Melissa Reilly

  • Jan. 20, 2012
  • #7755

Joni shares that her friend Melissa with Down syndrome is the perfect audio-visual aid for how God's power shows up best in weakness.  

Hi, I'm Joni Eareckson Tada and let me tell you about my friend, Melissa.

Welcome to "Joni and Friends" where, as you know, I always love sharing stories that inspire me. That’s why I want to tell you about Melissa who has Down syndrome. When her parents first learned that their newborn daughter was diagnosed with Down syndrome, a dozen questions began swirling: Could she learn? Would she be able to go to school? Would she be able to ride the bus alone? Could she live a normal life? Would they be able to live a normal life?

Well, Melissa is 25 years old now and believe it or not this young woman even graduated from college. She’s often invited to speak and her story is so inspirational. She is a special Olympian who brings home gold medals in skiing, cycling, and swimming. Currently she is interning for a Massachusetts state senator and she tutors pre-school students with Down syndrome in math and reading. Melissa says, “I love my life 100%. I love what I do and the places I go and my family is one big happy family.” Of course, this young woman also has a love of God and she’s a perfect audio-visual aid of how His power shows up best in weakness. 

I share Melissa’s story today because this weekend, all across America, churches will be honoring “Celebration of Life Sunday.” And Melissa’s testimony fits right in. With all her chromosomal imperfections and other related health problems, she is an image-bearer of God. When I Timothy chapter 1 speaks of God as blessed (as happy and blissful), I think Melissa particularly bears that image of His because she is so happy, she is so blissful! I'm sure that’s partly because she’s not troubled by the cares of this world… she doesn’t even have anxieties to cast on His care… she doesn’t see herself as burdened and heavy laden… to Melissa, God is her great big friend, and she’s happy to trust in Him. In some ways, her Down syndrome makes trusting God almost the natural thing to do... the right thing to do (and so she’s happy to do it). Oh my, we could learn a thing or two about faith from this young woman!

Each year about 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome in the United States – that’s about one in every 690 births. Down syndrome is a chromosomal disorder that carries a whole range of intellectual impairments and other health problems. Many people with Down syndrome are high functioning like Melissa and others are profoundly disabled and unable to speak. But even on the healthier end of the spectrum, people with Down syndrome tend to die early, usually in their 50’s. The American Journal of Medical Genetics recently published groundbreaking research in which thousands of parents were questioned about what it is like to raise a child with Down syndrome. Ninety-nine percent of parents said they loved their child; only four percent regretted having their child with Down syndrome. What’s more, 99 percent of people with Down syndrome themselves said they were happy with their lives, just like Melissa. Will this change the recent trend of rising numbers of abortions of unborn children with Down syndrome? I can’t say. But dear Melissa definitely backs up these encouraging statistics in this recent study.

And friend, I have a great video clip I’d love for you to see of another friend with Down syndrome – I spoke about him earlier in the week… Christian Royal and like Melissa, he is one happy person. See it for yourself at joniandfriends.org and have a blessed time this Sunday celebrating the sanctity of all life.

© Joni and Friends

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