This transcript is taken from a Stand in the Gap Today program originally aired on 7/26/23. To listen to the program, please click HERE.
Jamie Mitchell: Well, hello everyone, and welcome to this very special edition of Stand In The Gap Today. I am your host, Jamie Mitchell, director of church culture at the American Pastors Network. And what makes today a special day is that I get an interview two friends whose story I believe will encourage you and strengthen your faith and maybe move you to ask the Lord how your life may be used, no matter the situation, to make a difference and to bring glory to his name. I once heard the line, “A biography is the story of what you did throughout your life. A testimony is a story of what God did throughout your life.” I love that. And for sure today you’re going to hear a testimony of a family that could have responded to their life circumstance in defeat, discouragement, doubting the Lord’s goodness, but instead under the power of the Holy Spirit, their love for the Lord, his word, each other, it has become a testimony of grace in their lives.
I’m speaking about Peter and Paulette Teague. Peter has just finished, I guess, 21 years of serving as President in the leadership of Lancaster Bible College and graduate school in Pennsylvania. He serves as its president emeritus today, but we’re not talking about the devotion and dedication to Christian education. That’s not why we’re here today. They have just published a new book. I am holding it in my hand. It’s entitled “Jessica’s Story: But God.” It chronicles their life story, but more specifically the journey of how they responded when their third child was born with a severe intellectual disability and how God brought them through that challenge and made their life a life of impact. Peter and Paulette, I don’t want to steal any thunder from this hour together. Thank you for joining us on Stand In The Gap Today, and thank you for your wonderful book.
Peter Teague: Well, thank you Jamie. It’s our privilege and delight. We have come to so enjoy your program, and we are honored to be with you today. Thank you.
Jamie Mitchell: Well, Paulette, I want to start with you. Can you take just a moment and give just a brief background about your family, how you and Peter met, how he swept you off your feet and how many kids you have, but more importantly, how your family and family dynamic has been since learning about Jessica’s condition? Give a little taste of your family history.
Paulette Teague: Sure, I’d be glad to share that. And thank you again for just inviting us for this special time together. We met at Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas, out in the middle of nowhere. And we didn’t realize we were both from Iowa, but we really didn’t realize that until we were like juniors in college. And that’s when we first really became interested in each other. We became friends, we started dating and we both felt called to full-time ministry and we didn’t have any idea what that would be, but we had that in common. So as life would have it, we fell in love. We got married just after we graduated from college, and that was the very beginning. And we just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary, so we’re thankful. It’s been a wonderful marriage and God has blessed us in many ways. We have been blessed, especially, with our four children.
We have our oldest son, Rob, and then we had three daughters, Angie, and then Jessica was our third, and then Nicole was born after Jessica. And at the time of Jessica’s birth, we really didn’t know that she had any problems except that the doctor noticed there were several physical problems. One was one eye was slightly crossed, so she had to have surgery when she was very young and then got a pair of glasses. And then she also was born with a dislocated hip, so she was put in a cast for about six weeks, and that corrected that. So we thought, oh, everything’s great. Those problems can be fixed, and Jessica has no other problems. However, that first year of Jessica’s development, we noticed that she was really lagging behind in her development. She wasn’t sitting up, she wasn’t crawling, and she wasn’t walking at the usual stages that babies do that.
Matter of fact, she didn’t walk till she was three and a half years old. So at 21 months old, we took Jessica to Johns Hopkins and there we had a week of testing. And after that week, and by the way, I was seven and a half months pregnant with our daughter Nicole at that time. So it was quite stressful. But at the end of that week, the specialist called us into a room and they told us that Jessica, the words that they used were “profound mental retardation”. Today we call that intellectual disabilities, but those were the terms back then.
And so this was very, very devastating for us. And they went on to tell us that typically a child with this severe level of disabilities really should be put in an institution, and that we really should not be caring for her because it wouldn’t be fair for us as a family. So that was the devastating news that we had. They also told us that four out of five marriages fail with a child with a disability. So we were shocked. We were just in disbelief. But there were several things that we knew for sure. We knew that Jessica was precious to us and we loved her very much. She was an important part of our family, and we knew that sending her away was not an option. Whatever the future would hold, Jessica would be with us in our family.
We also knew that God did not make mistakes. God had his perfect plan in all of this. And even though we couldn’t see it at that time, we knew that he was in control. And really all we could do at that time was just to trust him to accomplish his perfect will in Jessica’s life and our family’s life. So what we did, we just prayed for grace and strength for each day, whatever the future would hold. And that is how the beginning started with Jessica.
Jamie Mitchell: Yes. Well, we’re talking to Peter and Paulette Teague today about their book, Jessica’s Story: But God, and we’re going to get back to Peter. We’re going to have you share in just a few moments, but today we’re looking at is this issue of how to handle when some kind of disability comes into your family, specifically a child. And the Teague’s have a great story on how to respond. We’ll pick their story up in the second segment, and then we’ll start to unpack how they responded, what they did as a family and what God has led them to. Join us back here in just a few moments for Stand In The Gap Today.
Jamie Mitchell: Well welcome back to Stand In The Gap. My guests today are Peter and Paulette Teague. They’ve just written a new book, Jessica’s Story: But God, and our topic today is dealing with disabilities, from test to testimony.
Peter, I want to get you in on this. Paulette has just given us a little bit of a taste of the beginning. I don’t want to tell too much. I want people to get this book and read the whole story, but here you were, young couple, fell in love, wanting to serve God. You had a couple of kids and then Jessica comes along, she’s expecting your fourth. You at this point, you’re working in a Christian school. You have the demands of that on you. And then the news comes of Jessica’s disability. How did that feel as a dad at that moment, as a Christian minister? And if you would just take a moment, did you feel a sense of God letting you down or questioning God at all at that moment?
Peter Teague: Well, thank you Jamie. The challenge of raising Jessica changed our lives and our family really forever. And to your point, early on we wrestled with why God had permitted this to happen. While we never raised our fist in God’s face or we never asked why God allowed Jessica to be born, we did wonder what positive purpose God could use in this situation. So like other parents of special needs children, we went through the grieving process. It’s really a process of giving up the child that Paulette and I had dreamed we were going to get, to accepting instead the child God had given us. And because both of us grew up in strong Christian homes, we had nowhere to turn to but our faith and the word of God. And of course, Psalm 139 became very, very precious to us.
“The Lord forms all of our inward parts. His workmanship is marvelous. He makes no mistakes.” We really drew on Lamentation 3:22 to 25. “Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed. For his compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness.” We were living lives that were very full at the time, very demanding. There were little to no breaks and we just kept giving this situation and these demands to God. And with other children, we made it a point to always include our children in our family life. With Jessica, we determined Paulette and myself as husband and wife, that we would never talk negatively about Jessica. We would never talk disparagingly about her. We would never say, “Why did God do this to us?” Or, “Jessica’s a burden.” Because we wanted our children to know that not one person with a special need is a burden but a blessing, especially when you see how God has brought them into your life. And as we fully accepted our special Jessica into our life and family, the burden really was lifted and it became a rich blessing, Jamie.
Jamie Mitchell: Amen. Paulette, I want to really get to the issue of the family dynamic that you guys must have experienced. Just take a moment. How did your other kids respond? You had two that were older, and then shortly after your diagnosis, Jessica’s issues, you had your fourth child. How did your other kids play a role in your family and how did they respond?
Paulette Teague: Well, it was pretty remarkable, and I would say because of God’s grace and goodness that our other kids just always accepted Jessica, they loved her dearly. They really wanted to include her in as many of the activities as possible that they were involved in. So that was a huge blessing. From a mom’s perspective, I would say we really had an environment that was pretty stressful, a new baby plus trying to figure out how to help Jessica. There were so many unknowns, those preschool years especially. She had to start speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy. And so it was trying to balance all of that with my trying to keep the other three children not feeling like they are being neglected. So I would say in some ways our home was rather chaotic. Once Jessica started walking, she was like a little tornado. She just ripped through the house and anyone looking in would’ve thought, “How are they doing this?”
But it kind of became our new normal. And my prayer would be every day that God would help me to create in our home a peace and a calm in the midst of the chaos. I was really intentional about not wanting it to feel like we were stressed out. I wanted it to be a happy home, and I worked really hard. And Peter, we were a good team as far as trying to work really hard to make it a very positive environment for all of our kids. And I would say together, our children were part of our team, and I challenged them. I said, “Jessica came into our family. God has a purpose for her life and it is up to us to really make her life as great as it can be. We need to treat her like our princess.” And they were just all in for that.
So I am very thankful for that. Whatever they did, they tried to include Jessica. One daughter loved to play school. Jessica was her student. Another daughter loved to listen to music, so she’d always put Jessica in the rocking chair and turn on her music and they would rock together. Our son, Rob, liked to take her out on adventures and would go with Dad sometimes like to the grocery store and they’d have quite the adventures just doing that kind of thing. And Rob was always very protective of her. And when she was out in public and she’d start some of her behaviors like jumping around or screeching, Rob would always just pull her a little close and just reassure her that he loved her. And so they were just marvelous with her. And I thank God for that. And to this day, they just love Jessica and she is just precious to all of us.
Jamie Mitchell: Oh, that’s great. Peter, there was something in the book that jumped out at me talking about this family life issue, and that is 80% of marriages fail when a child with a disability comes into the home. I mean, that’s a daunting statistic. How hard was that? How did you keep that team of you and Paulette together? There must have been challenging moments, and obviously having the Lord made a difference. In a minute or two, just give an insight of how your marriage survived this.
Peter Teague: Well, we dug into that statistic very deeply, Jamie, and we discovered that with all of the stress of a special needs child in the home, one parent is inclined to blame the other. One spouse blames the other spouse for either the child’s condition or the chaos in the home. And we determined early on, and to this day, we have never ever blamed one another for our precious Jessica. We think that made all the difference. And then there were days when Paulette was exhausted. I was sensitive enough to know that she was, I would step up. There were days when I was so weary, I didn’t think I could take another step, much less another day, and Paulette would be aware of that. She would back off.
So we learned to work together as a team. We had strong Christian homes. Our mother and dad modeled Christ-like marriages, and we knew that we had taken the vow for better or worse, and this was part of the vow. And that really kept us focused, and we put all of our energy toward our children rather than to be tearing down one another, but we chose to build one another up in Christ.
Jamie Mitchell: And my guess is that even in the midst of all the stress and the chaos and the disappointment, there were moments of joy, because God doesn’t traffic in happiness. Happiness comes because of a happening. God traffics in joy. And that’s what we have to find and lean on. And God provides it supernaturally. Listen, friends, if you’re listening today and you are facing some serious challenge in your home, maybe it’s an accident that has happened, a disability, a terminal illness, some weighty trial or tragedy, remember the title of Peter and Paulette’s book. Not just Jessica’s Story, the rest of the title says, “But God.” God writes the end of every story. And when we surrender to him and his will, when we lean on him, he has a way of entering into these stories. As difficult, as tragic as the rest of the world may say, life is over, marriage is over, your family life is over, for the Christian, we have two words, but God. Now when we come back, we want to continue this story because a ministry grew out of this trial. Come back and hear what God did.
Jamie Mitchell: Well, thank you for staying with us today. Before we get back to our guests, hey, were you aware that we are on social media? If you will go to Facebook, you’ll look up Stand In The Gap Radio or the American Pastor’s Network, please go and like us. Go to Twitter, the same, The American Pastor’s Network, Stand In The Gap Radio, and follow us. You can subscribe us on YouTube. You can watch episodes of Stand In The Gap TV, and if you are on BitChute, you can search and find our channel looking for Stand In The Gap Today. It’s a way for us to stay in touch with you and you to stay in touch with us. So take advantage of all of our social media platforms. We’re with today, Peter and Paulette Teague. And we’re learning about Jessica’s Story, their new book, Jessica’s Story: But God.
Jessica, their third child, born with a severe intellectual disability. Peter and Paulette committed to doing ministry, committed to parenting their other children, being involved with various ministries. Yet through Jessica’s challenges, her disability, God unfolded another chapter, especially the chapter in their book, and I want to commend you to get their book. The chapter I found, Peter, really great was Nothing Happens Without First a Dream, and the launching of a ministry. And this is where we want to kind of shift gears a little bit. Because of Jessica’s disability, ultimately a ministry began, and it’s called Jessica and Friends Community. Peter, how did it begin, and what does Jessica and Friends actually do?
Peter Teague: Well, during Jessica’s teenage years, Paulette and I realized that the day would come when she would need a level of care much greater than what we could give her in our home. And we started a search. We started to look for other residential facilities that could be an extension of our home. We were a Christ-centered home and we wanted that for our daughter, Jessica, for years to come. And after looking for quite a while, we were not able to find anything that fit that description. So Paulette and I, prayerfully and carefully, invited a group of 12 friends into our home. We were very transparent with them. The evening was October 28th, 1998. So we’re just coming into our 25th anniversary year. And we said, “We really don’t know what we’re talking about, but we are dreaming about a Christ-centered home where Jessica could live with two other ladies, and those ladies would have tender loving care, by paid staff.”
And at the stroke of nine o’clock that evening, Jessica and Friends Community was birthed, and we were already starting to see how God was turning our why question into how God can you use our special Jessica. If you move the clock forward 25 years, we are located in South Central Pennsylvania. We serve individuals in New York and Adams and Franklin and Lancaster counties and South Central PA, and we provide support and services to adults with autism and intellectual disabilities and their families. We provide these services through the 14 properties that we have, including two very good day programs, one in York County, the other in Adams County. We have seven beautiful residential homes. Any one of our homes, anyone would be proud to live in them. From the very beginning, we wanted first class accommodations for these very beautiful and special people. We have four apartment complex, and then we have home and community respite care.
We have paid staff that goes into our client’s homes and relieves parents and guardians and spends time with their loved ones. They take them out into the community. They do all kinds of activities with them to give the parents just a little bit of a break. We also have supported employment. We have a parent support group of over 300 families where we encourage them on a regular basis. And then a real dream was fulfilled 10 years ago when we were given a beautiful five acre retreat and respite center. It is a restored turn of the century home with a cottage and an ingrown pool and a pavilion and a walking path. And this is available for our parents families who have special needs children so that they can get away for a weekend and be spoiled.
We have full-time innkeepers, and those innkeepers just treat families like they are gold. So this was a gift that was given to us 10 years ago. We’ve used it very extensively for that purpose. Because Jamie, when Paulette and I had Jessica 42 years ago now, there was just very little relief for parents, and we always had the dream. We always had a burden for parents, caregivers if they could just have a little respite. And we are just so thankful that the Lord provided this beautiful facility. So we have a large array of services for families in South Central Pennsylvania, all under the umbrella of Jessica and Friends Community.
Jamie Mitchell: Well, Peter and Paulette, as I’m listening to where Jessica and Friends where you are today, I recognize two things. One is that what you have done with that ministry, in many respects, it comes out of your own life story of things that you had wished you had during your journey as parents of a disabled child. But also the other thing, Paulette, I recognize, is that if anybody would see Jessica and Friends today, they wouldn’t have heard the stories of challenges and hurdles and things along the way that you had to overcome to bring the ministry to this point. So you not only were raising and having to deal with a disabled child in your home, now you’ve taken on the role of launching and growing a ministry. What were one or two of the hurdles that you faced as you began to develop this ministry?
Paulette Teague: Well, Jamie, I think the biggest hurdle we faced was that we were facing the unknown. We didn’t really have any idea what was ahead, and none of us on the board had any experience in working in this field. So we had to learn the system. We had to learn to work with the county. We needed to learn state regulations, mandates, licensing procedures, all these. It was a whole new world to us. So that was a huge learning curve. Also, one of the biggest challenges when we started this was just hiring staff that are a good mission fit and keeping them. And for 25 years, that still is challenging, but we do have beautiful staff and we work very hard at just getting staff who see this more as a ministry rather than just a job.
Also a big part of this, as Peter described, we have many homes and day programs. So a big part of it was fundraising too, which we didn’t really realize, but we do quite a bit of fundraising. We do get state and government funds, but to do ministry, we need to do fundraising. And just to even get the beautiful homes that we purchased, we needed to do fundraising. So that’s been a big part of it that we didn’t really realize we’d be facing. And I think those are probably the biggest issues. The other one is, like Peter said, we’ve always had a burden that we wanted to care for our parents and care for our families, and the gift of this beautiful estate in Southern York County made that possible. So yeah, God has done much greater than we could have ever imagined, and we just have kind of wherever there’s a need, we looked at that as an opportunity for ministry and to start something new.
Jamie Mitchell: Peter, as I’m listening to what Jessica and Friends has become, I go back to what we talked about the last segment and the stress that having a disabled child brings to marriages and families. In the last minute of this segment, you probably have saved and salvaged many marriages along the way. Have you seen testimony of that in the ministry of Jessica and Friends?
Peter Teague: Oh, we certainly have, Jamie. I think probably it’s harder on fathers than it is mothers. And Paulette and I have counseled and wept with and prayed with so many couples and encouraged them, really giving our Jessica as an example of very, very challenging styles, and yet, amen, God is able.
Jamie Mitchell: Amen. Well, Peter, Paulette, we’re going to come back for our last segment, have some practical ways of helping families. What a tremendous story, from tragedy and trial to triumph and testimony. Join back here with us for the last segment of Stand In The Gap Today. Well, it’s been a joy to have my friends Peter and Paulette Teague on today to talk about their new book, Jessica’s Story: But God. Talk about faithful friends. They have been a faithful friend to this host, but as we’ve heard today, they have been a faithful friend to a myriad of families and couples all around who have been dealing with the issue of having a disabled child in their home. What a privilege it’s been to have you on Stand In The Gap. But Paulette, I know people want to know about this book. How do they get the book? And do you have a website for Jessica and Friends Community that they could go to?
Paulette Teague: Yes, Jamie. They can order the book from Amazon and also Kindle. And the website for Jessica and Friends Community is JandFcommunity.org.
Jamie Mitchell: Great. Thank you.
Paulette Teague: The word “and”. J…
Jamie Mitchell: A-N-D. Yes, J-A-N-D-F-community. And then you go there, you find out, especially if you have a disabled child, you need help, you need support. You can find out about that.
Jamie Mitchell: We’re doing this program today, by the way. July 26th is recognized annually as the National Disability Independence Day commemorating the signing of the American with Disabilities Act in 1990. And we wanted to highlight the value of each person and our responsibility to love and care from them. There is not one person with a special need who is a burden. They are a blessing, and especially when you know God and you know that God had brought them into your life. Peter, as we finish up today, one of the stories in the book that really touched my heart was a man in your church who saw your situation with Jessica, and hardly ever being in church together, and felt like he could help you. Peter, would you take a moment and speak to the pastor and to the church member here today of why it’s important to find ways in your local church to minister to those who are dealing with disability in their families?
Peter Teague: Yes. I think more and more churches and pastors are realizing the value that special needs people bring to the body of Christ. It’s so wonderful to see ministries springing up in churches. In our case, Dale Bub, a friend, saw our need. We talked to the pastor and the pastoral staff. They listened to us. They allowed us to get a group of individuals. We formed a steering committee, and that steering committee in our church worked for a year before we developed a curriculum, before we developed a Sunday school class, and before those individuals were fully integrated into the body life of the church. And I’m not talking about just accepting these individuals in the church, but expecting them to be a part of the church. There’s a big difference. We have discovered as parents of Jessica, that these individuals have so much to offer when it comes to worship.
They are so transparent. They are so moved by the music, the hymns, the songs, the Bible stories, and they are just filled with the spirit of the living God. And they contribute so much to the body life of the local church that we’re very grateful that we were able to start WINGS, Winners In God’s Sight. And today, that is a thriving ministry and scores of individuals every single Sunday look forward to that. In fact, if our daughter, Jessica on Sunday has to miss going to her special class, she is very, very disappointed. Although she cannot communicate, we know through her body language and behavior that she feels left out. So I encourage pastors and elders to really be open and sensitive and see how God leads and open doors to minister to those individuals in your church.
Jamie Mitchell: Paulette, before we get away and this broadcast comes to an end, I would be remiss not to ask you, you kind of mentioned, Jessica was born 42 years ago. How is she doing today? And give us just a little brief update on her life and what God is doing in her life today.
Paulette Teague: Yes, well, thank you, Jamie, for asking that. She is the most important person right now that we are focusing on, and I’d love to give an update on her. Jessica, like my husband said, is nonverbal, but she’s always had a very sweet temperament and she smiles a lot and giggles a lot. She’s been living in her group home for 21 years and she has staff that have just treated her so well and they are like a second family to her. Sadly, though, Jessica faced a very huge challenge two years ago when she lost her eyesight. And that has been pretty devastating for us as parents especially, to think this is another huge trial that Jessica has to go through. But we’ve just been praying that God would be with her and give her peace and calm even in the midst of her darkness.
And again, we come back to our book, Jessica’s Story: But God, because we know that God is with her and Jessica is just doing remarkably well through this trial. She’s still happy and content. She loves to be with her family. We take her out on special occasions and always include her in our family celebrations. She loves her friends at her day program. She loves to go to church. So we say that Jessica is good, she’s doing well, and we are just thankful for the many blessings in Jessica’s life and how God has surrounded her with just such a wonderful community to love and care for her.
Jamie Mitchell: You two, God has used you not only to properly care for your child, but also for a myriad. Peter, what’s the number of people, if you know it, I don’t want to throw this at you, but how many people over the years has Jessica and Friends Community touched their lives?
Peter Teague: Well, it’s certainly in the hundreds of families. And probably what’s so challenging for us is we look at the future is we have so many people on our waiting lists. Every one of our programs have extensive waiting lists, and our board of directors is really working hard to, in the next three years, bring more and more families and their special needs children into one of our programs. It takes a lot of resource. It takes an awful lot of employees, but we have seen how God is turning all of Jessica’s challenge into triumph as we go forward. And we believe that he continues to weave a beautiful tapestry for Jessica and Friends Community that’s going to long outlive Paulette and me. And the struggles, the heartache, almost overwhelming difficulties of parenting, have really taught us that God is faithful, his grace is sufficient. He has patience and perseverance and compassion upon us, his children, and we look to the future.
Jamie Mitchell: Thank you, Peter. Thank you, Paulette. Sorry to cut you short. We’ve been looking at Jessica’s Story: But God. Check it out on Amazon. Thank you for joining us. I hope today encourages you so that you can live and lead with courage. Thank you for joining us. This has been Stand In The Gap Today.