On December 19, 1972, a strong but tiny baby girl entered into the world.  She was taken almost immediately from her mother.  Yet, the love that flowed from this miniature child to her mother was undeniable.  Later, the doctors told the young mother that her child, Leslie Ann Bianco, had been born with Down’s Syndrome.  However, because of the strong attachment that instantly existed between her and her child and because she really didn’t understand the implication of the doctor’s diagnosis “that meant nothing to me.”  Priscilla confessed, “It was too late.  I had loved her immediately.” Priscilla joyfully took her petite bundle home.


            Working as a nurse, the young mother provided for her daughter and they lived a peaceful life of faith, joy and satisfaction.  Within a couple of years of Leslie’s birth, Priscilla’s brother, Jack, fathered his second child, Vincent.  Leslie and Vincent became more than cousins.  Together they played and explored the Jersey shore.  The Jersey City Boardwalk, with the seemingly, endless arcades became their playground and favorite hang-out.  As often as Priscilla or their grandparents, could pull away, Vincent and Leslie were together, discovering every aspect of the coast, romping, laughing and playing.


            Leslie was a happy, smiling child who provided endless delight to her mother and family.  One day she came in the house, dripping wet from a playful rout in the snow.  Uncle Jack unceremoniously hung her snow suit–with a giggling Leslie still inside of it–on the dryer until she could drip off the excess snow. 


            It was during these early years, that Leslie was introduced to the only father, she knew, Sonny.  Sonny worked with her grandfather as a contractor.  She affectionately called him, Uncle Sonny.  As the friendship between Leslie and Sonny grew so did the friendship between Priscilla and Sonny. 


            At 12 years old, Priscilla and Leslie moved to a small house on the shore.  Because the health of Priscilla’s parents was fading, Leslie’s grandparents moved in with them.  During the next few years, Priscilla took care of her parents and Leslie. 


            While Sonny was Leslie’s buddy, Dominic, Sonny’s son, was her first love.  She would follow him foot for foot with an adoring admiration.  Of course, Leslie didn’t let her devotion to Dom interfere with having a boyfriend.  She always had at least one and she was known to successfully juggle as many as three admirers at a time.  For the past six or more years, her steadiest boyfriend was Steve. 


            Together they bowled with Special Olympics, worked at Brevard Achievement Center and attended the Rec Department socials.  But I came to love her through Special Gathering.  She attended about 10 years. 


            Leslie loved to sing.  Faithfully participating in the Special Gathering choir, she became a strong, anchor voice in the women’s section.  We all came to depend on her because she and Steve were the first ones to learn the words and melody.  Her simple faith became an example to all of us.  During our offertory time, Leslie, Terri and Shelley would pray for our people in wheelchairs.  Known for her laughter, Leslie knew the seriousness of these moments.  The giggling stopped for a few minutes but never the smiles.


            The phrase repeated again and again when people heard about her death was “what will we do without her?”  Vincent and his wife, Debbie, recounted that they had never encountered a person who didn’t like Leslie.  Vincent said, “She would engage anyone in conversation.  And no one seemed to be offended or put out.  She was never rude.  She would just snatch them into her world.”  Leslie cared about the people she encountered and they seemed to embrace that level of caring. 


            Leslie was a people finder.  Whether holding baby Isabel, Dom and Elaine’s grandchild or lying seriously ill in the hospital, her generous spirit drew people to her.  A family friend, Faye, echoed that.  “I came to visit with the family after Sonny died.  I was supposed to stay for two hours and stayed ten.  From that day, both Leslie and Priscilla became my friends.” 


            After Sonny’s death, Priscilla and Leslie moved to a new house.  Next door to them lived John and Barbara.  Again, instant friendship developed.  John and Leslie became especially close.  Together they would get down on the floor and play with John’s dog. 


            Each pay day, Leslie would get off the bus, waving her pay check and announcing.  “Big bucks, John.  Big bucks.”  Whether it was $80 or $.35, to Leslie it was big bucks.  At times, she would offer to take everyone out to lunch.  Of course, once they were there and the check arrived, she could never find her money to pay the bill. 


            She was a bowler, a singer, a box maker, a greeter.  She mastered games of all kinds.  Yet, of all her skill masteries, giggling was the best thing she did.  The Bible says that the joy of the Lord is our strength and Leslie embodied joy, strength and delight in life.  Few people are able to grasp life and wring from it the kind of pleasure and loyalty that Leslie embodied.  Her life was lived to please the Lord and desiring to grow in his grace become more like Jesus.


            One of her friends told us at Special Gathering on Sunday.  “Please don’t cry.  Leslie is not dead.  She has a new life.  She is alive.”  On the Sunday before she was hospitalized, the choir sang to an audience of over 1,000 people and she had the solo.  The words were her testimony of love to her Lord:


            Father, I love you. 

            I lay my life before you.

            I want to know you.

            Here is my heart.