A Specially Wrapped Gift
INNERview with Shemeka Cherry Jackson
Shemeka Cherry Jackson is the Founder of Specially Wrapped Gifts Ministry, an outreach of encouragement, support, and resources for families caring for individuals with Special Needs and/or disabilities. She is a gifted speaker, trainer, and writer and has worked in various facets of Christian ministry and Social Service. She is a US Navy Veteran and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Shemeka currently resides in Knoxville, TN, and considers being a wife to Bruce and raising their two beautiful daughters as her highest calling.
YVONNE PIERRE: When was your daughter Candace diagnosed with Down syndrome, how familiar were you with DS and what was your initial reaction?
SHEMEKA CHERRY JACKSON: Candace was diagnosed after birth. During the time, I didn’t really know a lot about Ds; I could recognize a person with the physical characteristics. That was the extent of my knowledge. Initially, I felt overwhelmed, happy, sad and afraid. My emotions needed to catch up with my intellect. I did not see Down syndrome. I saw a beautiful baby girl. In my head, I knew that she was a blessing, however, my emotions were all over the place.
YVONNE: What has been your greatest challenge?
SHEMEKA: The greatest challenge for me is adjusting to my “new normal.” Not only am I a mother to a child with special needs, but I am also her advocate. I have come to terms that my life is not like everyone else’s, so I’m learning to cut myself some slack. For me, career- ambitions were big things. Now, I believe it’s better for me to be home and present with everything that goes on in our world. In short, grieving the loss of where I think I should be, living in the reality of where I am, while finding joy and contentment in it is a constant struggle.
YVONNE: As a mom, share with us one of your proudest moments?
SHEMEKA: One of my proudest moments was watching Candace perform in her school’s Christmas program. I was grinning from ear to ear; she remembered the moves and at the end, even took a bow. She was proud of herself and I was proud of her as well.
YVONNE: How has Candace changed your perspective of life?
SHEMEKA: I’m not as judgmental as I used to be. The relationships that I have are more sincere and authentic. I can identify with other peoples hurt and can be happy when others are happy. I am sensitive to things that I would have overlooked because it did not pertain to me. I realize the frailty of our lives and now recognize that each and every moment lived is a gift. Life is too short, so I make mine count.
YVONNE: Tell us about “Specially Wrapped Gifts Ministry”?
SHEMEKA: Specially Wrapped Gifts Ministry (SWG) is a Christian outreach of encouragement for families caring for individuals with Special Needs and/or disabilities. SWG hosts an Encouragement Group at the House of Worship Church for caregivers in the community. This group provides a time for families to share their concerns, discuss topics of interest and pray.
YVONNE: What inspired you to start this ministry?
SHEMEKA: I remember one of Candace’s doctors stating, “If you had known that Candace would have Ds while you were pregnant, you could have done something different. But oh well, she’s here now.” Only to later tell me and Bruce that Down syndrome happens because of a fluke and continued with a list of what she would not be. Even well meaning friends would say to me, “You’re such a good person, how could God do that to you?” I realized the doctor and a few of my friends were the voice of many in society. The undertone being that children born with Down syndrome somehow slipped through the cracks; a curse on the family or that bad things (what society perceived to be bad things) should not happen to good people.
Needless to say my spirit was broken.
My personal relationship with Christ Jesus is very important, so I had to hear from God His perspective on my particular matter. I was quickly reminded that Candace was made in His image with divine value. Candace was knit together perfectly in my womb.
Hence our motto, “All Children are a Gift from God, some come Specially Wrapped.”
This was part of the inspiration for starting Specially Wrapped Gifts. I felt firsthand what many parents feel when they have a child diagnosed with a disability: a broken spirit.
The Truth I found in God’s Word brought about a healing for me and one of the goals of SWG is to do the same for other families.
YVONNE: What message of hope would you give a new parent who might be having an issue accepting their child’s diagnoses?
SHEMEKA: Their diagnosis is an aspect of their life, not who they are. I would also add, take it a day at a time and embrace the day. If you worry about tomorrow or regret yesterday, you will miss the miracles that are happening right now.
SHEMEKA: Most of this article has focused on my experience, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my husband who is equally involved, connected and engaged in the day to day of raising our girls and Cherie, my oldest daughter who is such a blessing and absolutely the best Big Sister in the whole wide world.
Be Blessed, God is with you.