I can hardly believe that an entire decade has passed since we welcomed you into the world, and you made me a mommy for the very first time! The school of parenthood is one of the most glorious, most difficult, and most complex classrooms of life, and you have been a profound teacher for me, even as it is my purpose to teach you. I have been reflecting today on some of the key lessons you have taught me over the years. A single blog post could never fully encapsulate the depths of this learning, but I hope to at least capture the essence.
You have taught me...the beauty of unconditional love.
From the moment I saw the positive pregnancy test and the happy tears flowed, to your frightening delivery accompanied by torrential tears of fear and pain as I helplessly watched my baby fighting for life, to the tears of relief and joy at your eventual home-coming, I was overwhelmed by the depth of LOVE I felt for you! It was a love that knew no bounds, a love that completely consumed me, and a love that marked me in such a way that I would NEVER be the same again. You are my child. I love you, because I love you, because I love you. And as I have loved you, I have caught a greater glimpse of the unconditional love of our Heavenly Father--a love that knows no bounds, a love that is completely consuming, and a love that marks the very purpose of our existence.
You have taught me...that life will give us many unexpected turns.
After nearly three years of longing to conceive our first child, your daddy and I were sure that we would be welcoming a baby who was completely healthy and whole. We prayed over you every day. I took so many precautions to ensure a healthy pregnancy. We daydreamed about what you would be like and what your future may hold. We were blindsided by the necessary preterm delivery, the life-threatening holes in your little heart, the confirmation of Down syndrome, and the doctor's continuous reminders that you were "a very sick little boy." How could this have happened? This was not how we envisioned your life to be! Yet, in the the midst of the upheaval we experienced, we discovered incredible joy in spite of our pain, and we have been on a continual journey of embracing the beauty of the unique path we have been given to walk. Life holds no guarantees. We can make our plans, but we must hold them open-handed. Whatever unexpected turn life may bring, though, I have learned that God is constant, and He is good, NO MATTER WHAT.
As your mother, I have had to learn to trust on a whole new level. I have had to trust God for you in literal life or death scenarios. I have had to trust in God's provision, especially when I left the workforce after your birth to begin my full-time calling as a stay-at-home mom. I have had to trust God for each new milestone that we have worked so hard together for. I have had to trust God to sustain my heart when I have felt overwhelmed and unable to bear the weight of responsibility and care. I have had to trust God for the specific future He has in store for you, knowing that He is faithful, and you will be blessed. I have had to trust the help and support of others He has brought into our lives along the way, realizing with greater clarity the importance of community. I have also learned about trust by watching you. Benjamin, you have such an ability to trust with ease. You fully trust your daddy and me to care for you and provide for you. You don't worry and fret about the future or about how your provision will come. You are free to live in the moment, and I so love that about you!
You have taught me...the power of perseverance.
As you fought for life in the NICU a good friend encouraged us to "Celebrate your son every day." We have come back to this exhortation time and time again over the years. We have persevered together for months and years to help you reach developmental milestones that many would take for granted. Yet the harder the struggle, the greater the celebration! I am so proud of the many hurdles you have faced and eventually crossed--the first time you sat up, the first time you crawled, the first step you took, the first time you held a cup or a spoon, the first time you said "Mama" at age eight, and a myriad of other "firsts." These milestones, both physical and mental, have resulted in great celebration in our home. You are a little over-comer, and I know that many more triumphs are in store!
You have taught me...that my broken pieces can become food for others when offered Jesus.
As human beings, we naturally shy away from pain and suffering. We want to avoid it and often try to shield ourselves from a myriad of possible scenarios by insisting, "That could never happen to me." But the truth is that none of us are immune to pain, and all of us will experience suffering in our lives. These things will take on many different forms, but in some measure they will come to every life. How we choose to respond will either keep us bitter and broken or lead us to greater compassion and purpose. I have offered my pain to Jesus countless times over the years, knowing He is big enough to shoulder it and to bring healing in my heart. One specific way I have offered my pain to Him has been through the written word. When I first began composing bits and pieces of our story, it was simply a personal outlet to release my emotions and process the journey we were on. Soon, I was encouraged to begin this blog (something I had never considered myself) to share our story with others. I felt such a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose as the words continued to flow, and the blog posts were birthed. More time passed, and I realized that a book was in the making. With nervous vulnerability and bubbling excitement, my heart was placed into print form with the release of Reflections from Holland: A New Mother's Journey with Down Syndrome. Through this blog and my book, I have been given the privilege of connecting with the hearts of people across the country and around the world. Many I will never hear from, but sometimes I'm given the gift of hearing how people have been touched and encouraged through my writing, and I thank God for the opportunity to serve others in this way!
This is a sentiment that I would have always insisted was true, but my internal reality was very different. Since childhood I wrestled with insecurity and the faulty belief that my worth was tied to how well I could perform in any given area. If I was doing well, I felt worthwhile. If I was doing poorly, I felt shame. I knew deep down that this was not true, but I was living in a bondage that was difficult to break free from. Over several years, God has worked healing in my heart in this area (and I'm still a work in progress!) One way He has done so is through your beautiful life. Benjamin, you are a good and precious gift just as you are! While I am always thrilled when you overcome another hurdle related to your disabilities, the love I have for you, and the value I place on you are in no way contingent on these things. You are valuable because you are you, a beautiful child created in God's image! There are many things you may never be able to do, but that's okay. Your life has purpose and value and meaning, regardless of how simple or complex it may be. This leads me to my last point...
Son, you have a smile that can light up a room, and a laugh that brings delight to the heart. Of course you can and do experience and communicate a broad range of emotions, but joy has always marked your life. I love to watch your wonder and enthusiasm over the simple pleasures of life: a favorite song, a scrumptious meal, a walk in the sunshine, a kiss and a cuddle, and the list goes on and on. You have taught me to slow down and savor the moment. Life is full of little blessings and opportunities for joy in the midst of the common and the mundane, if only we have the eyes to see and a heart of gratitude to receive. Thank you for demonstrating to me day in and day out that there are always reasons to celebrate and smile! My sweet Benjamin, I celebrate you today, and I thank you for all that you have taught me over these past ten years. I look forward to how much more we will learn and grow together in the next ten years to come and beyond. Mommy loves you so much!