Ella - Madeleine Witham

Jess Harvey

This is not the sort of book I would normally pick off the shelf. I prefer my reading material to speak directly into my own situation; to allow for long hours of indulgent introspection.

However, the beauty of this story is that it draws the reader out of themselves into an experience they could never have imagined.

Ella Witham was born with a condition known as Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CDLS). Through her mother's eyes, we come face to face with the joys and difficulties of raising a child whom most of society considers a "mistake".

Madeleine Witham was not a Christian for the first six years of Ella's life. Despair over Ella's condition filled most of her days and guilt over feeling despair filled the rest.

When Madeleine met and started following Jesus, her story turned into one of hope and growth.

It was impossible to read this story without being moved.

One of Ella's lovable quirks was that she formed an obsession with her hands after meeting other children with CDLS who had none. This obsession often manifested itself in laughter-provoking ways.

At one point, Ella's mother was explaining to her that she would get a new body in heaven:

"Ella responded, "I'll still have my hands, though, won't I Mum?"
"Yes Ella, you will still have your hands," I told her with a wry grin.'

On a crowded train, I fought back tears as I read about the astonishingly hurtful incidents Madeleine faced almost daily. Whether it was the director of a childcare centre who said of Ella, "How sad, you can almost see the child she might have been", or the hundreds of people who unashamedly stared at Ella and Madeleine, I was shocked over and over again at the way people treated them.

Yet for all my shock and horror, I could not look past the mirror Ella's story held firmly to my face. How many times have I looked a bit too long at a child who doesn't appear quite normal? How many times have I carelessly bandied around the term "special"?

This book is a startling call to Christians to reach out and love those whom the world calls unlovable.

After all, we were utterly unlovable and helpless to change ourselves when Christ first loved us.