This year, nearly 100,000 women will become mothers of handicapped children. Somehow I visualize God hovering over Earth selecting his instruments for propagation with great care and deliberation. As he observes, he instructs his angel to make notes in a giant ledger.
"Armstrong, Beth, son, patron saint, Matthew."
"Smith, Marge, daughter, patron saint, Cecillia."
"Rutledge, Carrie, twins, patron saint...give her Gerard. He's used to profanity."
Finally he passes a name to the angel and smiles, "Give her a handicapped child". The angel is curious. "Why this one, God? She's so happy." "Exactly," says God. "Could I give a handicapped child to a mother who does not know laughter? That would be cruel."
"But has she patience?" asks the angel."
"I don't want her to have to much patience or she will drown in a sea of self-pity and despair. Once the shock and resentment wear off she'll handle it." "I watched her today. She has that feeling of self and independence that is so necessary in a mother. The child I am going to give her has his own world. She has to make it live in her world, and that's not going to be easy."
"But Lord, I don't think she even believes in you," God smiles. "No matter. I can fix that. This one is perfect. She has just enough selfishness."
The angel gasps, "Selfishness? Is that a virtue?"
God nods, "If she can't separate herself from the child occasionally, she'll never survive. Yes, here is a woman who I take for granted a 'spoken word.' She will never consider a 'step' ordinary. When her child says 'Momma' for the first time, she will be present at a miracle and know it! I will permit her to see clearly the things I see...cruelty, ignorance, prejudice...and allow her to rise above them. She will never be alone. I will be at her side every minute of every day, because she is doing my work as surely as if she were here by my side."
"And what about her patron saint?" asks the angel, pen poised in mid air."
God smiles, "A mirror will suffice."
Heaven's Very Special Child
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting. After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned." And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.