This story is mostly about Cyndy, but I want you to meet all of our children, since Cyndy’s life and death touches our entire family. Mark and I were blessed with ten children, five of whom are in Heaven waiting for us to join them. I had four miscarriages, and our loving daughter Cyndy died at the age of eleven. As I stated before, every life is precious, and every child is a miracle from God. We are so thankful for all of our children, no matter how briefly we knew some of them.
Our family started growing on August 24, 1984, when we were blessed with our first son Mark Wayne Harrell, Jr. We were very delighted to have a son! Our Heavenly Father had begun a beautiful work on this “SPECIAL FAMILY,” when Mark was born with a cleft lip and had to have two surgeries to correct it before he was even a year old. Mark was a very content baby and loved being around people.
When he was still an infant, we noticed that his development seems to progress rather slowly, and by the time, he was three years old, we realized that he was severely autistic. Now, Mark has grown in to quite a gentleman and loves to cook, although he does love to eat at Mc Donalds. He would eat all his meals there if you’d let him! You can make Mark Jr. happy if you bring him a cookbook and a newspaper. Mark’s favorite pastimes include gardening and watching cooking shows on TV.
One of the neatest and richest blessings that we have seen with Mark Jr. is even thou he is autistic; he is social and his heart is content when he is around people. Being social is very unusual for autistic children; usually they shy away from people being antisocial. His love for the Lord is shown through out the day. He has the child-like faith that radiates the unfailing love of Christ.
When we go any where near the cemetery he reminds us that Cyndy and Granddaddy are over there. He tells us that they are with God in Heaven with the angels. He even thinks that our family cat that has died is over with Cyndy and Granddaddy. We have to remind him yes, Angel the cat is with Cyndy and Granddaddy but she is not buried with them.
What a blessing from God when we received our first daughter Cynthia Anne Harrell, who was born on October 30, 1985. You will hear more about her in the following chapters.
Two children were just not enough children for Mark and me that we became parents again on August 6, 1987 to another son, Richard Wesley Harrell. Richard is also autistic and mildly impaired. Richard’s autism is not has profound as Mark’s but he is the milder then Mark’s.
When I think about Richard, I remember as if it were today, that little boy in preschool. He was this short stocky child with curly blonde hair, always one-step behind me. He loved us, (his parents) so much that he had anxiety whenever he was a part from us. His anxiety would build up so high that one time when he was in preschool he heard my voice in the hall and broke away from the teacher running and crying “mama” all the way down the hall. Even now when we go out to the school, he comes running down the halls after us.
Richard is a very lovable young man who is always very concerned about his parents. He tries to be helpful with chores and loves being praised. What person doesn’t like being praised?
Richard’s walk with God is very close. He joined the church when he was fifteen years old with his younger sister Katie. Katie would model proper behaviors and he would try to follow them. He loves listening to Christian music twenty-four-seven if you let him. He has done his number where he would wake up about three in the morning and crank up the CD player and sing to the music; waking everybody in the house.
As our family grew with children who had special needs, it was obviously difficult at times, yet we continued to be thankful to God for our sons and daughter. We loved having three children! Nevertheless, we were not finished yet.
On April 25, 1990, we were blessed with our second daughter, Barbara Katharine Harrell. Katie is our only “normal” child. She is a joy to us! Katie is very independent personable, and she likes to share her opinion on everything. She is extremely talented in music and does well in school.
Her dream is to become a doctor, a violist, or an astronaut when she grows up. She has been seriously thinking about wanting to go into the Air Force to get a chance to go into space someday, which has been her life dream and hope. Katie enjoys playing her viola in church and playing different songs by ear.
Katie gave her life to the Lord at a very young age of six years old. She has gone on two short mission trips to North Carolina to help minister to the people there. Like most teenage girls, Katie sure loves to talk. She will talk your ear off if you let her! Give her a cell phone and a computer and she will be content.
Less than a year later, we were blessed with another son, Harrison Newbold Harrell, who was born on March 6, 1991. He goes by the nickname Buddy, because I carried him around like my buddy doll when he was a baby. Buddy also is moderately autistic. Buddy’s autism falls in the septum between Mark and Richard. He is not as severe as Mark but more severe then Richard.
When we found out I was pregnant with Buddy, we were surprised since it was so soon after Katie. After Katie was born, we honestly thought we were not going to have any more children. We had two boys, and two girls, just what we had wanted. Yet the Lord was not closing the womb. After Buddy was born we talked then about having one more baby praying for another girl.
Buddy likes being helpful even though at times his help is not necessarily needed. He loves being the center of attention. He also loves food; in fact, eating seems to be Buddy’s past time. Buddy loves cooking and mixing things. When it is time for dinner if Buddy is around and hears you in the kitchen, he will be in there soon!
He enjoys taking out the trash on garbage collection days. There was one time he escaped from the house and went chasing after the garbage truck to help empty trash cans. He ended up getting them into trouble since their boss lives down the street. However, he just wanted to help. We think when Buddy gets old enough for a job he is going to want to be a garbage collector. That will be right up Buddy’s alley!
Now we were a family of seven! Yet, God continued to add to our household. On September 30, 1994, we became parents again to another son, Joel Michael Harrell. When we found out I was pregnant, we were praying that we would be blessed with another girl. Mark would tease me that he wanted a boy, and since he determined the sex of the baby, he would have a son. I have to admit, I was slightly upset when we found out that Joel was a boy. Now I am so happy with my little boy, and I would not trade him for the world.
It is a miracle that Joel is with us today, since he was born eight weeks early with complications. At birth, Joel weighed four pounds and eleven ounces. The nurses in the NICU called him their superman. Joel was a breach baby and almost did not survive the delivery. Joel is also severely autistic and mute at this time. However, occasionally, I will hear him humming tunes to hymns and other songs. Joel loves it when people read to him. He gets big kicks out of stuffed animals. His favorite place is the Christian bookstore, because of all the fun children’s videos. One day, I know he is going to bless our hearts with talking. We are praying that he will talk although at this time, the doctors do not think he will.
Even though five out of our six children are handicapped, I knew that Mark and I are very blessed. God had given us a “HIGH CALLING” as parents, and He does not choose everybody to be parents to His “SPECIAL CHILDREN”. At times, life got so hard that I felt cursed, but Christ has shown me that this “HANDICAPPED FAMILY” is a “BLESSING” that keeps giving. As the psalmist says, Psalm 127:3-5 (ESV)
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”
I often wonder why I had so many handicapped children. Our doctor has done all kinds of tests and has not been able to come up with a reason other than it was God’s will for them to be handicapped. Sometimes I feel like maybe it was something I had done, to make the children the way they are, but the doctor keeps telling me that there was NOTHING.
Now you have met and learned some important details on everyone in our big family! I would like to share with you more in depth about our oldest daughter, Cyndy. You will see how she had such a massive impact on so many lives, and such a significant influence for the kingdom of God!
Thank you, God, for giving us children to hold and cherish. We acknowledge that they are gifts from You, and that they belong to You. Thank you for the joys they give us each day, and the ways that they make us depend on you for strength and grace. Our children are truly a heritage of the Lord!
In Christ, Amen