March 21 is World Day of Down Syndrome. Working with L’Arche in St. Louis, I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing individuals who also happen to have Down syndrome.
L’Arche is an intentional community of faith for adults with and without developmental disabilities to live together and share life. Here, I serve alongside four women with developmental disabilities, two of whom are living with Down syndrome. On this World Day of Down Syndrome, I feel the deep desire and need to reflect on my dear friends, Amy and Mary Ellen, who have taught me that their disability is really an ability to love more genuinely, laugh more contagiously, trust with depth, and welcome differences with ease.
Amy is the definition of joy! I laugh harder with Amy than I do with most people. Beyond that, I’ve come to experience that Amy has the God-given gift to understand people. For example, last week I was getting frustrated as I was filling out necessary paperwork. Amy, reading my frustration, walked over to me, took the laptop off my lap, and gave me a hug. She then kissed my head and reminded me that I am loved by her. All I could do in that moment was look up at her, tell her I love her too, thank her for her compassion, and thank God for being so close to Amy’s heart. Through Amy, I have met God more personally and I love harder because of it. I pray that all people may have a friend like Amy; a friend from whom they truly feel God’s unconditional love.
Mary Ellen is gentle, wise, and trustworthy. We spend a lot of time at the gym together, riding bikes or walking the track. I spent months trying to get Mary Ellen to walk on the treadmill, but I stopped pushing her because she was afraid. Last month, she asked me out of the blue, “Will you walk on the treadmill with me today? I trust you, Bella-Bella,” (the nickname she uses for me). So we did and when we got off the treadmill, Mary Ellen gave me the most God-sent hug I’ve ever received. In that moment, I realized I need to trust God more with my fears and embrace Him with love and thanksgiving afterwards. Since that day, my prayer each morning has been, “Will you walk with me through today, God? I desire to trust You.” Through Mary Ellen, I have learned that a deep trust in God is doable and, when done right, is fruitful in confidence of God. I pray that all people may trust like her.
But, I’m not the only one who has a strong bond with a person with Down syndrome. Sister Regina Hlavac, D.C., has a sister with Down syndrome, Karen. Sister Regina says, “Karen is everything to me that Amy and Mary Ellen are to Bella…total unconditional love! Karen has always been adamant that she does not have Down syndrome…she has UP syndrome!”
Sister Catherine Kelly, D.C., has also been blessed with a niece with Down syndrome, Chris. So full of love and a total joy to her family, Sister Catherine asks us all to pray for these beautiful individuals who share God’s love with the world.
The friendships, bonds, and love that I share with Amy and Mary Ellen are where I find God the most. How blessed I am to have them in my life! Happy World Day of Down Syndrome!
Written by Bella Davila and Sister Regina Hlavac, D.C.