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My Journey: A Brother’s Blessing

By Jessica Weer

My brother Jonathan is now 17. He was born with Down syndrome, and it was a huge shock to my family. We didn’t realize that Jonathan’s life would become the greatest blessing for all of us.

I learn more about Down syndrome every day through Jonathan. But most importantly, I learn a lot about myself. I see the contrasts between Jonathan and me. I stress out over everything; Jonathan knows nothing about stress. I worry about things I need to get done; he knows that everything will work out. I can’t be happy sitting in one place for too long; Jonathan can sit in the same spot for hours.

I used to think that because someone was labeled “mentally retarded” that meant they could never be considered “smart.” I was wrong. Jonathan has a memory like an elephant. He can recite the entire dialogue to his favorite movies, and each day his speech improves.

Our grandfather, who was a major part of Jonathan’s life, died in May 2004. Not knowing exactly how to explain this to Jonathan, my family said, “He is in heaven with Jesus.” Not even a month later, Dan, Jonathan’s godfather and a close family friend, died. When we began to tell Jonathan about his death and tell him that Dan also was in heaven, Jonathan asked, “Dan say, ‘Hi’ to Pop?”

I used to have that awkward, “I don’t know what to do” feeling when I was around a person who was disabled. As my relationship with Jonathan formed, I gained a deeper love and understanding for those with disabilities. I began to realize how much I could pour my heart into these people.

Many people like to think that we are helping those with disabilities, but often they are really helping us. They are the ones who expose us to something outside of our comfort zone. You realize that they are changing your life and transforming you into someone you never were before.

Jonathan has transformed people outside of my family, too. He will go up to a complete stranger and give them a hug. He has been a godly witness to teachers, friends and even people he sees in public. He has a love for our church’s Easter play, and each year his teachers hear about the play, to a point where they have labeled Easter as his favorite holiday. He is a gift from God and shows that what the devil meant for evil, God is using for good.

I know without a shadow of doubt that God had His hand on Jonathan’s life from the minute he was formed. I know that the faith my family has in God is what has made us venture through the initial storm of discovering that Jonathan has Down syndrome into the peaceful breeze of enjoying his life.

It is tragic that many who are like Jonathan are not wanted by their parents. Some doctors even suggest that mothers abort their child when tests come back that the child may have Down syndrome. I am here to say, if the tests are right, be ready for a blessing. I had God’s blessing sitting in my house, but it took years to simply realize the gift.

I took part in one of the greatest accomplishments in Jonathan’s life when he participated in the Special Olympics for volleyball and swimming. To see my brother compete touched my heart in a way nothing else could. To see sportsmanship without cursing and fighting showed me that maybe these people are the ones we should model our lives after.

Anyone who has experienced the birth of a child with Down syndrome has dealt with grief. There is grief, and then there is acceptance. I grieved for Jonathan for 10 years. Although I loved him, it ate me up inside to think of the fact that he will never be like me or my other two brothers. But with the realization that Jonathan’s life is a blessing, rather than a curse, I can hold on to the joy of the Lord. And I need to be constantly spreading the joy I receive from Jonathan and show others that they can overcome grief in their own lives.

I know families of children with autism or cerebral palsy, and I have seen that they have joy in their eyes despite their child’s disability. I hated Down syndrome from the first day I realized what it was. But I see a product of Down syndrome that has blessed me. I no longer wonder what will happen with Jonathan in the future, because I know that God is here. God will always have His hand on Jonathan’s life.

And I will never be the same.

JESSICA WEER attends Fountain of Life, an Assemblies of God congregation in Florence, N.J.

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