I sat in a third story office overlooking Grand Rapids’ “medical mile.” I was nervous and more than a little uncomfortable in a black pencil skirt, heels, and a borrowed black blazer, trying my best to be both professional and genuine. After a few lead-in questions, this one came:
“Can you tell me about one of the most influential people in your life?”
“I would love to.” A smile filled my face, a breath filled my chest, and my body relaxed as I began to tell one of my favorite stories.
“It might sound strange, but it’is my little sister. Her name is Annah. When my parents were pregnant with her the doctors told them that she would die in utero and be delivered stillborn, but she defied medical odds and was born alive – with Down syndrome. She is 13-years old and is full of life! Living with Annah has opened me and my family to a world of people and families living with special needs that I may never had known and surely would never have understood without her in my life. She has taught me how to love more fully, empathize more deeply, and celebrate with greater joy.
She reminds me daily that my value and the value of those around me is not defined by our achievements, but simply by the beautiful gift of being God’s child. I have learned to slow down and celebrate small victories, because though progress for someone with special needs may be slow, the celebration is so very sweet. I know first-hand the joys of life with someone with special needs, but I also know there is much grief and heartache at the loss of the dreams you had for your child or sibling. In fact, Annah is the very reason I want to be an Occupational Therapist. I want to be someone who walks with families with children who have special needs – through their sorrow, grief, accomplishments, and celebrations.”
That was part of my grad school interview. Fast forward three years. Annah is now 17, and I am a licensed occupational therapist. I have learned so much and now have the privilege of working with amazing kiddos and incredible families every day. Annah continues to be a huge part of my life, teaching me to be more compassionate and challenging me to live with greater joy. We love spending time with our family, going to tennis camp and gymnastics classes, cooking, eating ice cream and drinking fancy hot chocolate, playing card games, and just being together.
Our family has been so blessed by teachers and therapists that have come alongside us, accepted Annah for who she is, believed in her, and saw her potential. Not only does being an Occupational Therapist allow me to work with people with special needs, but it also gives me the opportunity to come alongside families and assure them that someone believes their child is valuable, uniquely talented, and worth investing in. Do I continue to grieve each time there is a milestone Annah will never reach, or a new challenge that arises? Absolutely.
But am I better because of her? Absolutely.