Amidst the challenges of raising a child with disabilities, Christmas has always held a warm place in my heart.
Our family cherished kind neighbors who watched over us, and especially our sweet Heidi, giving her small Santa toys, “Rudolph” movies, or “Frosty the Snowman” cookies for the holidays. We couldn’t have survived without their support.
I fondly remember a chilly December evening looking out of Heidi’s bedroom window at falling snowflakes and feeling both serenity and exhaustion. After bathing our special 16 year old, I dropped to the carpet in Heidi’s room and encouraged her to get ready for bed. Heidi’s selective hearing defaulted and she focused on the floor. I dreaded a long night.
Thankfully, my husband Rod stepped in with Heidi’s pajamas, comb and lotion. Rod was humming “What Child Is This?” and lifted our moods, but I still couldn’t muster a smile.
Out of the corner of my eye, I sensed Heidi studying my weary face. With a compassionate countenance, she brought to me her golden-framed picture of Christ with the children. I was touched, because autism usually detours a person into a self-absorbed cocoon.
“Oh, Heidi, thank you for thinking of me,” I said gently. “Mom really appreciates it.”
Encouraging interaction, I asked, “Sweetie, who is this?”
Her expression glowed. “Jesus,” she said with a crooked smile.
Then, hoping she felt God’s great love for His children — especially those with physical and mental burdens — I asked, “Is Jesus your friend?”
Her lips twitched and she nodded once.
My eyes welled up. Then I fondly recalled a miracle last December in this very room.
Our older daughters had set up a small nativity set in Heidi’s bedroom, and our special teenager was drawn to the scene, especially Baby Jesus lying in the manger. When she picked up the piece, I had responded, “Who’ve you got there?”
I tried again. “Heidi, who is that baby?”
Her eyes sparkled when she processed her answer. “Jesus.”
“Right. Good talking!” I tossed out another question, “Heidi, what can you tell me about Baby Jesus?”
She paused, then said as plain as day, “The star!”
Her insight made me catch my breath — and it thrilled my soul. “You mean, the star of Bethlehem?”
With a certain calmness, she confirmed, “Yes.”
“Oh, my goodness,” I murmured as I put the little manger piece back. “This is so wonderful.”
Yet, I wondered if our conversation was just coincidental. Does Heidi truly understand Christmas?
“Heidi, thanks for telling me about His star.”
I rubbed some frankincense oil on her feet and marveled that the Magi’s gift to His mother, Mary, was, perhaps, a similar experience.
“So, what else do you know about Jesus?”
Heidi remained quiet, yet, I felt love.
Settled in bed, I pulled the covers around Heidi’s shoulders and asked, “Honey, what can you remember about Jesus?”
She paused, then looked steadily at me then clearly replied, “The Son.”
My tears overflowed as I sensed a deeply sacred feeling there. I slowly asked, “The Son of God? Is that what you mean?”
This was my cherished Christmas gift, Divinely given, and I hungered for more. However, I knew Heidi was tired and never enjoyed talking, but I pressed her for one more exchange.
“Sweetheart, can you tell me anything else about Jesus?”
Heidi instinctively knew spirituality gave me strength. She made brief eye contact, then offered a profound explanation, “Church.”
I nodded, and kissed her goodnight. I lingered, soaking in the healing energy of that sweet, silent night.
That sacred conversation came back clearly to me when she showed me the golden-framed picture of Jesus. The experience had sustained me through turbulent times. Heidi’s behavior was unpredictable and complex. At times, I’d pondered, “What child is this?”
With Down syndrome, coupled with extreme anxiety and sensory issues, Heidi was usually able to attend only one church meeting. In difficult times, I doubted she even remembered (or ever comprehended) the beautiful Bible stories from her childhood.
Does she equate Christmas with Santa, candy and presents?
“Heidi,” I said putting back the picture of the Savior, “can we talk about Jesus?”
She thought for a minute then shared, “The star.”
I gasped. “You mean the new star — over the stable?”
With an angelic expression, she peacefully confirmed, “Yes.”
Her second witness was priceless. “Heidi,” I whispered, “do you know anything else about Jesus Christ?”
I could tell by her searching eyes she was traveling back in thought. Her gaze moved up, and over to one side for a minute. She turned. Our eyes and souls connected.
“The King,” was her simple declaration.
This humble, profound testimony was enough to last a lifetime. Heidi knows the true meaning of Christmas.
Elayne Pearson, C.A.S., is a Special-Needs Preparedness Specialist, a Certified Autism Specialist, and Natural Health Consultant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org