In my family, I grew up as the oldest of four girls. People loved to notice the similarities of three of us: cornsilk blonde hair, ocean blue eyes and tall stature. People then quickly highlighted how different my other sister looked from us. Christina was gifted with beautiful deep brown eyes and hair and a shorter stature. As a girl, she always wore her trademark glasses and jewels to ensemble every outfit. Christina was born with extra distinction – an added chromosome on her 21st chromosomal pair.

“Different” can be a painful word in the world’s economy. God says otherwise: You are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) He intentionally designed each of His image bearers to carry unique and distinct gifts – “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…” (Rom 12:6) He delights in the “different” that we each are. So, why do we shy away from allowing our uniqueness or others’ differences to shine through? Why is it so scary or embarrassing to be different?

Not only did God design us to be one-of-a-kind, but we each also have a unique story. Being “different” can look like having a health challenge, physical or developmental disability, family with divorce, adoption, fostering, unique cultural background in our community, an interest in a sport or activity that is uncommon to our peers, trauma, a heart of justice in an unjust workplace, etc. If you feel “different”, you’re in good company!  Jesus Himself was different…He intentionally sought to not conform to this world but rather to be transformed by the renewing of [His] mind. (Rom 12:2) God created us to be one-of-kind and is glorified beautifully in our differences.

Within our family, growing up with Christina in our home didn’t feel unique. She was just one of the girls and loved everything we loved: swimming, playing dolls, going to school, and renting princess VHS tapes for Friday night movies. She continues to be loved beyond measure and valued just for being Christina.

However, outside our home, the world often sees Christina differently: on the fringe and even “less than”. On the playground, other kids would tease Christina for wearing glasses, talking “differently”, or taking extra time to climb or walk. This has always been (and continues to be) a painful part of living in a world that differs from God’s economy. However, God has used the gift of Christina and being her older sister to provide much growth and great purpose in my own life.

From age 2 when I first held my infant sister to the present day, as I walk beside Christina, who is battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, there has been an unspoken understanding between us. We both lean into the incredible and different giftings of each other, equally precious to God and to each other.

Christina has taught me to slow down and truly see people and hear their story. Amidst a lifetime of nosy stares and unkind remarks, my sister sees the heart of a person, not their status or physical character. Having a sister with Down Syndrome has given me a lens of compassion, love and justice for all of God’s image bearers, including those who many may find uncomfortable to connect to or even judge as “not enough”. She has taught me to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and to treat others with dignity, love and respect – regardless of differences. This lens has grown a gift of building bridges between people in my own life as I have helped others see Christina the way Jesus and our family see her – a woman overflowing with unwavering faith, bold confidence, wisdom, fierce determination, courage and a jokester!

She recently helped me learn these lessons on a deeper level when I was with her in the hospital and her oncologist visited. When the doctor solely spoke to me to update Christina’s medical state, I asked him to first address my sister and ask her permission to share her personal medical information with me. Others feel seen and valued when we lead with dignity and respect.

Christina showed me these lessons in the real world as I started dating. She was my litmus test for all potential suitors: Did they look Christina in the eyes? Carry on a conversation even if difficult? Show genuine interest or kindness? My husband, Nick (aka “Mick” to Christina), passed every test to the point that I ended up as the third wheel on most dates so that Christina could sit up front!

Heather Avis, author of Different-A Great Thing To Be, chatted with CG co-founders Jeff and Terra Mattson on the Living Wholehearted Podcast, posing the question: “Whose feet are under your table?” How are we currently loving others who are different from us? What does it look like in our own lives to love others with great love like Jesus did? Here is a place to start:

  1. Pause & Pray: slow down and open your mind, body & soul to the Spirit’s prompting. Take an inventory of your family’s giftings, staying open to how God will use them. Also, consider, who do you see in your life that you haven’t been seeing? ie. someone in your building, neighborhood, community, workplace, school or church.
  2. Get to know their story: ask questions with love, lead with dignity and appreciate differences in your stories.
  3. How are you called to give compassion and care to this person or family? With time, talent, treasure or a combination?

When “different” is valued and incorporated into our lives, great beauty can be revealed at our dinner tables, park playdates, CG groups and Sunday school classes.

May Christina’s story inspire you to celebrate the “different” in each of our stories and keep your eyes and heart open to Jesus’s great love for each of us.

“Not all of us can do great things.
But we can do small things with great love.”
~Mother Teresa 

Stephanie West
Courageous Girls Leadership Coach

Be Loved, Love Well