Is your life…valuable?
Who gets to decide that?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of life, and what society says about it. I’ve seen some amazing acts of love lately, and some soul-rending situations that leave me reeling, grasping for understanding as to how people as a whole can be so cruel. I keep thinking of the orphanages in Eastern Europe and my heart cries out…how can it be this way? These people, the ones who live near those orphanages, the ones who turn their backs on the children with Down Syndrome and Spina Bifida and cleft palates, the ones who walk by the buildings full of a generation of children who are forever damaged by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. It’s hard not to wonder… how can they be so backward? How can a country be so cold towards those who are suffering, who are different? How can they see those children as having no value, those precious lives as being worth less than the lives of other, “normal” people. Who see them as worth…less.
And yet I can’t judge those nations, and neither should you. It’s a broken world we live in, friends. Eastern Europe is picking up the pieces of decades of Communism, decades in which the value of people was determined by their ability to “contribute” to society. A child with a disability? Not likely to “contribute,” and therefore…not valuable.
Shocked? Yeah, when I read the articles, when I look at the pictures, when I see the damage…I feel that. A lot of help needs to go there, a lot of people who are blessed to be living in better circumstances need to go there and show them differently, show them the value of love, the value of every human life. A lot of people need to donate their time, their money, their hearts to help this cause, to show the world that we value life. Not just the precious lives of those waiting children, but also the precious lives of those people serving them, those orphanage workers who, at a ratio of 40 workers to 800 children are undoubtedly in need of help, compassion, and love. Those people who we see as the root of the problem, the ones who hate and neglect and show indifference…they need our love, our prayers, and our help. How will they know the love of Jesus if we don’t show it to them? Christ touched the lives of those kinds of people, too. The ones you want so badly to judge, the sinners who hated and cheated and persecuted God’s people. Some of them, when they enountered Jesus, became a great force in His story, in our story. Should we doubt that this can still be the case today? If we sit here and…be shocked…we are only contributing to the problem.
America is not innocent. You might be thinking…but there are no orphanages full of children with Down Syndrome here! No, there are not. I cry as I write this…Ninety Percent of babies with Down Syndrome in the US are aborted before before they are born. Ninety Percent. It’s true, and beautiful, that a baby with DS lucky enough to make it to birth in America today will almost certainly find a loving family, in fact recently a baby girl with Down’s had no fewer than 300 prospective adoptive parents apply to bring her home. America, these days, has a big heart…for those who make it. And we have wonderful resources for kids with disabilities…every child born here has access to some kind of education, health care, and early intervention to improve their chances at having a “normal” life, a “valuable” life.
In Eastern Europe, a mother who has just given birth to a child with a disability will be told to put that child in an orphanage. There are no resources for such children, and no tolerance in society for families who keep them. If your child is born in need of surgery to correct a problem (often one that is a simple fix by American standards) and you don’t happen to have the money to finance that operation? Surrendering that child to an orphanage may be the only way to save her life. Parents in that situation visit their precious babies in the orphanage as often as they can, bringing them diapers and blankets and whatever little comforts they can, hoping for someone to adopt that child before they are transferred to an institution.
Not so very long ago, a baby girl was born. She was the third child, a bit of an afterthought born seven years after her closest brother. In the delivery room, there was shocked silence. The baby’s face told the whole story…Down Syndrome. She was beautiful in her own way, but the future was foretold in the grey-blue tint to her newborn skin–a hole in her heart, unfixable, would take her life before she reached childhood. “Put her in an institution,” they said. “She will only break your heart. She’ll never contribute to society. She won’t know the difference, and you can carry on with your life as if this never happened.”
This, they did not do. She went home to live six short months. She did break her mother’s heart, but perhaps not so much as it would have broken had she never gotten to give that child love. Was her life valuable? Her parents never spoke of her, that short life never really touched the lives of others.
Or did it?
That baby was born here, in America. Fifty-something years ago, when things looked very different than they do today. When things looked a lot like they do now, in Eastern Europe.
When I was the age of my Middle Child, eleven or so, I sat down at my grandmother’s dressing table. It was full of treasures, tiny Avon lipstick samples decades old, wedding announcements for couples who had long since honeymooned, had children, and retired. Old papers from my mother’s school days, photos of people I had never met but bore some resemblance to, a lock of hair in an envelope, the glue long since yellowed and dried. I found a book, Angel Unaware: A Touching Story of Love and Loss
I read it in an afternoon. It told the story of a baby girl born with Down Syndrome, of her loss and the love and grace that her short life brought. And it was then I learned about that other baby girl, the one who would have been my Aunt Shirley. The one whose value can’t be measured by the length of time she lived, by the profound words she never wrote, by the career she never had, by the family she never raised. The one who taught those who knew her or lived with her memory that a valuable life is a life, period. That those who cannot speak for themselves are often the most powerful teachers the world will ever know.
Will you, friend, search your heart to see where you can help? Will you find a way to tell the world that all people are valuable? That every life has the same potential to change the world?