As a child I had two friends who had brothers with special needs. “Mikey” was autistic. He could not speak, nor take care of his personal needs and he ran around all day, laughing, exploring. He was very gentle and curious. I remember the first time I met him, I was apprehensive but Mikey and I became friends. I lost touch with my friend so I am not sure about Mikey’s adult life.
“Shawn” was born with Downs Syndrome. He was loving, active, social, and afraid of nothing. He would try anything. Boy, how I loved that little boy. He actually was one of the first children with special needs to attend Catholic School in Baton Rouge. He learned to read and altar serve and he loved everyone. He loved his faith, going to church and I can remember him walking up the aisle to communion and yelling down the pews at the people he knew. When Shawn was 18, he was diagnosed with Leukemia and a year later died due to complications from the Leukemia right before he was to be confirmed. Shawn touched people in special ways, so special that the Bishop confirmed him on his death bed and his doctor sat next to his bed all night the night he passed away.
These two boys made a difference in the way I “see” people with special needs and I am ever thankful they were part of my life.
Seeing Heaven Through the Eyes of People with Special Needs
By: MAURA ROAN MCKEEGAN
Recently, my children and I were invited to a birthday party for several young adults who had special needs. The party was filled with people in wheelchairs, people with Down syndrome, people with autism, or people with other disabilities. The world might call these people disabled, but in reality, they are more able than most people—more able to be authentic, genuine, and pure of heart.
From the moment the celebration began until we left, these people reminded me, over and over, of why Jesus wants us to be childlike. In so many ways, I believe He wants us to emulate these young adults with special needs.
First, they reminded me to be childlike in gratitude. As soon as I arrived, one autistic girl began waving to me with a big smile, calling out, “Thank you for coming to my party! Thank you for coming to my party!” Each time I passed her during the party, she said the same thing. As I left, she called out again, “Thank you for coming to my party!”
When was the last time I expressed gratitude for my blessings with that kind of enthusiasm?
Then, they reminded me to be childlike in joy. When the candles were being put into the birthday cake the young adults were asked to choose the colors of the candles. “Blue!” a young lady called out enthusiastically. “Red! Green!” the others chimed in with excitement. At the simple act of choosing colors for their candles, their faces were so lit up and shining that we hardly needed to light the candles.
We all sang “Happy Birthday,” and it was pure delight. This is like a birthday party in heaven, I thought to myself. No one was pretending here; everyone was human and kind and happy.
Later, when one of the birthday celebrants heard her favorite song playing on the loudspeaker, she stood by herself and danced and sang like no one was watching. When was the last time I found unbridled happiness in the small things in life?
These people were also childlike in their sincerity. If they were happy, they showed everyone. If they were sad, they showed everyone that, too. One sweet girl fell apart in tears when she thought she had made a mistake and gone somewhere she wasn’t supposed to go. She was afraid she had offended the people in charge. All the moms of the special-needs guests gathered around and consoled her while she wept. When was the last time I wept with sincere repentance at my own offenses?
A Glimpse of Heaven
And they were childlike in their closeness to God. As I sat with my children, watching my toddler get every last crumb from his cupcake, one of the special-needs guests stood next to us, talking to his mother. I didn’t know them personally, but from what I could understand, he was talking about someone close to them who had died.
I just realized,” he said, with hope in his voice, “that I don’t have to be so sad about it anymore, because if he’s in heaven, he’s actually closer to me now than he was before!” Yes, I thought to myself. You, dear child, are far closer to heaven than most of us. If your loved one is there, he is close to you indeed.
As the party came to an end, a mom, pushing a young adult in a wheelchair, came up beside me. “This is what heaven will be like, isn’t it?” she asked. “I was just thinking the same thing,” I replied. “All the things that we get caught up in, don’t matter here,” she said. “It’s just being who you are, the person God made you to be, and the things that normally matter, that define our success in the world, don’t matter here.”
As she pushed the wheelchair out to a handicap-accessible van, I walked out to our car with my children and thought about how difficult it must be for that family to travel. I have no idea what challenges these special-needs people and their families face every day. How difficult it is for them to do the normal everyday tasks that we take for granted. How much time and energy it takes just to get out the door. How much emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual strength it takes to keep going. I don’t know the level of their sacrifice, but I pray that God will give them all they need.
What I do know is that these people are a gift to a world that needs their innocent joy, their pure hearts, and their childlike souls. When the world around us seems to be shrouded in darkness, the light in the eyes of a special-needs person is a candle to lead us home. A blue candle, maybe, or green, or hazel, or brown. Whatever color those eyes may be, they shine into the world and make all of us better people. They are a glimpse of heaven, reflecting the eternal light of Christ.