Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. These are the three core values of the United States Air Force. But I added a fourth, dedication. Without dedication none of the other core values would be achievable. I enlisted in the USAF fresh out of high school in 1999. My first assignment was at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. I turned 19 years old in Basic Training.
In 2000, the world changed with the attacks of 9/11. I remember being gathered in the common area of the dorms and being briefed by First Sergeants on what to prepare for and who was going into combat. There was an eerie silence on what was normally a rambunctious base filled with F-16’s and the crew that came with them. But those F-16’s left and so did I. We were in combat.
Over the years I have never forgotten those years of service. For the past 13 years I have been married to my amazing husband and we have three children who are 11 years, 8 years and 3 years. I credit my years of service during combat to being able to serve and fight on behalf of my family. God blessed me with a steadfast heart. Over the past 21 years, I have known that Jesus stands right next to me as we battle storm after storm. Each and every time, there is always tribulation after the storms. And I am thankful for this.
When Andrew was prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome, I viewed it as a storm to navigate with Christ at the helm of the ship. But, oh! Andrew having Down syndrome was NOT the storm! Instead, it was the doctors that wanted to abort him JUST because of this prenatal diagnosis. When Andrew was born, it was another storm to navigate because he needed to have surgery on his intestines when he was a mere 15 days old. But the tribulation was his recovery.
Now, Andrew is a hurricane running around the house and tearing it apart just like any other toddler would do. He delights in going to school each morning and his days are made brighter when his brother and sister come home from their school days. (Sometimes I think that Andrew likes Alexander and Abby more than his mom and dad, and that’s totally okay!)
Integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do and dedication. These core values that I learned during my years in the USAF certainly still apply. If I could go back in time and talk to my 19-year-old self, I would tell her that these core values will continue to play a role in the vocation of being a wife and mother. Without integrity, I would fail to raise my children in the image of God. Without having learned the value of service before self, then our days would have been incorrectly centered. If I don’t strive for excellence and teach my children to do the same, then I am not serving them well. If I am not dedicated to these values, then our days would unravel.
As special needs parents, we hold onto various values to fight for and defend our family in the best way we know how. But we are not fighting alone. I didn’t serve in combat by myself, I served with others. Now, the Down syndrome community and my parish community are my new “brothers in arms.” Christ was at the helm of my ship 21 years ago and he will remain there. He is there for you, too. Let him take control.
Happy Veteran’s Day to all the veterans who have paved the way to the freedoms that we now enjoy.
I watched as my 11-year-old son took away a small piece of napkin from his little brother so that he wouldn’t choke on it. Little brother is Andrew. Andrew is 3 years old and has Down syndrome. Andrew did a fake cry when Alexander took the piece of napkin away from him. He then immediately smiled and hugged his big brother tightly around the neck. It was pure joy to watch my two sons smile out of love for each other.
This interaction reminded me about Dia de los Muertos. We are not from a Latin American family, but I greatly admire their customs and culture. Dia de los Muertos celebrates the feasts of All Saints Day and All Souls Day by teaching about the communion of Saints and the souls in Purgatory. On All Saints Day and All Souls Day, families will place photos of loved ones on a small altar called an offrenda. The deceased loved ones are honored when their photo is placed on an offrenda. So, what does Dia de los Muertos have to do with my two sons hugging after big brother rescued little brother from choking on a napkin? Plenty.
Dia de los Muertos encompasses honoring the saints and praying for the souls in Purgatory. But what if every day was Dia de los Muertos? When we celebrate this great feast, we celebrate the love of deceased loved ones. In doing that, we can also honor our living relatives. When my children hug each other and smile out of pure love, then they are honoring each other and the God that created them. The saints that have gone before us consistently preached the message of the importance of love in the family.
On All Saints Day, we remember and honor the triumphant saints in Heaven. It is trouble that always proceeds triumph. Each saint had their own bit of trouble to overcome, leading to their triumph in Heaven. Alexander stopped Andrew from choking on a napkin. This was the trouble that led to the triumphant hug between brothers.
On All Souls Day, we pray for the souls in Purgatory. We remember that our prayers and participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the sacraments can be used to help the poor souls in Purgatory. By consistently doing a daily Examination of Conscience, we recall our words, thoughts, and actions in hopes to make reparation with God and thus join him in Heaven when our time on Earth has come to an end.
As Catholic special needs parents, we know that our patience can be tested at great lengths. May we make a good Examination of Conscience at the end of each day and participate in frequent confessions so that we can find internal peace. May we be strengthened and renewed by the saints who have gone before us, paving they way in overcoming lack of patience while setting the example of overcoming trouble with triumph. May we remember our deceased relatives and honor them with fervent prayers during these days of Dia de los Muertos, all while never forgetting to pray for the souls in Purgatory.