Mar 21, 2013

The Story Of Ellen And Rebecca... World Down Syndrome Day

Emanuel Ringelblum wrote of a “Psychosis Of Fear” in relation to the Jew in Nazi Germany:
“It is the imaginary perils, [the] supposed observation by the neighbor, porter, manager, or passer-by in the street, that constitute the main danger, because the Jew… gives himself away by looking around in every direction to see if anyone is watching him, by the nervous expression on his face, by the frightened look of a hunted animal, smelling danger of some kind everywhere.”
This was the life of the Jew living through Hitler’s war on Europe. Fear was the word on their lips, morning till night, then the desperate hours of restless sleep. Listening for sounds, of imagined German soldiers, others... flesh and blood soldiers. Fear was the constant shadow of the Jew.
I went to hear a story. A story about a smiling, 90 yr old beauty named Ellen. Bright, well spoken. A wise sage.
 I listened to her story. The one, now gray haired, bent shoulders, who lived through the Holocaust in Germany. Born in Berlin to a Jewish mother from Poland. Her father a German Christian. Both highly educated, her mother a Professor of Economics. Papa, a lawyer and part of the Reichstag (German Parliament).
This woman had a presence about her. Her education, remarkable... speaking multiple languages, having been an interpreter in Europe, before and after the war.
She witnessed atrocities too awful to utter, yet she did. A baby lost, too young for this world. A husband lost, too young in years… yet, there was a joy, a peace that could not be stripped of her soul. She told us she was a Messianic Jew, a person who accepts Christ as the Messiah.
I am reading The Zookeepers Wife. The true story of a family living in Poland during Hitler’s time of horror. I see similarities, not identical, yet the same fear.
As I read, I began to hear Ellen’s voice in my head and I feel fear pounding in my heart.  I see her face in Antonina, the Zookeepers wife. The fear, the truth of horror that caught like wildfire in those evil days. Lapping at you from every corner, not knowing when it would turn in your direction… when you would be consumed by the inferno.
Ellen knew fear… as Emanuel Ringelblum wrote of. The Nazi’s used it to separate, control and crush any who did not fit their chosen Aryan race.
After the war Ellen moved to the states with her American soldier husband. They had 7 children, lost their next one, too early.
There was the struggle of faith. She had none, saw no need. And then… Ellen described how she came to believe in this Jesus, that her husband told her about. She told God, “Show yourself to me!” She was a proud woman. She had been through much and survived.  She would not be easily swayed.
And then.
She remembered a day, during the war. She was walking down the street, half Jew, half Christian that she was. The Jewish part, buried, hidden, so as not to betray her.
She saw a Jewish man sweeping dirt. The bright yellow star on his arm, showing his Jewishness to all. Like a leper. She carried a loaf of bread under her arm. She knew the man received 250 calories of food a day. This was one quarter what a Christian received. He and his family were starving to death. As she walked by she thought of sharing her bread, but she was afraid. Fear. Afraid of being caught helping a Jew, like her.  She would be killed for it.
She felt ashamed. In that moment of remembering, she felt God’s presence. She believed His Word that day, of sending His only Son to earth to die, for her. He loved her that much. That day everything changed as her heart recognized Christ as the Messiah.
She had faith… Then Rebecca was born, and she knew fear again.
A different fear. A fear she had always dreaded, “to have a child that was mentally retarded,” were her words back then. Words were harsh, hurtful, denying the child of value. How hard to parent then, without support from community. Without understanding the value these children held.
She remembered The Medical Encyclopedia described children with Down Syndrome as Mongoloid and went on to say, “These little idiots are best put into an institution before you get attached to them.” Her husband read this, slammed the book shut, threw it across the room and later, into the trash. He said, “She is our little girl and we will keep her!”
I hesitate to write these ugly words. I know they are hurtful, but this is not my story.
Ellen struggled, with emotion, anger at God, who allowed this to happen. She wondered if she was capable of the task ahead. Fear. She cried out to God, to help her love, nurture and advocate for this baby.
She became an advocate, for life. She found calling in The Right To Life Movement, recognizing that all life was precious.
Another holocaust, on the most innocent.
Life ending before a first breath is taken, because they are different, not what we consider perfect. Numbers for terminations of pregnancies with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome are about 67% in the U.S.  Some reports have been as high as 92% worldwide. Many woman choose not to test, knowing they will not terminate. My heart thanks these women, these couples. I do not judge them, as I only imagine the road they travel. I simply offer them my heart and hands in any way I can serve them. I am humbled and I thank them for their trust and courage, in something bigger than themselves.
This story is not about numbers though, it is about life.
The life of Rebecca. Rebecca with the joyful laugh. She engaged easily in conversation and told me how she felt. She smiled as she talked about wanting chocolate chip cookies. She had sat through her mom’s presentation, not complaining, but waiting quietly. She was now voicing her feelings that it was time to go home. She told me she was getting cranky and wanted a nap.
Walking into the parking lot, I watched Ellen and Rebecca hold hands. Ellen told me they go everywhere together. The bond between them is undeniable.
I asked Rebecca how old she was. She quickly said she was 42. Ellen said, “Rebecca, remember you just had a birthday, you are 43.”  Something in that moment triggered Rebecca’s thoughts. She became focused on the words, Down Syndrome. Neither of us had voiced those words.
She excitedly asked her mom to pronounce the words. She began to repeat them. I watched her tongue and mouth move to pronounce exactly as her mom did. 
However, instead of saying, “I have Down Syndrome", she said, “I am Down Syndrome.”
A feeling of sadness shot through me. I watched her elderly mama take Rebecca’s face gently in her hands, look into her eyes and say, "Rebecca, you have Down Syndrome, you are NOT Down Syndrome.” She smiled and stroked her face.
I became undone. Fear has no hold on this woman. She is thankful for her dear, sweet Rebecca. Her confidant, her friend, her partner in crime. They are a walking witness of love, acceptance, transformation.
I will never forget this moment I witnessed. I see a woman who understands the value of human life. She walked where Hitler’s army mopped the streets with the blood of those who were different. Because they were different, they would die. They had no value. They were seen as weak, sick, insubstantial, dim, inferior, not normal.
Who gets dibs on ”normal?”  We humans, have the same value, given by the same God who created us. We are precious in His sight… because Jesus loves the little children of the world.
We will be accountable for our actions.
The story I went to hear, was not what I heard. It was deeper, complex, riddled with pain, loss and also love. So much love. Love so perfect that it could only be from God.
May we celebrate our children today. The gift, the blessing, the wonder that they are. They are all God's masterpiece and we are His servants. May we serve and protect these babies and children well.

Mark 10:14 “When Jesus saw this He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”
Psalm 127:3 “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from Him."
 Fear not dear ones... Joshua 1:9 tells us, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

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