Diane Frank has been an advocate for the disabled for over 22 years, ever since the birth of her daughter, Skylar. She first discovered that Skylar was born blind in one eye. As she and her husband, Jon, sought to help their first child, more disabling conditions arose. The next few years of her life included discovering low vision in the other eye, complications from cerebral palsy, gastric reflux requiring surgery, significant hearing impairment, and finally a pain disorder. When Skylar was 17, the culmination of chronic pain combined with an infection landed her at the pediatric intensive care unit at UCLA. After several weeks there, the doctors told the Franks that her condition was not improving and death was likely. The Franks then brought Skylar home and initiated hospice care. Yet God had the final word. Skylar wanted to live, so with lots of determination, help and prayers from friends and the church family at RiverLakes Community Church (RCC), she miraculously recovered and is doing better today at age 22 than ever before. She currently attends a day program for disabled adults.
Jon and Diane Frank have been married for 30 years and have daughters, Skylar and Lydia, who is a senior at Centennial High School. Jon has taught junior high in the Panama-Buena Vista District for 26 years. Diane has worn many hats, starting with being a petroleum engineer, then a missionary in Bulgaria and is currently a caregiver and advocate for Skylar. The Franks are outdoor enthusiasts who love to hike, rock climb, and mountain bike. Jon’s current interest is paragliding, which he does as often as possible in the foothills and in the Kern River canyon.
Being a parent of a disabled child has significant challenges and can be exhausting, yet both Diane and Jon have found ways to handle fatigue starting with working as a team for Skylar’s care. Separately, Jon tries to get out and do things that he loves. As he says, “Jesus went up in the mountains alone to be with God, so I, at times, go to the mountains by myself to reenergize.” Diane embraces opportunities to rest and revitalize and sets small goals for taking time off.
Throughout the years God’s impact in their lives has been evident. Diane explains, “I am not the person I was before I had Skylar. Although I have emotional scars from years of stress and trauma, I have seen the greater benefits from my transformation of character through tested faith. Chunks of perseverance, longsuffering, patience, trust, surrender, humility, authenticity, love and peace are being produced in me where there were minuscule amounts before. I have much more to learn about and grow into and I count it a privilege to do so.” Jon notes the impact by seeing the connection between God and Skylar. “God working through Skylar has shown me how little of life really matters. All Skylar cares about is loving people. She doesn’t care about any of the trappings of man. She plays no favorites with people, and sees them all the same. She is the rawest form of who I should be."
This journey over the last 22 years has had surprises. Diane shares this, “The biggest surprise is I don’t see Skylar as a disabled person, just my beautiful daughter!” Jon was surprised “that people don’t see pain and trials in life as an unbelievable gift.” Diane was also surprised about God’s faithfulness. She explains, “I was surprised and relieved to know that God can be trusted and proven He is faithful in the middle of suffering. When I have chosen to surrender to God’s will, He works things out much better than I ever could have planned or expected. The more challenging the circumstances, the more opportunities I have to see how He will work it out for the best.”
Parents with special needs children need encouragement and support. Diane wants you to know that your life may be different, but you are not alone. As she says, “There is a beauty and hope beyond your circumstances. God has a plan and will use your beautiful child to teach you more than you can imagine, ask or think. Don’t miss who your child is while missing who you think they should be. They are a gift to be embraced and the floodgates of God’s love will open up to you.” Jon also shares his encouragement: “You have received one of the greatest gifts God could ever give you, if you are willing to trust Him and receive it. Some of the deepest mysteries in life will be solved just by being in your child’s presence and looking into their eyes. There are many people who care and want to help but don’t know how. Don’t be afraid to teach them. Your child is made in the image of God and the church will be a much better place because they are there!”
RCC currently offers a special needs class during Sunday School (9:00am). Nationwide, only 7% of churches have any type of special needs ministry. This ministry will soon be expanded and called 4 H.I.M. (Hearts In Motion) with a purpose of serving special needs students and families. Those who choose to be involved will be blessed! “The special needs class at RCC gives Skylar a place where she can show love, is loved in return, and it’s a huge blessing,” says Diane. “Jon and I are extremely thankful for many of the open and willing hearted people who desire to learn about Skylar and love her for the beautiful soul she is.”
God’s Word provides a never-ending source of help and encouragement for the Franks. One key passage for both Jon and Diane is Psalm 40:1-3 which says:
“I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”
Ironically, Skylar ministers to both Jon and Diane by her unconditional love. “She wakes up every day with a contagious smile. She freely offers great laughs at simple things. She never complains. I’m smiling right now thinking about her,” shares Diane. Jon sums it up: “She is the ultimate smiler. She just loves people.”