Do you think Mekdes loves her brothers? :)
Yesterday was, of course, our culture's annual nod to all things love. Reading about St. Valentine to my children, I was struck by the fact that this man's deep love for God (and for man) directly led to his imprisonment and beheading. And I don't have to tell you that this type of love runs far deeper than conversation hearts and flowers and a night out at a fancy restaurant.
Love is really kind of interesting. And I actually feel as if I've learned quite a bit about love (that I didn't know before) since my daughter Mekdes arrived home in September. I find myself challenged and honestly rather intrigued by, well, her ability to give and receive love-without-condition.
The above photo was taken on New Year's Eve, right before we left for Mass (anticipated feast of Mary the Mother of God).
Roughly three weeks after her open heart surgery, though you'd never know it.
See Mekdes smiles a lot. Even though she's a kid who, quite frankly, has a lot of things in her life that are less than smile-worthy. At least, that's how it seems from the outside looking in.
I consider myself an optimist, I really do. But if I'm honest I'm far more driven by circumstances than I'd like to be. My daughter on the other hand is not. She is confident, self-assured, and maybe more than anything she believes she is valuable and worthy of love.
That in and of itself is a miracle, when you consider that her birth mother opted not to parent her (but kept her other three siblings), most everyone approved to adopt a girl of her age passed her by because she has an extra chromosome, and she spent years in an orphanage watching the vast majority of toddlers go home to their new families.
Yet somehow her heart remains intact. One of the first things that actually struck me about my little girl was that she not only wanted a family, she believed she should have one. A mom and a dad? Well of course! Brothers and sisters? Yes, please!
I will always, always believe that Down syndrome has been a gift to my daughter. God has worked through the 21st chromosome to give her a strong character, a fierce sense of hope, and a joy-filled spirit. Don't think it's because she's somehow less intelligent and thus oblivious to what is going on around her.
Nope, it's not really about that.
It is about how, at a pre-op appointment, while the surgeon and anesthesiologist were discussing all the things that can go dreadfully wrong during a four year old's open-heart surgery, she got down on her knees, crossed herself, and began to pray.
It's how she values relationships, her family and friends, above all else. Maybe it's because she spent so long without those things.
It's how she loves.
So when she's laying in CICU, a mere 24 hours after the surgery of her life, and her concerned brothers and sisters approach her bedside, her face lights up as she attempts to extend a hand. "Don't worry, I'm okay, it's all gonna be fine", she would have said if she could have spoken.
It's her passion for pizza, her delight in the simplest of things, the way she nurtures her little sisters and chases after her older ones.
Mekdes is a dear, dear soul who knows how to love. I know that in some ways she is fragile, but in others, she's far stronger and braver than I could ever hope to be. God is doing a mighty work in and with her life and this is something that I regularly ponder and think about, because I just have this sense that God has a lot for me to learn and glean there.
There were two feast days in particular this past December where I found myself especially thankful for God's provision for my two new daughters. Both were concerning Mary, Jesus' mother. I reflected at Mass on both of those days that Our Lady (who of course knows what it is to be a mother and love as a mother loves) was surely praying for my daughters in Heaven--and shoot, that's kind of awesome. As someone who comes from a faith tradition which does not pay Mary much heed, it has been a beautiful awakening to see her as a mother not only to Jesus but to the Church, and to all of us as well. How blessed we are to have her prayers and love!
And so these were my reflections and thoughts on this particular Valentine's Day. My own personal view of love has certainly been stretched and changed with the addition of each new child to our family, but especially so by my beautiful daughter Mekdes. To know her is to know you are loved by her, and that is really rather remarkable. I know, I know, that her sweet heart was protected and looked after by Jesus and His mother Mary all those years. So instead of becoming hardened, Mekdes became determined. Instead of growing discouraged, she grew in love.
Beauty for ashes, in the most literal of senses.