my identity/your incapability… really?

Allow me to begin with a deeply personal, but profoundly relevant account…

19 years ago I gave birth to one of the most amazing human beings ever. To be clear, every human is amazing — each divinely wired in their own wonderful way. But part of what makes one very talented, young master Joshua amazing is because of what God taught me… what I learned was nothing short of amazing.

When giving birth to a child with a disability — and let me not speak for all parents, but for me — it was a bit of a reality sucker punch. Maybe some handle it better than I. I never planned to be the parent of a child with special needs, and I certainly didn’t pray for it. Something totally unwanted and unexpected, however, became my instant, jarring reality; there was nothing I could do. The situation was totally out of my control. And let’s face it; most of us don’t do very well when the facade that we could actually somehow be in control is completely burst. What in the world was I to do now?

I needed help.

I needed help and encouragement and certainly wise counsel.

I needed people to walk alongside me, encourage God’s best, help my family somehow navigate through this newly unplanned life in a positive way. I still somehow had to raise this kid — not to mention the two who went before him. I needed to be at least a semi-healthy, functioning adult. Hence, I needed wisdom. I needed community. I needed far more than me.

Since only, approximately 1 in every 700 babies in the U.S is born with Down syndrome — which equates to about 6,000 infants annually — suffice it to say that not many in my inner circle shared my specific circumstance.

Undoubtedly, there is something beautifully relational embedded within shared circumstance… for example…

… I can always immediately connect with boy moms… there exist jokes, dirty socks, and creative other foul-smelling aromas in our houses where minimal context is necessary in order for the other to understand…

… It’s always a joy to meet up with another Purdue grad… we are annually eager for March Madness, can relate to any dreary cold thanks to those windy winter days in West Lafayette, and we ached, too, when Drew Brees broke multiple ribs last weekend… we feel so much of the same…

… And I currently have a whole new heart for those who have moved away from home… there’s this “thing” we just know about each other, how you love to go back because you love the people you left, but sometimes it’s hard because you know you will disappoint them with less time available… fellow movers immediately get me

No doubt shared circumstance is a gift. It provides context, similar emotion, and often, perceived close-to-immediate understanding. We thus don’t have to take the time to share any context, tap into varied emotion, or work to “get” another. Makes total sense.

However, I think the challenge in current day culture and why I believe this account to be profoundly relevant, is because we have been lured into believing not just that it takes more time if another does not share our specific circumstances. Rather, we have fallen prey to the fallacy that unless we share those circumstances, the other person is incapable of understanding us. That’s the fragility of finding our worth and forming our life philosophies based on the social groups we belong to. 

I do not dismiss that it can be hard. I also grant great grace and space, recognizing the valid, deep sensitivity necessary in various circumstances… what it’s like to be a single parent… what it’s like to lose a child… what’s it like to have been oppressed because of the color of my skin… or what it’s like to not know where my next meal is coming from.

But I refuse to believe that we are incapable of understanding. I refuse to dismiss that deep empathy can be built… if we are humble enough… patient enough… to invest that time and attention… to sincerely engage with those who are different… to quit drawing lines in the sand because the work is more and the effort is harder.

Friends, my sincere belief is we are too dismissive of too many people.

With the estimate that only approximately 220,000 living persons in this country have Down syndrome — meaning an infinitesimal 0.06% of the country — if young master Josh grows up believing only persons who share his specific circumstance are capable of relating to him, I’m not sure we will have raised a semi-healthy, functioning adult. He will need wisdom. He will need community. He will need such from far more than me.