How do I describe our Yusang?
If I brought him to the airport with me to welcome you to South Korea, he’d shout your name while waving five or six multicolored handkerchiefs to tell you – and everyone else coming out of baggage claim and customs – that you’re the best. Our son is outgoing, and he makes the people he knows feel doubly special. Each time his oldest sister, Yurim, returns home, Yusang greets her with all of the above plus kisses for both cheeks and a huge hug. Our son is loyal.
He can be really grumpy too. If he’d been planning to play his electronic drums when my wife, Eunyoung, tells him it’s time for his evening shower, Yusang refuses to budge. When he was little, I could pick him up and take him where we needed him to go. Now that he’s a teenager, we have to find other ways to convince him. Sometimes we can’t. Our son is stubborn.
Yusang senses when someone’s feeling low and has his own methods for cheering people up. He’ll wave his energetic hankie friends in front of your eyes, or blow you a kiss, making a silly face. It might not be your preferred way of coming out of a slump, but you won’t be able to resist for long. Before you know it, you burst out laughing. Then he laughs too, knowing he has conquered – a win-win situation.
Speed has been our son’s greatest pleasure ever since he learned to run, so when he turned six, we got him a scooter. It was Yusang’s pride and joy. He scootered up and down all the pedestrian paths and play areas within our block of apartment towers in Pangyo – the thriving modern suburb where we live – rocketing right through games of badminton and baseball. You might think the neighborhood kids would be annoyed, but they put up with his disruptions. Even the ones who have never heard the words “Down syndrome” realized long ago that Yusang warrants their patience. Besides, he’s their friend.
One sunny Saturday afternoon when Yusang was eight, he and I headed out as usual – he with his scooter, me with my smartphone. Like always, I found myself a shady spot where Yusang could touch base whenever he rode by. Except this time, after responding to text messages for a while, I suddenly realized that Yusang had not yet whizzed past.
I wasn’t worried, but I stood up and started checking all his normal places, certain his orange T-shirt would catch my eye. But, no Yusang. I asked the kids on the playground if they’d seen him. No, they hadn’t. Then I made a discovery that set alarm bells jangling in my mind: a well-known scooter, abandoned on the sidewalk.
Our son had just learned to ride a bicycle. The fact that he did not own a bike made no difference, because our neighbors rarely bother locking theirs; Yusang never had trouble finding one to ride. A bike could take a child downtown in a matter of minutes. It could take him into the path of oncoming traffic on the nearby highway. It could take him – at great speed – down a ramp into one of the basement parking lots that spiral down, down, down below each apartment tower.
At this point I roused the rest of the family, quickly discussing with my wife, our daughter Yurim, and two visitors where each of us would search. Our second daughter, Yubin, had the most important assignment: she stayed home and prayed for Yusang’s safety. She has a strong spirit and a brilliant mind, but cerebral palsy locks them inside a body that doesn’t do what she wants it to. I wish I could relate her story as well, but I won’t keep you in suspense. Yubin prayed.
Forty minutes later, our search had carried us into ever widening circles, further and further from home. We were all fighting panic, trying not to let our imaginations run away with us. I called the police, who began cruising the streets. Eunyoung called apartment security, who announced Yusang’s absence over emergency intercom in the surrounding tower blocks, where he is well known. That’s how – four hours after his disappearance – our son was finally found. A lady phoned security, saying she could see him playing far below her window. Where he had been when we combed that area, we’ll never know, but thank heaven, there he was.
So we have plenty of reason to love Yusang and plenty of reason to feel exasperated with him. But we have one major reason to be incredibly proud of him, and grateful.
The story goes back to a Sunday night in December 2010.
My wife and I had just learned that a couple from our church were wrestling with grief and confusion, so that cold Sunday evening, I set out to visit them. They were expecting their third child, and initially they’d been overjoyed, but the baby did not seem to be developing normally, and the mother underwent a number of tests over several weeks. Now their doctor had diagnosed a genetic disorder called Trisomy 18. He told the parents that children with this condition are frequently stillborn or die soon after birth. If they do survive, the doctor went on to say, they almost certainly carry multiple physical and mental disabilities. He advised terminating the pregnancy, and they’d agreed to act on his advice.
I knew I had to stand in solidarity with this stricken couple, and I knew I had to speak up for the defenseless child. But in the face of the family’s pain, all I could do was pray for guidance as I drove the short distance from our apartment to theirs. I knew my wife was praying too, and by the time I arrived, I felt certain that I should simply share our story.
The three of us sat down, the atmosphere feeling more like a funeral than the lead-up to Christmas. Then the husband told me his wife’s abortion had been set for the next day.
Feeling their anguish like my own, I told them that Eunyoung and I had had a similar experience almost exactly five years earlier, in December 2005, when prenatal screening revealed that our unborn child had Down syndrome.
We’d felt devastated. We already had a daughter with cerebral palsy – how could we care for a second child with special needs? Our doctor advised abortion. And with his bleak words about chromosomal abnormality churning through our minds, along with mental images of insurmountable challenges ahead, Eunyoung and I agreed to follow
We’d convinced ourselves we had the right and freedom to make this choice. Yet as the days went by, I could not escape a sense that a light had gone out. I noticed that Eunyoung, too, seemed deeply disturbed and depressed. It felt like we were stumbling in the dark, unable to see our way ahead.
I knew I had to stand in solidarity with this stricken couple, and I knew I had to speak up for the defenseless child.
With misery gnawing my gut, I found myself aching for my parents’ support. They live in a distant village, but our hearts are close, so I called my dad. After pouring our situation into the phone, I heard a quick intake of breath that sounded like a sob. But when my father spoke, his words were strong.
“We human beings have to honor our Creator,” he declared. “You must allow this child to live.”
I was silent. I could not agree with him. Eunyoung and I had made our decision. All I’d wanted was my dad’s reassurance.
My father pleaded, he rebuked me, he wept. “My son, we must walk the narrow path God sets before us. Your child must be born!”
As he repeated his earnest message, I began to hear it as God’s voice. This father, God, for whom I had been yearning in darkness, desperately wanted to save our baby’s life.
Before I could stop myself, I exclaimed, “Yes, father – I will obey, we will do as you say!”
After hanging up, I found Eunyoung, and, looking at the floor, I told her everything. She just listened, without a word. I did not know how to read her silence until I looked into her eyes. Then I knew. She too accepted my father’s message. We both felt a great sense of relief, although we still trembled about our future.
Later that evening, in a television program on poverty, we saw an old man shivering in a cramped, dingy attic. “Life is so hard, I eat barely one meal a day,” he was saying, tears streaming down his face. A sudden thought struck me: “Those are God’s tears.”
The next thought awed me. “Perhaps God is sending our child to turn tears of sorrow into gladness.” A wave of joy and expectancy surged through me. Even to myself, at the time, my rejoicing made no sense. We already had a severely disabled child – and now another? I cannot explain it, but I believe this flood of joy came from God.
On the scheduled abortion date, Eunyoung and I did not go to the hospital. When we next saw the doctor, some days later, he listened intently to our account. He was quiet, then asked my wife, “What church do you attend?” She told him. “I want to go there too,” he said. Since that day, he has been part of our church, eventually becoming a respected leader. In fact, he was known to the husband and wife on whose sofa I’d been sitting for the last hour.
Looking up, I reminded them, “Through whatever life brings, following Jesus is your highest goal. Please, consider everything that he said about children. And please, please, receive your new family member in his spirit. I believe this is God’s will for you, as it was for us.”
The couple made no promises. The despair in their apartment seemed as heavy when I put on my coat to leave as when I had walked in, and I felt desolate driving home through the snowy night. But in my heart, I vowed to stand by these young parents. I knew some of the hurdles and heartbreak – as well as unique joys and triumphs – that would face them if they decided to welcome the child God was entrusting to them.
That night, and through the following days, Eunyoung and I could only pray for our friends. We did not even dare text them, thinking how difficult it would be – for them and for us – if they had gone ahead with the abortion. Every day we waited for news. It never came. The long week dragged by.
The following Sunday morning, we drove to church as usual. But before we had finished parking, we saw the young husband, running to meet us. “A miracle, we experienced a miracle!” he was calling. When we got out of the car, he was waiting to tell us more.
“After your visit to us last Sunday, my wife and I went for a long walk. We decided to cancel the abortion. My wife did not take the pre-abortion pill she should have taken that night.”
“Monday passed, then Tuesday,” he went on. “Worry began filling our minds again: What if we made the wrong decision? Then, on Wednesday morning, my phone rang.”
He passed his hand over his eyes. “It was our doctor, but he was so agitated, I hardly recognized his voice. He said he’d just received the results from one final test he’d run after scheduling the abortion, and this scan seemed to contradict the earlier ones. It seems impossible, he told me, but the diagnosis might be wrong. He asked us to come to the hospital. On Thursday, and again on Friday, I drove my wife in for further tests. All results confirm: there is nothing wrong with our child.”
Eunyoung and I felt overcome. I longed for solitude and quiet to absorb what we had just heard.
A few months later a little girl was born into their family. Her parents named her Seoyul. In Chinese characters, Seo means “to share” and Yul means “God’s commandments”; her name implies sharing God’s ways with others.
When our friends brought their newborn daughter for the church’s blessing, her father confessed before the whole congregation, “Through sending his people – exactly an hour before my wife was to take medication for abortion – God told us to accept this child. Thanks to that, I have become Seoyul’s father. God made me her father! Our darling baby is healthy, with none of the problems we had feared. I will tell my children of this miracle, through all the years of my life.”
When I got home that night, our playful Yusang was sleeping soundly, oblivious of all that had happened. My heart swelled, and I felt like weeping. Stroking his cheek, I said, “My son, you bear a heavy yoke. But your vulnerability allowed another fragile child to be born. Through your burden, you saved a life!”
Seoyul is growing up. Her parents give us a new photo every year or so. Perhaps in the future she will build her own family, through whom God will write a story that we cannot yet know. But he has taught us so much already. If Yusang had not come into our arms with what people call Down syndrome, Seoyul would not be here on earth. Through these two children, this quiet story of our life – unknown to the world – lights up our Pangyo neighbors and surroundings like a small precious lantern.
We keep Seoyul’s photo where we can see it, on hard days and happy days, to remind ourselves, “This is the person who owes her life to our Yusang.”