Twenty years ago, my son, Jay, was born with Down syndrome. Though I didn’t know it at the time, God was introducing me to one of the most marvelous journeys of my life. I remember the first time I held him in my arms. He was wrapped cocoon fashion from head to toe in a white blanket. Even his face was covered. Having just been told that he had Down syndrome and knowing absolutely nothing about the disability, I was a little apprehensive about pulling the blanket away from his face. Would he look “different?” What would my reaction be? I had seen him only briefly in delivery before they rushed him to a waiting isolette.

Gently, I lifted the blanket from his face. Tiny upslant eyes peered up at me. His velvety forehead furrowed and wrinkled as he raised invisible blond eyebrows and opened a perfectly sculptured little mouth. Unlike my other babies with their full heads of dark hair, Jay’s sparse blond hair made him look bald. I unwrapped him completely to see every part of his body, counting his fingers and toes then wrapping him up again.

I thought back to the day that I knelt by my bed and begged God to give me another child if it was His will and to help me accept it if it wasn’t. My son, Travis, died of heart disease when he was nearly three months old, and just a year earlier, I suffered a miscarriage. And though I had two older children, Aaron and Paula, whom I loved and adored, my heart ached for the babies I had lost. The next month I was pregnant and ecstatic. It wasn’t an easy pregnancy–early bleeding, monthly injections, an appendectomy at six months, and a breech delivery. But with each problem I could hear God whisper, “I’ve promised you a baby.” Now here I was nine months later, a six and one-half pound promise from God nestled in my arms!

Instinctively, I knew that this was the moment of complete acceptance, no matter what I knew or didn’t know about the future or Down syndrome. I lifted Jay’s face to my own, kissed his wrinkled little forehead, and vowed to him in my heart that no matter what happened, no matter what lay ahead, I would never, ever leave him and would love him forever. We were bonded for life. God had been faithful to give me a child. I would be faithful to accept the child that he sent.

Some times the way was rough–illness, heart disease, problems with the school, seemingly impossible skills to learn, difficulty with communication, absence of friends, rejection, even some problems in the church. But the blessings have far outweighed the hurts. In a world where abortion quickly wipes out a life that is called “handicapped,” I’m thankful that God gave me the special privilege of being the mother of one who is challenged. In so doing, He challenges me. My life is fuller. My faith is stronger, and I have more compassion for others.

Jay has taught me more about loving Jesus, loving your neighbor, and loving your enemy than any preacher or teacher I ever sat under. He’s given me more joy and laughter than I deserve or ever dreamed possible. He’s added a depth to my heart and soul that only comes through the fire, and he means more to me than life itself.

Through the years I have spoken and written about my own experiences as well as written articles for other parents and teachers of people with disabilities, started a Special Ministry program at my church, and often counseled parents of newborn babies with Down syndrome. When Cheri and I met at a writer’s conference, and found we both had a goal to write a book for parents of children with special needs, it soon became obvious that God had brought the two of us together.

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