At 6:01 a.m. on a Sunday morning, I trudge down the sidewalk toward my house. It’s almost silent this morning, the interstate a muted distant hiss, and fog hangs heavy in the lowest reaches of the Bear Creek drainage system. The woods hums with insect song, and after twenty minutes’ run, the cobwebs have finally cleared from my sleepy brain. As I angle off the sidewalk and up the driveway, I hear a characteristic “Euh!” I glance up to see Julianna looking out her bedroom window, waving at me.

And I get to thinking about my 3 ½-year-old daughter—this daughter who has familiarized us with hospitals, who does not speak, who struggles even to make her lips obey a specific command. This daughter who has made me a political activist, who hates being cuddled and who charms everyone she meets. I start thinking about what gifts her bonus chromosome has offered to me, gifts to be unwrapped over the course of years.

Gifts as simple as compassion and empathy for a group of people I once felt uncomfortable with.

Gifts of expanded horizons. Of grief that cracked my heart open, making room for it to grow. Of understanding—not just paying lip service to a concept, but actually understanding—that worth is not connected to achievement. Of realizing that beauty wears many more faces than those we typically recognize.

Gifts given through illness and threat of loss: A sense of perspective about which earthly things matter, and which ones don’t. Recognition that joy and peace sometimes reside closer at hand in the midst of pain and fear than they do in everyday life.

Gifts hidden in delays: The simple joy of a milestone reached. An expanded babyhood, an expanded childhood—something almost every mother longs for at some point, but almost no one gets.

In fact, I realize that the very thing that makes Julianna “other” and “less” (smart, developed, coordinated, capable) than the average child—a third 21st chromosome—is exactly what makes her a living gift that no “normal” child could give.

Linking to SteadyMom’s 30 Minute Blog Challenge

holy experience

tuesdays unwrapped at cats

17 thoughts on “Twenty-one

  1. “Gifts as simple as compassion and empathy for a group of people I once felt uncomfortable with.” i love this… perhaps because i really get it. not through my own child, but another, whom i love as if he were my own. julianna’s heart has probably done this for other mamas as well… another gift for your beautiful list.

  2. I am so glad to “know” you and to hear about your struggles(internal)with your little blessing. I think your dd is beautiful and you are just full of God’s grace.

  3. What can I say. Beautiful post, beautiful girl. Going through our own sufferings…cancer, an infection out of the blue, now seizures and delays…praying for my husband’s dream of a someday-adopted child with Down’s syndrome…fellow writer. We seem like kindred spirits. Happened here thanks to Ann Voskamp (thanks be to God for her) and thought we should connect. With love…because I am in His grip, as are you…
    Genevieve from WI

  4. I realized some time ago that my son’s autism could be thought of as a gift–though I’ll admit it is one I’d give back if I could. I’ve never had to deal, to any great degree, with sibling rivalry. I’m closer to learning the compassion of which you write. I’ve had to opportunity to do things I’ve really enjoyed but probably wouldn’t have done if my big kids had been in a Catholic school where there were other people to do them. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up caring for us in our old age.

    • You know, that question of “giving back” is one I haven’t thought @ in a while. Mostly I’m just glad we don’t have the option, so we’ll never be put in that position. Y’know?

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