When you place EVERYTHING in God’s hands and TRUST with all of your heart, the path for which you were created becomes CLEAR and UNDENIABLE.
Walking in faith and following our hearts all those years ago lead us to adopt our sunshine girl, Addison, who just happens to have Down syndrome.
You know that moment when you hear a voice from within and feel a deep gratitude in your heart for the long road you have had to travel to get to this destination? Well that moment for me was standing in front of a large audience, as my daughter received a standing ovation after speaking and getting recognized as the “Easterseals Advocate of the Year” – a true honor. In this moment, I truly felt a feeling of surrealness. As God has told us from the very beginning – Addison’s VOICE is going to change the world!
Let me take you back to the beginning of our journey.
My husband and I had our first child, Hayden, and then struggled with infertility for many years. Through that tough season of our lives we just prayed and handed our hearts over to HIS plan. It was through divine intervention that we heard about Addison.
My niece was born with Down syndrome. She made such an impact on my heart right from the start. Shortly after she was born, I was approached by my son’s teacher because she knew about my niece. She felt prompted to tell me about a little girl with Down syndrome that was looking for a forever family. She asked if she could pass my information along. I said ‘Sure’, but did not think anything more about it at the time.
Switching over to Addison’s birth family’s journey:Through struggle with Addison’s birth parents, her extended family was faced with a choice to take Addison in and care for her. Over the years, Addison’s great grandma, great aunt, and grandparents pulled together caring for her. They wanted nothing more than to keep Addison in their family. Through prayer, Addison’s grandparents felt God telling them that there was another family that was meant for Addison. They started to walk in obedience to HIS plan even though they did not fully understand it at the time.
Prior to contacting Social Services to get the process started, they received an email with our family’s information from a friend. There were multiple hearts connecting all the pieces to get our family’s information right where it needed to be. When Addison’s grandparents received our information, they were going through an incredibly hard time and struggling even with the thought of adoption. They passed our information along to Social Services and trusted God to take care of the rest.
Switching back to our journey:We received a call from Social Services. The woman on the phone told us about a little girl named Addison that was available for adoption. When I asked if there were others inquiring about her, the woman on the phone said, ‘No ma’am, this child has Down syndrome. Nobody wants her.’
Let that sink in. Heartbreaking.
I replied, ‘Well, we do!’
That statement we found out later was very untrue, but it was as if God put that woman there to say those exact words. Those words from the woman lit a deep fire within my heart, because I too felt very unwanted growing up. Throughout my life every time I heard Down syndrome, my ears would perk up. I didn’t realize why at the time. I realize now that God uses who we are to our core, our brokenness, our deepest pain and uses it as the launching pad to our greatest calling for HIS glory.
My husband always felt a deep undeniable calling to adopt, but never thought he would be a good adoptive father. He repeatedly heard God telling him, ‘Yes you will be.’
“He who has begun a good work in you will complete it” – Philippians 1:6
Fast forwarding through the adoption process:Our adoption was complete April 8, 2011. I felt a strong connection and undeniable mother’s love for Addison right from the start. She didn’t grow in my womb, but she grew in my heart, and she was very WANTED right from the start. It was as if our souls connected and we were truly meant for each other.
My husband wrapped Addison in his fatherly love and was an amazing daddy to her, just like God told him he would be. Our son, Hayden finally got the little sister he had been praying for. It was an extraordinary feeling to have felt our prayers be answered in such a magical way. Together, our family felt wrapped up in God’s love.
My husband and I both lost our fathers at a young age. We were both raised by our moms and the little family that we had nearby. We were not only grateful God had blessed us with Addison, but the whole family behind her. Addison’s biological family and ours connected right from the start. We embraced their love just as much as they embraced ours. For us, adoption was always about LOVE. This includes a love and gratitude to Addison’s biological parents for making the selfless act of relinquishing their rights and blessing our lives with the gift of Addison. God had connected all the pieces and brought us all together. What we didn’t know then was that God’s plan was way bigger than our eyes could see.
Shortly after the adoption:Addison’s grandma shared with me her personal journal – she told me that God told her all about our family and deep things that I never told anyone about myself. Personal things, that somehow, she knew. She said God told her that the family that HE has chosen for Addison was going to move and make a HUGE impact in communities. At the time when she told me this I was sure she must be mistaken. My family had no plans to move. We loved Colorado and all our family was there. We had no intention to go anywhere.
Fast forward a few years:I ended up getting very sick with a kidney infection that was not caught in time and turned to sepsis. I was extremely sick and almost lost my life. I was in the hospital for over a week, receiving IV antibiotics and was very weak. I was told that my white blood count was through the roof and I probably had about six hours to live without antibiotics; my blood was so infected. That was a huge slap of reality for me. Especially when you have two little kids and a husband by your bedside.
It is in moments like this that you realize just how precious life is. Life is such an incredible gift, yet many of us take it for granted. It was in that moment that I fully submitted my life to HIS plan and gave my whole heart to Jesus. I prayed with all that I had and told God that if he kept me with my family, my precious family that I had always yearned for, I would walk in complete obedience to HIS plan.
God works quick. The next week after getting released from the hospital, my husband got a call that we were getting transferred from Loveland, Colorado to Casper, Wyoming. Without hesitation, we said, ‘Yes,’ because we knew that God was going to be the author of our book from this point forward. We headed out of Colorado blindfolded full of faith and entered into the next chapter of our lives.
The year we spent in Casper was a year full of spiritual growth and healing. Through prayer I was connecting to God in a very intimate way. I had never experienced anything like it before. I started to really embrace Jesus’ love and I could feel the Holy Spirit wrap me up like a warm blanket. It was that year that I began to realize who I am in HIM and what I have in my life is because of HIM. I was told through prayer that Casper was just a stepping stone to where he was leading our family. I started having vivid dreams and could see myself and Addison standing in front of a large crowd speaking. I found this reoccurring dream extremely jarring and out of my comfort zone. This same dream was happening every night. I spoke to many about this vivid dream that I was having because it felt so real and it made me feel very uncomfortable. I was grateful it was just a dream because the thought of having to get up and speak in front of a crowd was way out of my comfort zone. I told Addison about my dream and she too said that she was having similar dreams. I have learned now that God had given us a vision. A VISION that has now happened!
At the time, we did not realize its magnitude. I have learned that through our weakness we are made strong when we invite Jesus’ love into the core of who we are.
Just a stepping stone was right. Exactly one year after being transferred to Casper, Wyoming we got another transfer offer to move to Abilene, Texas. We knew with all of our hearts, God was on the move because he had told us from the beginning we were not going to be there for long. We still didn’t understand what he was wanting us to do. We continued to have God be the author of our story. We also found out that same week that we were expecting another baby!
After settling into Abilene, I joined up with two other moms that shared my passion for spreading love and acceptance for Down syndrome. Together we joined forces with The Upside Down Club Inc., supporting families with children with Down syndrome, and putting on ‘Buddy Walks’ every year in our community.
Getting settled into our new school wasn’t as easy as we hoped for. We were struggling trying to get Addison to be included in the general education classroom. I started seeking everything I could on inclusion and how to best advocate for my daughter.
A few years later Addison found her voice and she was ready to use it! Addison told me that she had BIG dreams of public speaking so that she could spread LOVE like Jesus. She made her dream of becoming a public speaker a reality as she spoke for her first time as the guest speaker for The Upside Down Club’s Buddy Walk in Abilene, TX!
Around this time, I started experimenting with another personal passion of mine, photography! I thought how incredible it would be to put my passions together. I started offering free photoshoots to individuals with Down syndrome. I was inspired by Addison – seeing the world through her eyes filled with unconditional love, patience, kindness, gentleness, compassion and humility. I discovered a beautiful part of my heart when I was doing photography with individuals with Down syndrome and their families. A part of myself lit up, and I felt an inner happiness that made my heart radiate pure JOY!
While in Texas, I spent countless hours praying, asking God for guidance and asking him how I could be his hands and feet and do HIS work. The dreams started once again. I started having vivid dreams every night for weeks that babies were coming and we needed to prepare. I made two girl and two boy baskets for new babies born into our community with Down syndrome. I named them “Tubs of LOVE.” Shortly after the baskets were finished, we got two girl babies and two boy babies with Down syndrome born into our community. If that wasn’t amazing enough, God had already placed me with one of these expecting mothers.I met this mother, Jessica, at a women’s church retreat. Through divine intervention, we were placed in the same group. She was pregnant and was excited about meeting her baby girl. We became friends at the retreat and she had me do her maternity photoshoot. At the photoshoot, Jessica started to feel discomfort and thought she may be going into labor. After we captured some beautiful pictures of Jessica’s family, she headed to the hospital to deliver her baby girl.
The next day, I picked up my mom visiting from Colorado. Shortly after picking her up I told her, ‘Mom I am having an incredible prompting from the Holy Spirit telling me that I need to go because I somehow feel my friend’s baby has Down syndrome.” I couldn’t describe what I was feeling. It was an urge so strong that I couldn’t ignore it. I started to walk in obedience without fully understanding it. I dropped my Mom, who had traveled so far to see us off at my house and I grabbed the ‘Tub of LOVE’ to head to the hospital.
I knocked on the door and went in. I immediately felt the sadness in the room. I looked at her and asked what was wrong? She said with tears in her eyes that her baby girl had just been diagnosed with Down syndrome. With tears in my eyes and overwhelmed with emotion I told her, ‘This may sound crazy, but I already know because God prompted me to come here right now.’ She told me it must have been God because she hadn’t told anyone other than her family in the room. I asked her if she knew that my daughter also had Down syndrome? She said that she didn’t.
Jessica told me that the doctor came in right before me and told her that her baby had Down syndrome and that there is a club in town called The Upside Down Club that supports families with children with Down Syndrome. I told her that I was the Vice President, and I gave her the ‘Tub of LOVE’ I was called to make. She was as blown away by God’s goodness. In that moment, I learned when the Holy Spirit lays something on your heart, move without hesitation. You have no idea who is depending on your immediate obedience!
I got to be the first to GENUIENLY congratulate her on her new, beautiful baby girl. I got to tell her what the doctor failed to tell her. That her daughter was going to be capable of so much, and live a fulfilling life. She was blessed with the ability to make her dreams come true! I got the pleasure of filling her heart and mind with all the goodness about Down syndrome. I expressed to her the abundance of love her and her family’s hearts were going to experience through the gift of the 21st chromosome. I shared my journey and why I choose this journey.
Just like her picture still in her mother’s womb (see above) prior to the Down syndrome diagnosis, nothing has changed. Beautiful Paisley is in every way, “Fearfully and Wonderfully made” PSALM 139:14
After three years in Texas, our family was completely enjoying the journey God had us on and we had settled in sweetly. Christ had become our cornerstone and we felt stronger than ever in our faith. We leaned in with all of our hearts and continued doing God’s work. We were right where we needed to be, so we decided it was time to buy our forever home in Abilene. Shortly after moving into our forever home, our prayers started to shift. We heard God telling us that the work he is doing is way bigger than just advocacy within our community. We were told that Addison’s VOICE is going to change the world and how others see individuals with not only Down syndrome, but people with ALL disabilities.
Six months after moving into our forever home we came to a crossroad. My husband’s job had offered us a job transfer to McAllen, Texas. We just finished re-modeling our forever home just the way we had always dreamed of. We LOVED our home and life! Our kids were doing great in school. We loved Addison’s school that had completely transformed, everyone was including her! Addison felt loved, valued, encouraged, and included! It was a beautiful thing watching her spread her wings and fly after she was let out of the cage that was holding her back. She was thriving in every way! Life was to us as good as it could get! We did NOT want to move.
My husband didn’t have to take this job transfer. If we said no we would continue to have a job in Abilene and life would go on. But, there was one thing that was just not feeling right. When we started to pray, asking God what HIS will was for our family, and we got an UNDENIABLE strong YES. HIS plan was for us to say ‘YES’ to this move.
We knew that God’s timing is always right. We knew it with all of our hearts, despite our love for Abilene. We knew that GOD was writing our story and it wasn’t up to us to stay where we felt comfortable. We knew that God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust him completely. So, we moved with heavy hearts away from Abilene.
After settling into our home in McAllen, Texas, we went to get the kids set up for school. Addison went skipping into school her new elementary school with excitement. When we met with the principal, I told her a little bit about Addison. We were immediately told, ‘Sorry, but we don’t do that here.’ As soon as I heard those words, I immediately smiled at God and thanked him for placing this school in our path. Our God goes before us and lights the path. Through HIM, we can pave the way for ALL others that are depending on us to light the path!
The fact that many individuals with disabilities are segregated into ‘Special education’ environments is absolutely heartbreaking. Let us take a step back and look at the bigger picture. What we are really teaching ALL of our students by segregating those with disabilities? Are we teaching UNCONDITIONAL love, or are we teaching them that you are only worthy of love and acceptance if you look a certain way and perform a certain way? We need to teach ALL of our students to be a friend to the lonely, teach them to think about other people and see the good in people, teach them kindness, compassion, teach them that diversity is beautiful, teach them that through our weaknesses we are made strong, teach them that we are ALL valuable.
That is how ALL of our students will change the world.
Not long after, we connected with the Rio Grande Valley Down Syndrome Association. We were grateful for the support and friendships we made through the RGVDSA. I once again started praying asking God to light the path before us so we can be his hands and feet to help our school system.
We were immediately blown away to find out that they had invited Megan Bomgaars, Emmy Award winner of the A&E show, Born This Way, as their guest speaker for their Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk. Through the RGVDSA, Addison had the opportunity to speak with Megan. Megan passed the torch that was paving the way for equality to Addison to continue to light the way for all others! It was incredible.
Shortly after, the president of the Rio Grande Valley Down Syndrome Association approached me, suggesting that I apply for Texas Partners in Policymaking and she even sent me the link. I, at the time, didn’t know what TPP was. I went ahead and filled out the application she sent, not really thinking anything about it at the time. A few weeks later, I got a call congratulating me for being accepted out of over 200 applicants for a scholarship into the Texas Partners in Policymaking program. I was blown away at the bright lit path God was laying before me to advocate for not only my daughter and not only for individuals with Down syndrome, but for ALL of God’s children.
I was 1 out of 30 individuals chosen in the state of Texas, and I accepted the scholarship. It was Incredible how doors started to open organically. Through the program, we got invited to speak at the legislative listening session. I then connected with Addison and we started to pray with all of our hearts asking God what HE wanted us to say. After our speech, Addison and I received a standing ovation and we got invited to speak at the Texas State Capital! We don’t know what lies ahead of us. All we know is that we continue to say YES to the lighten path before us, with courageous hearts full of Jesus’s LOVE we are fearless!
We now understand the mission God has us on. A mission to replace doubt with knowledge, replace fear with love, and to replace segregation with acceptance. The importance of our goal is to soften hearts and to show the world that ALL people deserve the right to be accepted and included as they are, regardless of their diagnosis. There are NO limits to anyone’s potential. With LOVE anything is possible, because LOVE never fails.
“LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And LOVE your neighbor as you LOVE yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39
Submitted by guest blogger Becca Bortnick. To follow other stories like this one, click here for our Facebook page.