Timothy Burkholder and Christine Guth are contributing authors for Circles of Love: Stories of Congregations Caring for people with Disabilities and their Families, available from MennoMedia. Other authors were Dean Preheim-Bartel and Linda Christophel.
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Routine blood tests just weeks before the baby’s birth hinted of possible developmental problems. After she was born, Nyleea had complications and needed to remain in the hospital for two weeks. Tests showed she had trisomy 21, or Down syndrome. This felt like terrible news! Through tears, Norma began to ask God, “Why me?” The night after Nyleea came home, Norma continued her debate with God. She awoke the next morning with a miraculous sense that her daughter was really a gift from God, and determined to discover how she could provide the best care for her.
Through diligent research online, Norma found resources about Down syndrome in both Spanish and English and a Down syndrome Facebook group. Help from her husband and two older daughters made her job at home easier. When she needed help, Ruth, her best friend from church, stepped in. Ruth’s attentive care soon made her the primary person Norma trusted to care for Nyleea.
Nine years later, Nyleea has found her place in Sunday school. The music director has welcomed her as a member of the children’s choir. On the third Friday of the month, the congregation holds a special children’s service, in which Nyleea participates.
Norma (left) and her friend Ruth Diaz
While Norma has been busy caring for Nyleea in recent years, especially after a decision to homeschool, she makes time to give back to her church. She recently completed studies with Instituto Bíblico Anabautista (Anabaptist Biblical Institute), graduating from its on-location Christian leadership training program. She now directs the congregation’s Sunday school program for all ages, where she works to ensure that children of all abilities are able to learn and grow in their faith.
The peace and acceptance she has found in knowing her daughter is a gift from God is a blessing that inspires Norma to reach out with warmth and support to the many parents of children with disabilities that God has been bringing into her path. She is grateful for opportunities to share her faith with others who are coming to terms with a child’s disability, and continues to seek God’s leading for her ministry. “God gives us light in the darkest moments,” she testifies. “God works in mysterious ways. I know this is a long journey, but God is going to guide me in the correct way.”
This article is based on Chapter 8 in Circles of Love: Stories of Congregations Caring for people with Disabilities and their Families, published in 2015 by MennoMedia and Anabaptist Disabilities Network. Order from MennoMedia.