Yesterday was World Down Syndrome Day, a time to celebrate the many people throughout the world that bless their communities and families and show great strength and perseverance as they daily work to overcome the challenges that Down Syndrome brings to their lives. Yesterday I couldn’t help but think about someone in my own life who has blessed me in ways I could not image. So, today, I am going to share with you a story that is very close to my heart… the story of James. This blog may be a bit longer than usual, but only because it is so important and because James is so special.
Nearly five years ago, I had the opportunity to work at a summer camp in Idaho. Each week, we would lead groups of high schoolers on servant events in the area. We would also bring in talented and dynamic speakers from around the country to provide Bible studies and devotions for the campers. One particular week, the speakers were a couple from California, Daryl and Linda, and they brought with them their adorable little boy, James.
James was two years old at the time and he immediately captured my heart. It was clear that James had Down Syndrome and Daryl and Linda were very open about what that meant and how that affected him. However, after about 2 minutes with James, it was easy to forget that he was “different” because his joyful spirit out-shown everything else. He was truly the happiest baby I had ever met! He was always smiling and that smile was very contagious. I quickly took it upon myself to be on “James duty” that week. I would volunteer to hold him, feed him, play with him, or help with anything else that Linda and Daryl needed while they were at camp. I know… such a hardship. 🙂
When the week was over, it was very hard to say goodbye. James was such a beautiful child and he had made a profound impact on my life, even in such a short time. I tearfully said goodbye and prayed that I would get a chance to see him again someday. Linda and I tried to stay in touch, but because of many transitions in their life and my life, we lost track of each other.
Fast forward five years… and this is where the story gets really good. I was recently in California for a conference in the Los Angeles area. While I was there, I had the opportunity to share a Y4Life presentation at the University Lutheran Chapel at UCLA. While I was setting up my computer before the presentation, I noticed a little boy playing at the pool table in the room. I could tell that he had Down Syndrome and I made a mental note to find his parents and talk with them after I was done.
A few minutes later I was chatting with a woman before we got started and she excused herself to “go say hi to Linda.” I looked to the woman she was indicating and, to my surprise, it was Linda from camp! I was shocked and excited, and then it hit me- if that was Linda, then the little boy at the pool table must be James! I almost ran over to Linda. I asked her if she remembered me. It took her a second and then she remembered. We both started smiling and hugging and I’m pretty sure I had tears in my eyes. Linda had come for the presentation, but had no idea that the Laura who was presenting was the same Laura from camp all those years ago! It’s amazing how God works, isn’t it?!
After the presentation, Linda invited me to spend the afternoon and evening with their family. She and Daryl were amazing tour guides and they took me to Mailbu, the beach, and even a few celebrity hot-spots, although we didn’t see anyone famous this time. The entire time, I was in awe of how James had grown. He entertained us with multiple productions in their living room, even making Linda and I join in with different costumes and props. He was so funny and energetic, telling us stories with confidence and excitement. I couldn’t always understand what he was saying, but Linda did a wonderful job of translating for me. James may have been four years older than the last time I saw him, but he was still the same joyful boy who had captured my heart!
The highlight of the day, however, was dinner. We went to a casual fish and chip restaurant in Malibu, one of James’s favorites. Before we started eating, Linda and Daryl let James say the grace, like he usually does. I don’t think I will ever forget James’s prayer. He held his hands tight and began his conversation with God. Linda and Daryl prompted him a bit, like to remember to thank God for the food. I caught words like “thank you”, “Mama, “Daddy,” “Laura” (that one made me smile), “fish,” and “cake.” In between the words that I could understand, there were many that I could not, but there was no denying the passion and devotion behind everything that he was saying. I peeked at Linda and there were tears in both of our eyes. I think James would have kept on praying for an hour if Daryl hadn’t reminded him to say, “Amen.” After the prayer, Linda looked at me and said, “James knows his Jesus.”
Later that evening, Linda shared with me the difficulties of helping James transition into the school system. She said the teachers and counselors had plenty of experience with children with autism, but little experience with Down Syndrome children. The reason for this is simple and devastating- children with Down Syndrome are simply not being born. In our country, approximately 90% of all prenatal diagnoses of Down Syndrome end in abortion. Many who make this choice say they are being merciful. They believe they are sparing their child from a lifetime of difficulty and a poor “quality of life.” Quality of life? What does that even mean?
After I returned home, I started thinking about this more and more. What defines an acceptable “quality of life?” As I contemplated, I couldn’t help but picture a happy, smiling boy playing in the sand with his dad, putting on plays in the living room, laughing with his mom, giving me big hugs and kisses, and, most importantly, praying wholeheartedly to his Heavenly Father. Those words from Linda and James’s passionate prayer came back to me- “James knows his Jesus.”
I dare anyone to spend more than five minutes with James and then say he has a poor quality of life. Sure, he may never live independently, get married and have children, make a lot of money, or do many of those things the world deems necessary for happiness. But he has family and friends who love him, he has a joyful spirit that I could only hope to have, and, most importantly, James has the one thing we all need, a Savior who loves him and cares for him. And, even with his difficulties and disability, James knows who that Savior is! Not only does this mean James has a higher “earthly” quality of life than many people I know, but he will some day have the ultimate quality of life in heaven with Jesus. Who could ask for more?