Faith Radio: Disability reveals God’s purpose

Kim Ketola Opinion | Early Morning Late Show with Bill Arnold March 8, 2018

Kim appears on Faith Radio Thursdays at 6:40 am CT to discuss pro-life stories in the news

This transcript has been edited for clarity

Bill Arnold: Kim, you wrote an interesting article and I do want to talk about it. Elizabeth and Dan shared their story on a radio feature you did recently. Please tell our listeners about that.

Kim Ketola: I was responding to a piece in The Washington Post with the headline that “Babies with Down syndrome are taking center stage in the abortion fight.” And it made me think about Dan Kulp who I interviewed a couple of years ago now. He and his wife adopted a baby with Down syndrome from China. And he believes that he is the first American couple, if not the first couple ever, to adopt a special needs child from China. Generally what happens in China is children are taken out in the woods and abandoned. And that was the case with Simon. It was winter and he was left in the woods because he has Down’s.

Bill Arnold: This is like in our generation right now?

Kim Ketola: In our world today, yes. We hear about child abandonment in Jesus’ time, right? But this is what was happening in China and still is happening of course. But when Dan and Elizabeth met Simon they said oh we want to adopt him. And there wasn’t very much in place. I think they were helped by Steven Curtis Chapman. He and his wife Annie, of course are so active with adoption and helping parents find their forever families with children.

Dan said his mother had raised a child who had Down syndrome who was a foster child. I’m sorry that I’m fuzzy on the detail. But what’s important is that it was normal for him growing up; there were people present with Down’s syndrome. There was no different treatment of that person in terms of how they were respected and loved and cared for. And so when Dan met this child with special needs in China he said OK we’ll take this child home and love this child. And he credits his mother’s acceptance of the condition in another child with giving him a heart open enough to build this into his family today.

And I think that when I met Dan it was a little bit of a revelation. I don’t think that I had met anyone who had adopted a child with Down syndrome. Of course I’ve met people with Down syndrome and I’ve met families who have children with Down syndrome. But wow to choose that in your child seemed very radical to me. But God has been doing so many things and showing me all the different aspects of what disability means.

Kim Ketola with grandsons Alvin and Jonas

I think that the presence of a person who has a disability challenges us, doesn’t it, Bill? What does it mean? We know God is sovereign, we know God is good. We know God is loving and we know in Exodus 4 when Moses complained about his speech impediment, God said, “Don’t I make people blind and deaf? I know how you are. I’ve made you the way I made you.”

And so that’s to me that’s a very deep mystery of what God’s purpose is in that. But I think it has to be– I respond along the lines of when Jesus said, “To whom much has been given, much is expected.”

OK so you have a person in front of you who has an intellectual limitation. You have a sparkling intellect. What will you do to help that person who doesn’t have the intellectual capacity you have? That had just got to be part of God’s plan.

It’s got to be to inspire us to give.

Bill Arnold: Kim, it’s so hard to absorb because there’s more and more now today where, because of prenatal things, they can make determinations about the health of a child.

And then couples can say we’re not going to go through with the pregnancy. So as shocked as I am about the mother who in China will abandon her baby alone in the woods in the winter–which, I can hardly say those words–the fact that we’re doing abortions on children with disabilities I don’t know that it’s not any better is it.

Kim Ketola: Oh, our awful winter happens in women’s wombs. And it’s devastating to really think about it. Lifezette published an opinion piece that I wrote about this and they put it up yesterday and that ‘compassion’ that abortion lovers. . . people will object and say, “No one loves abortion.”

But, Bill the more I work in this field there are some who do. There are some who have put their flag on that hill that, “Abortion is what makes life good. Abortion allows us to handle this disability by removing it, by removing the people with it.”

Of course they wouldn’t say that that clearly probably. But people who advocate for abortion want us to think that it’s compassionate for a family to be able to destroy that life to spare that family that suffering, but such a misperception. First of all people with Down syndrome– I mean I just keep thinking about Karen Gaffney because she has a name. She’s the woman with Down syndrome, the first woman with Down syndrome to swim the English Channel, OK? People are not suffering. She’s extremely talented and bright and she has Down syndrome. Her parents were told I think she’s in her 20s now but her parents were told she’ll never tie her shoes or go to school. And when she was testifying about she’s British when she was testifying there about having Down syndrome. She said, “Yeah, the doctors forgot to tell them I would swim the English Channel.” [CORRECTION: Gaffney is an American from Portland, OR, and her remarks were quoted by the BBC].

So. the outdated stereotype of people who have no communication ability, no quality of life, suffering. . . it certainly doesn’t fit with what we’re seeing in the lives of people with Down syndrome today. And even if that does fit for other conditions, again what is our obligation, if not to care for them? And if you want to say it’s compassionate to allow women to end the suffering before its child [is born], I would challenge you back. And I would say if killing, intentionally killing, a child because it’s disabled is not a human rights violation, I don’t know what is.

Bill Arnold: I know we should reserve our anger in life for things that matter. And this is one of those things that matter makes me so mad so I need to take a break here, Kim. When we come back I want to ask you about a very personal journey that you’re on with your newborn grandson Jonas who has Down syndrome.

Kim  . . . Rebecca and I were talking about the horrific idea of a mother leaving her little baby in the woods in winter and the whole idea of self preservation.

We don’t know what this woman was told, what was at risk in her life and why? So, where are Christians, how are Christians stepping up? What is the church doing? What can we do to make a difference?

Kim Ketola: Well there is in China there is a Down syndrome adoption movement. I think Focus on the Family has been quite active with that.

So if that particular scenario breaks your heart, yes I think that you could stand in the breach on that one. I know where I live in Georgia there’s an organization called Reece’s Rainbow. And it’s not an adoption agency. But they somehow act sort of like a clearinghouse to connect families who want to adopt children with Down syndrome with waiting children for forever families.

And so this is something that I would encourage if you get a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. There are families that I understand have great hearts and just don’t have the capability to handle a child with special needs. But I would plead with you to think about adoption because there are families who want these children and there are families who will love them and who will willingly have God change their lives with the presence of a child that’s not typical.

Bill Arnold: Kim I know your journey has become very personal with your new grandson. What do well-intentioned people say that are missing the mark?

Kim Ketola: Jonas has been with us, he’s going to be three weeks old tomorrow. I actually put something up on Facebook yesterday . . . about how proud I am of my daughter and my son-in-law because they were offered the test, Bill. There were some indications that Jonas might have Down syndrome and so they were offered the test to confirm that. But my daughter Addie declined and she said, “That wouldn’t change anything I’m planning to do, to bring my babies home and love them.”

And so we were surprised. Even though we’ve been given that indication, we were surprised. And it’s disorienting. There was a moment and a conversation about, “Well should we tell people? Everyone wants to know, are the babies well?” And so we decided, sure, we’ll tell people. And when you meet Jonas it announces itself that he has Down syndrome. You can see it on his face. So, when you say it to someone who’s met him, it’s not surprising. But we’re praising God that he’s a healthy baby! And this was the thing that the pediatrician said to us, “He’s healthy!”

And we saw it as such a blessing because many families of newborns with Down syndrome are having to deal with heart surgery or G.I. issues or other health concerns. Jonas is a healthy boy.

So yeah I guess we haven’t gotten into hearing ignorant comments from folks. People have been really celebrating with us.

Bill Arnold: That’s fantastic.

Kim Ketola: And congratulating us, and saying, “This is a gift from God.”

End of story. And Bill the best parents understand that parenting is an adventure. I’ve never understood when someone looks at their baby and says, “Oh, I see her on her wedding day.”

No, you don’t know that, what God has in store for that baby!

The best parents, I think, say, “Alright. Let’s find out who you are and help you to be that.”

And we can we can do that with a child with Down syndrome or other disability as well. We can we can receive the love that this child brings with them from God’s good hand into our lives.

Bill Arnold: It just prompted me to wonder if, whenever I encounter someone that has a child with Down syndrome if, if I would be saying something that I would wish I could take back in an effort to be as kind and loving as possible. Again, I’m just thinking probably I should have done this in advance of a live radio show!

Kim Ketola: No it’s good. It’s fine. I mean I think and I’m glad that you’re not tiptoeing with me because I’m just discovering it too. And we’ve had conversations about, “Oh what is the correct lingo? What do we say that that’s not offensive to other parents?”

“Children who have Down syndrome.” that’s one thing. You say. “He has Down syndrome.”

You don’t say “He is Down syndrome.”

He is many things, including a child with Down syndrome. But I think that one of the most important things is just to remember that it’s just another fact about his life. And as I said people Down syndrome today, the fear is his future. Will he ever have any independence? And we’ve met people already who tell us about a couple they know who both have Down syndrome who are married and live independently. And she said generally what happens is they need some financial supplementing, because they work, but they generally can’t have a very high paying job. But they’re very independent and married and living a very good life. Now this may this may be the fear that you got someone who is going to be permanently dependent and will outlive you, and then how will they be provided for? Parents go that far down the road in their thinking and fears. But again, Bill, the dearest advice that I’ve read is the moms who say, “Well I dial that fear back, look back at my baby in my arms again, and realize all I have to do today is feed and diaper and love this baby.” Because when you look at a newborn don’t we don’t know what life holds for any of our children. We don’t know an accident could happen, God forbid, illness. We don’t know that a perfect future awaits a child who’s perfectly healthy.

Again, disability I think helps us dial back our expectations, and ramp up our reliance on God and our trust in him. And if that’s what if that’s what Jonas is teaching us well praise God he’s here!

Bill Arnold: Kim, I’ve always said that I apply that to just about everything when I have friends who would say to me in their 30s and they’d say something like, “Well I know when I’m in my 80s I’m going to be doing this.” And I go, “Where do you get off thinking you’re going to even live to be 80, right?”

Kim Ketola: No day is promised.

Bill Arnold: I know! I was always so amazed by that kind of talk. It’s nice that your have forward thinking but what makes you think you’re going to live that long? In God’s economy we have today with hope for tomorrow. And we’re going to continue to to know God and make him known and have plans for sure.

But you can’t talk with that kind of arrogance, I don’t think.

Kim Ketola: The saddest part of the piece in The Washington Post–and it’s upsetting to read their coverage. It’s fairly even handed. But it’s “abortion providers” who are standing against these laws that states are trying to pass that say you can’t abort baby simply because of a Down syndrome diagnosis, because that’s not a fatal condition. OK. And those laws have been state passed in several states and they’ve been struck down because “abortion providers” the Washington Post tells us, went and sued. And then . . . “anti-abortion activists” right? So you have this picture of these compassionate people who want you to be able to kill the baby quietly before they’re born and then these crazy activists, right? Like yelling and waving signs. Well that’s just a stereotype in their coverage and it just makes me sad. I don’t get angry about it anymore. You just don’t get it. They’re carrying water for the wrong side. But the very saddest part about their coverage is that Down syndrome is the most poorly funded major genetic condition in the United States. And as I said we know that there are amazing accomplishments that people who have Down syndrome are making and this is so true of every child that they live up to our expectations. Or they don’t. If we don’t ever have any positive expectations, if we don’t ever say to them, “Let’s see what you are capable of. Let’s see how far you can go.”

If anything my hope and wish is that we as a culture would decide that we do want some funding for this. We would decide that it is important that all of us be patient as the children are mainstreamed in our schools. And families are doing their level best to see that there is a great quality of life for every child regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

Bill Arnold: Well, Kim when Jonas swims the English Channel I will be there with my stadium blanket for a coffee cheering them on. God Bless the boy and his brother and their parents and their grandma. Oh if only we could go on and on. I’ve got to go to break.

Kim Ketola: Appreciate it.

Bill Arnold: Have a great day.

Many thanks to Faith Radio and the Early Morning Late Show for providing the audio file of this interview. Featured image of Karen Gaffney photo by Barbara Gaffney.

Kim Ketola



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