Living with Down Syndrome: An Inspiring Mother-Daughter Story
It is said that one of the best qualities of a successful person is gratitude. But how could one feel grateful when the doctors tell you your newborn baby has Down Syndrome? How could you thank God when your child cannot speak nor hear? How can one be truly thankful for the heartache and the difficult situations in life?
These are the questions that Malu Tiongson Ortiz kept asking herself in her first years as the mother of a special child, named Clarrisa, or Clarisse. Author of the book Embracing God’s Purpose for My Special Child (now on its 4th printing), Malu has found the answers to her questions and has led countless others to be grateful even for trials that come our way. Thankful for the opportunity to change, to be wiser, to be tougher, Malu has learned to rise beyond her fears and her hurts, through the help of God.
Malu gave up her promising career as a successful business entrepreneur, painter and interior designer to focus on taking care of and educating Clarisse, who is profoundly deaf, mute, physically handicapped and bipolar.
Being home-schooled by her Mom, Clarissa’s artistic inclination was discovered and honed. She makes incredibly beautiful portraits in acrylic and oil pastels, which people from different parts of the world have been buying.
Currently the Vice President of Down Syndrome Association Philippines (DSAPI) and one of the founders of the Praying Wife Ministry of the Christ Commission Fellowship, Malu has been a sought-after speaker on Parenting Seminars. She flew into Los Angeles recently to speak at the Word International Ministries-Los Angeles (WIN-LA) services, upon the invitation of Senior Pastor Alberto Cordero and his wife, Tess Cordero. Speaking at the WIN-LA Fellowship Hall at 530 S Benton Way in Los Angeles, Malu brought with her not only spiritual lessons she learned from bringing up her special child, but also, amazing paintings made by Clarissa, which have been described as “Picasso-like.”
“When Clarissa was born, I had to release her to God’s hands. I wept over her numerous times, for I realized that our lives would never be the same. I also realized that I was not equipped to raise a special child. I was at a loss—how could I help my daughter when I didn’t even understand what Down syndrome was?” said Malu.
Admitting to failing in the past, Malu said, “Instead of seeking answers from the Maker of my child, I skipped that part and jumped directly to how I could help her in terms of her physical, educational and medical needs. I was not the overly spiritual type of person and at that time, when Clarissa was a new infant, I had very little knowledge of who God really was.”
“As I recall those years that I was going through adversity, I remember feeling that there was nowhere to run for escape. All I could do was look up and hope that God would help me. Feeling alone in my anxieties about the present and the future, I asked God to comfort me. I had nowhere else to go. And God did not fail me. I am reminded of this verse, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,”(Matthew 11:28). The Lord allows us to feel pain and to sense our inability to carry our burdens, so that we will be drawn to Him. He wants us to trust Him, and He promises to give us rest. Jesus tells us that He will carry our burdens for us. A relationship with Him truly changes our perspective about our child with special needs and His purpose for him/her.”
Malu’s hope is infectious. People who hear her talk are inspired by her firm belief that God has a special plan not just for Clarissa, but also for those whose life she touches.
“I believe that God did not give me the special task of mothering Clarissa just so that I should teach her letters and numbers. He did not design her to learn the ways of the world. God designed our child with special needs to be an instrument to teach us to focus on heavenly things. He gave me Clarissa to teach me to seek Him and pray to Him. When I searched for God in those early days, I started by praying. From grumbling and complaining, I began to thank Him for my circumstances, my husband, my children and my daughter’s condition. At a church service, I heard Pastor Bert Villa once spoke about his wife who had passed away some years ago. He said, ‘As my wife’s heart rate was slowing down and she seemed about to die, I gathered my children around her and we prayed to God. I thanked the Lord for giving her to us.’ This struck me and moved me to tears. It made me realize I usually remembered to thank God only in the good times. We should remember to thank the Lord constantly for everything, for giving us our children, and for the little changes and improvements they make. God will release us from our fears if we continually seek Him and pray to Him.”
Clarisse’s father, Atty. Claro Ortiz, and two brothers, Carlo Miguel and Claro Paulo, all dote on her as the youngest in the family. Malu admitted that one of the first lessons she learned in bringing up her youngest child is accepting her uniqueness. “Each child has special needs. Clarisse has been uniquely designed by God, so we are not to compare her with other children. Her mental, intellectual and physical abilities will never be the same as those of my regular kids. But God created her “just so” for a special reason, ” said Malu.
It was only in 2004 that Malu learned the true meaning of parenting in a parenting seminar led by Pastor Peter Tan-Chi and his wife Deonna of CCF.
“Attending the parenting seminar in our church was a great help for me because it taught me how to raise my children in a biblical way. Although I thought it was too late for me, in some ways, for my children were all grown up, it turned out that with God, nothing is too late. His timing is always perfect.”
“He created all children for His pleasure and they are designed to worship Him. Ultimately, it is our role to teach our child how to have a personal relationship with the Lord. We must teach them to know God and fear Him. God says it is the duty of the parents to teach and train their children. In Proverbs 22:6 God clearly states that we are to “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.”
Some parents may think that because a child is mentally handicapped, their child will never understand who God is or learn how to worship Him. Most of the time, teaching our child about God is an aspect of child-rearing that we leave out or take for granted.”
“I assumed that, because of Clarissa’s mental disability, she would not understand who God is. But when I started to teach her how to pray and let her listen to praise songs (at maximum volume), I realized that she does have a heart for God. She would dance to the music and raise her hands to Him. Clarisse is one young adult who has no hang-ups or embarrassment in worshipping the Lord. I have no doubt that she loves God with all her heart, soul, mind and strength. Praying and worshipping is her lifestyle. She is my prayer partner and she doesn’t mind when we pray all the time,” said Malu.
My Little Picasso
A few years ago, Clarisse started to amaze her family by starting to draw incredibly wonderful portraits, a gene she must have inherited from her artist mother.
“I thank the Lord for giving me the ability to draw. As an interior designer and a painter, I am able to teach Clarisse through the talent that God has given me. Home-schooling
a deaf-mute is very challenging. For her to understand what I am teaching, I have to draw everything. I had no other way to teach her except through pictures and signs,” shared Malu.
“I have been delighted to discover Clarisse also has artistic ability. At the age of fifteen, she started copying my drawings of men and women, and drew for herself stylized portraits of family members and friends. Believe it or not, others have said these portraits are reminiscent of those somewhat exaggerated portraits by Picasso! She uses vibrant colors and the color combinations she chooses are amazing.”
When painting with Clarisse, I try to influence her with the colors I use—brown, beige, black, and highlight it with orange. But she taught me instead, opening my eyes to see bright colors. She amazes me with the colors she uses—red, purple, aqua, yellow, green and pink.”
“Her drawings of women are very detailed with eyelids, eyelashes,eyebrows, teeth, tongue, grooves of the ears, and accessories such as earrings and necklaces. Our walls at home have become a mini gallery of my daughter’s oil pastel and acrylic paintings. She is truly gifted!”
Truly, God’s plans for us are good, and He has a special purpose for us. “God created my special daughter for a special purpose,” Malu said. “While I taught her how to draw and paint, Clarisse taught me the more important things in life— unconditional love, patience, perseverance, contentment, simplicity, and thankfulness for everything—both the good and the bad, ”she stressed.
“Clarisse cannot hear or speak but He gave her eyes to see colors and hands to paint faces. I always have this verse in mind:
“With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26.”
(LA Midweek Nov. 23-25, 2011 MDWK pg.2)
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