“Down Syndrome and Our Humanity”
by John Stonestreet ( http://www.breakpoint.org ) Sept. 24, 2013
A few Friday nights ago, I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Having missed dinner, I pulled up to a juice place to get a last minute smoothie. In the very same strip mall I saw the sign for a restaurant called Tim’s Place, with the tag line: “breakfast, lunch, and hugs.” It sounded familiar. And then it dawned on me. This was the restaurant I’d heard about before, the one owned by a 26-year-old man with Down syndrome– Tim Harris. You may have heard this story on CNN or seen it on YouTube.
A 2004 graduate of Eldorado High School where he was homecoming king, Tim went on to Eastern New Mexico University, graduated, and in 2010, with help from his parents, opened Tim’s Place. It is billed as “the world’s friendliest restaurant.”
Well, I decided right then that my family, who was with me in Albuquerque, just had to go there for lunch the next day. Tim met us at the door, gave us big hugs, and made everyone– especially my daughters– laugh and smile the entire time we were there. At the end of the meal, he stood up in front of the entire restaurant and announced that he had some “awards” to give out.
Then he called up my three daughters by name to the front of the restaurant and gave them handwritten, personally signed certificates for being ‘cute princesses,’ while everyone clapped. Tim made them feel so special. It was definitely the best meal we’ve had in a really long time.
A few months ago, Tim wrote– yes, he wrote– an article for CNN Health, about his story: “A few hours after I was born,” he said, “our doctor told my parents that I had Down syndrome. A lot of people told my parents that they were very, very sorry. I guess they didn’t know then just how totally awesome I would turn out to be.”
Awesome indeed! And he has an incredible gift for making everyone around him feel awesome too. Tim’s life and influence reminds us that all human beings are made in the image of God and bear eternal, inherent dignity. In a society hardened by utilitarianism and addicted to convenience, Tim’s story– and the many others like it– need to be heard and shared.
In the epilogue of Dancing with Max, Emily Colson’s brilliant book about her autistic son, Chuck Colson wrote that while Max’s disability brought enormous trials, through those trials and the purity of Max’s love the family came to a “new understanding of what love really is.”
In his book All That Jesus Asks, my friend Stan Guthrie reminds us that “the disabled soften the sharp edges of society, teach us patience and humility, force us to look upward, and pull us away– if only temporarily– from our besetting narcissism.” The shocking fact is, about 90 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted in this country. By killing them, we’re killing our humanity. We are killing ourselves. God forgive us!
“But,” a critic might object, “Tim’s quality of life is unique. He’s only doing as well as he is because of all the support from his parents, the people at his public school, his community and his customers.”
And the answer is: Of course he is. So what? Does the fact that Tim was supported somehow mean we shouldn’t support others? No, it means precisely the opposite! Our support of our neighbors with Down syndrome can make all the difference.
And the fact is, at rock bottom you and I are no different. Any of us who succeeded do so only if we’ve got support. If I’ve succeeded, it’s because of the support of my mom and dad, my church, my teachers and coaches, college mentors, my colleagues at BreakPoint, and so on.
See Tim’s website: www.timsplaceabq.com
See Tim on you-tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6He0FWoFj0
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
2 Corinthians 12:7b-10 — …In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Loving God, we come to you in prayer with all of our limitations. We confess that we often try to mask our challenges from those around us. We pretend that we are whole to mask the brokenness in our lives. Where there can be healing, we ask that you help restore us. Where healing is not possible, we ask that you give us acceptance of our limitations and the strength to forge on. Help us to be patient with ourselves and tolerant of others. Give us the wisdom to not focus our attention on our limitations as humans, but on our giftedness as your unique children. Help us to recognize the giftedness of others, even when they struggle to see the good in themselves. Shift our mindset from what we are not, to what we are and are yet to be. Move us forward together as a community for your glory and our neighbors’ good. Amen.
~~ Benjamin Walters, Pastor, Elizabethtown (PA) Church of the Brethren