My Dad used to love to “tackle the waves” with me when I was a kid. Our family enjoyed going to the beach and Dad, discontent to just work on his tan, took me into deeper water where he’d hold me up in the air as he jumped over the crests of the waves. One time I remember him making his way back to the shore after we’d been “tackling the waves” together. He held my small body, my face toward the ocean and his toward the beach. He said, “Tell me if a wave’s coming.”
Then he walked boldly forward without turning around. I watched as a wave grew and grew behind us, realizing it was going to crest right over his head. Dad is TALL. I was so stunned that a wave could be taller than him that I was struck dumb. I knew what a tsunami looked like from TV and wondered if this could be one. I couldn’t say anything. That wave crashed over both of us, leaving us sputtering and freshly soaked. After Dad got himself upright again, never letting go of me, he laughed and said, “I thought you were going to tell me if a wave was coming!”
A popular Christian worship song called “Oceans” talks about God calling us out into deeper water, waves crashing over us like His love, taking us further than we’d ever wander on our own.
I used to sing this song loudly, letting God know that I was ready to enter deep waters where my faith would be made stronger. How little did I know what that would mean…
I’ve experienced God as a mystery I can never fully know. I can know His character and His word, His promises and His love – but I cannot figure out His plan. Writing these words contradicts the way I learned in catechism. I learned that we CAN know God fully. I’ve found that while there are parts of God that I’m able to know, He doesn’t plan to reveal Himself in full until we meet in Heaven. Could I handle the fullness of His majesty here on earth? My tiny little mind might explode with the enormity of it all.
1 Corinthians 13:12 – “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then, face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know even as also I am known.”
I’ve often quoted the verse, “Beloved, I wish above all things for you to prosper and be in health, even as your souls prosper.” It was taught to me as proof that God never wants us to suffer physically.
Before my son Redmond was born 18-months ago with Down syndrome, which led to some serious medical issues, I was sure God wouldn’t let that happen to me. I waited for two weeks for the blood test to come back negative, proving the doctors wrong. But the blood test came back positive for Trisomy 21/Down syndrome. How could the God who wants us to prosper and be in health give me (His beloved daughter) a child with serious health issues?
That verse, found in 3 John 1:2, is actually written by the elder John to Gaius. John wishes above all things that Gaius will prosper and be in health. Of course, the nature of God isn’t to wish sickness and disease upon His children. Jesus took stripes upon His back so that we could be healed. Isaiah 53:5 prophetically stakes this claim for us, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”
When Jesus walked on the earth, a huge part of His ministry was to heal the sick. Did He ever heal someone with Down syndrome? Back then it didn’t have a name that gave credit to the man who first studied it. We’ll never know if Jesus ever laid His hands on a person with Down syndrome and caused their chromosomes to change from 47 to 46.
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When I read Isaiah 53 through the lens of a mother of a child with Down syndrome, I hear something much different from what I did when I memorized the chapter in elementary school.
2“…He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”
Jesus was not handsome by the standards of the day. He was despised, rejected, sorrowful, and grieving. As followers of Jesus (Christians), our goal in life is to be like Jesus.
“Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.”
Why then do we think that as Christians we are supposed to be attractive by the standards of our culture, popular, happy, and free from suffering? What is this theory that says that affliction is from Satan? Shouldn’t the reality of sin in the world, the reality that so many reject Jesus and are headed for hell, cause us grief? The JOY of the Lord is our strength, but we carry with us the tension of this terrible grief.
Those with Down syndrome are overwhelmingly reported to have compassion, empathy, and unconditional love for others. While they feel sorry when they are rejected and despised, they are reported to be generally happy people. Yet WE think of them as stricken with a disease, smitten by God – afflicted.
There are those in my own family who shake their heads, convinced that Down syndrome is a curse upon us for sin that Rick or I committed, and that we have been afflicted by God.
But Isaiah 53 prophetically describes Jesus as a man who bore our grief and carried our sorrow – and instead of feeling grateful, we looked at him as one who was smitten by God.
As I consider this chapter in light of my role as the mother of Redmond, I wonder if people with Down syndrome are more like Jesus than those of us who have 46 chromosomes.
What are we concerned with? Success, power, popularity, wealth, money, and health. We don’t feel like we’ve accomplished much in life if we aren’t living independently from our parents, married with children, working a job that gives us a measure of dignity. We put on our job title like we put on an outfit. We consider ourselves successful when our bodies glow with health and vitality. When our bodies begin to fail us, due to disease or aging, we rage against them. We are keenly aware of how they have failed us.
What are people with Down syndrome concerned with? They’ve often had health issues all of their lives and take it in stride. People with Down syndrome are individuals and have their own desires and personality traits, but statistics tell us that they are overwhelmingly content with the way they look and who they are. They don’t typically strive for power or wealth.
Why would Jesus heal them of the thing that makes them like Him? Jesus wasn’t handsome or wealthy, and he didn’t own his own house or have an impressive job title. It doesn’t appear that he owned much of anything at all. Was he concerned with popularity or romance?
I think it’s quite possible that He laid His hands on people with Down syndrome and healed them of heart defects, poor vision, deafness, Leukemia, and so forth. But did He take away the thing that makes them so much like Him?
Like the song says, “there I find You in the mystery.” I don’t know the answer. But here’s what I do know, without a hint of a doubt: when I prayed and asked God to heal Redmond of Down syndrome, His voice came like a wave crashing over me. It was resounding and deafening and fierce. He said, “IT’S A GIFT.”
“It’s a gift.” The second time around, the voice was soft and tender. It was comforting – a gentle breeze blowing over my troubled heart.
I knew that Redmond was a gift: my precious miracle. But Down syndrome – a gift? I don’t understand, but I know enough to know the voice of God spoke to me. Not only is my child a gift, but the extra chromosome that so frustrates and challenges me is a gift. I swallow hard, breathing deeply, and bow my head in submission. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.
And so I find Him in the mystery of Down syndrome. There have been some waves that I thought would take me out. God is a little like my dad, holding me upright and keeping me from drowning in the waves. Of course, God isn’t relying on me to tell Him that a wave is coming. But He’s keeping me upright, safe in His strong arms.
Waves can crash over us because we are held.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 states, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
God’s grace is sufficient for me, for Redmond, for all of us. His power is made perfect in our weaknesses. Paul not only dealt with his weakness, but Paul decided to be content with his weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. CONTENT!
God didn’t heal the apostle Paul of the thorn in his side. Instead of healing him, God gave him the grace to handle it with contentment.
1 Corinthians 1:27-31 states, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.””
I begged God to lead me where my trust was without borders. Part of me says, “What a dumb prayer. Stop it. Don’t pray for that. What are you asking for?” Another part of my heart pushes past the fear and shouts – “Do it anyway! What can be wrong about asking God to help you to trust Him more? He’ll handle the details. You will be okay!”
His spirit makes me brave. He makes us brave. He lifts us when we are small and silent, unable to speak for the fear of what we see coming. He keeps us safe. He soothes us with His love and great compassion for our weakness.
With the faith He’s given us, we step into the water unafraid.
With the assurance He’s placed in our hearts, we bravely step forward and embrace the mystery that we do not understand. We submit our lives to the will of the One who we trust. We beg Him to help us trust Him more. We have no reason to fear. Even when we feel like we’re drowning, He’s holding us.
Even when it appears that sickness and struggle are a life sentence, we can be content.
The God of the universe could heal Redmond of Down syndrome in an instant, but He has chosen not to do that. He has chosen to allow suffering, to allow difficulty, on an everyday basis for the rest of our lives – and He calls it a gift.
The gift has already allowed me to see my spiritual pride, blindness and arrogance, and healed things I had no idea were broken inside me. Perhaps God has allowed this gift in my life to shake me free from fear and self-doubt, from the silence He begged me to break. I won’t know until He chooses to reveal Himself to me fully, but I will do my very best to hold onto the gift He’s given me and praise Him for it. He gives good gifts because He’s a good Father.
Is there a challenge in your life that God is trying to tell you is not actually a curse, but a precious gift from His hands to yours?
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