A seventeen year old finds herself pregnant and unwed.  She wonders into a clinic  during her 7th month and they recommend a late term abortion using a saline solution.  The saline solution is injected into the womb and with in 24 hours the mom is supposed to give birth to a dead baby.  In this case, much to everyone’s surprise, the baby came out alive and the abortion doctor was not on duty yet, so the baby was sent to a hospital for treatment.  The year – 1977.

Fast forward to the year 2000 and another baby was born with severe physical handicaps.  Her feet were in the wrong position and her thumbs were touching her wrists.  She was left at the base of a statue in a park by her parents about 7 days after her birth and was taken to an orphanage.

What do these two stories have in common – the grace of God has protected them from the hand of death.  And their names are eerily similar – Gianna and Giovanna.

Gianna is of Italian and Hebrew origin and it means God’s Grace and is the popular contracted form of the name Giovanna!

Giovanna is Hebrew in origin and it means Gracious Gift of God.

One of these young ladies is entering her third decade of life with some minor physical difficulties and has become an advocate against abortion.  Her physical limitations are minimal considering the alternative – death!  The other young lady is almost 11 and traveled half way around the world to join her forever family, endured multiple surgeries on her feet so that she can walk and run – also minor in comparisons to the alternative – death.

But there is more to this story than what appears on the surface.  Giovanna is my daughter and there is much that is going on her life at the moment.  We have had some testing done this past year due to some ongoing learning and character issues.  It was during this testing that we  found out about her  neurological issues that were most likely the cause of her academic and  English issues and more importantly directly impacting her behavior.  The neurologic issues are more troubling than the physical issues because with physical issues, there always seems to be something that can be done to make it better.  When there is damage to the brain that occurs while the baby is developing in the womb it doesn’t appear that much that can be done to heal or fix that damage.

Or is there?

The brain is an amazing part of the body that we do not fully understand.  We know that after a stroke and there has been much damage to the brain, some abilities like speech can be “relearned”.  The brain seems to have some ability to “heal” itself even after significant damage, while it is never exactly the same after a stroke as it was before.  I know some people who have had strokes and post stroke one could never tell that they had a stroke – the healing is so complete. But with a stroke, there was a strong healthy brain to begin with.  With some children, mine included the damage was done while the brain was developing.   Does that mean that it can never function normally?

What does that have to do with my youngest daughter?  I think a lot.  The evidence and the “projected” future for her with her brain issues is not a pretty picture.  While we do not know the actual cause of her damage, she is similar to those children who are in  the spectrum with Fetal Alcohol Effects.  Many of kids like her that have similar issues are projected to get pregnant as a teen and seek after other pleasure seeking things like drugs/alcohol and become addicted to these things.  Some of it is due to their lack of impulse control, but could be due to other issues like environment, etc.

There is still much that I don’t know about the damage that she has.  I don’t know how much damage there is, to what parts of the brain and if there is anything that can make a difference in her life for the long term at least from a medical stand point.  I know that from a spiritual standpoint, God is her best option for her to have any chance of success.  But then it becomes a definition thing – what is success for her? and how should it be measured?

Most who have adopted children similar to her assume that there is no choice for a life outside of what is predicted for these kids given their issues.  But I have a problem with that because I have seen God save her from the hand of death and bring her into my family against very long odds (I serve a God who loves to beat the odds – no matter how great they are). I find it hard to believe that God would bring her into my family and then leave her to the “forces that be” with her brain damage something that  he has knit into her life. I have had several months to contemplate my daughter’s diagnosis and God.  If God is who He says He is and if His word has the power to change the heart, then I can have hope for my daughter that she can have a different future and part of that begins with believing that she can have a different outcome than what is normally predicted for children like her.

What does that look like?  Well I am still trying to figure that out, but it starts with telling her that she is different and she will have to work harder to learn.  It means believing that she will have a different outcome.  If I believe that she will have a different outcome, then I begin to see her differently and train her to think and act differently.  I use what I can find out there in the secular world to help me make a difference in her life.  It means that I hold her accountable for the wrong things that she does, but do it in a way that she can comprehend and understand.  Once she can begin to see connections, I take it up a notch.

One of the things that has helped her tremendously is using the Integrated Listening System (iLS).  I have written about this system before and have been using it since August.  What I have noticed is that she has been calmer, has less temper tantrums and more ability to focus.  She has begun to memorize things like Scripture Verses!  Hiding God’s word in her heart seems to be the best thing to do at this point.  God promises that His word will not return empty – so I am trusting that as I continue to feed her spiritually, that God will do His work and begin to change her heart and to grow a faith in her.   All she needs is a child like faith to believe in Jesus!

Giovanna’s diagnosis would be devastating without a sure hope and faith in Christ.  When Christ is left out of the equation, there does not seem to be much hope.  But with Christ in the equation, there seems to be hope for a brighter future.  Some would say that I am setting myself up to be disappointed, that she has only one path to go down given her issues.  I don’t see it that way.  If God went to such an extreme to save her from the hand of death, bring her into an orphanage with believers and have my friend go to that same orphanage and bring her into our family against the long odds we were up against,  there there must be a different and better path for her.

I do not know what the future holds for this little girl, but I do know who hold her future.  He is someone who can be trusted to do what it best – even though it might be hard and difficult and tedious (at least from my perspective).  I have talked with another mom who has a son on the autism spectrum and she has been so encouraging in help me to see past the hopelessness and look to God to provide wisdom in training my daughter up in the way she should go because God promises that she won’t depart from that.  It does not promise to give me a daughter who is saved by grace, but one that is trained in such a way that she will not depart from the path – in this case the path of making wiser choices and ones that please God.

So as I begin 2011, I am hopeful for my daughter – not because I know what I am doing, but because I see that God is bigger than what is in front of me.  He can do what is ultimately the best.  All this has caused me to rethink how to school, train, discipline and love her.  My prayer is that at the end of this year, we will have made many steps forward and fewer steps backward.  And in all of this – may the LORD be glorified for the work that He is doing!