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My Little Extra

by Barbara Curtis

"WELCOME HOME, JESSE," rejoiced the banner over our front door. "We're so glad you're here!" proclaimed another. We barely caught a glimpse of them as we turned into the driveway. Then all we could see were our nine children racing for the car.

Inside was eight pounds of precious cargo. Eyes closed, his face rested like a cloud in a sky of soft blue cotton. The waiting he would never remember was over and he was finally at home. So even though his peaceful sleep would soon be broken by a boisterous welcome, we would never think of changing it. After all, he had a lot of family to get used to.

Jesse's story really began three years before, when our eighth child was born. The nurse's hand on my shoulder felt heavy and sad. My doctor took a deep breath before he began, "I have some bad news for you."

"He has Down Syndrome, doesn't he?" I felt sure because the baby looked, well, just a little different. Besides, since I was 44, my doctor had warned me of my increased risk of having a baby with Down Syndrome, urging me to get all the tests. I had assured him that tests were not necessary because I would be grateful for any baby God gave me.

Now I looked at my troubled doctor and smiled, "It's all right. Remember, I told you it would be." My husband agreed. Looking tenderly at the baby, he said, "We'll name him Jonathan."

The announcements I had prepared bore a line from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame." We sent them out with hasty inserts explaining to our friends that Jonathan had Down Syndrome and that we felt blessed to receive him. Later we found out that Jonathan means "gift of God."

We realized from the beginning that God would use Jonathan to change us. But that really brought us to the edge of what we knew; then we were staring down into a canyon of ignorance. The first thing we needed were some facts.

We learned right away that Down Syndrome is a chromosomal disorder. While most of us have twenty three pairs of chromosomes, Down Syndrome is characterized by an extra chromosome on the twenty-first pair.

Maybe calling Down Syndrome a disorder is what makes people think it's bad news. Maybe it's because life is more challenging for someone with Down Syndrome, and for the family as well. Children with DS often have health problems. They have to work extra hard to learn things that come easily to the rest of us. They need a lot of extra teaching and loads of encouragement. In a world where the average I. Q. is 100, theirs is around 75.

Years ago, people felt pretty helpless when they had a baby with Down Syndrome. Parents were often advised to give them to institutions and get on with their lives. Because their lives were judged to be not worth living, many were denied life-saving operations or allowed to starve to death.

Even today, science is constantly searching for an even better test to determine the presence of Down Syndrome before birth, so as to give the mother a chance to get rid of the "problem" before the baby is born. Of course, the basic premise is the same, that such a life is not worth living or carrying.

There is an up side to Downs, though. Much has changed in the outlook for those born with the Syndrome. A generation or so ago, people noticed that DS children raised at home fared better than those in institutions. Love was most important, but so was the extra attention and help available from parents and siblings.

Early intervention programs were developed to help DS children reach their potential, and to teach parents how to give them the little extra they need. Many who have grown up with these higher expectations now hold modest jobs in the community. In overcoming ignorance about DS, our world has overcome a lot of fear.

We were not afraid when Jonathan was born. God had prepared a place in our hearts for him. Though we knew it would not be easy, we were confident that God had a plan.

Jonathan was a year old when his sister Madeleine was born. Since Jonathan was slow in his development, they soon became like twins. They learned to walk together when Madeleine was one and Jonathan two. They loved to explore and make messes together. But we knew the day would come very quickly when Madeleine's development would leave her brother trailing behind.

We spent a year preparing with an adoption agency, then prayed for a special brother for Jonathan.

In May, a baby boy was born whose parents could not accept a child with Down Syndrome, but who wanted him to be with a family who could love him and take care of him. With God's blessing, we were chosen.

We named him Jesse, Hebrew for "God exists." We see so clearly now how each of us is proof of God's handiwork.

For you created me in my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb, I praise you because I am wonderfully and fearfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:13-14)
God made Jonathan and Jesse with Down Syndrome from the moment they were conceived.

I can't agree with those who would look at Jonathan and Jesse and see something missing. I look at them differently, reflecting on the fact that God made them not with a little less, but with a little more. Remember the extra chromosome?

Still some may wonder why. Why would God make people like Jonathan and Jesse? If you ask those close to them, we might say it was something He did for their families and friends. Because when all is said and done, they have really helped each of us. Helped us to become a little extra, where we might have been a little less.

Scripture from NIV
Verse From Sonnets From the Portuguese

Article copyright Barbara Curtis
Used by Permission

Barbara is a Christian mama of 12 children and grandmother of eight. She is an author and has written many articles and several books. You can visit her website at http://www.barbaracurtis.com/.


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