About 20 years ago I met — and wrote about — a boy named Mark.
At that time, Mark had experienced more pain and greater challenges in his six years of living than most of us encounter in a lifetime. His birth mother began abusing him even before he was born by taking into her body substances that damaged his developing body. The abuse continued after his birth in a variety of ways too despicable to mention.
As a result, Mark was about the size of a 3-year-old, and functioned on a level younger than that. He couldn't walk. He couldn't speak. He couldn't even breathe without the help of a tube inserted in his throat. He was partially deaf, partially blind and no one was sure how much he understood of what was going on around him. He never smiled, which is understandable because the best thing in his life was the fact that his abusive mother abandoned him.
Pathetic? Perhaps. But hopeless? No way.
On the other side of the country from where Mark was born a single mother was longing for a second child. Unfortunately, at that time the only man in her life was her 9-year-old son, Damien, and most conventional adoption agencies wouldn't even consider her as an adoptive parent. So she started trying to work out something unconventional. She contacted agencies that specialize in hard-to-place children and found them to be much more open to her desire to adopt.
Eventually she heard about Mark. She started loving him almost immediately.
"It'll be hard," a social worker warned her.
"That's OK," Donna said. "I'm tough."
"But he's got all of these medical problems."
"That's OK," Donna said. "I'm a nurse."
"But he's black and you're white."
"That's OK," Donna said. "I'm color blind."
So Donna flew across the country to pick up her new son and bring him home to nurse, nurture and love. They returned, appropriately enough, on Valentine's Day, and Mark began progressing immediately — and remarkably. Within a short period of time he was walking and learning to do things for himself. It turned out he could see and hear better than anyone thought he could, and he could understand quite a bit. And within a few months they took that tube out of his throat so he could breathe normally for the first time in his life.
Oh, and there's one other thing he started doing: smiling. A lot. Especially when he was snuggled on his new mother's shoulder.
"People are amazed at how well Mark is doing," Donna told me at the time. "They call it a miracle. And maybe it is. But it isn't a surprise. Everyone knows that love is a power. It's just that Mark has never really experienced it — until now."
Donna smiled as Mark toddled into his big brother's arms, smiling every step of the way.
"And now," she said, watching her boys, "just look at what love has done!"
I was inspired as I watched Mark blossom in the dazzling light of Donna's love. I wrote about it in a column, stealing the title from Donna's words: "Look What Love Has Done!"
Soon after Mark's arrival, my family and I moved to a different city, and then Donna and her boys moved to a different state and we completely lost track of each other. But through an astounding chain of events (coincidence? I think not!) my youngest son, Jon, recently found himself sitting in Donna's home and meeting Damian, Mark and the three children who have joined Donna's family in the intervening years: Raeven, a compassionately fiery 18-year-old who has Down syndrome; Donovan, who joined the family three years ago as an autistic boy with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and cerebral palsy; and Donovan's sister, Maryjane, who is also autistic and who also has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Oh, and there's also a remarkable man in Donna's life now, too: her husband, Everett, a Native American shaman, who she says loves her and her children "deeply and unconditionally."
It is no coincidence, then, that in a home filled with such love, miracles large and small are happening for Raeven, Donovan and Maryjane — just like they did for Damian and Mark.
"Love transforms," Donna says, simply.
She should know. She has seen what love has done — and what it is still doing.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to www.josephbwalker.com.