**it may get long...you have been forewarned.**
(ok, wow, I could write a book, apparently. plan to take breaks unless you have 10-12 minutes to spare.)
I have always had a heart that goes out to those kids (well, people) with special needs (especially kids; but when we face it, those kids grow up, and they are some of the sweetest people I've ever met as adults) or who have a disability of some kind.
I have had very little interaction with these folks. Because of that, I am (a bit?) nervous around them. It has nothing to do with them, though. I think (when I try to examine the inner workings of my mind) that it's because I'm afraid I'll hurt them or offend them, which I want desperately not to do.
When I was in college, a friend babysat regularly for a family whose youngest (of 3) had Down Syndrome. She was the most adorable, precious, sweet little girl I'd ever seen/heard stories about. I couldn't get her off my mind.
I worked in the bookstore on campus, and one week that year, we had a clearance sale - and staff got first pick. I randomly found a book of pictures - pencil drawings, portraits of these beautiful people - many of whom had disabilities of some kind, several with Down Syndrome. I read the intros and poured over the pictures for hours that weekend. Literally. Their faces are an open book. No hidden agenda, it's all right there. Rarely do you see such intense interest in anything once a person is above the age of ... well, 3 or 4. Rarely do you see such pure joy - especially over the simplest (and yet most amazing) things. I love that book. It's on a shelf in my home, and I stumble on it from time to time and pour over it all over again.
Yesterday night, when I was exhausted, but unable to sleep, I browsed through the Netflix Instant Viewing library of documentaries (I had talked to a friend about documentaries this past weekend, and thought I'd see if there were any I wanted to watch sometime). I found one about a guy with Down Syndrome, made by his childhood friend when they were older (and still good friends). I added it to my queue thinking I'd watch it "someday." Tonight, I jumped on Netflix (ah, happiness) to watch a little something before getting ready for bed. I hadn't thought about watching a documentary. I was thinking 'half-hour cartoon/show/something stupid' to unwind. But nothing hit me right. I kept going in circles, unable to make a decision...except I kept coming back to Up Syndrome. So I decided to start it (on Netflix, it's about an hour long). I watched about 15 minutes before I had to make a statement on Facebook about how wonderful it is, complete with the link to the trailer. I watched 35 minutes before I could make myself turn it off to attempt the other stuff I needed to do.
While watching it, I went in my room for a blanket/sweatshirt (windows open, breezy, I was cold), and I saw the shelf. That shelf. I pulled the book. I poured. The inspiration hit. I started writing.
I went back and forth.
Do I write this?
How do I do it so I don't offend anyone?
How do I make myself clear on what I do/feel/think, when I'm still not 100% sure that I've got it all figured out?
Isn't that the point of this whole thing? To wonder about stuff? To get out the feelings, the thoughts, the ideas?
YES. Yes, it is.
Most people know I have a HUGE soft spot for kids. I love them. They are hilarious, they are sweet, they are funny. They can be crazy, rude, disrespectful (I mostly blame the parents, but sin, of course, is a large factor too), naughty. But they are precious. They see so many things so simply. I can connect with a child so quickly, so deeply. When they hurt, it makes me hurt. I want to make everything better for them - not easy, better. I want each child to grow up strong, faithful, knowing that God is so much bigger than even they can imagine - and they can imagine much more than most of us.
Kids with disabilities like Down Syndrome (or any - physical, mental, emotional - for that matter) strike me the same way - and yet differently. Their lives are so much more complicated in some ways, so much more simple in others. The life experience they've been dealt is a direct result of sin in the world - what did they do to deserve it? No more than I did to be where I am.
Again, when I was in college, there was this great place where many developmentally disabled people live and work. They also work in several of the businesses in the area, including the local Panera, McDonalds, and on campus at the dining hall and the student center. One of my classes required time in a small group (3 college students, 3 friends from this place, and their 2 helpers) 2-3 times per week for the majority of the semester. I can only remember one of their names, but they were amazing. The sweet girl was so quiet, but if you got her going on something she liked, man, she could be occupied for hours - she'd even get up enough courage to tell you almost a sentence and a half about it. Daniel on the other hand, was by far the most outgoing. He wanted to make sure you knew as much as he did about everything around him. He told us about each day at work when we saw him. He told us about shooting pool and how to make sure the balls went in the holes. He loved to walk from the cafeteria to the rec center. The days he was not smiling were few and far between.
Ok, so back to my statement about being nervous around these special people. I have realized as I wrote this that I have had more interaction than I thought. There was also a handful of little kids at my church (nursery through early elementary) that I had (minimal to weekly) interaction with over the past few "ministry seasons" (years). One LOVED to tell jokes of any kind, especially the kind that make no sense whatsoever. One was a sweet infant who smiled more than any other baby I've seen - including the one I'm biased about. One was always jumping and running to his classroom to learn about Jesus. So awesome. Maybe part of my issue is that it's still a new person - someone I don't know yet. I have some shyness in that way (regardless of age or gender or anything else), and it can present itself in a stand-off-ish, I'm-too-good-for-you, or I-don't-know-how-to-handle-you kind of way sometimes (so I've been told). I think this is magnified by the reasons I listed earlier. I really don't want anyone I am interacting with to feel rejected, on the fringe, like an outcast, or that their being included because "I have to." I want them to feel loved. To feel wanted. To see God through me.
Pray for these people. They are often misunderstood. Pray for their families. They have been through much together. Pray for others around them, that interactions would be positive, not negative. Pray for the church, that it would not have a reputation of neglecting these important souls. Love these people. It's one of the best things you can do.
I recommend looking at the pictures from the book (see link above). I recommend watching at least part of the documentary if you can find it (link above, another one here.)
One last thought. I have contemplated through the years the idea of adoption. Since college, that thought has included the thought of a special needs child. Now, I know I am no where near ready to do any kind of adopting at this point. I don't know if that is even something God wants for me. It scares me to think I could be a parent to a child (naturally or otherwise) with such needs that I know so little about. But I would rather figure it out, leaning on God (with my future spouse; I don't really think I'd like to parent alone if I had the choice), and loving that child to the best of HIS ability. It is a ... thing ... in my heart. I don't have a good word. I don't know if it's a desire. All I know is, I love to love kids. I love to help them learn and grow. I love to see them making sense of things, figuring it out. I love seeing them singing praises to Jesus (I'm getting a lump in my throat just thinking about it). If God wants me to be the parent of a child who has extra hurdles to jump, I don't want to be closed to the idea. I want to embrace it, that sweet child, my family, and Him, and see what amazing things He can do.
All praises be to the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, He is wonderful!