Last week on March 21st, I celebrated World Down Syndrome Day with many people around the globe. Down Syndrome happens when the human body, which is made of 23 chromosomes, has a full or partially extra copy of the 21st chromosome. The body has additional genetic material which affects both physical and mental development, and it is the most common chromosomal condition in the United States. In the U.S alone, roughly 6,000 children are born with Down Syndrome every year, and although the condition has a specific day which celebrates its uniqueness, I believe it should be thought about every day and week. Therefore, I am stretching the celebration of World Down Syndrome Day into this week with this article.
Here are how the facts I listed above relate to you: meeting and loving someone who has Down Syndrome is one of the best things that can ever happen to a person.
Because they are some of the most beautiful people you will ever meet.
How do I know this?Because I have a friend with Down Syndrome. His name is Benjamin, although the people that know him affectionately called him either Ben or Benji for short. We've only known each other for about a month, but I can already tell you that he is an amazing friend.Over the course of this past month, I have learned so much from him. Just imagine the things you can learn- there will be so much more than what I've listed below- when you become friends with someone who has Down Syndrome.
1. Beauty is on the inside.
Of course, you can be physically beautiful and have Down Syndrome. There are models who have Down Syndrome, who design clothes and rock them on the runway, such as the young woman pictured above (Madeline Stuart). However, my friend Ben has reminded me of the great gift of inner beauty. His heart beats with so much love, kindness, and respect that not only can you easily see his faith in Christ displayed, you can also see every inch of his beautiful spirit.
2. Being yourself is awesome!
Ben is unapologetically himself. He has a strong faith, which means he shares it with the many people he comes into contact with during any given day without fear. He loves country music, which means he sings the lyrics to country songs whenever it is appropriate (which is basically all the time). As a society, we all need to learn how to be ourselves without fear, and Ben teaches me that every time I see him.
3. Honesty is the best policy.
We have all heard this saying growing up, but Ben lives it out, which continuously inspires me. If he thinks someone is beautiful, he tells her. When he has a struggle in his faith, he communicates it. Instead of hiding behind the mask of perfection we all seem to have learned how to adopt through the years, Ben is honest about everything, and I want to be more honest about my thoughts and struggles too.
4. Emotions should not be hidden.
5. Love is meant to be given away.
My grandmother once texted me a quote she found that said "love is not love until you give it away." Ben lives with that type of giving love every day. There are no walls when he loves, he simply loves people who love him, and I want to be able to love others as easily as he does. The world needs more love nowadays, and we all need to be more willing to give love away.
6. Phone calls are better than texting.
Whenever I want to hang out with Ben, we call each other. At first, I thought this was slightly inconvenient. It's much simpler to just send a quick text and move on to the next thing on my agenda. Ben, however, always calls back, and instead of simply arranging when we will meet up, we have a full conversation about our days and more. Now, I love calling Ben because I know that the person picking up the phone will always care, and I might even be prayed over. Does that happen over text? No! Imagine how great it would be if instead of a quick, thoughtless text, we all started sharing longer, more loving phone calls?
7. Music crosses barriers.
Ben loves country music. I love country music. Despite the fact that he is eighteen years older than me, we can still bond over Reba McEntire songs and Ben's incredible knowledge of rodeos. Music can connect people across many barriers, so try to use music to connect with someone who is different than you. You never know what could happen. Maybe they'll even become your new best friend!
8. Family affects everything.
One of the things that gives my soul the most joy is watching Ben interact with his family. They love him so completely, and he loves them all so much that they are constantly teaching me the importance of family in a brand new way. The way you treat your family is something that affects everything else about you and how others view you. Make sure to love your family with everything you have because they are part of what makes you unique.
9. Be intentional!
If I want to spend time with Ben, I have to be intentional about it. I have to figure out his schedule and the directions to wherever we are going and I have to make sure my schedule has plenty of room for the time we will spend together. In contrast, when I want to spend time with my college friends I just go into their dorm room and inform them that we need to hang out. I have to exert effort as I work on the friendship Ben and I share, instead of being lazy with my college friends, and that is something so many people have forgotten. Plan something special and be intentional in all your relationships. Focus on one person or one small group of people so that you can get to know them in an intimate way. Never let your interaction with someone you care about be passive. They are your friends and deserve your full attention.
I wish I could introduce everyone in the world to my friend Ben. He helps me laugh, prays for the people I care about, and knows some of the craziest and coolest facts I've ever heard.
Loving someone who has Down Syndrome is unpredictable, though. Every person who has Down Syndrome is different. After speaking to someone who regularly works with people who have Down Syndrome and other special needs, I know it is important for me to inform you that sometimes loving people with Down Syndrome is difficult. Just like any human being, people with all degrees of mental or physical challenges experience a range of emotions. As Christ-followers we allow the Spirit of God to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit through us to our friends, our families, and strangers, so we should allow the Spirit to guide how we relate to those with Down Syndrome as well. This will help us as we navigate the different ranges of emotions and behaviors that someone with Down Syndrome will experience. I cannot promise that it will be perfect, but I can promise that it will be worth it.
I can also promise that no matter what, you will learn some amazing life lessons that you could learn nowhere else.A special thanks to Jennifer and Benjamin Nasser and Kurt Pillis for their helpful proofreading and context.