Once a week I compile the reflections I’ve offered on Facebook into one blogpost. I am a little behind this month, so here are some thoughts from earlier in June.
June 9th, 2018
Earlier this week, I was talking with Penny about school. I happened to mention an older girl, who I will call Jane, who used to dote on her when she was in elementary school. When I said this other girl’s name, she looked away from me. When she glanced back, her eyes were even wider than usual, and tears were pooling.
“She won’t talk to me, Mom,” she said. “I just don’t understand why.”
I sat through that day with worry that I tried to turn into prayer. What if she was feeling that way all day long? What if other kids who used to be nice were now being mean or rude or dismissive? Is it because she has Down syndrome?
That night, Penny and I were sitting at Chipotle together after her physical therapy session. “Pen,” I said, “On a scale of 1 to 10, if 1 is sad and 10 is super happy, how are you right now?”
“8,” she said, between bites of a carnitas bowl.
“How were you at school today?”
“How about when you see Jane?”
“Going to ballet class?”
“Oh, Mom. 18!”
“So, are there any other times during the day when you feel a 4?”
She shook her head.
If the worst things our daughter encounters in a day is a seventh grader who can’t muster up the kindness to say hello, we’re in a pretty good place, with a pretty happy kid, and I am grateful.
June 12th, 2018
My husband Peter is the headmaster of a school. In his role, he has the authority to admit students to the school and to kick them out. As a result, students interact with him differently than they might if he were just another adult in their lives. They are on their best behavior.
Our children understand that Peter is a headmaster, but that isn’t their primary way of knowing him. They know him first as a loving father. As a result, they whine and complain to him. They play with him. William and Marilee ask him to spray paint their hair green and red, respectively, for field day at school. Penny asks him to hold her hand as we go for a family walk. They don’t relate to him as a headmaster. They relate to him as a dad.
In the New Testament–the books of the Bible written about Jesus’ life and the books that emerged out of the early church–Jesus insists that if his followers don’t change and become “like little children” before God, they will never understand and participate in God’s kingdom. He invites his followers to pray with the words “our Father.” In his parables, Jesus compares God to a father again and again. Paul writes over and over again about our adoption into the family of God.
In other words, we have been invited to relate to God first and foremost in the intimate terms of a child to a father. Taking my own kids as my lead here, I’ve been invited to complain, to ask for what I want and need, to tell God about my day, even to reach out my hand and walk side by side in contented silence.
God remains God–the one who brought life into being, the one who created the cosmos, the one who spread the stars in the sky like a blanket of light. God remains the one who has power to judge and rule. But we have been invited to know him in a very different way, as our dad.
June 19th, 2018
“More alike than different” is a tagline for the movement to include and advocate for people with Down Syndrome. It’s a short way to challenge people to look for similarities instead of categorizing people with DS as “other.” But I heard a mother of a child with DS say the other day that she really doesn’t like the phrase “more alike than different” because she celebrates her child’s differences.
I know what she means. The features that make Penny distinct from me–she moves slowly and patiently, she laughs at herself easily, she doesn’t hold grudges, she gets distracted by the needs of others–those differences are beautiful and challenging and I would never want them to change.
But at the same time, the reason I can value those differences is because I value the underlying sameness to us. Because I have an underlying belief in our shared personhood, I revel in her particularities as a person. Because I believe in our common creation as beings “in the image of God,” I can look for the expression of God’s love in her and marvel at the ways it is different than mine.
The same would be true if Penny were non-verbal, if she had physical or cognitive impairments that made her life ostensibly even more different than my current way of being in the world. She would still be a person, a person created in the image of God, a fellow human being with the capacity to love and be loved.
When Penny was first born, I thought she was different than me. Then I insisted on our similarities. Now I embrace her differences, but only because I have come to truly believe in our common identity as children of God.