After-school pick-up A mother’s reminder of a need for brokenness ~ by Gillian Marchenko


She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts.
– George Eliot

Several times a week I take my fourth daughter Evangeline to pick up her sisters at school. I stand gripping the handles of Evie’s pink polka-dot umbrella stroller and try to act casual all the while hoping I didn’t wear one of my many mom shirts with a stain on it. Inevitably a child who is waiting with her mother for a sibling, notices us. Toddlers explore. They demand attention. They key in on others around them at eye level. She walks over and tries to engage Evangeline.

“Hello, girl. Hi.”

Evie’s eye contact is spotty at best even with me, so I am not surprised when she looks anywhere but at the cute little one in front of her trying to make a friend. Our daughter joined our family through international adoption in 2009. She is five years old, has Down syndrome, and so far, is non-verbal and mostly un-communicative.

Usually it doesn’t bother me that Evangeline is closed off. I want her to communicate. I am dying to know what she is thinking. But I love her, and every day I get be her mother, I learn more of her language; being led by the hand to the bathroom = Evie wants a bath. Getting hit with one of her shoes = Evie wants to go outside. I am thrilled with these breakthroughs. My husband and I pray that Evie will speak, but we are also happy with her progress. I’m thrilled every time she initiates communication. I am thrilled when she walks up to me in the kitchen and raises her arms up above her head to be picked up.

After almost six years of parenting kids with special needs (our third daughter Polly also has Down syndrome), I can say that mostly, life is good. God is faithful. My husband and I have a strong marriage. I am mom to four beautiful girls. Therapy and doctor appointments, changing a five-year-old’s diaper, and having to leave a crowded party early because the noise over-stimulates the girls, have all become typical occurrences for our family.

But still, when a child tries to make friends with Evie at school, my heart contracts like a lung. I grieve a little. I grieve because I want Evangeline to have friends. I grieve that a child clearly years younger than Evie is so much farther ahead of her developmentally.

Parenting children with special needs involves a tension; an almost mystical dichotomy: I love my girls more than breathing, and yet I grieve, not who they are, never who they are.  I believe they are fearfully and wonderfully made.

I grieve sometimes, in the quiet places in my heart, the children they are not.

God broke me over the birth of a child with a disability. At the time I was a missionary and a pastor’s wife, and I hadn’t even realized my need for brokenness. But oh, how I needed it. When a person is completely broken, God comes in and starts the hard work of rebuilding. All the icons, the little trinkets and areas of life that we have set up in our minds like decorations in our living room, are knocked down. Once I was cleared out, there was all this room for Jesus to work. I have been challenged and surprised time and again what he can do with all this space in me.

The lingering grief that creeps up while I stand waiting for my kids, if I see it properly, is a gift. It reminds me that life isn’t always easy and pretty and what we expected it to be. Mostly, though, it is a reminder of God’s intimate involvement in my life, and of my continual need for brokenness before him.

*To view the complete #SpnMin TweetChat dialogue with Gillian Marchenko, visit our Facebook Notes.  You can also get to know this remarkable woman better through her website:

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  1. #1 by Jill on March 26, 2012 - 2:44 pm

    As always, you are able to effortlessly articulate the complexity of the heart.

    • #2 by Gillian Marchenko on May 24, 2012 - 12:09 am

      Thank you Jill. Writing this post allowed me to explore my feelings in this area… something I don’t do enough of.

  2. #3 by Sarah on March 26, 2012 - 5:23 pm

    I am thankful that God has given you the gift of brokenness and the opportunity to share it with others. Sometimes God’s ways of breaking us can be in such a way that it would be hurtful to others to share how He has done that in our own personal lives. I appreciate your testimony for Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I echo, “AMEN”! 🙂

    • #4 by Gillian Marchenko on May 24, 2012 - 12:10 am

      I am thankful for the gift of brokenness, too Sarah. I like the way you worded that. It really is a gift, even if it is oh, so hard.

  3. #5 by Joy G on March 27, 2012 - 3:42 am

    Oh my God I’ve never read something so moving by someone I actually know. So grateful for this.

  4. #7 by Cathie Proulx on April 7, 2012 - 1:15 am

    Oh, how I know the feeling of that grief! While other kids were running around playing, my son could not–unless they happened to think to come and get him, which you can’t expect young children to do… My son was born totally blind. It wasn’t so big a deal, since his father was also born blind–living proof that he could make it in this world, and make it quite well. My son is now working on starting his own business, at 24… but the days when he was small, when we wanted so badly for him to be “just one of the kids”, were the hardest. You are so right though–that grief was a gift, and a reminder of God’s intimate involvement in my life! Thank you for putting words to what I knew already.

    • #8 by Gillian Marchenko on May 24, 2012 - 12:11 am

      I love how you put it: a reminder of God’s intimate involvement in my life.

      Thanks for the comment.

  5. #9 by Tonja on April 12, 2012 - 11:25 pm

    I enjoyed this writing very much, Gillian, and look forward to reading more of your work. I agree on the brokenness and how God can use that to create a wonderful work within us. Thank you for sharing a part of yourself with us 🙂

  6. #11 by click here on June 5, 2012 - 4:34 pm

    Hi, I just hopped over to your web site via StumbleUpon. Not somthing I might generally read, but I appreciated your thoughts none the less. Thank you for making something well worth reading through.

  7. #12 by Dale Jones on August 4, 2012 - 4:25 pm

    Inspiring! I have a friend that recently had a child born with a disability. Really does bring you closer to God. Keep writing!

  1. I grieve sometimes, in the quiet places of my heart, the children they are not | Gillian Marchenko

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