Category Archives: Special Needs Children

Emily’s Smile and the Face of God

IMG_0433Have 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 was 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 I have ever heard or read.

On a Sunday morning a few years ago, I happened to be serving as a Eucharistic Minister in our church and it just happened that I was stationed on the isle 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.   

“From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise.”  (Psalm 8:2)

This past week, we celebrated Emily’s 30th 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 reminds me when 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 her work, she corrects me.  She works at a bakery and catering business from 9 to 2 every day.

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.

 

A Special Christian Community

Do you experience Christian community with people who have an extra measure of compassion, love, acceptance and understanding?

This is what my wife and I experience with the families of the friends of our daughter Emily who was born with Down syndrome. Emily was blessed to attend Paul VI Catholic High School in the Arlington, VA diocese with its special program for children with developmental disabilities. Last Saturday we celebrated the 10th graduation anniversary for Emily and her friends along with their families at a backyard cookout. Almost fifty people including Emily’s friends, their parents and a couple of former teachers joined in the celebration with games, food, drink and conversation.

What distinguished this gathering was the nature of the people. Emily and her friends, now all young adults, have an inclination to love with absolutely no guile and a purity of heart that has impacted all of us. As a result, parents seem to have an extra measure of compassion, love, and acceptance, along with a focused determination to be an advocate for the needs of their children. Over the years, most of them have had to advocate for their children with geneticists, doctors, surgeons, therapists, teachers, school administrators, counselors, job coaches and employers. They know what tough love is.

My wife and I have experienced Christian community with our church, a parish prayer group and a covenant charismatic community. They have all been a blessing in our lives, but Emily’s friends and their families have a special place in our hearts.

The folk hymn, They Will Know that We Are Christians by Our Love seems quite appropriate here.

If you have never been acquainted with a special needs child, seek out the opportunity. You will see the face of God in their big smiles and innocent hearts.