This is the story of our son Gabriel, who was born with Down syndrome and was truly a special child. Although Gabriel only lived on this earth for two years and four months, the Lord used him to touch many other lives and to teach us innumerable precious lessons of love, faith, conviction, endurance, compassion, humility, courage, prayerfulness, and the reality of Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God.”

When the doctors first told us that Gabriel would have Down syndrome, it was difficult for us to accept, but as we became more informed, we found out how special Down syndrome children are. And of course, the more we got to know Gabriel and enjoyed his sweet angelic spirit, the less we thought of his limitations, and the more we suspected that we were like the people who the Bible says had “unwittingly entertained angels.”1

Gabriel had several serious physical disabilities from birth, and his body was not destined to last very long. We knew that each day with him was a miracle, a gift. We compiled a list of Bible verses for Gabriel’s health and strength, and referred to it often. The promise we claimed the most was, “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.”2 God surely fulfilled that promise in Gabriel.

When Gabriel was six months old, he contracted a severe cough. As we prayed desperately for Gabriel’s healing, God told us that He was teaching us endurance. As we dug into the Bible to learn what that meant, we were encouraged to find that this virtue had helped fashion many men and women of God into the people He wanted them to be. As for us, we needed to not just pray once and count it done; we needed to keep seeking God’s help with our whole hearts. When we realized this and did our part, then God did His. Gabriel was completely healed from the life-threatening cough.

With every crisis, God seemed to teach us a new lesson on healing and fervent prayer, usually by helping us apply something we had read in His Word. It was like a whole new grade in life—one that taught us lessons we wouldn’t have learned any other way. Many times we wished we could have been the ones suffering instead of our child, but we came to see that God knows best, as always, because it caused us to fight in prayer even more for Gabriel than we would have fought for ourselves. Each time, God gave us the comfort and strength we needed.

Although God had worked in our hearts to prepare us for the day that He would call Gabriel home, we grew very attached to him. Maybe that was because he was a special child, or maybe because we were aware from the start that he was “on loan from God,” only with us for a little while.

One day, as Gabriel was especially weak from a bout of sickness, he began to show signs that he was going to have convulsions, then he fainted in my arms, never to regain consciousness. We rushed him to the hospital, and as the doctors tried to revive him, we got out a little hymnal that we had with us, and it opened to the song “Some Golden Daybreak.” That seemed to be God’s sign to us that Gabriel was on his way home.

We felt a tremendous sense of loss, of course, but God comforted us as only He can. What more could we have asked than to know that Gabriel was happy and whole at last, his suffering ended. At Gabriel’s memorial service, someone shared a vision of a butterfly that had just escaped from its cocoon. In a way, Gabriel was like a little caterpillar in this life—in fact, he never even learned to crawl as well as a caterpillar. But now he is like a beautiful butterfly, and has flown to freedom.

Gabriel’s departure to heaven made that place more real to us. We believed in heaven before and had looked forward to exploring its beauties and mysteries some day, but now that Gabriel is there, heaven seems more like home and we find ourselves loosening our grip on the things of this life. We’ve never been the same since Gabriel’s brief time with us on earth. Gabriel never belonged to us, you see. He was a messenger on a mission—to melt our hearts and teach us to connect more closely with the divine and learn more about the true values of life.

  1. Hebrews 13:2
  2. Isaiah 40:29