My daughter, Palmer, three weeks old tomorrow, has Down syndrome.
That is how you begin an essay you’ve been desiring to write for three weeks, but haven’t known where to begin. You take the news and recklessly throw it out into the atmosphere with defiant disregard for the emotional consequences. Rip off the band-aid. Expose your heart. Anticipate healing. Experience freedom.
Even as I write this now, I am skeptical of my feelings, unsure what emotions are lodged deep in my throat, about to involuntarily release themselves at the next keyboard return.
When the obstetrician gave us the news a few minutes following Palmer’s birth, immediately I was consumed by an overwhelming desire to protect my daughter. But it wasn’t physical injuries or the fear of medical dangers that I would come to worry about in later days that I wanted to safeguard her from. I wanted to shield her from emotional wounds – from pity, from rejection. I never want anyone to ever think, even just for a second, that she is defective, damaged, a mistake, or unwanted. Because if they believe that, she might question it herself, too.
Palmer is my daughter. From the day I discovered I was pregnant, it was always her. And she is precious – fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God just as He intended. She was knit together inside my womb unmistakably.
She is whole and she is worthy. Just because she is.
She faces no more obstacles than you or I. Her life has no more possibility for failure or exclusion than her big sister, Beckett. Hindrances are present in everyone’s narrative. No one’s story is without loss, rejection and pain. Her diagnosis may be considered a formal handicap, one that comes with statistical risk for additional difficulty and delays, but she is whole and she is worthy. Just because she is.
And even at her very young age she’s changing the world. She’s changed mine.
We live in a world, in a country, and in a city that values intelligence, eloquence, beauty, power, strength and riches. Minorities are easily dismissed. Average is considered failure. Enough is never enough.
There are standards to which my daughter likely will not measure up. There are accomplishments she may not reach. There is a good chance that she’ll move toward typical milestones and targets with a delayed pace. The trajectory of her aim may not be the same as her peers.
But her performance doesn’t matter. It matters no more than mine does. That’s a truth bound at the core of the Christian gospel, but it poses no difficulty to dismiss. As we seek the favour of men and applause of the world, we, all too easily, pursue hollow hopes of fulfillment and assign our worth based on the fleeting esteem of others.
Palmer is gift from the Lord. In His grace, He’s reminding me that He has a different economy. Lasting joy is not found in self-glorification. Peace does not come from success. Love cannot be taken, but must be vulnerably given away. Life is not about me. It’s not about Palmer and it’s not about Beckett. No, God gave us the key to this life in His Word when he called us to love God and love others. It’s a simple life, one with a singular focus. Moment by moment we can make that choice. We all can live a story with that plot as our goal.
Sometimes change evolves slowly, like the turning over of the seasons. But other times it’s instantaneous and complete. Like a transactional exchange, an event when one thing is substituted for another. The script of my life was replaced three weeks ago. We’re on a new adventure, one with different priorities and a renewed purpose. I am forever changed.
Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of Palmer. Please don’t let me miss this.