Like most little girls, I loved to play house. I would spend hours upon hours clicking clumsily across the hardwood floors of our home in my mother’s heels busy with the tasks of caring for my baby doll’s needs. I lovingly fed them, diapered them, and rocked them to sleep. I dressed them in adorable baby clothes and brushed their synthetic locks lovingly. I LOVED pretending to be a mommy. Anyone who asked me then what I most wanted to be when I grew up would have heard me state without any hesitation that I wanted to be a mommy. And I longed to have a beautiful baby girl most of all.
Fast forward a few decades or so and you can imagine my excitement that hot summer day in 2007 when the ultrasound technician told me she was certain we were expecting a little girl as our fourth child. Don’t get me wrong; our three older children – all boys were very much wanted,very much loved and very much so blessings, but it was a moment I had wished, dreamed, and prayed about for a long time. I was bursting with excitement! I wanted to call my husband, Tim immediately, but I decided to stop at the store and pick up a “Congratulations on your baby girl” card to break the good news to him. I felt so blessed! Thoughts of little pink dresses, hair bows and ribbons, and doll babies danced through my head for the next couple of months. Visions of a beautiful little girl with big, bright eyes and a smile that would melt hearts intoxicated my mind.
Those wonderful dreams were shattered the day we found out Tessa would be born with a birth defect – bilateral cleft lip and palate. My heart broke thinking that she would struggle in this world because people wouldn’t see her as beautiful. My heart raced as I recalled my own struggles with my looks and self-esteem as I grew up. I ached remembering those moments and trembled with fear at the thought of my precious child having to deal with how cruel people can be.
As I took my husband’s advice to heart and turned my cares over to God, I realized something. To quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.” Tessa is a blessing and a gift just as she is. Every child is a blessing just as they are. God has used her to teach me so many important lessons and through her life God has given me more than I ever dreamed. In fact, her birth inspired me to write about one of those lessons – rediscovering that true comfort comes only from God. That inspiration birthed my first book, Strength in a Smile.
By having Tessa in our lives, I have also learned another invaluable lesson. I have learned that what really matters are our hearts; our souls. Our worth is not what we do or what we look like, but that we are. We bring something special into the world. We bear God’s image. All of us have dignity, value, and purpose.
Unfortunately, people confuse Tessa’s birth defect for who she is. They end up not seeing the beautiful girl she is and instead just see a label. Satan has convinced us that we need to label each other. Satan knows that we are created in God’s image – all of us whether tall, short, fat, thin, wide-smiled, or carrying an extra chromosome. He knows that beauty allows us to offer love from the heart and draw others into the love Christ has for us. The devil knows that God has these plans for you and he sets out to destroy them. Jesus said in John 10:10: “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy.”(John 10:10, NIV) He tries to form your beauty and value in the world based on a warped sense of how self-worth should be defined.
Satan seems to be winning this battle in our lives. He convinces us we are all different. He gets us to believe that our differences are what make us somehow less-worthy. We label each other with these differences. Yes, Satan has convinced us to live in a world of labels ; a world of division. We live in a world that only sees the label and dismisses the value of the person beyond it. We don’t take the time to see the person that the label is distorting and covering up. Satan has enticed us to admire and seek to attain impossible standards of physical perfection and wordly success. In our culture’s view our daughter Tessa has less value because she is less than perfect physically. We no longer value people, because we don’t see their hearts. Evidence of this can be seen in the 90% abortion rate for babies who have Down’s Syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and other conditions. Late-term abortions are even being offered for cosmetic birth defects like cleft lip and palate.
How much are we missing out on when we seek to destroy those who are deemed different? Who makes the determination of what differences are acceptable? Will the world soon allow murder in the womb based on something that isn’t a birth defect like the parent’s ideal choice of gender for their child? What lengths will we go to when attempting to cull those who don’t fit into our twisted view of worthiness?
Truly only God can make the determination as to who should be born. God has a plan for each our lives. Before we were born He had plans for us. In Jeremiah we read “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV) Fulfilling God’s destiny for us is our purpose on earth. Every single person has purpose and value. Special needs children are not a mistake. It is not Divine punishment to give birth to a child who has a disability like blindness, a cleft lip and palate, or an extra chromosome. Special needs children are a part of God’s plan. In Exodus 4:11 it states, “The LORD said to him, ‘Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD ?’”
I am reminded of what Alaska’s Governor, Sarah Palin stated in her speech on July 3, 2009 when she spoke of her son Trig, who was born with Down’s Syndrome. She mentioned that there is much to be learned from someone like Trig. However, we will never get to learn the wonderful things God has intended us to learn from each other if we continue to treat the Tessa’s and Trig’s of this world as less than worthy, even disposable.
Very few artists, musicians, or authors can look at their masterpieces, compositions, or novels and say that it’s exactly the way they had envisioned it, but God can. Trig Palin’s extra chromosome is no mistake. Tessa’s imperfect smile is no mistake. The way you are is no mistake. How can we know that? Simple put; we can because God doesn’t create garbage or junk. God cannot make something ugly or unworthy because there is no ugliness or unworthiness in Him – only perfect beauty and value. God creates us in His image, so we too are beautiful and valuable. We are all beautiful and valuable in God’s eyes. He measures value much differently than the world does. In God’s eyes value lies within a person’s heart. When Samuel was sent to Jesse to pick a king from his sons God told him “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” ( 1 Samuel 16:7b, NIV)
I compel all of us to work on learning to see with our hearts as God does and reject the labels Satan has helped us develop to define each other’s value. Open your eyes to all of the beauty and value of God that is within all of us and set your heart on God’s heart.