|Christina praying for Grandma to go home safely to Heaven.|
So maybe we special needs parents aren't so special. But hold on, I am not ready to toss out the special parent idea just yet. Which one of us hasn't marvelled in the patience we see in the mom or dad who, like Rick, take extra time to teach their babies the simplest skills and broadcast them over the blogosphere as if a new planet had been discovered?! The joy in their beaming faces is a foretaste of heaven, isn't it?
We can see God's grace at work in them, but just how did it get there. Hint, it starts with the word "yes".
When we conceive a child with special needs, Our Heavenly Father offers each parent the opportunity of receiving abundant grace (supernatural power to help her or him overcome natural weaknesses and act more like God) in order to parent this child who will require extra amounts of patience, perseverance, hope, and faith. Never mind that that child will return those gifts in abundance, but the expectant parent doesn't hear that at first, most often they are given the "prenatal testing horror show" by their OB and genetic counselor: a list of things which may go wrong with the child physically or mentally. Sometimes it even gets personal. Some parents I interviewed for my book told me that the doctor told them this child will ruin your life, or break up your marriage. Really, that's going a bit beyond prenatal diagnosis, don't you think?
The parent, as you have indicated, is terrified, and overwhelmed by the news and far too often, in fear, says "no" to God and aborts the baby. This is the tragic consequence of free will, but the loss is not only the life of the child, but the beauty God was going to create in that soul by means of raising that wonderfully challenging child. And you don't have to be a Christian to allow God's grace to transform you via your child with Down syndrome.
Dr Brian Skotko's survey said that 97% of siblings of children with Down syndrome say they are better people because of being special siblings. Did I mention the 99% rate of happiness reported by those with Down syndrome and their parents? Being Christian is not a prerequisite, just saying "yes" to God is by giving your child with extra chromosomes life opens up a new world of beauty which only those of us who are farther down the road can see. Every time I speak on live radio, the station is flooded with calls from people with stirring testimonies on how someone with Down syndrome made a wonderful difference in their lives. Some of the testimonies are decades old, but the effect remains. Many are parents, but some are just teachers, neighbors, friends, and siblings. Those people who are remembered so fondly are not angels, they are flawed human beings BUT there is something pure and holy about them, which brings out the best in us. Where does it come from? God, of course. All good things come from His Hand.
Just read this piece I wrote about how Christina helped us through my mother's death from cancer.
So, when I saw those saintly old ladies in church gently guiding their 40-somethings with Down syndrome and concluded, "God can't give me a child like that, I am not holy enough". I was right. And wrong. Right I wasn't holy enough. Wrong, that God couldn't give me a child like my wonderful 11 year old Christina with Down syndrome. He had a plan for my life, and He told me while I was in line for Communion, "I want you to accept this child as a gift from my Hand." I said "yes" before I even believed I could become one of those elderly, saintly mothers of special needs children.
What I forgot was, those old ladies were my age when God gave them their special needs children, and may have had my impetuosity, hot temper and lack of patience. But, like me, they told God "yes", and day by day, in His grace, they were shaped and fashioned into the saintly images of God I admired in church. They probably thought the same thing about not being up to the challenge of raising a son or daughter with Down syndrome. But we have learned that God doesn't call the prepared, He prepares the called.
So that is why my book of 34 stories from such parents is called "A Special Mother is Born". Because the child and the mom/dad both go through a birth when a child with special needs is born. The parents, is a rebirth, akin to being 'born again' when one enters life in Christ in Baptism. God makes them into special people whose child, like all children, is an agent of grace making them fit to be called home to heaven one day.