When my daughter was born with Down syndrome, I never imagined that someday I would be thankful for her diagnosis. At the time of her birth, our future seemed bleak and limited. But disability is so different from what I thought it would be, and years later, there is so much I am thankful for.

1. I am thankful disability is not “scary.”

I was scared of disability, mainly because I was ignorant, I didn’t know much about it or what it would mean to our family. But I have discovered that disability is part of life. You learn, you grow, you live. And so much of life goes on as before.

2. I am thankful my priorities and what I valued in life changed.

How smart you are is not as important as how well you love. I didn’t know that before my kids came into my life. We live in a culture that praises intellect over kindness, a culture that values a high IQ more than compassion. But at the end of our lives those things will matter little, what will matter is how we lived life, how we loved, how we reached out with open hearts.

Family. That’s what matters.

3. I am thankful for the small milestones.

Perhaps to some the little milestones go unnoticed, or they seem insignificant, but when you parent a child with a disability, no milestone goes unnoticed. You become so aware of the small things, and those small things have a way of bursting your heart with pride for your child.

4. I am thankful for celebration.

Because we notice milestones, we celebrate. We celebrate the small and the big, we celebrate with others around us. And any form of communication is a big deal, even if it takes considerably many more years than the average child. And a step with an assistive device is sweeter than a medal for the 100 meter race. You celebrate, and you celebrate big.

5. I am thankful for the tears.

For the tears shed at hospitals, for the tears of helplessness, the tears of loss. Because in those dark moments God has brought the most amazing people into my life who understand this journey as intimately as I do. And I have learned what it means to allow God to be in control when I cannot handle it. And those tears have given me strength, helped me to move past my own needs and care for the needs of others. I can now meet people in the messy of life and understand what it is to feel beat down.  So many tears that have become treasures in my heart.

6. I am thankful for the joy.

Because my children bring me indescribable joy. I am lucky I get to call them my own. With all our challenges and the extra work, they are mine to hold and to love.

7. I am thankful for the unconditional love.

I thought I knew about unconditional love simply by being a mother, but I discovered it was easy to love a child who would seemingly meet all my expectations. In that process, I discovered I had expectations for my kids, and that is not unconditional love — that is love with strings attached, so different from what true love is. So I ripped the expectations and tossed them to the wind, because love is freely given, expecting nothing in return. We love because we are loved.

Oh there is so much love.

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