Down Syndrome and Heaven: Born to Manifest God's Glory

"Won't you be glad to see your nephew in heaven, healed of his Down Syndrome?"

When that question was asked, I was sitting at a table with three remarkable women. We had been discussing death. And loss. We talked of grief, and the hope that our faith gives us that we will see the loved ones we have lost once more.

The question was a very natural one and certainly to be expected, since I was talking about the death of my four year-old nephew, David Wilkerson III.  Except for the fact that I had never even thought about the idea.

I had just shared a reflection on the birth, illness and death of Little David at a monthly Faith and Grief Luncheon cosponsored by Baylor Charles Sammons Cancer Center and East Dallas Christian Church. Though I've written extensively about Little D's battle with cancer and his subsequent death, it was the first time I actually talked about it in a public setting.

Now a week later I am still puzzling over the question.  Do I expect that David will be cured of his Down Syndrome?  To tell the truth I came to know David in a way that completely obscured the disadvantages of his having Down, if you except one very large difficulty in the fact that it made him vulnerable to leukemia.

It may seem obvious to you that all Down Syndrome kids will trade in their handicap for a 175 IQ and whatever else comes with the incorruptible bodies we will receive in heaven.

It isn't that simple a proposition for me.  You see, Little David is not the only person with Down Syndrome I have known in my life.  Though people with Down Syndrome can be as cantankerous and flawed as any "able-minded" person I know, I can no longer say with certainty that Down itself represents a flaw in the Divine plan. 

I'll tell you what, instead of boring you by stumbling through some sort of pseudo-intellectual rambling about faith, Christian theology, and Down, why don't I just share a story with you?  This one comes from my brother Rob and is about his son Clark.  
"Keeping up with Clark is quite a chore. When he accompanies us on shopping trips to Home Depot I find myself sucked into a vortex of intense thoughts and emotions. All of which are in direct conflict with one another."
"The problem as I see it is twofold. The first part of the problem is that Clark's mom and dad believe he should go wherever they go."
"The second factor is that Clark believes everyone is his friend. There are no strangers in Clark's world, only friends whose names he doesn't know."
"Clark acts on this belief every chance he gets. This calls for hyper-vigilance."
"It creates occasional feelings of paranoia combined with bouts of outright terror."
"Like the time Clark marched up to a HUGE tattooed gentleman and poked one of his most noticeable works of art. I was able to mutter, "He likes your tattoo," while attempting to smile and move Clark as far as possible from the man."
"My self-talk ranges from, 'How nice people are,' (the tattooed gentleman turned out to be very happy to meet Clark), to 'I'm gonna key that persons car!'  because one of Clark’s new found friends took offense at his attempts to hug them or talk to them." 
"It all makes an adventure out of a simple trip to Home Depot."
"Now what did we come here  to buy?"
"One day Clark and I went to Home Depot and sure enough it was filled with all of his friends, most of whose names he did not know.  A hug here, a hug there."
"Hyper-vigilance was the watchword that day, more so than usual."
"One little girl was surprised when Clark hugged her. Fortunately she seemed to enjoy the attention.
"Then I noticed an older woman watching Clark and his mother picking out flowers. She was watching intently, one hand on her hip, the other on her shopping cart. She wore a wistful smile on her face. She was someone I decided I would keep my eye on but she did not appear to be a serious threat." 
"Of course, it didn't take Clark long to notice her. 'I know a girl that would just love you,' the elderly woman told Clark as he wrapped his arms around her."
"Later the woman appeared again, stopping to watch Clark and his mother. She began talking about the girl that would love Clark, her daughter. She had also been born with Downs syndrome."
"'Oh! How old is she?' asked Cindy." 
"'She was 43. She died last week of heart complications,' replied the woman. Now what were we supposed to pick up?"

I guess I will find out one day whether all these beautiful souls I have known who dealt with Down Syndrome were in fact "cured."

I am much surer that when I get to heaven the one human flaw that plagues me most of all will have been healed completely.  My eyes will have been healed.  Whether Clark and David still "suffer" from their conditions, I will no longer suffer from the awful shortsightedness of my own vision.   I will see them and everyone else in the light of God's glory, and that will make all the difference.

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