I’ve written several posts (like this one) on themes related to disability recently in honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month. In this post I want to share with you five Bible passages that have led me through thirteen years of parenting a child with Down Syndrome. These Bible passages have encouraged and grounded me over the years and I hope they will bless all of us, whether we have a family member with a disability, or simply need to be reminded that there is hope and that we are broken and beloved.
Bible Passage 1: Flourishing
“She is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” Psalm 1:3
When I was pregnant with our daughter Penny, I was reading through the Book of Psalms. Psalm 1 frames the whole book, and it offers a picture of what a flourishing life looks like: a tree planted by a stream of water. For whatever reason, those words jumped off the page as a promise for our unborn daughter. She would be like a tree—growing slowly, nurtured by the life-giving water of God’s presence, bearing fruit. When Penny was diagnosed with Down syndrome, at first I wondered whether that Psalm was really the right vision for her life, the right way to pray for her. I feared that having Down syndrome would mean she couldn’t flourish, couldn’t contribute, couldn’t bear fruit.
Bible Passage 2: Displaying The Work of God
“This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” John 9:3
About halfway through Penny’s first year of life, I read the story of the man born blind in John 9. In it, Jesus’ disciples see the man as a morality tale. They assume that his blindness, his disability, came as a result of sin. Jesus overturns their overly simplistic view of the world when he says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Again, those words leapt off the page and into my own heart. I had been thinking Penny’s diagnosis was a result of something gone wrong in the cosmic order or in our lives or in her body. Jesus flipped the script and again made a promise. No one did anything wrong. And Penny’s life, like your own, is intended to bear witness to the glory of God.
Bible Passage 3: The Way of Love
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
I had the chance to preach at Penny’s baptism. I used the words of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s great proclamation about love, as my Scripture reading. Paul explains all the things we might think we can do to prove that our lives matter—impress people with our intellect or our selfless service to others or even our miraculous demonstrations of spiritual power. Paul says none of that matters one bit without the patient, gentle, kindness of love. “Without love, I am nothing,” he writes. Even at eleven months old, Penny was showing me a whole other way to experience and participate in a life of beauty, connection, purpose, and meaning. She was inviting me to understand the way of love.
Bible Passage 4: Wonderfully Made
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:13-14
Once Penny was in elementary school, she was invited to participate in reading Scripture at our church every so often. We had a guest preacher one Sunday. He didn’t know our family. He sent the passages from which he would be preaching ahead of time, and I had Penny practice out loud. As it happened, her reading was Psalm 139. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” she spoke, echoing the words of the Psalmist from so many ages ago. And from the pulpit, she proclaimed, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Like a tree, planted by streams of living water.
Bible Passage 5: God’s Peace
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Philippians 4:6-7
Penny is in middle school now, and she has begun to claim a faith of her own. She has her own questions. She also has her own fears. Those fears show up most often at bedtime—she’s afraid of the dark, afraid of sleeping alone if her sister is away for some reason. She’s afraid of upsetting other people. She’s afraid of confrontations. So now, when she tells me she is afraid, we pray together. We think back to the words from Philippians 4 that we memorized as a family when the kids were little. We simplify those words into “I give you my anxiety. I receive your peace.” We breathe deeply together.
My fears that Penny’s life will not bear fruit (which you can read about in my book A Good and Perfect Gift) have already been proved unfounded. My concern that Down syndrome is a special kind of brokenness has faded away. I have come to believe that Penny has been created with a purpose. I have come to believe in the ultimate and grounding power of love. I have come to understand that love is stronger than fear.