You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever. –Psalm 30:11-12
I have the privilege of having experienced this passage first hand. On August 15, 2011, Gavin came into the world. We did not know about his diagnosis of Down Syndrome prior to his birth so it came as a shock to us to learn of it 5 minutes after he took his first breath. To be direct and honest, Billie and I struggled with this news. In so many words, the best way to describe our feelings is to say we had to mourn the loss of a “perfectly healthy” child first, before we could rejoice in the fact that we had another son and a welcomed addition to our family. We never rejected him, not even for a moment, but we stalled in accepting this hard truth that our little boy had a disability.
We did a lot of research right away and most of it was very helpful, but some filled our hearts with worry. About 2/3 of children born with Down Syndrome have a heart defect and most end up needing open heart surgery before they are 2. Some have severe liver and/or kidney problems. Down Syndrome can also lead to higher risk of leukemia or early onset dementia later in life. These were some of the things that really scared us in the first 24 hours of Gavin’s life. After many tests, and prayer, Gavin’s vital organs were perfect and his heart may have a tiny whole in it, but it is considered “insignificant” by the leading pediatric cardiologist at CHOP. All of the major worries, were gone. God gave us a peace that passes all understanding and with that came joy, naturally.
I remember as a teen and young adult, I prayed to God daily and ask for things like patience and wisdom. With my first born Killian, God granted me patience. I had a very narrow-minded view of life as a parent. I learned to slow down and teach my child but also learn from him. With Gavin, God granted me wisdom. I now have a more panoramic point of view on things and see a “bigger picture” type of view of life as a parent. I’ve become a more tolerant and mindful person. He’s taught me how to love but love unconditionally and without judgment. He’s taught me to enjoy life and everything in it and to, at the end of the day, shut my mind off and just smile. He taught me “people first language”- to see the person first, and then their traits/abilities/disabilities/faith/etc. Gavin is just learning to speak. He’s taught me to be a better person without having to tell me anything. With this, comes joy. True joy.
Things like driving a new car gives me “joy”, or the Eagles will win a tough game and I’ll feel “joy”. To me, that’s good, but it nonsense compared to the real joy I now know and it’s because of the lesson our Lord has taught me through my children and through the blessing of my child’s diagnosis. Gavin’s disability will surely bring struggles and maybe he won’t grow up to be the school football captain, but I didn’t either. His diagnosis is a blessing because he’s made me a better person, a better husband, and a better father. He lights up every room he’s in with his infectious smile and just spreads God’s unconditional love and true joy to everyone he encounters. When I was younger I thought I was happy. Now, I KNOW I am happy.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.
Written by Matt Machinsky