From the first moment I had the ability to form words and sentences on paper, I have had a passion to write. It's in my blood. Even as a child I daydreamed about publishing a book. I remember my first attempt as a 10-year-old in 5th grade. I eagerly wrote a short story entitled, "The Land of the Unicorns" on notebook paper with a pencil. I'm sure my story was somewhat inspired by my love for My Little Ponies, but I had my sights set high with visions of a fully illustrated children's book, destined to be an instant success. My dreams may have been far-fetched, but the important part was--I was dreaming!
My favorite subjects in school centered around writing and the arts. While many fellow classmates would be groaning over a new writing assignment, ideas were already forming themselves in my mind, and I was eager to begin. I could have easily been labelled as a "nerdy kid" in school, but under the surface of shyness and some social awkwardness, God was forming and molding gifts and dreams inside of me, and every new writing assignment was another stitch in the quilt He is creating.
There were more writing endeavors in time. In middle school I was so excited to have a creative writing piece featured in a state publication of student writers. I had composed, "The Life of a Leaf," writing from the perspective of a leaf first beginning to bud until it fell from the tree, brown and dry. I don't remember where the inspiration came from, but I do remember having a lot of fun imagining and writing!
Sixteen years ago, as a sixteen year old high school student, I was excited to place in a national writing contest. I was an avid reader of Brio, a Christian magazine for teen girls, published through Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, CO. Every year they held a writing contest in which each contestant answered four essay questions. They received numerous entries from across the nation, which were narrowed down to 20 semi-finalists, then 8 semi-finalists, and finally a winner with three runners up. The winner would become the next year's Brio Girl and would have her own article in the magazine every month for the year. My junior year I decided to take my chances and entered the contest. I was shocked and thrilled when I was chosen as a top 20 semi-finalist, and this only increased when I was chosen as one of the 8 semi-finalists as well! At this point in the contest, each girl had to make her own home video introducing herself and complete several more essay questions. Though I didn't go any further in the contest, I had a wonderful time completing these requirements, and an excerpt from one of my essays was featured in the December 1998 issue. The essay that was chosen was my response to the question, "Describe one of the toughest situations you have been through and what the Lord taught you from it." I wrote about the pain of my parents' divorce my third grade year and the testimony of how God used those circumstances to bring my family to salvation. An excerpt from that essay reads, "Through it all, the Lord showed me that He was, and would always be, my Father. He also showed me that by His perfect will, good can spring from the most painful experiences. I might never have experienced the joy I feel from being a child of God!" Little did I know that this truth would become the foundation for my future writing.
After Benjamin's birth, I searched for stories about Down syndrome that would bring comfort and encouragement to my heart. One of the first books that I read was "A Special Kind of Hero: Chris Burke's Own Story" by Jo Beth McDaniel. It is a biography of "Corky" the much loved star from the 1990's family sitcom Life Goes On. He was born with Down syndrome in a time period when most parents would have placed him in a institution, but his parents and siblings loved him and encouraged him to become the very best he could be. I was so touched by his story that I searched for a way to contact him. To make a long story short, I was able to get a letter sent to his parents' home in New York, where he still resides. I was thrilled to receive a hand-written letter from his dad in response, along with their home phone number! With butterflies in my stomach, I made the call one day. Chris answered the phone:
"Hi, is this Chris?"
"My name is Dana Hemminger. I wrote you a letter recently about my little boy Benjamin who has Down syndrome." (I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was something along those lines.)
Pause..."Here's my mom!"
I enjoyed a 10-15 minute conversation with Mrs. Burke, and was very uplifted!
The next book I read was "Roadmap to Holland: How I Found My Way Through My Son's First Two Years With Down Syndrome" by Jennifer Graf Groneberg. I appreciated reading a story from a mother's perspective. At this point I had started to write bits and pieces of our story as they came to mind. I remember the very first line that began to compose itself in my head:
I waddle down the long hallway, IV lines in tow as though I’m floating through a dream. The story of Benjamin's C-section birth followed. I found an e-mail address for Jennifer Graf Groneberg and wrote her a thank you letter for her story and the encouragement it brought me. We e-mailed back and forth a few times, and I was able to share some of my writing with her. She humorously told me that she got so caught up reading about Benjamin that she burnt the cookies she had in the oven! She encouraged me to keep writing.
What I was really longing for, though, was a story written from a Christian mother's perspective. I found one book entitled, "Angel Behind the Rocking Chair: Stories of Hope in Unexpected Places," by Pam Vredevelt. She had a son with Down syndrome, and parts of his story were recorded in her book, but there were also several stories about other people and events, all carrying a message of hope and God's love. I drew strength from reading this book, but it still wasn't quite what I was looking for. I was starting to realize that the book I was seeking may not have been written yet.
During Benjamin's first year I received some words of encouragement that sunk deep into my heart. In a nutshell, I was told that I was one who had found joy in the pain and because of this I would be able to help others find joy in their pain as well. 2 Corinthians 1:4 says that God "comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." I realized that I may need to write the book I was wishing I could find. Sometimes God will ask you to give from your place of need.
I never knew that my dream of writing a book would be fulfilled from my place of deepest pain, but I would not change a thing. My prayer is that this most vulnerable story would be a tool in the hands of a tender and loving God to bring comfort, hope, and joy to others in the midst of their pain. He doesn't wasted anything!