If you asked me three years ago what I expected life to be like after adopting a child with Down syndrome, I may have said something like, “Our lives will have to slow down a lot.. We’ll have to make time for lots of doctors appointments, therapies, etc.. and we’ll definitely have to have a lot of patience and grace.”
While those things are definitely true, what I wasn’t expecting was the way that God would use our daughter to show us His very nature.
Having previously been a special education teacher in the public school system for 8 years, I was hopeful that Ruthie would do well in public school with the right supports. Unfortunately, after trying it for about two years, Ruthie was not thriving in the public school setting. We prayed about it and we made the decision that for Ruthie, she would thrive in a place where she could understand things at her own pace, travel and see the world with us, and learn while experiencing life in a way that was enjoyable for her. And so we decided to venture into the unchartered territory of homeschool.
It was daunting for many reasons, primarily because it meant facing Ruthie’s vast number of delays and coming to terms with the realization that my patience was extremely limited. It was difficult from the beginning but I quickly learned that Ruthie has a keen sense of emotional awareness. The slightest indication that I was frustrated would cause her to become disinterested or completely shut down. In an instant, I found myself losing my cool with her.. but the very moment I would reach out to apologize, her forgiveness was always immediate and her love was so sincere.
Other times, she would look at me with curious eyes and say, “Mama, you angry?” To which, I could never reply anything other than, “I’m sorry, Ruthie.. let’s try this again.” Ruthie’s love looks so much like Jesus’, I wonder what my life would be like without this constant reminder of His forgiveness and unconditional love for us. Over the past few years, teaching Ruthie has been the greatest challenge and test of faith, but it has been an uphill climb that has been so worth every struggle.
These days, one of her favorite phrases is, “All by myself!” and she will say it regarding everything – whether it’s trying to read, brushing her teeth, praying in public, lifting heavy things – she wants to try things on her own, no matter how daunting the task.
When Ruthie first came home she was noticeably unbalanced and had trouble even on basic playground equipment. We wondered how much occupational therapy was needed and if she would ever be able to fully balance herself. Then just last week, she walked the balance beam in gymnastics – all by herself.
Speaking of playgrounds, after over a year of having to push this child on the swings (while her sister and others her age would swing on their own), we questioned whether she would physically be capable of properly moving her body back and forth to be able to swing on her own. One random day at the playground, she kicked her feet on the ground and propelled her body back and forth, and swung high and happily, as she does now on any set of swings – all by herself.
She will boldly speak in front of her peers in her homeschool co-op and when ever I try to assist her, she will put her hand on her chest and tell me, “Mama, all by myself!” She’ll finish what she has to say and then politely command the audience to clap for her.
She will voice her opinions about her likes and dislikes. She will tell us when she is hurt or if someone was mean to her. She will let us know when she is feeling sad or ask why we are sad. She has an incredible visual memory and is learning to read with visual cues. She has an uncanny way of making peoples’ days with a quick hug or smile. She has a favorite story, David and Goliath and she will talk about this story to anyone and everyone!
These may seem like normal things for a typical child, but these are all things we have questioned in our hearts if she would be able to do – ever. And boy, has she proved us wrong! There is so much Ruthie can do given the extra time and the opportunity; so much she can do – all by herself.
The most amazing thing about Ruthie is truly her ministry of reconciliation which goes hand in hand with her emotional awareness. When my husband and I have an argument on any scale, we try not to argue in front of or let the kids know there is anything wrong. Often in these moments, Ruthie will suddenly come and ask my husband to hold my hand or hug me, or vice versa. And the tension that was in our hearts melts away like butter.
Recently, we had been having some trials within our family which resulted in a little marital strife. My husband and I went to bed angry and not speaking to each other. Out of no where, Ruthie came into our bed in the middle of the night and asked me to turn on one of her favorite worship songs, “Lord I Need You”. My husband tried to get her to go to sleep but she was persistent. So, I turned on this song for her from my phone, she crawled in between my husband and I, held our hands and said, “Shh. Just worship.”
Tears streamed from my eyes and my husband’s too as we knew in that moment that the Lord was using Ruthie to bring reconciliation to our marriage and peace to our hearts.
Many people view Down syndrome and, just by its very name, see it as somewhat of a negative thing – but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The truth about Down syndrome is that it is a blessing. I believe that children are a blessing from the Lord because He uses them to teach us, to speak to our hearts. It is the very reason He calls us to be childlike – because it is the pure of heart who will see Him. Our children with Down syndrome may not look typical or do things in a typical manner, but in their time and in their way, they can do all things.
We aren’t sure what the future holds for Ruthie or what exactly her life will be like when she is an adult, but all we can do is provide her with opportunities, love, and the freedom to be who she was created to be and then the sky’s the limit for her.
There is a whole lot we don’t know… but what we do know is that the upside of Down syndrome far outweighs the downside.