I was at our favorite local park with my oldest daughter, Macyn, who is eight. As I gathered our things to leave, I noticed Macyn had stopped playing and was watching a small group of girls her age. I began to walk toward her to find out what was going on, but something told me to wait and watch. The situation that unfolded made my blood start to boil and my eyes fill with tears.

There were three girls my daughter had recognized from school. All three girls were huddled together discussing rules for the game of tag they were about to play. Macyn was standing outside of this huddle patiently waiting for someone to invite her to play.

I need to let you know that Macyn has Down syndrome. As a family, we know she is created in the image of God and she is amazing and unique because God created her with Down syndrome. The world, however, is less affectionate toward individuals with Down syndrome, or any kind of different ability. We live in a society in which differences found in individuals oftentimes subtract from their worth. There have been more occasions than I care to count in which Macyn is treated poorly or “less than” because of her diagnosis. This day at the park was one of those events.

I slowly walked over to Macyn and said loudly enough for the other girls to hear, “Macyn, do you want to play with these friends?”

Macyn nodded her head.

“Well, babe, go ahead and ask them. Say, ‘Can I play with you?’” Again, talking with my daughter loudly enough for the girls to hear.

One of the girls stopped what she was doing and glanced our way long enough to hear Macyn softly mumble, “Can I play?”

The girl, who knows Macyn from school, gave a little eye roll and turned right back around to the other girls.

It broke me. It broke Macyn.

Unfortunately, this was not the first nor the last time Macyn has had a difficult time connecting with her peers and fitting in. In fact, it is a very rare occasion when a peer or group of peers includes Macyn in a way that encourages and esteems her.

More often than not, Macyn’s peers have no idea how to interact with her. This is the case because either the parents have never interacted with a person who has Down syndrome or any kind of different ability, the parents have not taught their children how to interact with someone who is different than they are, or both.

Dear parents, our kids are going to follow our lead. If our lives are void of people who have different abilities, then we are setting up our kids to cause immense pain for children who are different than they are— they will not know how to interact with and love these image bearers of God.

Not only must we lead our children by example, but we also need to be teaching and encouraging our children how to be leaders themselves.

As we get ready to start a new school year, one of my greatest prayers for Macyn is for her to have a friend. Just one really good friend. Because I know kids will follow each other’s lead.

That day at the park, my heart longed for a child who would invite Macyn to play. A child who had been taught by his or her parents how to love people who are different. A child who recognized even at the young age of eight that she has the power and ability to lead others and be an example of God’s love for all.

As parents, we lead every day. My prayer is for us to step into our roles as leaders with bold love and grace, and send our children out into the world having taught them what it means to lead well. When we step into the power of Jesus’ love, we will create a better world for everyone no matter how different they may be.