God had a plan for my son Owen on that sunny fall day during his second grade year. That was the day he came home from school with an invitation to a classmate’s birthday party. These invitations are a fairly common occurrence when one is in the second grade, but this one was especially enticing as it was being held at the local roller skating rink.
I looked at the invitation and felt my heart sink in the way that only a mother’s heart can when she knows she has to be the one to bring disappointment to her child. The party was scheduled for September 25, which is my sister Natalie’s birthday. Tears were shed, and my heart ached for my little boy’s disappointment in something that seems so important in the second grade. The ache was soon replaced with pride, however, when we came to the conclusion together that it was more important to be with family on Natalie’s birthday and honor her special day. Owen dried his tears, we put the invitation away, and nothing more was said about his classmate’s party.
You see, my sister Natalie has many special gifts. She knows how to soften hearts with a single smile and a sparkle in her eye, she knows how to slow down and find joy in the rainbows, flowers, and ever changing sky that God gives us. She can erase the selfishness from almost anyone she meets and inspire an outburst of generosity and patience, and though she has her stubborn moments, I believe her purity of heart serves as an impenetrable barrier to the threat of temptation or evil.
Some call her state of being “mentally handicapped”, but I call it a fountain of blessings in a very clever disguise.
I’ve witnessed time and again how my sister brings out the best in people. Complete strangers hold doors for her, wait patiently behind her while she slowly ascends a flight of stairs, and even give her small gifts that make her eyes light up and her fingertips quiver with excitement. My own children have all held a special affection and respect for her since the time of their birth. It is by her presence that they find the strength within themselves to exhibit greater self-control, generosity, and love.
So why does society shy away from celebrating people like my sister? What is it that we fear about possibly having a child like that of our own? If only we could accept that it is through the vulnerable and the powerless that we receive the greatest power of all: the power to see our souls stripped of the garments of this world, exposing the virtues and graces that will open the doors to the next. Some of those virtues will shine brighter than others when put to the test, but it is only by the revelation of our deepest weaknesses that we can ever hope to achieve the level of perfection that heaven requires. It is only by understanding our own imperfections that we can be filled with the desire to surrender ourselves to God’s mighty hand and allow Him to shape us into who He wants us to be.
There are so many things we can do in our modern age to avoid creating the person that God intended to place in our lives. As parents, we want to take measures to ensure a healthy child, certainly, but when we veer too far from the way God intended a child to be created (in a loving marriage between a man and a woman through the natural expression of their love in answer to God’s call), perhaps we are setting ourselves up to miss out on one of the greatest blessings of our earthly lives.
If Natalie had not been born when she was, the way that she was, my son would not have had the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson. He was presented with the opportunity to learn that family comes first, and Natalie’s birthday is just as important and special as anyone else’s. In a world where some might say her life is worthless, sad, or even easily disposable, he learned that her life is one that deserves to be celebrated.
As a mother, I know it is my mission in life to lead my children along a pathway to heaven. I pray often that I will be aided in this task by the people God puts in my life. Who better to walk among us than people like my sister? She is full of joy, pure of heart, brings out the best in others, and is nearly sinless. In many ways, my sister is a better teacher for my children than I’ll ever be–simply because she is who she is–the person God created her to be.
Does Natalie feel like a “burden” at times? Of course! But, then, so does my two year old as I clean up yet another one of his messes, and so do any number of other people and things that God has given to me when they require me to enter that painful process of growth and change. We wouldn’t be fully human if we didn’t have those negative thoughts about those we love best creep into our minds and hearts, acting as little reminders that even our best and purest intentions are always vulnerable to temptation. The truth is, anything or anyone can feel like a burden when we put our own perceived wants and needs before God’s deepest desires for us; and His deepest desire is to shape us into the person we need to become to be received into full communion with Him at the end of our time here on earth.
Embrace your “burdens”, and they will become light with the knowledge of the joy they will bring you. You might even discover they weren’t such a burden, after all.
We traveled as a family to celebrate Natalie’s birthday, and a fun time was had by all. The memory of Owen’s party invitation faded away, but the bond of family remains strong. At the time of Natalie’s birth, and for a long time after, there were many “why’s”. Maybe she was given to us in part to teach a little boy a valuable lesson, and carry him one step closer to heaven with her.