Emily’s Smile and the Face of God

“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 18:4)

Have you ever been confronted with so-called medical facts that seem to deny a higher spiritual reality?

We had that experience with the birth of our daughter Emily, who was born with Down syndrome. I will never forget the meeting with the geneticist after Emily was born.  He spent an entire hour telling us about all the things that Emily would never be able to do, including, “She will never be able to read.”

His professional training and protocols blinded him from seeing a larger reality involving God’s perspective.  To the geneticist, Emily was imperfect, but to God she is flawless, part of his grand scheme to teach the rest of us about him and what really counts. 

Emily was born with an inclination to love.  Her first reaction when meeting others is to hug them.   She has no guile.  She is not calculating.  She is not likely to offend God as we have all done.  I have learned as much about God and his ways from Emily as any sermon, teaching or spiritual writing.

On a Sunday morning a number of years ago, I happened to be serving as a Eucharistic Minister in our church and it just happened that I was stationed on the aisle that my wife and Emily were coming down.  When Emily saw that it was I who would be serving her communion, she broke out with that big, beautiful smile of hers, started rushing toward me, cupping her hands to receive the Body of Christ, and exclaimed, “Daddy!”  My heart melted, and then I thought, isn’t that how God would like all of us to approach him – with absolute love and joy, not worrying about what others might think. 

Yesterday we celebrated Emily’s 36th birthday.  The geneticist got it completely wrong.  Emily did learn to read.  She has an incredible sense of time, remembering the birthdays of all our family — siblings, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, and thirteen nephews and nieces.  She knows what day to take out the trash.  She has a great sense of direction.  If I go a different direction on the way to church or to some other place she has been before, she corrects me.  Until COVID, she worked at a bakery and catering business from 9 to 2 every day for 12 years.  

Emily was not a genetic accident.   Medical science tells us that the extra chromosome that gives rise to Down syndrome is present in one out of every 700+ conceptions.  Children born with Down syndrome are not a genetic accident.  They are part of God’s plan to demonstrate his love, humility, and purity of heart.  When I see Emily’s smile, I see the face of God.

How tragic that our culture considers abortion a solution to the extra chromosome when the extra chromosome is really an opportunity to see the face of God.

Do you look for God’s presence in all people, particularly those with disabilities?

15 thoughts on “Emily’s Smile and the Face of God

  1. Maria Eisenberg

    Beautifully expressed. Our children with Down syndrome are “The Light”. We are so blessed to have them as daily reminders of what real love is. Happy Birthday Emily, your smile is beautiful.

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  2. Dorene Breach

    What a blessing! I have a first cousin who lived into his 50’s with Downs. The doctor tried to talk my uncle and aunt to put him in a facility but they never regretted their decision to raise him and he was truly a blessing. Since then I’ve had the joy to hang out with these special children, singing with them and teaching Bible stories to them. One (50+ years biologically but a child still) young man named Pete made me tear up when he sang with us, “Yes Jesus loves ME!”

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  3. Susan

    Beautiful tribute to Emily’s gift to the world. I still remember her gorgeous smile and how her face lights up. Rachel and I were both impressed! God bless you and your family.

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  4. fidel and larry

    as a pediatrician i knew and know just what the smile is about.ive seen mainy in my hay day
    and i know emily to you is special and to the millders she is special and a delight.a hug to emily
    love fidel and larry

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