Is Down syndrome a curse or a blessing? I have come to realize it is a noble present.
#DownSyndrome #Autism #amniocentesis #prom #depression #praise #worship #obedience #grace #mercy #faithfulness #present #Christian #Psalm #nursing home #IEP #ukulele #God #Christ #Lord #savior #gospel
Author: Jiming Lindal. Translated by: Jiming Lindal
In this issue, we feature Esther Yu, who loves math and travel. She often marvels at God's wondrous creations, and during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, she deeply experienced God.
I am Esther, and my husband is Jeff. We are both Christians. I work as a paraprofessional for La Canada Unified School District Special Education, and my husband works at Autism Speaks. Both of our jobs stem from a desire to serve the children with special needs because our child, Jonathan, has Down syndrome and severe autism.
A bolt from the blue
I was forty years old when I was pregnant with Jonathan. Because I was at an advanced maternal age, I had my doubts and worries and was scared that I might be pregnant with a Down baby. The blood test to check whether the fetus had Down syndrome had sixty percent accuracy. I sought confirmation from God and promised that if the blood test result were positive, I would move forward with an amniocentesis, which had nighty-nine percent accuracy.
Feeling quite uneasy, I had a blood test. When the doctor informed me of a positive blood test result, I struggled ---- should I go ahead with amniocentesis? I prayed with brothers and sisters. We concluded that since God gave me the confirmation, I should move forward as promised.
After the amniocentesis, I was anxiously waiting for the result. Ten days later, I received a call from my Obstetrician on December 18, 1995, a week before Christmas.
"The fetus has a little problem," she said, somewhat hesitant in her voice.
My heart sank, but I still asked, "What's the problem?"
"The fetus has Down syndrome...," the doctor said softly as if to comfort me.
Tears trickled down my cheeks. Sadness suddenly grabbed my heart, and then tears started pouring out. I was sobbing, crying, crying incessantly.
I could not fall asleep but kept crying that night. I cried out to God, "You can make a normal person. Why must he be Down?" I resented God. But I came to Psalm 22:9-10, "Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother's breast. From birth, I was cast on you; from my mother's womb, you have been my God." I heard my child calling out from my womb that he chose to live.
I have been a Christian since I was in China. My family resided in Fujian province and first heard the gospel from the Western missionaries in the early days. Influenced by my family’s faith, I became a fifth-generation Christian. After arriving in the United States, I was shocked when I heard the teaching that abortion is murder for the first time. I realized later that the life given by God should not be taken away by others. We need to accept the truth and obey God.
When we went to counseling the next day, Jeff and I said in one voice, "We want this kid."
Although God revealed to me that the child chose to live, I still had doubts. Life is not easy for ordinary people, not to mention for Down children. It would be ten times more difficult.
"Will he blame me when he grows up?" I asked the counselor.
The counselor smiled. "Although I don't know much about Down syndrome, one thing I do know is that such children appreciate life more than normal children, so don't worry."
There were a few months left before Jonathan was born. During that time, the word of God gave me great comfort. Jeremiah 29:11 said, "for I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." My relationship with God became intimate. I had prepared my heart. So, when Jonathan was born, I fully accepted him and praised the Lord for him.
Throughout the years, Jonathan has displayed the Grace of God, and God has used him to glorify Himself in ways that people cannot comprehend or see with the naked eye.
Jonathan glorifies God
Jonathan has had many health problems in addition to Down syndrome. Since he was a young child, I have spent much time and energy to find suitable doctors for him and make appointments at the Children's Hospital and regional center. Although there are specific laws for people with cognitive disabilities, gaps in implementation are prevalent. I had to learn to advocate for Jonathan, which is my biggest challenge. Every time I returned home from the IEP (Individual Educational Plan) meeting, I collapsed. In the past, I was resistant to learning lessons from God. But because of Jonathan, I had to be open to learn these lessons and face them. But whenever I see the innocent smile on Jonathan's face, I feel that everything I have done is worthwhile.
Jonathan's cognitive ability is only at the first-grade level, but he can recite more than one hundred hymns. He likes music and often plays the ukulele with rhythm. He once stood on the stage of the church and sang, "I have decided to follow Jesus." He enjoyed singing so much that he did not want to leave afterwards, which was funny.
His love for music has become a way to glorify God. In late March 2016, my father had a stroke at the age of ninety-five. Since he had kidney failure in addition to a stroke, his doctor did not expect him to live much longer. Miraculously, God healed him, and he was discharged from the hospital a month later. Because we were too busy with Jonathan, we sent my father to a nursing home. In the hall of the nursing home, we noticed many seniors were active and watching TV. We prayed that we could praise and worship God there and spread the gospel to others. Once we brought it up to the manager, he agreed without hesitation. Every week, Jeff, Jonathan, my sister, and I went there to praise and worship God. Jonathan grinned and played the ukulele with passionate movements. Although he could not make a tune, he was quite rhythmic. His smile and worship were contagious. Those seniors looked at him in utter amazement as if thinking, “If a person with this level of cognitive ability can praise and worship this God in public, then how marvelous this God must be!” Through our praise and worship, and through Jonathan, many of these seniors accepted Christ as their savior. Some of them went home shortly after they came to Christ.
In addition to using music to lead people to the Lord, Jonathan also has the gift of healing. Jonathan has a personal assistant, a 31-year-old young lady, who moved from Hawaii to Los Angeles. She struggled deeply with depression and had suicidal ideation a few times. Because she was young, I was concerned that she might not stay long. So, I was upfront with her, "This job is not for everyone. Are you planning to stay on for a while, or will you switch to another job in the future?"
The young lady looked at me and smiled, "I like Jonathan very much. I feel happy every time I see him, and he gives me a sense of purpose. My depression has quite improved. The way Jonathan embraces life and those around him has pulled me out of that dark place. I think this is a job I want."
I could not help but marvel that though Jonathan could not speak, God still used him. The wondrous works of God are beyond our imagination. John 9:1-3 tells such a story. When Jesus saw a man blind from birth, his disciples asked him, "Who sinned? This man or his parents that he was born blind? " Jesus replied, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that works of God might be displayed in him."
Although Jonathan is cognitively disabled, he has wishes as ordinary people do. In 2015 when he was about to graduate from high school, he wanted to participate in the prom. Prom was significant to every high schooler, where each student looked forward to bringing their dates and celebrating this defining moment. Jonathan was no exception.
But where could I find a prom date for Jonathan? Who would want to go to a prom with a cognitively disabled child?
I first found Grace, a girl with Down syndrome like Jonathan. Because she also suffered from brain cancer and needed to be constantly monitored to take her medications, she could not go. So, I prayed. As usual, on a Friday night, I took Jonathan to the church to join the high school fellowship. But after a while, Jonathan was gone. Jeff and I looked for him everywhere and eventually found him downstairs. He was with a girl. It was how we met Macy, a girl of the same age as Jonathan. We asked her to pray for a prom date for Jonathan.
After our prayer, Macy said, "Let's do this. I can ask Jonathan to come to my prom."
I quickly said, "You need to be with your friends. It would be quite awkward if you need to drag Jonathan along. Why don't you give it more time and discuss this with your mother?"
It was spring break, and a week later, I received a message from Macy. She said, "I have decided to invite Jonathan to my prom."
On the day of the prom, Jonathan got out of the car and handed Macy the corsage. Macy asked gently, "Will you place the corsage on my wrist?" And Jonathan clumsily did so. Then the two of them held hands and walked into the banquet hall. Everyone was stunned when they saw them walking hand in hand. But Macy did not look at her schoolmates. Her gaze was determined as if saying that this is the will of God, and I will continue walking. How significant a prom is to the high schoolers! If they act slightly differently, their peers will shun them. Macy was not at all hesitant to do this out of her love for the Lord, which deeply moved me.
The next day, Macy and some students had breakfast together. She told them why she invited Jonathan to the prom and shared the gospel with them. They listened attentively. At home, she also displayed the photo of her and Jonathan taken at the prom. When someone asked about it, she took the opportunity to spread the gospel. A prom for those high schoolers ended overnight, but Macy's actions have eternal value in the kingdom of God.
Similar encounters are more than we can count and tell. We experience miracles every week. Although Jonathan is weak and lacking in ability, he is always surrounded by people who love the Lord. If it were not for Jonathan, we would not have known them nor have witnessed the works of God. When we initially learned that Jonathan had Down syndrome, we did not foresee that we would receive such a blessing and grace. The works of God are marvelous.
Jonathan is twenty-five years old this year. Sometimes, we do not know how to walk this path or face our challenges. At times, we feel that the future is bleak, and our hearts struggle. Raising Jonathan is well beyond what our flesh can take. We can only grasp God every day. Otherwise, we cannot adhere to this path. My life had been smooth sailing before Jonathan was born, but God gave me a present with an unappealing wrapping, a present that is considered damaged from a human perspective. If I had refused such a present when it arrived, I worry that my faith in this God would not be genuine. True faith is that no matter what God gives me, and regardless if I can comprehend or not, as long as it comes from Him, I will fully accept it. That is complete obedience. That is how our relationship with God should be.
When Jonathan was one year old, we dedicated him to God. We expected him to be used by God and lean on God for all things. We hoped he would realize that he has a unique purpose for being here, rejoice in who he is, and take pleasure in being alive. Jonathan has been growing into the person we expected and hoped him to be. As we live each day by faith, we can experience the faithfulness of God and His grace and mercy.