Monday, November 30, 2009

In Praise of Guidestone

Blog Owner's Note: Keith Sanders is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Keller, Texas, and is a close friend from childhood onward. Keeping up with his journey has brought me to pray regularly not only for him but also for the over 1 million Americans presently suffering from Autism and the many more to come. Autism is the fastest-growing disability in the United States, with a growth rate of around 1,148% (source: Autism Society of America).

This very fact—the rapid growth of autism—may be evidence of an increasing occurrence of autism, or may be evidence of an increasing understanding of autism, and therefore an increasing ability to diagnose what were once undiagnosed cases. In either case, insurance providers like Guidestone find themselves, with regard to autism and other ongoing developments in the realm of health care, attempting an in-flight modification of our insurance plans to adapt to circumstances that never remain static. I am thankful for their hard work.

Following is Keith's personal account of their saga. I invite you to join me in praying for the Sanders family as the grace of God carries them through this difficult time.


Last January, my wife and I sat holding hands in an examination room of a well-respected developmental pediatrician’s office. We were there to receive the results of an extensive round of testing for our three year old daughter. For several months we had noticed a regression in her speech development and social interaction. She walked on her tiptoes and seemed to be unusually sensitive to sounds and textures. Having done research on the internet, we were not surprised by the results of this formal evaluation. However, the matter of fact way in which the doctor spoke left no doubt in our minds about the severity of the diagnosis.

“Your daughter is autistic,” she said. “As far as we can tell, she falls somewhere in the moderate to severe range.” Our silence must have led her to believe that we failed to appreciate the enormity of the moment. After a long pause she continued, ‘This is devastating.” With that, she exited to give us time to absorb what we had been told. As we embraced and cried, I knew that the diagnosis of our daughter’s condition was correct, but determined that autism would not devastate our family. After all, our faith was strong, we had the support of our extended family, and our church was eager to help bear our burden.

The latest scientific research reveals that one percent of children will be diagnosed with autism before age eight. Autism has no known cause or cure. However, some treatments have proven to be beneficial over time. Some children have even lost the diagnosis of autism after years of treatment and gone on to live normal lives. While praying for God to heal our daughter, we began to explore every possible avenue of treatment. Though the types of treatments for autism are diverse, one thing is consistent with almost all of them, they are incredibly expensive. At the time we received the diagnosis the best estimates for the costs of treatment were between $50,000 and $70,000 per year. With that knowledge, I was certainly thankful for the generosity of the church that I pastor that enabled us to purchase the highest level of coverage offered through Guidestone. However, that thankfulness turned to frustration, and frustration gave way to anger when we began to file claims related to our daughter’s condition. We soon learned that Highmark Bluecross Blueshield , the company who issued our policy, only covered a minimal level of autism treatment. Facing the prospect of being unable to afford the healthcare that could potentially help my little girl was one of the most difficult moments of my life. As I began to pray for God’s provision, I determined to do everything in my power (within the law) to make sure our daughter had the best opportunity to improve.

Several weeks before our daughter’s diagnosis was finalized, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Dr. O. S. Hawkins the Chief Executive Officer of Guidestone. I was impressed by the genuine concern he had for pastors and their families. Desperate for help, I called Dr. Hawkins office and he graciously took my call. At the conclusion of our conversation, he assured me that he would be on top of the situation and his team would get to work immediately to help us. Before we ended our conversation, he prayed for my family by name. Though I am sure I made myself a nuisance to Dr. Hawkins and his staff with my many calls and letters in the ensuing days, everyone at Guidestone always treated me with patience, grace and dignity.

Dr. Hawkins was true to his word and after negotiations between Guidestone representatives and Highmark, our insurance now covers our autism treatments including speech and occupational therapies. It is too soon to know how effective the treatments will be, but giving our daughter every opportunity to improve is worth more to my wife and me than almost anything we can imagine. It is also gratifying to know that because of the trial that our family has gone through, other Guidestone participants will have the same opportunity for their children. Our family thanks God for Dr. Hawkins and the staff at Guidestone. We also thank God that we serve a church who values its ministers and provides for their needs.


David R. Brumbelow said...

Thanks for your good word of testimony. My prayers are with you and for the healing of your daughter.

I agree that O. S. Hawkins is doing a great job at Guidestone. Guidestone was very helpful to my family upon the death of my dad.

To those preachers who haven’t done so yet, check with Guidestone about health insurance, and especially about retirement. One day soon you and your wife will be glad you did.
David R. Brumbelow

Anonymous said...

This is an awesome post. I have friends who have children with autism. I can think of 4 right now.

I have had a bit of experience with Guidestone, and I, too, have found them to be knowledgeable and helpful.