When Dan LaHood was in second grade at St. John Baptist De La Salle grammar school in Chillum, Maryland, God was already planting seeds for his future.
Dan’s teacher chose him to be the companion of a student named Danny Alexander, who had muscular dystrophy.
Though Dan was supposed to be Danny’s helper, the opposite happened.
During a recent interview on “Christopher Closeup,” Dan recalled, “This kid was so independent, so tough, so resilient, so fast on his crutches. He wanted nothing to do with me in terms of needing me to help him. It was the other way around. He showed me so much about what it means to take what life gives you and make it something more.”
The friendship blossomed, so Dan looked forward to seeing Danny when everyone returned for third grade. That’s when his teacher informed him that Danny had died over the summer. Dan said, “I was heartbroken. And I think that my heart being broken in that circumstance led me always to have a heart for the disabled.”
That heart for the disabled started growing exponentially many years later when his wife Annalise (nicknamed Cubby) decided to open a daycare center in their small Maryland house, so she could stay home with their new baby. The first person to respond was the mother of a child with “profound birth defects.”
Cubby had an extensive background teaching and caring for special needs children, so she welcomed her first client with an open heart and a lot of love. When word spread that there was a woman willing to care for children with severe disabilities, the calls kept coming.
Dan said, “We had spina bifida kids, kids who were brain damaged, we had some Down syndrome kids early on – they were our ambulatory ones. But everybody had multiple disabilities and were not ambulatory.”
A Broken Heart, An Expanded Ministry
In 1988, the LaHoods received a devastating prenatal diagnosis regarding their second child. Doctors told them that he suffered from extensive medical complications and likely wouldn’t live long.
Though advised by doctors and some family members to terminate the pregnancy, Dan and Cubby connected with Dr. Joseph Collea at Georgetown University Hospital, who agreed to support them in their decision to give birth to their child regardless of the circumstances.
Their son, Francis, was born on October 6, 1988. He died a few minutes later.
Much like his experience with Danny many years before, Dan’s heart was broken. This time, it was a brokenness that brought both him and Cubby to God in a new way. Dan said, “This circumstance made it impossible to avoid the hard questions about life, and that was what led us to our parallel conversions.”
Cubby, who had been raised Presbyterian, made the decision to become Catholic. And after spending much of his life as “an Easter and Christmas cultural Catholic,” Dan embraced his childhood faith in a much deeper way. Both of them are now Lay Missionaries of Charity (a part of Mother Teresa’s order).
A Saintly Business Model
Dan also felt motivated to leave his job and work with Cubby’s home daycare business full time. God and one of His favorite people soon entered the picture.
Dan recalled, “When we first started this, we didn’t charge much, we didn’t really know what the market would bear, the people we served didn’t have much money. We sat down at the kitchen table once, and my wife said, ‘I want go over the books with you to show you something.’ So she opened the books and said, ‘This is what we have coming in, and this is what we have in our account.’ And every month, we had more in our account than we took in! And we both said simultaneously, ‘Saint Joseph!’”
That was when they decided to name their daycare center St. Joseph’s House because Jesus’s adoptive father was known as a strong, dedicated caretaker.Dan said, “It was a beautiful, Catholic Twilight Zone moment that said he is with us, he’s watching over us. From that point, we [decided] to lower our fees every year. And the more we lowered the fees, the more we had people coming to us, saying, ‘What can I do to help?’”
The LaHoods eventually moved into a larger house in Silver Spring, Maryland, that was wheelchair accessible and would better accommodate the children they served. In addition to caring for the kids before and after school, they also take them bowling, swimming, ice skating or to the movies.
And the LaHoods three children have been part of this ministry from the beginning. Dan said, “When we first started, people said, ‘But what’s it going to do to your children?’ As if the disability was catching! We said, ‘We’re going to live with any eventuality because we’re committed to doing this.’ And they are as natural with these kids as you could imagine. They’re more like brothers and sisters than acquaintances or friends…It expanded their hearts like it expands everybody’s hearts, in a milieu of love. Feel that love, sense that love and communicate that love to others.”
Not only has dealing with children who have disabilities changed the LaHoods, it’s also influenced the kids’ parents.
Dan remembered George, a powerful lobbyist in downtown Washington who had a severely disabled daughter named Kate. George was small in stature, but that didn’t stop him from being completely devoted to Kate.
Dan said, “His job was to provide all the care that Kate needed. That required lifting her numerous times a day, changing her diaper, transferring her to a wheelchair, putting her on the bus, putting her in and out of a big car seat. One day, we got a phone call saying George had died of a massive heart attack. His wife told us he had the same genetic heart condition his father had, who died at 35, and there was no treatment for it. When I heard that, I thought about every time I saw him straining to lift her. Now I think, ‘He was doing that knowing all the time his heart could explode at any second.’ And we see lots of examples of that kind of parental self-giving that is so ennobling, so courageous. It brings me to the edge of tears.”
The LaHoods have taken on another ministry in recent years called “Isaiah’s Promise,” in which they share their experience giving birth to a child that didn’t live long with other parents who receive a similar prenatal diagnosis.
Dan said, “Rather than the calamity they anticipate, they can see through our witness that it’s survivable and, against all odds, it ends up being a good in their life. We’ve never had one person call Isaiah’s Promise who wanted to carry the baby to term who ever regretted their decision… Like the rose, the thorn and the sweetness—if you’re resolute, if you persevere, if you ask God to be with you, He will be with you and carry you through…Like alchemy turns lead into gold, love turns despair into hope.”
Though you’d hope that people who’ve devoted themselves to such a selfless ministry would be free from heavy burdens, that’s unfortunately not the case. Cubby is currently dealing with a serious cancer. But when asked how he is able to see light during life’s dark times, Dan concluded, “We know that He who accompanied us through the pregnancy when our son was born and died is here with us now. We experience His light every day.”
(To listen to my full interview with Dan LaHood, click on the podcast link:)
Christopher Closeup podcast – Guest: Dan LaHood