The Beauty and the Pain
Inside the Lives of five Special Canadian families
What is it like to raise a child with a disability? Where is God and faith in it all?
Our writer explores and finds there is much to learn.
By Stephanie Douglas
Wonderful Did Soon Arrive
Over the years his parents have come to trust his judgement
on that count.
It wasn’t all of-a-sudden wonderful when Jonathan Sigmund Biggs was born. He was a one-in-a-hundred kind of kid, born with an extra chromosome. For Jan and Stan, his parents, there
was the initial disorientation
that comes when your expectations shift from having
Jonathan Sigmund Biggs is a people person who
has several interests ranging from sports to cars to
christian music and, above all, loves Jesus.
“this kind of life,” into the
world of raising a child
with Down Syndrome.
For Stan and Jan raising Jonathan has been their equivalent of
a Damascus road experience. Before, they thought they had an
inkling of what God’s love meant. Now, says Stan, he is incapable of
doubting God’s love, “because
I have been loved by such a
profound love, unlike anything
I’ve ever encountered – present
in a little boy who has an extra
But Jan’s biggest con-
cern was for her husband.
She wondered how Stan,
an intellectual, would
ever get on with his son.
With Jonathan there
would be no defaulting to philosophy and books. They would have
to learn a new way of communicating. And yet, 19 years later, Jan
says this is precisely where the gift
has been. Jonathan speaks a language of the heart, and their lives
have become richer for joining in that conversation.
PHOTOS: STAN BIGGS
Jonathan, a recent high school graduate, lives with his parents
in their home in Kelowna, B.C. His face bears the classic Down’s
traits and his speech is difficult to understand. He is clearly at a
different developmental stage than his peers.
Before, they thought they
understood Kingdom values.
Then they met their son, who
in his very being embodies
what is really important –
not acquisition of things, not
achievement – but the expres-
sion of the heart of God.
What saddens them are
the people who, unable to
see beyond Down Syndrome,
miss the capacity of Jonathan’s
mind and heart. “He does per-
ceive,” says Stan. “He gets more than you realize. He can work
harder than you can, he can respond to direction as well as you
can. Start by talking to him.”
What you wouldn’t be able to guess are the passions and quirks
that make Jonathan who he is. He loves sports. He has a superb
sense of humour. He is a people person. He’s a fan of Christian
music and an avid UNO player. Jonathan loves Jesus. “He has
emotional intelligence coming out the ying-yang,” says his father.
Don’t miss out on the conversation. This is what parents of
children with disabilities want us to know. Our lives will be richer
for knowing young men like Jonathan, and our faith enlarged. As
Jan says, her son forces us to rethink why someone is important.
“Jonathan stands like a kind of sentinel against the prevailing
values of our society. He’s not smart, he’s never going to be rich
– and he stands as a benchmark against that.”
“Jonathan understands kindness, love, forgiveness, all of that
stuff,” says Jan. “He’s very aware of what’s going on. He just
Stan and Jan have seen their son approach strangers and ac-
curately and ably address the reality others miss: hurt, loneliness,
pain. There’s courage about Jonathan. He’s not afraid to cut to
the heart of the matter. And he gets away with it. He knows how
to read the emotional and spiritual undertones in a room, and
when it is not a safe place to be, Jonathan just leaves.
A Surprising Legacy
When their twin daughters were born three-and-a-half months early, worry became April and Jim Plasteras’ con- stant companion. Doctors put Angela and Carly’s chance
of survival at 5 per cent.
“Every hour of every day we worried they wouldn’t make it,”
With those first medical crises April and Jim began a long journey of learning to trust God. The path has often been difficult,