Emily Perl Kingsley had a child with Down syndrome. She was often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability. In 1987, she wrote the following:
“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. Michelangelo’s 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.”
The reason I appreciate this essay so much is because it tends to reflect and describe our lives so succinctly. Sure, very few of us will raise a child with a disability. But we will all eventually have our plans pulled out from under us.
After all, we don’t know what tomorrow may bring, do we? Life can change so quickly, can’t it? A health crisis, an automobile accident, the breakup of a marriage, the loss of a loved one or a job; these are all common plan-breakers.
So, what would be a Christian response to our plane landing in Holland? I think it is to live without fear of the future, and with a confidence that is based on God’s goodness. This trust, is the real working of faith.
We do not have confidence because we know exactly what tomorrow will look like. We have confidence because we know that, in Jesus Christ, God did not and does not give up on the world. While He does not promise our lives will be without pain, He does promise His peace and His presence. And that is good, very good.
It is God who helps turn our plan-breakers into something of a new life — different, but new. It is God who helps us see the beauty and the value of His work in us when the disappointment of landing in Holland ends.
So I say to you: Welcome to Holland. This life will never be as we plan, and we will have disappointments. These plan-breakers are real, and they are often painful. Yet while we will never know exactly what the future will hold, we know who holds the future.
“Do not fear,” the angel said to Mary before Christ’s first arrival in this world. Why? Because the future is God’s.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.