Today is our son Coleman’s 20th birthday, which is a miracle and a blessing on so many different levels.  I have periodically blogged about the countless ways in which Coleman has taught us, challenged us, inspired us, amazed us, sent us to our knees in prayer (both in petitions and thanksgivings), filled our eyes with tears, our hearts with joy, and our voices with laughter.   Despite Coleman’s autism, Dubowitz Syndrome, and developmental disabilities, God has faithfully demonstrated over and over again how His power and providence can bring blessings and beauty out of brokenness.  Coleman remains an incomparable and irreplaceable blessing in our lives.

As I reflect today on the course of Coleman’s 20-year journey, I want to express love, admiration, praise, and appreciation to someone who has been integrally involved in his life from the day of his birth.

Our daughter Hannah was almost 2 and 1/2 years old when Coleman was born.  She was plenty old enough to know that Mommy was going to be having a baby, and she was thrilled to know that she would have a little brother.  Since Coleman was born fairly early in the morning, I was able to bring Hannah up to the hospital late that evening to officially welcome her brother into the family.  Since that day, “Baby Coleman” has had an unparalleled guardian and guide in his big sister.

By the time Hannah was four or five, she was aware of the fact that Coleman was somewhat different from her friends’ younger siblings.  Throughout Coleman’s multiple hospitalizations with pneumonia, ongoing treatment for neutropenia, and periodic trips to the National Institutes of Health, Hannah was as resilient and unflappable as a young child could be.  She was a regular recipient of our “Go with the Flow” award.  While we sought to keep life as “normal” for her as possible, Hannah would often pass on invitations and offers for special trips or activities if Coleman was not going to be able to participate.  She preferred to have him with her, whatever that might or might not entail.  The fact that Coleman could never verbally communicate with her never stopped her from talking to him… constantly!  We have joked (only slightly) that one of the reasons Coleman remained non-verbal was that he never really got a chance to talk!

For 20 years, Hannah has been a vital part of every aspect of Coleman’s care and comfort.  More than just a big sister, she has been like a third parent to him, although he periodically reminds her that he knows the difference!  Coleman’s unique circumstances caused Hannah to grow up, mature, and take on responsibilities far beyond her years.  She has fed him, bathed him, dressed him, put on his AFO braces and shoes, washed his clothes, picked up his room, kept up with his glasses and now his hearing aids, driven him to therapy sessions, gotten him off the school bus and off to sleep.  She knows all of the nuances of his own special dialect of sign language.  She has always been so gentle and patient with him.

Coleman could not have a more ardent defender than he does in Hannah!  I have seen her face redden, her back straighten, and her arm around his shoulder tighten when she encountered someone who “just didn’t get it.”  I recall being in a mall in Texas several years ago and seeing Hannah’s wrath unleashed on a woman who, unfortunately for her, couldn’t manage to break free from her slack-jawed staring at Coleman as they passed in the concourse.  I took the opportunity to do the dutiful, Christian, “parently” thing in telling Hannah that, while I appreciated her protectiveness of her brother, it really wasn’t cool to call someone out in public like that.  Still, I couldn’t help from feeling extremely proud of her, and also somewhat sorry for the lady who had no idea what she was walking into and quickly skulked away!

Coleman has noticeably missed Hannah since she was has been away at college.  He brightens up, even more than normal, when she is at home.  He stashes her suitcase in her closet in an effort to prolong her visits.  He evoked tears from all of us when he retrieved her suitcase from her car as she was loading up to head back to school a few months ago.  They share a special bond that will never be broken.  This must be exactly what God had in mind when He urged “brotherly love” among the members of His spiritual family.

Hannah’s preparation for a career in nursing seems so fitting and natural.  She has had a lifetime of experience already.

I love you, Hannah, for so many reasons.  Your relationship with Coleman is right at the top of that very long list.  Thanks for blessing his life in so many wonderful ways!