve HIV positive and orphaned families. Little did I know during my time in Africa God was going to do more in me than through me.”
Quick says one of the many things that happened was a change in his perspective on thankfulness. Every day he had the opportunity to work with those who had less than he did. Every day he encountered something new he used to take for granted. It wasn’t until he lived without a car, electricity and a toilet that he became thankful for these things.
But those were the easy things to cope with. He soon stared reality in the face and experienced what it was like to grow up as an orphan, to not know where your next meal was going to come from. He met a little boy named Asanda, and his thinking was never the same.
“He became the head of his household in middle school,” Quick says. “He dropped out of school to provide for his brother and sister. Reality became sobering pretty quick when I began to think about all school lunches I ate and took for granted. To be honest, I complained exponentially more about my food than I expressed my gratitude.”
Quick thought he knew what thankfulness was while growing up in Johnston. He was part of a family and church that exemplified the value of it. But it wasn’t until he lived in Africa for a more than a year that he realized the deeper meaning of thankfulness.
“Thankfulness is a choice that we can make every morning,” he says. “True thankfulness is not a premeditated act or phrase, but rather it’s a conscious action that we choose each and every day. Thankfulness cultivates gratitude, and gratitude cultivates joy.”
A baby story
Matt and Annelie Heinen will be giving thanks in a special way this November. They will add a baby to their family through adoption. The couple says they’ve always felt a calling to adopt, and after spending two years in the process, a little boy will join their family soon.
Annelie says she and Matt have been married for 11 years, and they always had considered adoption. They knew they also wanted to have biological children, and they have two girls, ages 7 and 5. They first pursued international adoption, but after that route became too overwhelming, they switched to domestic adoption. They talked to birth moms over the summer, and they got a match for a mother in Illinois.
The Heinens will have an open adoption with their birth mother, which can mean different things for different families, but the level of openness is contingent upon everyone’s comfort levels. Annelie says at first she was anxious about the decision, but now she feels it’s the best way.
“It will be a real blessing for our son to have knowledge of his biological mom and lineage and family history,” she says. “He will know that she really loved him and wanted something great for him, and she did this out of love and made a courageous choice. It’s different than what I had expected. I had a lot of fears, and now I feel like it’s a special blessing.”
The Heinens are looking forward to Thanksgiving this year in a special way, welcoming their new son to their family. Annelie says in some ways adoption seems like a crazy choice, but it’s been wonderful for everyone involved in their situation.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense in some ways,” she says. “We have a charmed life with two great kids and a great house, but it’s been such a blessing already. We’re doing a transracial adoption as well, so I think that will be a really neat journey. It’s so exciting, and it’s going to make a really special Thanksgiving this year.”
A special child
Erin Ford is a 16-year-old Johnston resident who lives at ChildServe’s Keystone Home. Erin has Rett Syndrome, a neurodevelopmenal disorder that affects girls almost exclusively. It is characterized by normal early growth and development followed by a slowing of development, loss of purposeful use of the hands, distinctive hand movements, slowed brain and head growth, problems with walking, seizures and intellectual disability.
Erin’s mom, Molly, says she started having seizures at one month. Rett Syndrome affects each person slightly differently. It can include developmental and physical challenges, and Erin has a little bit of both. She has a wheelchair and feeding tube, and she’s non-verbal. She is very expressive with her eyes, though. She makes noises and can walk with assistance.
Erin and her family started getting assistance through ChildServe when Erin was young and the family lived in West Des Moines. When it came time for them to build a home, they moved to Johnston to be closer to the facility. Now Erin lives at Keystone Home with three other children full time. She attends Johnston Middle School, and Molly says they’re the most grateful for all the opportunities Erin’s been able to take advantage of this year.
“She participates in Kiwanis Miracle League baseball,” Molly says. “It’s a great experience, and they get to be outside and play with peers, and it’s really supportive. Some of the girls are involved with Apex cheerleading, and they have a program for special needs kids. Erin just did her first forward roll, and they took a video of it and posted it on their Facebook page, which was really special.”
The kids at Keystone Home have a lot of opportunities to be social and to experience new things. They have activities like ice cream socials for the families of the kids, and they’ll do things like karaoke.
Molly says what she’s most thankful for, though, is the acceptance in the Johnston community for special needs kids.
“When I was growing up, special needs kids weren’t integrated in the schools at all,” she says. “We’re thankful for the supportive community and a community that welcomes special needs kids. She’s a healthy kid, and we’re grateful for our family and their support.”
Like riding a bike
Things most of us take for granted, like the ability to run around and play, just aren’t so easy for some people. That’s the case for Jerry Purdy, a 14-year-old from Johnston who has cerebral palsy and mild mental retardation. The teenager has had to overcome a lot of physical difficulties, but his parents say Jerry has always been up to the challenge.
Jerry grew up in Creston, and his family still lives there, but he now lives in Johnston full time in one of ChildServe’s homes so he can get the therapy and services he needs. His mom, Stephanie, says they’re thankful for his doctors and all the support he has received. This past year, Jerry received a special gift from the Variety Club of Iowa — a bike.
“They gave him a bike back in March, and that has been the biggest blessing because he’s 14, and for the first time we got to see him ride a bike,” she says. “We got it to help him with mobility and strengthen his legs, and he just gets a chance to be a kid.”
Stephanie says the Johnston School District has also been a blessing for their family, offering Jerry chances to grow and improve.
“This year, we’re just thankful for all the opportunities that he’s had, like this bike,” she says. “The schools have been so great working with Jerry, and his teacher is wonderful. Everything has just worked out for us.”
May we all give thanks for the many blessings in our lives.