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Down Syndrome and Our Humanity

A few Friday nights ago, I was in Albuquerque to speak at a gathering of our New Mexico Centurions class. Having missed dinner, I pulled up to a juice place to get a last minute smoothie.

In the very same strip mall I saw the sign for a restaurant called Tim’s Place, with the tag line “Breakfast, lunch, and hugs.” It just sounded familiar. And then it dawned on me — this was the restaurant I’d heard about before, the one owned by a 26-year-old man with Down syndrome — Tim Harris. You may have heard this story on CNN or seen it on YouTube.

A 2004 graduate of Eldorado High School, where he was homecoming king, Tim went on to Eastern New Mexico University, graduated, and in 2010, with help from his parents, opened Tim’s Place. It is billed as “the world’s friendliest restaurant.”

Well, I decided right then that my family, who was with me in Albuquerque, just had to go there for lunch the next day.

Tim met us at the door, gave us big hugs, and made everyone — especially my daughters — laugh and smile the entire time we were there. At the end of the meal, he stood up in front of the entire restaurant and announced that he had some “awards” to give out.

Then he called up my three daughters by name to the front of the restaurant and gave them handwritten, personally signed certificates for being cute princesses, while everyone clapped.

Tim made them feel so special. It was definitely the best meal we’ve had in a really long time.

A few months ago, Tim wrote — yes, he wrote — an article for CNN Health, about his story: “A few hours after I was born,” he said, “our doctor told my parents that I had Down syndrome. A lot of people told my parents that they were very, very sorry. I guess they didn’t know then just how totally awesome I would turn out to be.”

Awesome indeed! And he has an incredible gift for making everyone around him feel awesome too.

Tim’s life and influence reminds us that all human beings are made in the image of God and bear eternal, inherent dignity. In a society hardened by utilitarianism and addicted to convenience, Tim’s story — and the many others like it — need to be heard and shared.

In the epilogue of Dancing with Max, Emily Colson’s brilliant book about her autistic son, Chuck Colson wrote that while Max’s disability brought enormous trials, through those trials and the purity of Max’s love the family came to a “new understanding of what love really is.”

In his book All That Jesus Asks, my friend Stan Guthrie reminds us that “the disabled soften the sharp edges of society, teach us patience and humility, force us to look upward, and pull us away — if only temporarily — from our besetting narcissism.” The shocking fact is, about 90 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted in this country. By killing them, we’re killing our humanity. We are killing ourselves. God forgive us!

“But,” a critic might object, “Tim’s quality of life is unique. He’s only doing as well as he is because of all the support from his parents, the people at his public school, his community and his customers.”

And the answer is: Of course he is. So what? Does the fact that Tim was supported somehow mean we shouldn’t support others? No, it means precisely the opposite! Our support of our neighbors with Down syndrome can make all the difference.

And the fact is, at rock bottom you and I are no different. Any of us who succeeded do so only if we’ve got support. If I’ve succeeded, it’s because of the support of my mom and dad, my church, my teachers and coaches, college mentors, my colleagues at BreakPoint and Summit Ministries, and so on.

Tim’s story is a perfect example of the barbeque grill conversations Chuck used to talk about that can really impact our culture. Will you commit to it? Come to BreakPoint.org and we’ll link you to a video about Tim’s Place and the wonderful books Dancing with Max and All That Jesus Asks. These will get you started.

BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Publication date: September 24, 2013

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