“Hi! I’m Stephen! And this is my mom. And this is my dad!” That’s how I meet people these days, through the outgoing love of my son Stephen. It is delightful. Awkward at times (picture total strangers shaking hands at the behest of this super friendly guy) but enchanting. That’s our Stephen.
When I became pregnant in my forties, I had concerns about the health of my child. Wanting to be prepared to best raise him, I had the doctor check through ultrasounds for signs of any problems. (I refused amniocentesis for fear of miscarriage.) Everything looked fine. And then came Stephen, who happened to have a third 21st chromosome. I was in shock and in the dark not knowing much of anything about Down syndrome. As most new moms are, I was fiercely determined to find out all I could to care for this sweet child. We were blessed to have a wonderful hospital pediatrician. The nursery was not bringing my baby to me because they were concerned and running tests. Time passed and, this being my seventh child, I knew that I should have the baby with me by now and I began to really worry. Once I spoke my concerns to the pediatrician on staff she immediately said, “Yes indeed you should have your baby with you!” and she made it happen. She knew that he was simply my baby first. Having supportive and knowledgeable doctors was so helpful as I navigated this new terrain.
That first year was an emotional roller coaster that included highs (such an outpouring of love from his siblings) and lows (heart surgery), but we got through it with flying colors. I recall thinking then what I still think – if I had known how wonderful this boy would be I would never have worried when he was first diagnosed.
With Stephen we have entered a new world. A world where everyone is a potential friend, from the janitor to the Archbishop. A world where a disability is just something you have, not what defines you. A world where milestones are truly celebrated, such as finally being able to say his name – Stephen- that “st” is difficult. Many times I wished we had named him Bob! Every workman we saw was Bob the Builder. “Hi Bob!” He always yelled out the car window when he was younger.
Stephen has accomplished so much more than I ever imagined. He is on a Special Olympics swim team and can swim the 100 meter backstroke! He has mastered the Minecraft video game. He is an usher and altar server at church. Most importantly, though, he is an ambassador of love. One of his three self-proclaimed goals (besides making a movie and writing songs) is to save the world. “How will you do that?” I asked. He points upward and says “God.” And that’s what he does. He brings God’s love to the world. His love and acceptance moves people’s hearts. People need love. Stephen gives it.
Recently we visited Pensacola Beach. Within a few days, even the bartender knew Stephen by name. The waffle cook remembered him from two years ago. The man who ran the mini golf complex (Stephen’s favorite spot) was so moved that he gave us our final rounds for free.
He is a bridge builder. He doesn’t see age, race, or disability in people. He sees them as all members of the human race. His openness to others shows an innocence of love that others respond to. When he says “I love this guy!” He really means it. People see a glimpse of the genuine love of God through Stephen and they open their hearts to receive it. The world is a better place because Stephen is in it, breaking down barriers by interacting with people.
Do you need a hug? Or a high five? Or an encouraging fist bump? Do you need to experience the genuine love of God? Then I hope you get a chance one day to meet Stephen.
Liz Slattery is a guest blogger for The Guiding Star Project. She is a Catholic mother, “Nana,” and a published author. Her book “Mom’s Psalms” can be found on Amazon and she is in the midst of writing a children’s book. When not chauffeuring Stephen to school and sports practice, she can be found at Mom’s Psalms FB page.
This past year I traveled to different middle schools and high schools speaking about human dignity, healthy relationships, and sexual integrity. Naturally, when I had a room with only girls the topic of periods would come up. I was blown away by how many young girls knew nothing about their