I have written before about my daughter Vanessa who has Down syndrome. She is a fun, spunky person who sees the world through rose-colored glasses. She rarely gets discouraged and is happy just to be alive. Vanessa bounces through life singing and dancing as she goes.
Even though she’s a happy soul who is content with her life, there are things for her learn and improve in. One of the areas is being healthy. Because of the Down syndrome she would rather sit than be up and moving. It’s just easier for her. People with Down syndrome have lower muscle tone which makes it harder for them to do physical things. It doesn’t mean she can’t do them it just means she has to work a little harder at it. So exercising is not one of her favorite things. It’s not one of my favorite things either.
We have to be creative to get her to exercise. She takes dance classes which she loves, so that’s easy. She also has a dance app on her Nintendo, which is exercise and fun for her. We also often go for walks, and I used to have to drag her a long until I hit upon a Scavenger Walk. We make a list before leaving the house of things to look for, or sometimes we guess how many white cars we’ll see, or something similar. Before long, even though she hates walks she’s cheerfully counting cars or looking for birdhouses. She finds joy even in walks.
Vanessa also loves to eat! There are very few foods she doesn’t like. Of course this is good and bad. Good because she’ll try new foods and usually like them. Bad because we have to do portion control because she doesn’t know when to stop eating. We really try to emphasize being healthy and not weight. I do worry about her weight though.
Vanessa has learned to weigh herself, which she does nightly. That’s another thing about her-she tends to be OCD. Even If I tell her she doesn’t need to worry about weighing herself so often it doesn’t matter. She will do it every night. But the funny thing is that no matter what weight the digital scale indicates, she always says, “not bad!” in a gleeful voice. She knows the target number for her weight but whatever the number is, she is happy with it.
Every day she also asks me what we are having for dinner. Whatever I reply she always (and I really mean always) says, “my favorite!” Sometimes, I tell her it’s a new recipe that I have never made before, so it couldn’t be her favorite. It doesn’t matter, because now it’s her new favorite. These are just a few of the ways she exudes happiness. Some of the ways she finds the positive.
I have thought about her joyful approach to life. The way she is just happy with what she has and who she is. It really is very inspiring. I have heard that people with Down syndrome are often thought of as happy people. I wondered if this concept was really true, so I did a little research about it. What I found was truly remarkable.
One study in the American Journal of Medical Genetics found that people with Down syndrome were generally happy people. In this study researchers asked 284 “…people with Down syndrome, ages 12 and older, about their self-perception so that their information could be shared with new and expectant parents of children with Down syndrome.” They found that, “Among those surveyed, nearly 99% of people with Down syndrome indicated that they were happy with their lives; 97% liked who they are; and 96% liked how they look.” (Skotko, B. G., Levine, S. P., & Goldstein, R. (2011). Self-perceptions from people with Down syndrome. American journal of medical genetics. Part A, 155A(10), 2360–2369. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajmg.a.34235)
I debated about including the numbers from their study but the findings were so remarkable I decided share them. How often can 97% of a group of people say they are not only happy with their lives but happy with themselves and happy with how they look?
I think most of us would like to be able to say we are in that 97% group and we happy with our lives and our selves, and our looks. Unfortunately I think many of us try to measure up to some worldly standard and have many negative self thoughts. We beat ourselves up because we’re not size 6. We ignore the good about ourselves and focus on what isn’t. Often we judge our worth by the number on the scales. Maybe we have things to learn from those with Down syndrome. I know I do.
Just like Vanessa I would like to be able to find the fun in exercise, step on the scales and say “not bad,” and declare whatever I’m eating as my favorite! Mostly I would like to be able to do these things because it means I’ve learned to be happy with who I am. It means I recognize that really my weight and body shape has very little importance in the scheme of things. It means the my worth has nothing to do with a number on a scale.
Vanessa has taught me a lot over the years. In her cheery, joyful way she is also teaching me how to be happy.
I have been thinking about a story Russell M. Nelson told. He is the prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He told a story in a video message about a time when he was on an airplane that developed engine problems. “We were halfway to our destination when the right engine suddenly exploded, spewing flaming fuel all over the right side of the plane. The plane was on fire careening to the earth in a spiral dive. I expected to die. Miraculously, the dive extinguished the fire. The pilot was able to restore power to the other engine and make a safe landing.” He continued talking about ways we can find peace in our lives but the part of the story that stood out to me was “miraculously, the dive extinguished the fire.” Sometimes it is in the careening, terrifying, out-of-control situation that we find the answer.
Lately I have been reading many of the writings of Neal A. Maxwell who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In writing about God and why things happen he said, “Sometimes He clearly directs; other times it seems He merely permits some things to happen. Therefore, we will not always understand the role of God’s hand, but we know enough of his heart and mind to be submissive. Thus when we are perplexed and stressed, explanatory help is not always immediately forthcoming, but compensatory help will be. Thus our process of cognition gives way to our personal submission, as we experience those moments when we learn to “be still, and know that I am God” (Ensign, November 1995).
I like this quote. There are so many things that happen that are devastating. Some to the world at large, some to people I know personally and some to my family. Many of them make me want to cry, and when I am done crying to cry some more. There is so much sadness around. But I like the thought that we know enough of God’s heart and mind to trust Him even when we don’t understand what is happening in our world. I like the thought that when a solution doesn’t seem to be quickly coming that some other form of help will be there. In John 14: 18 we read, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” He doesn’t say He will solve all of our problems, and He doesn’t say we won’t have problems. He says He will help us through them.
I haven’t written for quite a while-going on 10 months. In my last post I mentioned some family problems and I would like to say that those have cleared up but actually new ones have been added to them. Ripple effects from actions are being felt throughout my family. These are careening, terrifying, out-of-control situations in which I can see no solution, no hope for resolution, no fix. Things that make me want to move to some secluded island and pretend I don’t have any problems. But of course life doesn’t really work that way. And moving to an island doesn’t remove the problems, it just prevents me from working through them and possibly finding joy in the process. It also prevents me from learning to trust in God’s heart and mind.
In his book Not My Will, But Thine Neal A. Maxwell said, “Yet we surely understand enough to see a loving and redeeming God at work, striving to help us become as He is-a cause for our deep gratitude and joy, instead of despair and doubt, and for a willing submission to whatever He perceives will further that purpose” (p. 43). I recognize that I learn and grow through overcoming adversity more than with ease and comfort. A sword only becomes sharp by brushing against stone, not velvet! I know He is teaching me things that I need to learn. If I remember He loves me and will not leave me comfortless I am able to more humbly approach life, even problems.
If I have learned anything this last year I have learned that I have no control over what any one else does. I cannot control life or others, I can only control how I react. The scriptures teach us not to trust in the power of men but in the power of God. It was in the power of God that President Nelson trusted on that airplane. He felt peace as the plane spiraled to the earth. He reviewed his life and felt ready to meet God. He reacted with a quiet calm because he knew God’s heart and mind. The engine was on fire and the plane was spiraling to the earth but he knew God’s heart and mind. Isn’t that the answer?
So, when our lives are spiraling out-of-control and we are terrified we trust in God’s heart and mind. When there seems to be no hope of resolution, no fix we look for the ways he is helping us. When we are perplexed and stressed we search for the compensatory help that He sends. When solutions don’t seem to be coming fast enough or even at all, we see the hand of God in our lives helping us to become as He is. We recognize that it is the careening, terrifying out-or-control situations in which we learn the most and if we are still, we will feel His presence and know that He is God.