One of the main thoughts I had was, most of the members at my church probably aren't familiar with the term, "inclusion." They've probably never given that word a thought. What my church knows is LOVE. Because of love, my church family does such a beautiful job of including Jessie. Tonight, Jessie sat beside Mrs. Wanda. Mrs. Wanda is the music minister's wife, she has been Jessie's Sunday School teacher, her Awana teacher and has known Jessie from birth. Mrs. Wanda sat there beside Jessie, cueing her when to stand, when to sit, and when the last song came on Jessie was able to follow Mrs. Wanda in doing the motions for the song. Jessie had a small chair (the only one that had a chair) beside Wanda.
We came to this church when I was six months pregnant with Jessie and did not know she would have Down syndrome. All the folks that teach her and work with her have known her since the day she was born. My church family may not know what inclusion is, or have any idea what a hot topic it is, but they are good at it. In Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Awana, they expect from Jessie whatever is her best. They make adjustments and accommodations when they are needed. She is helped when it is needed but they all are proud of how much she can do herself. When she was younger I was pretty much always with her, that was my choice. As she got better at being able to communicate I slowly backed off.
There's a lot of talk about inclusion, but often, I don't think what's called inclusion is really inclusion. To just be present as part of the group, in my opinion, doesn't always count as being included. I found this definition of inclusion that I really liked: “Inclusion is a sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so than you can do your best work.” Disabilities or not, that's what we want for all our kids.
Watching Jessie tonight, my thoughts went back to a conversation I had with the Lord in the first day or so after Jessie was born. I knew so little about Down syndrome. Now some of the thoughts I had then I realize to some of you might seem exaggerated....but initially, I had no idea what Down syndrome meant. I told God that whatever this meant for our family He was going to have to help us accept it. That He would have to help us through. I told Him if I were to be feeding her every meal for the rest of her life, if she were to be completely dependent on us, whatever it meant, He just needed to help us. Tonight, watching, I thought about those thoughts, that conversation. I watched my beautiful pig-tailed baby sing, "it's such amazing grace, it's such amazing mercy, it's such amazing love for me." She sang almost every word of the song, "Because of Your Love" and did motions with the song. My heart was so full and overflowing. The combination of the gratitude I feel for the Lord for all he's done for me, the pride in seeing my baby do so well and sing her little heart out, and the love I feel for my church family for the way they've loved her and us....this Mama's heart was overwhelmed with love and gratitude.