Almost 15 years ago I felt God tell me that He was going to bless our family with a Down Syndrome child. This was long before my husband Mike and I ever considered adoption. We knew our family was complete. We had no desire for more children and certainly no desire for special needs children. But the thoughts of a Down Syndrome little boy haunted my dreams. I felt compelled to read books about Down Syndrome. I watched crowds for the distinctively sweet faces of those with Down Syndrome. I really thought that I would by some miracle get pregnant again and that would be how God would bring this child to us. I had no idea what amazing plans the Lord really had in store for us.
Mike and I were professing Christians and felt our life was just fine the way it was. Our children were all about grown and out of the house. We were looking forward to early retirement. We were comfortable in our easy all American dream of a life. It was 2000 and it seemed the world was ready for new beginnings. Then…Mike and I felt God draw us out of our lukewarmness. We had called ourselves Christians. We went to church. We tithed. We took our teens to youth group. But God wooed us and created in our heart an ache to know Him better. We began to yearn for a deeper relationship with Him. He drew us out of our comfort zone. He taught us to pray..”Lord, make me radically sold out for You at any cost”. It was scary but exciting too. We thought He was preparing us for some exotic future…like being missionaries in Africa or moving to China. Instead one day He told us He wanted us to adopt a child. It shocked us! We did not want more children. It did not seem like the exciting adventure we thought God was planning for us. The amazing thing is that once we said “yes” it all changed. Once we chose to obey God and do what He said …our hearts changed. Instead of dreading adding an orphan to our “perfect’ family…it became our heart’s desire. God changed our hearts to be totally jazzed up about adoption.
Though we found ourselves happy to be adopting the whole process seemed overwhelming and full of way too many unknowns. We had felt God tell us our daughter-to-be was in China. In January 2001 our dossier went to China asking for “as young as possible healthy baby girl”. Never could we imagine adopting an older child or a child with any special needs. It was hard enough to imagine adopting a young infant who was “healthy”. God in His great patience and wisdom took us through the process to His will….baby step by baby step. During our long wait for a referral from China He lead us to change our request to a toddler age girl with a limb difference. Anna age 2 came home with us from China in December 2001.
Since then we have gone on to adopt many children with special needs. Our children deal with issues like cerebral palsy, hydrocephalous, burn scars, Hep B, HIV+, eye cancer, spina bifida, etc…Our children have been adopted at all different ages from infants to teenagers. When we started adopting I kept looking for that little Down Syndrome boy of my dreams. China did not list or place any children with Down Syndrome then. The countries with waiting orphaned Down syndrome children were not options to us due to country rules about our age or family size. Domestic adoption seemed out of question as birth families usually want younger parents and small families too.
God greatly blessed our family and we grew to include those born in China, South Africa and Ethiopia. I still wanted a baby so badly. I wanted that Down Syndrome baby boy who I had been dreaming of for so long. In March of 2005 I was in Ethiopia to bring home three new adopted older children. One night after spending the day at the orphanage I was crying out to the Lord. I told Him I was sorry for all the pining and begging I had done all these years for that baby boy. After all, God had blessed us with so many wonderful children already. I was ready to lay the dream of that baby boy down before Him. The orphanages were full of so many older kids that would never have a forever family. I vowed to the Lord that night to never again waste another moment grieving for a baby that He wasn’t going to give me. The next day I visited an orphanage where I held a little boy named Solomon with spina bifida. The surgery needed to repair spina bifida was not available then in Ethiopia. As I prayed over little Solomon I heard God tell me that he was our son. After no other families could be found for Solomon our agency started the paperwork for us to adopt him.
Eight months later our newest three were settling into the family and we were waiting for toddler Solomon's adoption to be completed. We expected him home from Ethiopia before Christmas. It was on the morning of October 23rd that I got a surprise phone call. A social worker on the other side of the state had gotten our number from a friend who worked in adoption. The social worker shared the story of birth parents who had made an adoption plan for their unborn baby boy. When he was born that morning with Down Syndrome it surprised everyone. The first adoptive family felt they could not parent him. The birth parents were anxious to find another family quickly. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a birth family would choose us for their baby. We were 47 years old. We already had a large family with eleven children at home then. Still I went ahead and shot a short email off to the social worker with a family photo and our family information. She called me back in half an hour and asked when I could come get the baby?! Because we were already adopting Solomon in Ethiopia we had a current homestudy and background clearances and our agency was able to quickly draft a “domestic homestudy”.
I brought home Jonathan Moses Feser a few days later. He was the dark haired baby boy I had dreamed of for so long. We figured out that he had been conceived about the same time I had been in Ethiopia the last March falling on my face before the Lord. It felt like we had won the lottery!. It felt like we had been given the greatest treasure in the world!. I was a mom who had raised many babies already. I was a mom who was already a grandmother several times over. I was also a mom who never dreamed I would ever have a newborn again. Every night when I was up feeding baby Jonathan I would stare at his face and try to grasp just how and why God had given us this great gift. My heart could not hold the joy I felt that God would love me enough to give me my heart’s desire. Why me? Why us? There is a long waiting list of adoptive parents in the U.S. for Down Syndrome infants. Many other adoptive parents have come to realize the gift it is to have a Down Syndrome child. Sadly the birth rate for Down Syndrome children has drastically fallen. Due to prenatal testing more than 90% of Down Syndrome infants are aborted in the U.S. But here was this precious beautiful baby boy who was saved and given to us. The birth mother had not known she was pregnant until well along in her pregnancy. He was a surprise and a mistake to everyone but his Father in heaven. As I tried to understand why God would do this great thing for us…the only answer I was ever given was that “God loves me”. He is good. He is always good. He gives great gifts because He loves us.
Jonathan was a baby that was held almost every minute of his life. With so many older siblings at home there was always one waiting for a turn to watch the baby. Jonathan had some minor health issues that are not at all uncommon to Down Syndrome infants. He needed extra oxygen when he slept at night for a few months. Because of low muscle tone he tended to have reflux and his formula was thickened and fed with a special bottle. He began physical therapy at a young age. PT and OT helps Down Syndrome children reach milestones earlier than they would without the extra help. Jonathan did not smile, play with toys, or sit up at the same age as a typical child. But he did reach all those developmental milestones; they were just on his own timeline and took a bit longer than the average child. To us he was perfect. I love all my children and am thankful for each of them. Jonathan to me felt like the “sprinkles on the frosting of my cupcake of a life”. I had a great life and wonderful family and was blessed with so many awesome kids....but Jonathan was special to me. Never before had I ever been given a gift like Jonathan that made me feel so cherished by the Almighty.
When Jonathan was 15 mos old he got some small red spots on his tummy. Then he got a lot of red spots. These red dots are called petechiae. They can be an early symptom of leukemia. Children with Down Syndrome have a higher risk of developing leukemia. You can imagine how afraid we were for our little boy. There were lots and lots of tests. We prayed that Jonathan did not have leukemia. He didn’t have leukemia, he had something worse. Jonathan had aplastic anemia. Within a few months he had total bone marrow shutdown. That meant his body made no blood. No red blood to run your body, no white cells to fight infection, no platelets to stop bleeding. Though aplastic anemia is not cancer it is treated in a similar way. Jonathan and I made a new home for ourselves on the pediatric oncology floor of the Children’s Hospital in our state. Jonathan was kept alive through blood transfusions as the doctors tried anything and everything to save his life.
We realized a nightmare had come true…our child was seriously ill. We found ourselves facing the very real fear that our child may die. As we called out to God for strength and wisdom we knew without a doubt that God was in control and that none of this was a surprise to Him. We knew He knew our heart prayer, our “vote” in this situation…. was that Jonathan be healed! But this is how God told us to pray. This is what He had us ask others to pray for. We were supposed to pray for God to be glorified in Jonathan’s life no matter the outcome. The glory of His name came before all else. It was hard sometimes. Jonathan lived another 18 mos. He suffered greatly in those 18 mos where doctors tried anything and everything to save him. Jonathan got an infection a few weeks after a bone marrow transplant. His poor little body had nothing left to fight with. It was awful and horrible in ways that make me hate this world. But you know what? God answered all our prayers. HIS name was lifted up and glorified in powerful ways. God’s love and His goodness were shared with countless people because of Jonathan’s illness. God used Jonathan’s life to bring His good news to many hurting people. God used our family’s pain to spread the joy of adoption and the blessings of children with Down Syndrome. We miss our Jonathan so much and always will. But we have no regrets. Jonathan was a gift from his first day to his last day. I still feel that God sent Jonathan to be the sprinkles on my cupcake of life.
I ask you now..…are you open to all of the gifts God has for you? Are you willing to really be open to Him? with your hands held high cupped to catch the run off of God’s glory and goodness?? He longs to give you good gifts. I know it. But you know what else I think? I think the only way to see those good gifts for what they are is to learn how to look at things more like God sees things. We have to align our vision with His. We have to love what He loves. See the beautiful in the ugly. Find the worth in what the world sees as worthless. See God’s plans in what others call mistakes. When our vision fills with TRUTH and is more aligned with how God sees…then we will find His great Grace and Love gifts flooding our lives till we cannot hold the Joy of Him inside. Be ready to be surprised
Jonathan age 3 mos with Solomon age 15 mos and just home from Ethiopia
Jonathan about 6 mos
Jonathan a few weeks before his bone marrow transplant