"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you..." Jeremiah 1:5
From the mouth of the ancient prophet Jeremiah, God's truth was proclaimed - that from the depths of eternity God foreknew each and every life that would ever exist. Since the first seeds sprouted in the belly of Eve, every child conceived since has Divine intent and purpose. King David sang, "You have been my God from my mother's womb." (Psalm 22:10) Even before any of us are fully conscious of a purpose, God has indeed created and ordained a plan for all.
And yet, last week I noticed an article that was circulating the Internet, written by two Italian researchers, promoting "after-birth abortions." They argue that an infant immediately out of the womb has no more faculties or awareness of life than the "fetus" that previously would have been a candidate for abortion. Since the baby is unaware of its potential and not yet "formed any aim" for his or her life, these researchers suggest that the baby can and should be killed before its awareness develops. The authors claim at the very outset that "fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons."
And it's not just children with abnormalities. Even healthy children would be victim to the same fate, should they be unwanted by the mother. Infanticide isn't a new concept and the debate in certain philosophical and ethical circles has been going on for decades, particularly in regard to "quality of life" issues. That's sick enough. But what really alarmed me about this article was that one of the main defenses for their thesis was that having a child with a disability has the potential to be an "unbearable burden for the psychological health of the woman."
Essentially, the authors say that a child with Down Syndrome or other birth defects could be a detriment to the lives of family members. They write, "Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk."
The WELL-BEING of the family is at risk?!?! Yep. That's what they wrote. Thankfully, this article has been met with widespread outrage and its savagery condemned. But I personally fell on my face before God begging Him to have mercy on a human race where sin and self-worship have so corrupted our sense of goodness that two people in the bright of day would dare put such thoughts into writing. I know most people would share my horror, but I pray we continuously call out evil when we see it and that we never waver in our defense of the defenseless. Life is precious. It comes from the very hand of God Himself. Honestly, I admit, there was a time not long ago when I quaked at the thought of giving birth to a child with special needs. I felt in no way equipped to handle that challenge. But a few months ago God turned my heart upside down and I came face-to-face with a reminder that no life is irrelevant. Let me tell you the story....
This past Christmas, while at the mall waiting in line to get my children's photo taken with Santa Claus, I looked up and straight into the dark, beautiful eyes of a boy named Anoop. I say boy, though his stature and dark stubble placed him perhaps in his 20s. But everything about this man was boyish. He stared at me unabashed and then stared down at my children. A broad grin spread across his face. His unrelenting gaze was a bit disarming, especially in a society that is often in too much of a hurry to make eye contact. I looked past him to his mother standing in line with her husband. She gently turned her son away from us as he leaned in closer to gape at us. I had guessed by now that this precious boy probably had the mental capabilities of a small child. "How old is he?" I asked his mom as Anoop moved closer to Santa Claus. "Twenty-three," she said. "But he's never stopped believing in Santa. We've tried and tried to tell him but he won't believe us. He LOVES Santa Claus." She looked at her son with such tenderness that the mother heart inside me squeezed and tears gleamed in my eyes. What a woman. Here she was, in the middle of the day, standing in line with a bunch of squirming toddlers so her adult son could experience something special. I could see Anoop getting more and more excited for his turn to meet Santa. He paced a little and as he stepped up to the jolly fat man he laughed and clapped and then turned a little bashful - pure delight on his boyish face. I studied that young man and I considered that perhaps he was living a gifted existence. What may clinically be diagnosed as a disability or deficiency was manifested here in a gleeful, delightful human being. I thought instantly of the passage of scripture where Jesus tells us that we adults need to become like children to enter His kingdom. To become like a child. What does that mean? Free from cynicism, free from pride, full of faith! Before Anoop and his family walked away, I said good-bye to his mother. "He blesses you, doesn't he?" I asked. "Yes, he does," she answered with a smile. Far from worthless, this special guy rocked my day. Far from disabled, this boy enabled me to see God in a situation where some might say God was absent. I felt like God placed Anoop and his mother in that line in front of us for a purpose. I've always believed that we're all perfect in God's sight, but that day I needed a special reminder. See, at that moment, I was carrying in my womb my own boy. A boy with Down Syndrome.
But I didn't know it yet. I had just been to see a specialist that morning. The doctors were concerned about the way the baby was forming. I was terrified. A few weeks earlier Elliot and I had been celebrating the news that I was carrying twins. I was over the moon for joy. Then the heart of one baby stopped beating. The babies were fraternal so my doctor explained it was possible for the stronger twin to survive even as we watched the other baby disappear. I begged the Lord to let us keep this baby. The heartbeat was strong. I prayed and prayed. You know what, I even told God that I would take any challenge, anyone, even a baby with Down Syndrome. I actually spoke those words. I have no idea why I prayed that. I don't say that to sound like a super mom. I don't think I'm particularly strong or capable or patient. Sometimes I feel like I'm the worst mom on Earth and here I was telling God I would take a baby with special needs. Years earlier, the idea of giving birth to a child of special needs would have been a nightmare. But God had taught me a lot through the loss of three babies to miscarriage and now and I was desperate to keep this baby, come whatever! Did I ever think he'd actually grant me that prayer? No. The specialist that morning had put my mind and heart at ease. Everything that had looked concerning earlier had vanished. The baby looked perfect for 10 weeks. I saw tiny arms flailing and a head bobbing on the ultrasound screen. My heart soared. I skipped off to the mall. I met Anoop. I praised God for the good news I had been given. "But," I whispered to God. "I would take an Anoop in a heartbeat."
One week later, at 11 weeks, I was in the same exam room sobbing, raising my voice to heaven, asking God why He had taken another of our babies. The baby was gone. The heart had stopped. Somewhere within those seven days, its life had left mine. I didn't have any answers and neither did the doctors. The ultrasound pictures the week before had been perfect. I grieved hard. A few weeks later I went to see my doctor. She swiveled on her chair and looked down at test results and then up at me. "It was a boy. He had Down Syndrome." Stunned silence. Then I shook with tears. Me? I'm not in that "demographic" to have a Down Syndrome child. I couldn't believe it. That prayer I had whispered once had been answered. I don't know why God chose to answer that prayer and not the rest of it. I'm not holding my little boy in my arms. And I won't until I meet him in heaven. I wish I had some understanding. But what I do understand deep down inside, to my very core, is that every life has meaning and value. I believe God walks us through trials to grow us, to perfect us, to make us more like Him. God used this experience of loss and a seemingly insignificant meeting with a boy to challenge me to live what I always claimed I believe. Was I willing to walk the walk? My purpose in sharing this isn't to seek sympathy for myself or to sound so high and mighty and holier than thou that I'd have been a willing servant to care for a person who likely would have needed intensive care. My intent is to encourage you all with what God has shown me. That it's not up to me to decide who is valuable. That's it's not my choice who God plants in my womb. Choice sounds like a funny word in the discussion. Not one bit of it was my choice. If I'd had my choice in the last three years, I would have four other children here on Earth. No one has any right to take validity from a life God created. I believe He created Anoop whole, 100 percent for the life He intends him to live. For professionals to assess what qualifies as a meaningful life is dead wrong. Let's never forget it. This doesn't mean life always is going to be easy. I'm sure Anoop has bad days. I know families raising children with special needs have bad days. I've had bad days. You've had bad days. But we can trust that God created us all in His image and is working out a perfect plan for each of us. Let's lean on that perfect plan. Because in His perfect plan, I went to the mall to see Santa and I met Anoop. :-)
Liturgy and Culture
17 hours ago