Monday, March 14, 2011

happiness vs. self-sacrifice


Today I was faced with the reality of someone saying about my little brother, "If it were me, I would have had an abortion."

...How I am supposed to feel about this statement? I am a swirl of emotions. It's about the very existence, the very life vs. death of my brother, one of the people I love most in the world. It reminds me that his very existence is something of a miracle, that defies the statistics.

I'll be honest and say the immediate emotion is shock and anger.

But... let me pull back a bit. The reality is that while most people would never say that to my face, obviously a great many people think it, given the statistic that over 80% of babies diagnosed with Downs Syndrome are aborted (this makes my heart hurt). It is an honest statement. And ... a good number of you, dear readers, may have thought the same thing. It makes me wonder.... how many people find out a diagnosis with Downs Syndrome and have an abortion and tell people they've miscarried?

And... I do at least understand the reasoning there. This past year while I was pregnant with Judah, I weighed my options on the levels of testing I could do. I know that raising and parenting a child with Downs Syndrome (or any other disability that makes someone "abnormal" in the eyes of society) is often difficult and takes great self-sacrifice. I remember my own parents struggling and processing after Matt was born. I thought that if my baby was disabled, I at least wanted to know before he or she was born so that I could begin to grapple with it and adjust my expectations. Turns out, though, that most of the tests that have any decent rate of accuracy all put the baby in some degree of danger... and that was not worth it to me. So... Isaac and I decided that since knowing ahead of time would only be a psychological help and wouldn't change our decision to carry through with the pregnancy, we would skip the tests.

So yeah... I understand the fears. I understand that it's hard. I understand why you wouldn't choose that life for yourself. Who chooses anything difficult when there is an easier, prettier option?

That's what it comes down to, actually. In our society, in fact I'll go ahead and say in the prevailing faith and world-view of our society (because THAT is what we're really talking about here)... comfort and personal happiness is our god. It is to be obtained at any cost, be it your marriage, the life of a child, your family, personal integrity, etc. Raising a child with Downs Syndrome could potentially be hard and it could mean that you would have to give up some elements of your plan for your life. Thus... most people are willing to abort the child. They don't WANT to. They aren't outwardly cruel and heartless people, they are actually quite normal (because you know, I believe that the depravity of man is the norm when it comes to humanity). When the scale is weighted between the sacrifice it would take to commit to raising a child or the freedom to continue as you are.... personal happiness and freedom is more valuable, and thus the 80+ percentage. It isn't seen as: kill a baby vs. have a child. It's seen as spend the rest of my life caring for a disabled kid vs. carrying on with a normal life.

And that, dear friends, is where my worldview is diametrically opposed to that of the world I live in.

My happiness is valuable to me. I still pursue it, and I do believe that happiness is good.

But, when faced with the same scale of personal happiness versus great personal sacrifice, the Christian, if they are obedient, sees this:

Matt's birth



A child, a child who will make your life difficult and complicated, cost you money and forfeit a lot of your plans..... but a CHILD nonetheless, a beautiful child, made in the image of God. And thus, because he is made in the image of God, we have no choice at all but to love him.

Let me insert here that sometimes perhaps loving him means giving him up for adoption if you know that you really won't be able to care for him well. And let me also insert that by no means are all Christians actually acting on and obeying these beliefs. And sometimes loving is hard, and it's okay that it's hard because we're not perfect people for whom self-sacrifice is easy.

This is one reason why I struggle to have any amount of respect for the ideals of an atheist. Their world-view is unable to come up with any value for anyone that isn't progressive and intelligent. The ideal is human success, and if that is your ideal, then there is no value to the disabled. An atheist may be very personally compassionate and they may care for the disabled, but this compassion is really in conflict with their world view.

But really, this is just one thing, one thing that is extremely personal for me. It is much bigger than this. If we truly believe that all souls are sacred because they are made in the image of God.... and if we are committed to obeying Him..... then counter-cultural self-sacrifice will have to define our lives. Things that are acceptable in our culture are not even up for debate. Things like... giving up paternity rights because a child was fathered accidentally and you just don't have time or money to take responsibility. Walking away from your spouse because they're infringing on your personal happiness and you just don't feel love anymore. Aborting a child because they are an inconvenience or because the child they will be is not the child you wanted. Walking away from a parent or a spouse who, for whatever reason, is suddenly disabled and requires your care. In all of these the core issue is self-sacrificial obedience vs. immediate personal happiness.

We are a flawed and broken world, and even the Christians living in it are flawed and broken people. We make bad decisions. We chose self. And... the greater miracle is that we, as people that are as spiritually flawed and broken as a Downs Syndrome person may be mentally flawed.... God still loves us, even in our sin. And He has extended grace... even in our sin.

And... it is glory when some , because of His great love, obey, die to self, and choose to love and serve.

Make no mistake, it isn't easy.
But it turns out it's so beautiful....


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27 comments:

Rachel Held Evans said...

Great post, BEAUTIFUL pictures!

Jaimie said...

Okay, this kind of turned out long. And as with long comments, it will probably read kind of rant-ish. I'm not ranting! I swear! I'm commenting... but longly. Ahem:

Yeah I would never say that about your brother. (AKA, I suppose: I would never say that to your face.) But it's something I would do. However, me saying that about a theoretical non-baby is not the same as saying "Your brother should die!" Of course those two thoughts aren't the same. In fact, those two thoughts are in great opposition, since I arrive on both conclusions (the first being that I wouldn't have a Downs baby, and the second being that your brother is wonderful) because I value life. I don't believe the baby is "alive" in the womb, and so I don't think I'm denying anyone life. And it could be argued that even having made that choice, you have denied the other baby you would make instead of the current baby the right to THEIR life. So you're choosing the lesser of two babies! (Which of course is absurd.)

Dealing with theoreticals like this is kind of preposterous. And I think anyone pro-choice would choose to not bring a Downs baby to fruition while still respecting life and people with Downs. I still consider myself an obedient Christian, just a Christian with common sense who doesn't see all quality of life as equal, and who doesn't see a potential human as equal to a human.

Also I think it's enormously unfair to say that someone is being selfish by not having a baby with Downs. In a sense, yes, they are being selfish, but it's the life-preserving, useful kind of selfishness. The survival instinct kind of selfishness. Not the kind of selfishness that God frowns at.

Not to mention, there can be a selflessness in the decision too. I've read your blog long enough to see you lament the negativity of Downs. How one day, in heaven, your brother won't be burdened with those handicaps.

One more thing: People saying this about potential Downs babies is no reflection on the preciousness of your brother. He's already here -- he's alive -- he's permanently wrapped into the fiber of our lives, and as with any person, our lives are better for having him.

However, the human mind is complex enough to deal with both the "now whats" and the "what ifs." Don't straw-man our range of emotion.

Kacie said...

Jaimie, I have to think before I comment on the rest of what you said, but one thing caught my eye...

"I've read your blog long enough to see you lament the negativity of Downs. How one day, in heaven, your brother won't be burdened with those handicaps"

I'm actually not sure about that at all. I ponder it... would a Matt without Downs Syndrome be a whole and healthier Matt? I have a hard time picturing it - because the Matt that I know has Downs, and it is a part of Him. Is it an intrinsic flaw? Yes, if value is in intelligence and physical prowess. But... if it's not, then... I don't know... what about a heaven where Matt still has Downs Syndrome, and yet value is kept at a different scale so it is in no way a disability, because in heaven we see SOULS.

I don't know... that's dealing with a lot of questions about heaven and heavenly bodies and disability, etc.


Just saying... I'm not as sure of that point as you stated I am. It used to be that actually disliked the thought of a Matt without Downs Syndrome, because I just didn't think of it as anything actually WRONG with him. It wasn't something hard for him, it was just hard for those responsible for him. Now, as a teenage, it's harder, and so I see that perspective a little more.

Jaimie said...

Addendum: I CAN be very selfish. You won't see me lining up to get married or having babies anytime soon. So I'm not saying that I'm The Flawless Human, just defending some people who are making these decisions. I grok them. And I think there are better, less ambiguous ways to discern whether someone is selfish or not.

Jaimie said...

Yeah, you're right. I think you were more dealing with that -- whether Downs is part of Matt, etc -- than saying anything else. My bad.

It's an interesting thought, re: whether people with mental disabilities will "change" later on. I don't have any answers or speculation on that, not that you were asking for any. Just saying: Yeah, I have no idea. Only God knows.

Honestly, the idea of any of us "changing" in heaven is weird. The idea of me being unselfish for ever and ever? Weird! Maybe we will all start as babies again.

And most of my comment comes from a Christian, pro-abortion perspective. You're anti-abortion (right?) so I can see why you see the situation as you do. In the same way, I would find it morally repugnant to kill a Downs baby at 3 months out of the womb, or any baby for that matter.

Kacie said...

I am anti-abortion, however, I also don't know "when life begins"... I an not so sure it is at conception, but having looked into a bit it seems entirely unclear which causes me to err on the side of safety. Also not sure the best way to deal with it is by making laws about it.

And you're right, coming at it believing that in-utero, it's not a life... makes it a different story. However, even then, what are the moral and societal consequences of choosing the smartest, genetically "best"? Again, it drills down into the assumptions about what is actually good and really comes out to that life being for the sake of the parents rather than valuable of its own accord...

Rach said...

"Again, it drills down into the assumptions about what is actually good and really comes out to that life being for the sake of the parents rather than valuable of its own accord..."

Well said, Kacie. Selective abortion is just another one of humanity's attempts to create Hitler's supreme people. I understand it, in a way - hardly anyone wants to have a disabled child, whether they are pro-life or pro-choice. However, it still disgusts me that for one reason or another, one life is considered more or less valuable than another. Do you follow "Enjoying the Small Things" (www.kellehampton.com)? It is about a mother raising her daughter with Downs. It is so sweet with lots of good pictures. :)

Jaimie said...

Rach gets the Godwin's Law veto! :P

I understand how selecting babies based on superior genetic traits can be scary and inhumane when taken to its extreme, but I don't think this situation is anywhere close to that extreme. Frankly, evoking the memory of Nazis is neither helpful nor enlightening.

"Again, it drills down into the assumptions about what is actually good and really comes out to that life being for the sake of the parents rather than valuable of its own accord..."

Yes, but it's not either/or. It's both/and. Life can be both valuable and healthy.

Jaimie said...

Godwin's Law, btw.

Young Mom said...

Beautiful post, and one of the reasons I still want to believe in God.

You might like this article.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/theres-no-such-thing-as-the-perfect-child/article1470176/

Amy B said...

I'm crying! Those pictures made me cry. LOVE. xo

CM said...

What a beautiful post!

Jenny Smit said...

The simple act of taking care of your children is divine. What more if you are gifted with a special child. God knows exactly what we need. We simply have to hope and trust in the Lord no matter what. By the way, you might be interested in one of the most complete and helpful sites on special needs clothing.Thanks and more power!

rain said...

this post makes me weep...
i've always love-loved downs children because they have so much joy...their perspective of life reminds me most of what Jesus said we must become like to enter the kingdom of God...

this image of him holding your own child touches me deeply.

Teri Lynne Underwood said...

My husband's great uncle has Downs ... he is now nearing 60 and has had the most beautiful life. James, due to when he was born, is not able to read or write anything except his name, but his mother raised him with a strong work ethic and to this day, he spends 3 hours a day working (coloring in coloring books) and each year for Christmas we all get these beautiful gifts from him. He colors each page with one crayon - sometimes the whole book with one color - and then carefully selects which book he believes each will like best.

Having him in our family has been so good for all of us ... our children are comfortable around people who are different and are always ready to engage anyone with Downs! My daughter, when we she six, said this, "James is like a child in a grown up body." Yes, yes he is ... and maybe we all need to embrace a little more of the child in our grown up bodies!

Tracy said...

There has been much commenting on when life begins, and I thought I'd share what my OB stated to me one time. He answered with a question: when is the baby a boy or girl? Is it at the 20 week ultra-sound? At the first heart beat? or at conception? Of course, it's when that DNA is first formed.
You are aborting a boy or a girl, not something that will become a boy or a girl, but something that already IS.

Walking to China said...

That picture and your post moved me so much. We foster a little boy with Down Syndrome in China- he actually has that same little outfit as the baby in your picture! His life is so very, very beautiful and we love him so much. We believe that he is perfect that way he is. When he dies and goes to heaven, who knows what God will do- we will all be transformed. But for now, we love him exactly as he is.

Kacie said...

Tracy, there are other questions if that's the position you take... because if the dna is a boy or girl, and preventing their life or ending it is wrong, then all forms of contraception are wrong, possibly even simply abstaining.

I really respect the position of the Catholic church because it is at least consistent. The evangelical church will say things like you just said, but still fully expect young women to be on the pill. Inconsistency.

sagerats said...

Loved it. Loved it, loved it, LOVED IT! Well said!

Rach said...

Jamie - That's actually really funny...I had no idea such a concept existed. Go me. :P

However, I still maintain that the mindset that one unborn human is more or less valuable than another unborn human has dangerous implications for society. It is a classist view of humanity, and I don't think that we can easily escape that mindset when the baby (fetus, lump of tissue, whatever you want to call it) is born.

Tiffany Norris said...

Beautiful post! I found your blog via Rachel Held Evans, and I wanted to pass along a prayer request for my friends who are trying to adopt a little boy with Down syndrome from Russia. The judge there denied their request because he has Down syndrome, saying he was "socially unadaptable." They're looking for prayer, help spreading the word, and, basically, any help anyone can offer. Their story is at http://oureyesopened.blogspot.com.

sally said...

Kacie,
THANK YOU. Thank you for your thoughts, your open heart, respectful to the perspectives of others and your witness to the truth.

I am a young Catholic from Australia and everything you said struck chords and chords with me.

Glad to hear you embracing the idea of Lent. I find it an amazing spiritual season that helps me to refocus, repent and reawaken my love for our Lord.

I actually came along your blog becuase I was googling for clipart to use for the kids I teach at our church.

God bless you. Praying for you and all the poeple who view your blog.

Sally :)

Kacie said...

Thank you Sally and all... I find this has continued to be on my mind all week. Interesting how the lessons I learn from my brother are in some ways just sinking in now. They were slowly internalized, but now I understand their importance.

Josh said...

Always enjoy reading your blog posts Kacie! Thanks for sharing.

Somehow I did feel compelled to make one point. That is, atheists are a diverse bunch, and I don’t think they can be uniformly grouped together in terms of their ideals, or that they can all be said to have a worldview that values only that which is progressive and intelligent. I know a lot of atheists for whom this doesn’t apply. If asked, I suspect (or know, in some cases) that many of them would say something along the lines of, they value other humans because they’re human, not because of their success, intelligence, contribution to the world, etc.

Of course, from there the debate might move into WHY human beings are of value (which for people with religious beliefs is often linked to God or their religion, while for atheists that’s not the case), but that’s probably a topic for another day…

Anna said...

Sorry Kacie, that last post was written by Anna, not Josh! Posted from the wrong google account...

Kacie said...

Thanks for your honesty, Anna, you are always so respectful.

I did make that comment with a rather broad brush. I did that because, to be completely honest, I haven't yet heard a good explanation of an atheistic philosophy that ascribes much value to human life for any reason other than their superior intelligence or ability. Even valuing humans for being human... I don't know if you want to answer that here, but my question in response is .... what then is the value of a human? Because I can value a dog for being a dog and our cats for being cats. That is value.... but we treat animals much differently than we do humans - why?

It may be that there is a better argument that I can give more respect even if I still disagree, but the logic I've heard so far gives no value to someone like my brother, thus my comment. Of course, I hope to find the balance of not respecting a point of logic while still respecting the person.... which is ironically the same position most atheists find themselves in when attempting to argue with people of faith. :)

Leslie said...

What a lovely post. Beautiful photos! I especially like the first one of Matt and your son. Such love and joy.