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Broken But Blessed: Examining the Beatitudes

May 13, 2016 by

An Unlikely Guide

Has anyone known a Biblical scholar who couldn’t read or write, whose IQ hardly registered on standard intelligence scales? I’ve known several. They taught me the Beatitudes – not in a classroom, but in the school of life.

It’s interesting to note that my mentors were the sort of people we usually abort and euthanize. They were the weak and vulnerable, those our society rejects as “defective.” And yet they were wise.

As mentioned in my introductory post, I will be blogging about the Beatitudes – the eight blessings that precede Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. They are the heart of the gospel and describe the people called blessed. I am not going to attempt a theological discourse on the beatitudes. Biblical rhetoric abounds, but we get it all wrong when we dissect the Beatitudes. They are simple and deep, and can only be understood by people of heart.

In recent years, I have adopted the Beatitudes as my roadmap on the journey through life. Like a beacon, they point to heaven. By nature, I am not what the Beatitudes illustrate; I’m neither poor, meek, nor peaceful. It has taken some hard knocks to humble me, but I’m working on it. I’ve come a long way, and life has taught me some profound lessons.

The author’s sister Louisa as a child dressing as an angel for Christmas

Whenever I read the first Beatitude – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3) I think of Louisa. My sister preceded me in birth by almost two years. She had Down Syndrome and an inoperable heart defect. At the time of her birth, people with developmental disabilities were, by and large, institutionalized and denied education and advanced healthcare procedures. According to the doctors, Louisa’s outlook was dismal. My parents already had nine healthy children. My father was a pastor, and leadership responsibilities left little time to spare. Why, then, did they invest such energy in their tenth child, who clung tenaciously to life despite all odds? My mother told of the moment she first saw Louisa, in the hours following a harrowing delivery which left my mom in critical condition. As the nurse carried Louisa into the room, my mother’s eyes met those of a little angel. Louisa’s eyes shone like stars as she fixed her newborn gaze on our mother across the room. Mom knew instinctively that this child was special. Not “disabled” or “different,” but special. “What have I done to deserve such a precious gift?” was her immediate thought.

The author’s sister Louisa as a child

When Jesus spoke the Beatitudes, he was painting a picture of those who belong to the kingdom. To enter heaven, we must be poor in spirit. Empty. Broken. We must know our need for God.

Louisa with a big smile on her face

Modern society touts a different gospel – blessed are you who achieve greatly in this world. Blessed are the prosperous, the politically successful, and the powerful. Blessed are you who meet modern beauty standards and acquire medals for athletic prowess; blessed are you who win scholarships to prestigious academic institutes.

Louisa was not successful, by worldly standards. She struggled in school. Her clumsy speech consisted of blunt, emphatically expressed phrases. She never earned a cent, while her healthcare needs cost plenty. Her beloved physique was short and stocky, her complexion marred by cyanosis. Over time, she required round-the-clock assistance with daily living.

Louisa suffered greatly. It was hard to watch. Oxygen-starved blood from the right side of her heart leaked into the left and was pumped to her organs, depriving the tissues of their needed nourishment. Over time her blood thickened, her heart pumped sluggishly, and she gasped for breath. Blood pooling in her joints caused excruciating pain; she winced when I covered her with a light sheet. Infections set in. She bled from her mouth and nose, and her systems shut down. It broke my heart to hear her rasping breath.

But for Louisa, life was about love – unconditional, all-encompassing love! I have never experienced a love like hers. She endured dreadful suffering, but radiated peace. And her joy in life was contagious, to the end.

Louisa holding a baby shortly before her death

As she lay dying in a hospital bed, she wanted music – the Weavers or Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – anything, as long as it was upbeat. More often than not, a newborn baby slept quietly on her chest as she fanned her face for air. She lifted her clubbed and cyanotic thumbs in a “thumbs-up” every time she saw me, and said repeatedly, “I’m for life!” On one of her final days, Louisa said, “My task is to bring JOY!”

St. John of the Cross once said, “When you are burdened, you are close to God, your strength, who abides with the afflicted” (Sayings of Light and Love). I saw Christ reflected in my sister. She showed me the way to heaven, through love that suffers, and is kind (1 Cor. 13:4).

Most of us strive for perfection. Society exhorts us to achieve – to get ahead and excel. But what of people like Louisa? Why do they exist?

They are our teachers. They, not we, exemplify the humility and unconditional love of Christ. And, in so doing, they challenge us to be transformed. “The kingdom of heaven is theirs already; they are already looking at the world as God sees it, and their values are God’s values” (Gerard O’Mahony SJ, The Beatitudes According to Matthew – From the Other Side).

Jesus commanded us to welcome the Louisas of this world as exceptional gifts from God when he spoke the words recounted in the gospel of Luke, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me….For he who is least among you all is the one who is great” (Luke 9:48).


Read other posts in this series.

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About the author

Rebekah Domer

Rebekah Domer

Since Rebekah’s upbringing at the Woodcrest Bruderhof in New York, life has taken her on many diverse assignments, from the...

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  • Thank you dear Rebekah for sharing the love, life and purpose of your sister Louisa. A truly remarkable gift from GOD was she! How many "gifts" do we have in or around our own lives that we can't or won't see? Another inspiring blog to help lead us to our one and only LORD.

    Janice Valentino
  • Thank for sharing Louisa's life. It is a touching story but at the same time it shows us how does God work in us. He says we must not argue or complain about anything that is happening in our lives. We need to humble ourselves, show love to others. Louisa was such a special human being who had too much love to share and at the same time going through some pains without any questions...

    Gloria Fourie
  • Hi Rebekah, Thank you for sharing the link to your article. What a wonderful tribute to your sister. It’s quite beautiful and in today’s world, an important reminder about what really matters. Toni

    Toni Mullee
  • Thank you, what a very nice piece. She sounds like one of those precious angels God gives us to remind us of himself. All the things we gripe and complain about and think, "oh how hard things are," and for some they truly are, but it all lies within perspective. Beautiful and thank you for sharing. Best Regards, Laura Peterson Short

    Laura Peterson Short
  • Hello Rebekah, I was greatly touched by the blog you wrote about your sister…such a precious tribute to her life and testament of God. Louisa sounded like a beautiful, gracious person, and you must have been so proud of her. I’m so glad you shared your story with me! Sincerely, Rachel Marie

    Rachel Marie Earp
  • What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing and for putting to words what I feel for my precious daughter! My daughter was born and I could see that she was "special" as well, just like you wrote of your mother's first response to her 10th child. My daughter was born 8 years ago. I could tell she was "Special" as well. It is such a rewarding and heartbreaking experience to have a child that is extraordinary. When I read sibling accounts like yours it gives me such hope of how my boys lives will be positively impacted because they have a sister who is so special. May God Bless You, Maria

    Maria Neumann
  • Rebekah, This blog about your sister was especially meaningful to me, although all of them have given me much to think about. This passage I keep revisiting: "When Jesus spoke the Beatitudes, he was painting a picture of those who belong to the kingdom. To enter heaven, we must be poor in spirit. Empty. Broken. We must know our need for God. Modern society touts a different gospel – blessed are you who achieve greatly in this world. Blessed are the prosperous, the politically successful, and the powerful. Blessed are you who meet modern beauty standards and acquire medals for athletic prowess; blessed are you who win scholarships to prestigious academic institutes." Keep writing. Your words are beautiful in a very real way. Respectfully, Rachel

    Rachel
  • My dear Rebecca, moved by the story of Louisa’s life through your eyes, you’ve compelled me and perhaps others, to look more closely at Christ’ standards of love and humility. I have never cared for a child as special as Louisa, but God has always allowed me a heart of compassion for those looked upon by society as unnecessary, unimportant, or outcasts. You’ve jogged my memory of a middle aged gentleman at a past job of mine, who worked in the kitchen of that establishment. He was considered a high-functioning, mentally challenged individual. In short, I overheard his supervisor verbally and emotionally abusing him one day and learned that it had been going on for a long period of time. I burned with anguish and immediately reported it to the Executive Director to rectify this gross offense. Despite the ensuing five-month episode of written warnings and other disciplinary action, this supervisor continued to repeat the act. The only recourse to protect this sweet, gentle, humble soul of a man, who brought joy to us all, much like your Louisa, was to take extreme measures at any cost. The end result of that came surprisingly quick; termination of employment for that supervisor. “…And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8. The book of Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 says, “…Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” The commandment that comes to mind here is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. God is not blind to how we treat others. 1 Corinthians 13. “…Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…” The man I fought for and the sister whom you cared for, were springs of pure love, strategically placed in our lives as the highest standard of who we ought to be. Can’t wait to meet you in heaven, Louisa.

    Yvonne Payton
  • Hello Rebekah, Your article so spoke to me and how I feel about my children Matthew and Judy! You put it into words so beautifully. Although, they have both had medical intervention and are presently doing well.....I can empathize with what you are speaking of with Louisa....I never had the honor of meeting Louisa, but wish I had. As I read the article the first time, all I could do is cry.....and the second time I read it I cried harder, knowing the joy that she not only brought to you....but to so many! Knowing how much joy my children bring to me....and how much they bring to others, who are willing to interact with them and seeing them for the angels they are..... Tears for you and the pain you felt as you watch Louisa pass....and tears for me, as one day I will be sharing that same kind of moment with you, not once but possibly twice....and as I write this to you....tears are streaming down my face, just thinking about it all.....one day, I maybe turning to you for strength as the thoughts are difficult for me to think about and I try not to. You and I have been blessed and have been given such a gift, either by birth or adoption to have the privilege of having caring for an individual with Down syndrome...and it is only those who truly get to know them...who can really feel the love at a level like no other. Louisa, Matthew and Judy....and so many are very successful.....in sharing what really matters. Their success, is greater than anything that I know I will ever achieve.....as their success is as you stated a lesson in life and love.....and there is no greater gift than that! Thank you Rebekah...for sharing your story with us all.....sending a big hug to you and your family! Love the Adams'

    Kimberley Adams
  • Rebekah, your second posting “An Unlikely Guide”’ evokes so many questions, thoughts, and emotions. What of people like Louisa? Why do they exist? For one, to turn the world on its head and to expose the true nature of things – for good or for ill. It is not merely coincidental that it was a mother’s tweet posing the “moral dilemma” of carrying a Down’s syndrome child that ripped off the smiling mask of the new atheism and revealed its hideous logic for all to see. To this day Dawkins has not foresworn his infamous response, “Abort it and try again.” Instead, the words of his later “clarification” addressed specifically to “those who took offence because they know and love a person with Down’s syndrome, and who thought I was saying that their loved one had no right to exist,” only served to reinforce the shocking brutality of the original tweet: “I have sympathy for this emotional point, but it is an emotional one not a logical one. It is one of a common family of errors. . .” Thank God your parents embraced the folly of this “common family of errors” and strove to live the Beatitudes long before they could have pointed them out in the New Testament. So it was that their hearts were prepared to receive Louisa for who she truly was: a gift straight from the heart of God, just as you tell it in your mother’s own words. These lines from the Apostle Paul perfectly describe the immense gulf separating Dawkins’s world view from Louisa’s; they also help explain why Louisa’s relatively brief journey on earth impacted so many lives: "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." —1 Cor. 1:25–29

    Bill
  • I have read your blog which talks about the life of your precious sister. Although the journey was not easy, we can tell that she had a happy life surrendered with love. I wish I would have met her, she seemed so easy to LOVE. Your article is well written and I can see that you have poured your heart out. I like when you explain that society wants to excel, but our best teachers are people like Louisa - pure in heart and innocent. And I agree we have so much to learn from them. "My task is to bring joy" What a powerful statement. To me, it means that it was her calling and she understood it. Many of us still struggle to find their calling in life.

    Christel Owen
  • Dear Rebekah, Thank you for this blog. It really was very moving and I thank you for what you shared. So many ask "how can God, if He is good,...". It seems to me that He only creates where there is potentially good in some form. I cannot believe He would either create or sustain a life with no purpose. But we don't always "see". You and your parents did "see" with regard to your sister and so found the gift of God in her - what a blessing for you, her and the family! Our local parish have their Sunday Eucharist here with us 2 or 3 times a year and often bring with them a young woman in a wheelchair. She doesn't speak at all and seems to be totally dependent on others for everything. But she gives you such a radiant smile and the sheer joy on her face when she is given Communion is infectious - another gift from God, though I expect some see her and just have a negative reaction, sadly... Knowing there is something "other" besides the suffering we witness, that is treasure.

    Sister Victoria Mary
  • Hi Rebekah Thank you for sharing your sister's beauty. I remember the school teachers at a school for moderate learn difficulty children saying, that these children excel in understanding others' needs — they are our role model of understanding and love. Amen.

    Judith Meredith
  • Hi Rebekah Thank you for sharing your sister's beauty. I remember the school teachers at a school for moderate learn difficulty children saying, that these children excel in understanding others' needs — they are our role model of understanding and love. Amen.

    Judith Meredith
  • Wow! I love your comparison between what the world values (power, political success, athletic prowess etc.) and what God values in people. Truly wonderful!

    Stephen Thompson
  • Dear Rebekah, I am neither a biblical scholar nor high on the IQ register but have been taught equivalently in the school of life which makes the Beatitudes resonate my journey in life. The hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful (Cecil F. Alexander, 1848) Refrain: All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful: The Lord God made them all. It magnifies how great God Almighty, who has made all things. I believe a life well lived and shared with loved ones and to a wider community. Thank you for sharing Louisa's story.

    William Sharpe
  • Dear Rebekah, This is a wonderful tribute to your sister's life. Incredibly beautiful, your account shows us the beauty of purity in heart. In my years as a student minister I was fortunate to have been befriended by a little boy with Down's syndrome who sat, week after week, teaching me Maketon sign language so that we could talk together. His laughter, patience and self-giving will always remind me of the glimpses of God I shared in our time together. Thank you for making me understand again. Blessings. Debbie

    Deborah Wilde
  • God sometimes allows us the privilege of looking after a loved one, of being a 'carer'. It is his way of giving us the greatest gift of all, the opportunity to show tender love to someone who needs our daily support. At first this gift may be received with resentment, with misunderstanding of God's purposes. 'Why has he left me in this prison that restricts me, that stops me getting on with my own life? I was supposed to serve God as a pastor, unrestricted, out and about among the people. I was the one who needed the support! But now I am stuck at home'. But we have been given the greatest privilege. We have been made to acknowledge the reality of loving and caring for another being as the most important thing we can do in this world. It is in fact the measure by which our lives will be judged on the last day. If we are fortunate enough to live in a society where being a carer is encouraged and sponsored by the state, we are doubly blessed. We have all the help we need to fulfil our blessed calling. Out of all the things I could have done in life, the most important was to care for my loved one. As Theresa has said 'we are not called to do great things, but to do small things with a great love'.

    Charlie Radburn
  • Rebekah, Your beautiful words ring true. My son is the fifth child and will be 27 years old next week. I can honestly say that his heart and mind have taught us more than any book or theologian about the world, about God and about each other. It hurts my heart that these teachers of life are not thought by our culture to be worthy...when in fact we need more souls who will pause to see God in others, in His creation and bless us in exactly the way we needed it most.

    ruth
  • Rebekah – Beautiful. All I can say is AMEN sister. We will treasure Louisa as a gift from God, and ALL so blessed as her, to our dying day. May the Richard Dawkins of this world some day learn the truly profound lessons of life , before it’s too late.

    Christian & Marcelle Domer
  • I loved this. The key to this for me is the proper value of life, soul and expression of what is inherently valuable. What is beauty, not the visible manifestation, (although that's fabulous too), but the energy of one's soul. Wonderful Rebekah.

    Ishbel
  • Dear Rebekah this brought tears to my eyes. My eyes are moist as I type. You are so right that this world has everything the wrong way round and your precious sister taught you some amazing truths which have made you the person you are today. I am sure she would be so proud (in a right way) of you. One day you and Louisa will meet again in the presence of the father until then treasure each memory and the lessons she taught you.

    Hannah Naatit
  • Dear Rebekah, God blessed you and your family with an angel as he has blessed mine. I am no saint. I could never see Jesus in everyone the way Mother Teresa did, but I see him when I look at my son as you did when you looked at your beloved sister. I am always shocked when people offer condolences to me that my own son survived despite the heart condition affiliated to his Down Syndrome. There is nothing to be sorry for. In fact, I wonder at how I deserved such a gift and cannot imagine my life without him. (His smile, his kisses, his hugs and the way he is so loving to all people). I only wish all those who are given the same gift, and opt for abortion instead, could see the miracle they are throwing away. They can teach everyone how we should approach life like a child with an open heart.

    Rosalie V Gambino
  • Thank you Rebekah for sharing Louisa's story. A life well lived is so much more than the active, purposeful, accomplishment and achievement focused one that we are encouraged to aim at.

    Andy Pettman