Sarah, like all of us, has been made in the image of God. Being His image bearer makes her beautiful, as does her winsome smile and that mischievous twinkle that lights up her eyes right before she tells me a joke.
Sarah, like us all, has journeyed through unimaginable suffering. The kind that comes from countless hospital stays, unreasonable academic evaluations, and the relentless rejection of children and adults who don’t have eyes to see all that Sarah has to offer. To experience such physical and emotional suffering and still be willing to embrace each new day with gladness and every new person that comes into Sarah’s life with joyful expectation…. Well, in my opinion, that takes an incredible amount of strength. Strength of character; strength in the Lord. Sarah has both.
I wish I could tell you that the world sees Sarah the way I do, but the looks on the faces we meet each day when we venture out of our safe little home tell me otherwise. Some folks see Sarah, smile faintly and look the other way. Others ignore her altogether. Still others – and these are the people who deflate my mother’s heart – they look at my little girl with disdain. Perhaps I’m reading their expressions incorrectly. I certainly hope I am. But way too often the grimaces on their faces sound like they’re asking, “Why? Why would anyone be born like that?”
One sunny afternoon in our neighborhood playground we were approached by a curious little boy. I had been watching him while Sarah mastered the monkey bars, and he had been watching Sarah. Finally, he could contain his curiosity no longer. “What’s wrong with her?” he asked me. His question blessed me, for clearly he was motivated by nothing but simple, childlike interest.
“There’s nothing wrong with her,” I explained. “Sarah has Down syndrome. She looks a little different than you, and she thinks a little different, too, but she loves the playground just like you do. She loves the swings and the slides; she likes having fun. Really, she’s more like you than she is different.”
That answer seemed to satisfy, and for the next good while, Sarah and her new friend had a ball just loving life and loving the playground. It made my heart happy, and brought to mind those red letter words from John chapter nine.
As Jesus went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:1-3)
Sarah was born with Down syndrome. Not because I did something wrong, and not because God made a mistake. Sarah is who she is so that the work of God might be displayed in her life. Through her smile, through her giggle, through her unwavering tenacity to persevere through hardships.
I see the power of God shining through Sarah when she thanks her nurse after a particularly painful medical procedure. I see the glory of God illuminated in her when she raises her hands in worship, unafraid and truly unmoved by any judgmental eyes surrounding her. If it’s Down syndrome that catches people’s stares and makes them contemplate the purpose behind Sarah’s personality, then it’s Down syndrome that’s pointing people to Jesus.
God made Sarah for the same reason He made you; so that the work, the power, and the glory of the Lord might be put on display. Today, ask Jesus to give you eyes to see Him – in yourself and in others. And the next time God brings a person with Down syndrome into your life, take the time to make eye contact, and smile wide.
October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Whether you’re a father, mother, sibling, or other relative in a family affected by disability, you may have specific questions based on the role you play. Real Families, Real Needs not only answers those questions, but also provides godly advice and spiritual hope for the challenges you face.
Shauna Amick, M.Ed., serves as the Vice President of Development for Joni and Friends. Her daughter Sarah, who has Down syndrome, is an integral member of her class at school and her Sunday school class at church.