when a young minister
came to baptize the twins.
When it was done, she says
she suddenly understood
they were not alone. “I felt
such relief. ‘I don’t have to
do all this myself! God has
While she is forthright
about the challenges, April
talks more about the re-
wards of raising the twins.
And the joys have outnum-
bered the struggles. Her
daughters have taught her
lessons about bravery and
perseverance she would
never have otherwise
This is a mother who
experiences joy every
single day when she looks
at her daughters and knows just how far they have come. “My
heart bursts with pride because even after all the obstacles, they
are patient, have tremendous empathy for others, are loving and
sweet. What more could a mother ask for?”
Although the twins are now out of school,
they are still active in the community. Jim
has even run marathons with each daughter,
pushing a wheelchair in front of him. People
came up to talk to them, wanting to know
about the smiles on their faces. “I find comfort in knowing that
our family has made an impact on others. You don’t realize it, but
people are changed because of your child. If this is our legacy, I’m
good with that!”
And John, in turn, shapes them.
April also speaks of the difference Angela and Carly make in the
world. “Us being out there, it changes people,” she says. Both her
daughters were fully integrated in the school
system and enriched their classmates’ lives.
Having John as a member of the family has meant, among
other things, that life moves at a gentler pace. “You know how
people talk about taking time to smell the
roses?” says Grace. “Well, we don’t just smell
It’s the empathy and compassion piece that
is so critical for children to learn, April says.
“I find comfort in knowing that our
family has made an
impact on others.”
[them]. We stop and look at them, and take
pictures of them.” Grace describes a family
life that has stretched and grown to accommodate John’s special needs.
Seeing that John is included in wider society, however, is not as fluid a process.
Grace is very much his advocate, accompanying him to his community college where they have taken ceramics and hip-hop. “The classes aren’t set up for someone with Down
Syndrome,” Grace explains, and so she facilitates things for him.
This role of creating a space for John is an ongoing part of
being his mother. From the time he was little, Grace has been
involved in John’s schooling and social life as a gentle presence,
making sure he is not left standing alone on the sidelines.
“John has never been excluded,” she explains. “It’s just that
he’s rarely been included.” She understands. Many people have
never met someone with a disability, and they simply don’t know
how to relate.
This is why their new church, fittingly called New Life, has
come as such a great surprise. On Sunday morning not only is
John welcome to stand in a group during coffee time, but people
ask him questions. They want to hear his opinions.
John has been invited over to more people’s homes during the
last few months than over the past 19 years. People are getting to
know him as a real person: John Brouwer, car lover, photographer,
drummer and kindhearted friend. “They treat him like everybody
Grace Brouwer is full of news. Her family has found the most wonderful church where her son John is truly wel- comed. It’s the kind of Christian community she and her
husband Gary have prayed for ever since their son was born
with Down Syndrome 19 years ago. Her gratitude overtakes the
interview as she tells story after story of this church’s gracious
inclusion of John. This too is part of the reality of families raising
children with disabilities – the longing for their children to be
included, to find a place in society where they genuinely belong.
John is so woven into the Brouwer family – originally from
Peterborough, Ont., – and their now California-based life that
Grace barely recalls what things were like before his birth.