This is Part 2 of 2 of a special Stories of Faith series focusing on Down syndrome. We are so grateful for these brave mothers being willing to share their experiences with us! — Jackie Shafer, Stories of Faith Editor
The last five years of my life have been a never-ending refiner’s fire, full of disappointment, shock, devastation and grief. I’ve prayed to see the Lord’s blessing of rescue, but in His wisdom He’s chosen to reveal himself in other ways. In fact, I’ve learned that God has a treasure chest full of different divine favors which He bestows in His own time, His own way and according to His own will. I’ve found that this chest of divine favors includes, but is not limited to, gems of tender mercies, miracles, gifts, talents and blessings. I’ve discovered that each gem holds value and purpose for Him.
Just as I’ve seen my own children ungratefully receive a kind gift from a neighbor or friend, part of my personal and spiritual struggle resulted because I’ve acted similarly towards God’s divine favors. Sometimes I beg for a miracle, and I’m granted a tender mercy. Other times I’ve seen a tender mercy, but really wanted a talent. As I have come to understand what I have called, “His gems of divine favors” I’ve seen His hand more abundantly in my life. Such displays of love and involvement have given me comforting assurances, gifts of empowerment, and motivation to continue in obedience.
Part of my journey begins over six years ago when my husband and I were looking to move. We researched and prayed about a location, found a house that felt right, and all the pieces seamlessly fell into place. Shortly after moving in, we became pregnant with our second son, and discovered at his level 2 ultrasound that he had a hole in his heart, would require open-heart surgery after birth, and had the genetic disorder trisomy 21 or Down syndrome. As my husband and I devastatingly tried to recalibrate our expectations for life, we began praying for miracles. We wanted William’s heart to be healed, or that one morning we’d wake up from our terrible nightmare.
While those miracles were never given, we saw overwhelming displays of tender mercies, which David Bednar describes as “the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ.” These tender mercies or “divine coincidences” were undeniable examples of the Lord’s involvement and comfort in our journey. Was it a coincidence that our new neighbor was a neonatologist who practiced in the same NICU where William would spend his first 10 weeks of life? Was it a coincidence that one week before our ultrasound, we met a new friend who later became the very pediatric-cardio-anesthesiologist that William needed during his open-heart surgery? Was it a coincidence that my husband’s co-worker had shared sweet pictures and inspiring stories about his son with Down syndrome twelve months prior to William’s diagnosis? Was it a coincidence that our new school district happened to have one of the best special-needs preschools in the country and was a stone’s throw away from our home? It was not a coincidence then, and it isn’t now. Even though the miracles we prayed for did not come, the tender mercies of the Lord were beautifully apparent. They provided us assurances and comfort we needed as we timidly stepped into the special-needs world as parents.
A different gem of divine favor was thrown my way shortly after William was born. This gem came in the form of a gift. Webster’s Dictionary defines a gift as “something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.” I believe such gifts include, but are not limited to agency, forgiveness, mercy and grace for they cannot be repaid. After William’s tumultuous 10 weeks in the NICU the Lord offered me His gift of grace, or in other words, His enabling power to assist me in doing things I otherwise could not have done. Such a gift brought by the Holy Spirit was bestowed shortly after William’s nurse informed me that his hospital discharge was contingent on my ability to accurately place his feeding tube. If I couldn’t correctly put the tube up his nose, down his throat, into his stomach, tape the tube to his cheek, and check the placement with a stethoscope—all during his desperate screams—he was not permitted to come home. I have a phobia of needles, and faint at the sight of blood. This nurse was asking me to do the impossible. It took days before I could watch the procedure with both eyes open, but I reluctantly took a deep breath, prayed for God’s grace, and in His strength I eventually figured it out.
William hated his feeding tube. Once home and to my horror, he’d pull it out daily, subsequently ripping off his cheek tape and exposing his already raw flesh underneath. A few months after his open heart surgery, it became apparent he’d need a G-tube, a more permanent feeding tube which was later surgically placed directly into his stomach. Life for William did not get more comfortable or easy, and the miracles of health we prayed for were not realized. The new tube aggravated his acid reflux, his painful screams became more constant, and the desperation we all felt was overwhelming. Nightly his screams awoke my husband and I, requiring a painful procedure of venting air out of William’s tummy. We’d attach a large syringe to the feeding tube in his stomach, and watch the trapped air bubble out of the syringe like the spout from a whale’s blowhole. The harder he screamed, the quicker and more forceful the air would explode out. I don’t share these experiences for pity, but rather to illustrate like Paul, that God’s “grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). William’s battle with a feeding tube lasted three and a half years, and I came out of that struggle with the absolute surety that God’s gift of grace enabled me and my husband to do things for William that would have otherwise been impossible.
My quest to obtain God’s gem of a blessing was the divine favor I struggled most to understand. A quick social media search of “#soblessed” displays over 2 million images depicting wonderful hair, adorable pets, elaborate vacations, healthy babies, and all things that facilitate the ease of life. I also associated miracles and health with blessings, and had been taught all my life that blessings came through obedience to God’s commandments (D&C 130:21). So when William was born sick, when he needed a feeding tube, years of acid reflux, four rounds of ear tubes, three rounds of pneumonia, RSV, rare skin infections, unstable vertebrae, bad eyes, and even recently diagnosed with apraxia and autism, I honestly wondered where my blessings were and what I was doing wrong. According to the world’s definition of the #soblessed, William was being cursed and left like Job. I chose to doubt my doubts, hold onto my faith, and after months of study and prayer, I learned that my definition of a blessing was different than the Lord’s.
The Savior defines blessings in His Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. There’s a footnote in my Bible to Matthew 5:3 that reads, “The Latin beatus is the basis of the English ‘beatitude’ meaning ‘to be fortunate,’ ‘to be happy,’ or ‘to be blessed.’” I love that the blessings with which He chooses to endow are seeds of His own Christlike character.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
— Matthew 5: 3-10
Admittedly, I still cringe when I hear someone say that they were “so blessed to have a healthy baby” but this is now my problem and not theirs. I’ve got to let it go. From the Lord’s Beatitudes, He doesn’t associate health as blessing. The Lord also doesn’t associate marital status or even children in this life with blessings. Thank heavens, for how many wonderful people live without health, marriage, or children through no fault of their own? The Lord associates His blessings with His Beatitude virtues and His divine character. Blessings are about becoming more humble, more meek, more merciful, more pure in heart, more forgiving, more empathetic, and more as He is (Matthew 5:48). I feel all my Christian worship—the ordinances, promises and sacrifices that He asks of me—all point to becoming more Christlike. Surely an acquisition of such divine traits is the precursor to solving all the world’s problems. These blessings, unlike those listed on social media, level the playing field for all of God’s children, no matter their circumstance, race, nationality or culture. These blessings typify His holiness, and embody the place where He lives. These blessings are as numerous as the stars in heaven and the sands of the sea (Genesis 22:17), and like Abraham’s blessings are tied to, contingent with, and predicated upon faithfulness to our moral compass, commandments, and covenants.
I feel William is a gift from God, his life is a living miracle, and God’s blessings come as we try to “walk in His ways”(Psalms 128:1). Although life continues to throw curve balls of instability and sickness, I’ve learned that God is good and involved in the details of our lives. He is the Giver of all good gifts, the High Priest of good things to come and the Prince of Peace. Through the majesty of His infinite atonement, and at a later day, I feel His treasure chest of divine favors will be opened and enjoyed by all who love and seek to follow Him.
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edited by Jackie Schafer
Lindsay Ricks was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, studied Public Relations and Business at Brigham Young University, and spent 18 months as a missionary in Santiago, Chile. She worked as an event planner before settling down with her husband in Washington, D.C. She has three little boys, loves dance parties, and attending the Washington Nationals baseball games with her family.
Photo: Jessica Smith