Something many people probably don’t know about me is that my uncle has Down Syndrome. I don’t talk about it much because he doesn’t seem that different to me. I have grown up playing games, watching Flipper reruns, and shooting basketball with him. He is now 58 and has significantly declined in his mental and physical capacities. Recently, he accidentally drank some Pine-Sol. This caused his body to do some pretty horrendous things. He ended up at Barnes Jewish Hospital on Sunday evening on a ventilator, with a stomach pump, and blood pressure going through the floor.
This has caused me to consider his life and the many who struggle just like him. With approximately 6,000 babies born annually within the United States, which are affected by Down Syndrome, there has been approximately 120,000 families affected by Down Syndrome over the last 20 years. Those families can attest to the blessing that is experienced by knowing and loving someone with Down Syndrome. Not only can we attest to their blessing, so can God.
Down Syndrome for God’s Glory
Individuals with Down Syndrome are born with a third copy of chromosome 21. This little chromosome makes a huge difference in their lives. Aside from the physical markers which tend to make them stand out from the crowd, they struggle with delayed cognitive ability. Most of them are able to achieve some independence and can be found working in structured environments.While all of these are genuine struggles and should not be taken lightly, they are not outside the plan of God. Consider the Psalmist words,
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:13-16)
As every human is made, God is intricately involved in the details. This means that those who are designed with and without an extra chromosome are designed by the hand of God. Thus God has an intended purpose for even those which society doesn’t see as useful and valuable. Please don’t get the idea that these individuals are more important in God’s eyes than others. Rather understand that though their purpose may look different from the majority, it is no less important.
Secondly, they can bring glory to God in their own right. My grandmother Ora was diligent to take my uncle Don to church on a regular basis. Even when individuals were ignorant and rude, my grandmother sought to keep him under the preaching of the gospel. She read the scripture to him and sang hymns with him on a regular basis. It was not uncommon to hear him singing or listening to music on a regular basis. He could tell you about Christ without shame, unlike many in the pews around him. However, the greatest attestation to the work of God in him was his love of others. Don was more deeply concerned with others than he ever was himself. He would regularly ask about those whom he knew were ill, troubled, or otherwise, almost to the point of annoyance. While some may say this was merely a symptom of his Down Syndrome, I would attest that it was God’s gift to him. His gift was used to regularly remind our family to care for others, was a witness to the church, and a blessing to those who received his love.
Down Syndrome for the World’s Envy
Because of these things I was quite surprised when the doctor asked us if we wanted to test for Down Syndrome with our oldest child. I understand that it could have helped us better prepare for his delivery if he had indeed been diagnosed with Down Syndrome, however it appears that the outcome of such a test identifying a Down Syndrome child often leads to their abortion. In recent studies almost half of those diagnosed with Down Syndrome in the womb are never born. While any reason I give for such result would be merely conjecture, I am horrified by the notion that these children are any less valuable to our world. Whether the abortion be because of their status, lifestyle, or even comfort is hindered, it is a travesty. As if they should be given the right to be God and decide who has the right to life. As if they can even begin to measure the impact this child will have upon the community, their families, and their hearts. I am not denying the cost of raising children of Down Syndrome or the struggle it places on families. I am merely saying do those reasons out way the cost of God’s unique blessing through them?
However, the disdain for those of Down Syndrome can be attested to by the many families who have received the dirty looks at restaurants, grocery stores, and even churches. Rather than taking time to meet those who have been designed differently than ourselves and allow them to affect our lives, many continue to look down their noses in irritation. Let us consider the things we can learn from these uniquely designed individuals.
I have stated all of these things to say I am thankful for my family preserving my uncle’s life. Not only in his birth but also in his life. They have sought to give him the life that any other human being has enjoyed. The have sought to care for him in his sickness, orneriness, and helpfulness.
Because of this I am also thankful for the blessing he has been to me. He has taught me to enjoy the little things in life. I can remember playing basketball and him enjoying the missed baskets, as well as the goals. I remember the joy in his life in working with the flowers in my grandmother’s garden. I can also remember the joy he gained from taking those flowers to the hurting. I am thankful he has taught me to care for the lives of others, even when mine has struggles of its own.
Finally, I am thankful for God’s preserving of his life. God has preserved his life for 58 years and continues to do so, despite the disdain by society for those with Down Syndrome. My uncle miraculously walked out of the hospital yesterday evening. God’s blessings through his life continue!