Mike & Jessica's Story: Finding joy in the midst of suffering
Is it possible to experience joy in the midst of suffering? For Mike Barnett, the answer to that question would be an emphatic, “yes!” In fact, Mike would tell you that the challenges he’s faced are among some of the greatest things that ever happened to him.
But that’s not how his story started.
In October of 2016, Mike was diagnosed with stage-three heart failure.
“I realized I was in real danger of not making it," he says. "We did some tests, and we had some tough conversations, talking about heart transplants and how long I might be able to live... Things a 33-year-old normally doesn't have to talk about or think about."
The idea that his days might be numbered was a frightening realization for Mike and his wife, Jessica.
"Even though I was looking at a very scary, dangerous path my wife was looking at being a widow. I equate it to, there's a fire, and I have to walk through it. And what she did was hold my hand and walk into it with me."
No Stranger to Challenges
This was not the first major challenge for the Barnett’s. After eight years of marriage, the couple walked through a long road of infertility before they were finally able to conceive twins, Clardy Ruth and R.H.
"Their first months were really hard, but then it was really happy for a while," Jessica explains. "Then at 18 months old, our little boy gets diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and that was another sucker-punch to the gut."
Cerebral Palsy meant that their son, R.H. had trouble walking and talking. He was nonverbal and relied on a walker to get around. While other children his age were walking and running, he was still crawling.
Around this time the couple started visiting Highland Park United Methodist Church. At first, R.H. had trouble adjusting to the Sunday school environment.
“It was very, very stressful for him,” Jessica says. “He couldn’t communicate what was really bothering him… being away from us and not knowing the caregivers. We would end up getting called out halfway through the service.”
After a few weeks of not being able to worship, a staff member with HPUMC Families found a solution. R.H. was partnered one-on-one with a teacher who had experience working with kids who have special needs. It was a perfect match!
“Since then it’s really been a smooth ride,” says Jessica. “They get excited and we drop them off and it’s not a big deal. Michael and I then get to go to Cornerstone and worship.”
Just in the nick of time
Over the next few weeks, Mike and Jessica settled into a routine of attending worship and getting more involved in the church community. That change, Mike says, came just in time. A few weeks later, the Barnett’s would face their biggest challenge yet, when they learned about Mike’s heart failure.
“He really put HPUMC in our path before we knew we needed them,” says Mike. “God knew we needed a church home, that we needed to be in community, desperately. Because we were going to have some challenging times.”
“I think one really neat component about HPUMC is their heart for the special needs community,” Jessica adds. “Special needs is part of the bedrock of this church and how amazing that our little boy, and our family, gets to be a part of that.”
More good news
A few months later, Mike went back to the doctor for a two hour MRI to check on the condition of his heart. Both he, and the doctors, fully expected to find that his condition had worsened, something that's typical of patients with heart failure. In fact, Mike's doctors had already scheduled several surgeries.
Both Mike and his doctors, however, were shocked when the results of his MRI came back. Incredibly, doctors told Mike that they were dealing with a completely normal heart!
“We cried. We laughed. We hugged,” Mike remembers. “You know, people ask, ‘So, what was it?’ and it’s modern medicine, it’s the power of prayer, but it’s just God.”
These days, Mike and Jessica will tell you that going into heart failure was one of the greatest things to happen to their family.
“It changed my life,” Mike says. “It changed my perspective, it changed my relationship with my wife, it changed my relationship with God and all for the better.”
“I think the Lord has used what he has been through to refine him, to mold him further into His likeness,” says Jessica. “The Lord has used this suffering and this hardship to transform both he and I, and hopefully the people around us.”
“I wouldn’t have wished that my son has C.P.,” Mike adds. “He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us. We need more of him.”
“I wouldn’t wish anybody to go into heart failure. But it’s just been this thing that at first was terrible, and now it’s incredible. And that doesn’t make sense, yet that is what is written in the Bible,” says Mike.
“It’s just been so incredibly cool to see things that were written thousands of years ago, and some of them don’t seem to make sense, but they all turn out to be true.”