Grounded because of James
INNERview with Joyce Weatherford
YVONNE PIERRE: Joyce, could you start off by introducing yourself?
JOYCE WEATHERFORD: I am Joyce Weatherford, wife to Bob for 29 years and mother to James who is 28. I began a career in Property Management around 17 years ago. I stepped out of my career to be a stay at home Mom with James because of his ongoing medical issues. During that time, my family and I started and still own a Medical Transcription Company. My husband and I have shared a home with my parents since James was 2 because of his continuing special needs; in fact, we still share a home with my mom.
YVONNE: You recently started, Treasures of JOY. Could you tell us about it?
JOYCE: Treasures of JOY was started in January 2011, after I had served at The JOY Ministry of Graceview Baptist Church in Tomball, TX for 7 years. God spoke to my family about the enormous need for more ministries everywhere because of the large population of families affected by disabilities. As you know, 1 in every 5 families in the United States is affected by a disability. We started the ministry with 3 families, but as we continue to obey God, the ministry has grown to 135 families. We have multiple events throughout each month:
We provide respite for parents and caregivers once a month for 4 hours, to any age group. On respite night, we serve approximately 15 to 25 people of all ages and all disabilities.
We provide a monthly game night for teens and adults with disabilities. At this event, we provide dinner while the participants play bingo, card games, board games, video games, or just visit. It is a wonderful recreational and social activity for our community.
We host a parent/caregiver support group twice each month.
We have our own Special Olympics team and participate in Bowling and Track & Field. At this time, we have approximately 40 athletes.
Each Sunday, we provide disability ministry for Church of Champions in Houston, TX. Each Sunday we have Sunday Service for approximately 55 persons while their caregivers or parents attend church.
Treasures of JOY is a non-profit community service organization. Each of the events above is provided to the community at no charge, except for the weekly bowling cost. The monthly respite and game night are completely free to the community. We are funded by parents and others in our community who recognize the special work that is met in Treasures of JOY.
YVONNE: What inspired you to launch Treasures of JOY?
JOYCE: There are several factors that inspired my ministry. The JOY Ministry of Graceview Baptist Church under the direction of Denise Briley. Our family actually found this church in 2001 and it provided a place where we could worship as a family. For the first time, my husband and I were able to attend services and classes while my son had his own class to attend. After several years, I began working in The JOY Ministry, and was mentored by Denise. During those years with Denise, I saw the great need of families around our community.
My son and his friends were perhaps my greatest inspiration. I started teaching the adults special needs Sunday School class in 2006, where at that time they were coloring pictures and doing 1st grade Bible stories. I felt that this group of young adults (approximately 12 to 15 each Sunday) needed to learn the Scriptures and pray. I also felt that they were called to be disciples, as much as I was. I had watched my son love Jesus all his life. In fact, it was James at the age of 12, who led me to Christ. So I knew this group that the world saw as “not teachable” was quite worthy of being disciples and perhaps could lead people to Christ better than “normal” people.
YVONNE: As a parent of an adult with special needs, what has been the most challenging?
JOYCE: The most challenging aspect of life right now is that I watch James wanting all the things his peers and his cousins have. He wanted to join the armed services at 18 years old, when his cousin served. He wants to drive a car. He wants to get married and have children of his own, like his cousins are doing. It is very hard to tell someone every day that they can do anything they want to do and be anything they want to be, when you turn around and tell them they can’t drive because they continue to have seizures. Or they can’t drive, because if they didn’t have seizures, they still couldn’t pass the driving test or be a safe driver over an extended period of time.
The second most challenging aspect of my life now is that my husband has retired from the Union Pacific Railroad and this was the time in our lives that we had planned for travel and relaxation. After James was born, we knew that we were going to have to change our dreams, but I think every married couple looks forward to the day of retirement when they stop the rat race and slow down to enjoy life. As the parent of James, who has been on the kidney transplant list for 3 years and on dialysis for 4 years, as well as his intellectual disabilities, the rat race is not going to slow down. At some point, he may want to go into a group home living environment, but he loves family and we aren’t ready for that move yet. So our dreams of travel and relaxation are on hold for the foreseeable future.
YVONNE: When did your son James first get diagnosed and what was his diagnosis?
JOYCE: My son was born 6 weeks premature and in distress. He was transported from a suburban hospital to Texas Children’s Hospital at 5 hours old. I actually did not see him until he was 4 days old, except for 5 minutes before transport. At that time, he was diagnosed with a urinary tract birth defect, lung problems, and kidney failure with bladder complications. We spent the first 7 months of his life at Texas Children’s Hospital and had private duty nursing care until he was 18 months old.
YVONNE: What was your initial reaction and how has this changed over the years?
JOYCE: My initial reaction was of utter disbelief. I was in shock, then denial. I spent many years trying to control everything the doctors did with James and I screamed at God. I knew Christ when James was born, but had no understanding of suffering. I was very confused at why children are born with disabilities. I felt like my husband and I was being punished, but didn’t understand what the punishment was for. I walked completely away from the church during that point of my life. However, Christ is gracious and merciful. He put praying people in my life and in James’ life. My parents faithfully took James to church when he was able and at 12 years old James finally talked me in to joining them – at which point God met me that very day. I didn’t get all the answers I needed that day, but I started healing. After much counseling and listening to the Lord, I have accepted our life and understand that through James, God is doing great things with many people. I know that sounds trite, but I hang onto John 9:1-3 every day of my life because through that one Scripture I understand the reason and purpose for my son. God has much greater plans than I could imagine.
YVONNE: How has this changed your life?
JOYCE: Before James was born and in the years of my denial, I was living the American Dream. I had new cars every couple of years, always wanted to keep up with the Jones’ next door, and wanted to be the best in corporate America. However, over the course of years, I have found that God grounded me with James. I have found out the important things in life: family, love, helping others, knowing Christ. My passion in life is to help others affected by disabilities now; I don’t worry about my career or the size of my home. I also don’t worry about the year my car was manufactured.
YVONNE: What is your hope for the future of individuals with special needs?
JOYCE: My hope for the future is that the world will come to understand that these individuals are people and that they are human just like the rest of us who are not disabled. I hurt for my friends that the world stares at and who the world says have no value. Every day of my life I want to work toward showing the world how much these Treasures are really worth.
YVONNE: What has been the most rewarding as a parent and in your ministry?
JOYCE: The most rewarding moment as a parent was watching my son become a member of the ushers of our Church. The men of the church have accepted him and mentor him, they don’t see the difference, and they just love him, as Jesus loves him.
The most rewarding part of my ministry is watching one of my Treasures be “Jesus in skin”. Last week at bowling, I watched a Treasure help one of his friends with a sprained ankle get up to the bowling lane for each frame of three games. The Treasures doing the helping is our #1 player; he could have been just worried about his game – but he took the time to care about someone else that would not have been able to play that Saturday otherwise. He just thought he was being helpful, but what I saw was Jesus working through him that day.
YVONNE: What is the overall message you want to get out to parents of special needs children?
JOYCE: I want parents of children and adults with special needs to recognize how much God Treasures their child. These children are not born as accidents, punishment, or mistakes. God created them in His image and He has a plan for their lives. If we join together and work to change how the world views disabilities, by showing the world the value of our family members, then the Treasures will pour out their worth to the world; they only need to be encouraged to shine.
YVONNE: Before we go, are there any closing remarks?
JOYCE: As the Executive Director of Treasures of JOY, my greatest passion is to help each family reach a point in their family life where life is truly “live-able”. The world doesn’t see our struggles day-to-day, but I do and I want to help each family I can take the steps toward “live-able”.