“Who are you, little one? What sort of person will you be?” I mumbled out loud, tracing the distinct outline of a heel pushed against the inside of my rounded belly. There’s nothing quite like the moments that make new life tangible. The first kicks. The first cries. The first cuddles.
Around this time last year, I was counting down the final days to the due date of my first born. The mounting anticipation matched the turning of the calendar. The fresh hopes and joys of new life were echoed by the world around me. What will this year hold? Where will these next months take us?
Of course, my dreams were taking me beyond the coming calendar year. I began to wonder who my child would become. Would he have his Papa’s ear for harmonies? His Nana’s heart for storytelling? His uncle’s spirit for adventure? Would he solve problems our world has yet to invent? Create art I wouldn’t understand? The possibilities felt endless.
Eight months later, we were sitting in a hospital hearing words I’ll never forget.
“Your son’s eyes were designed differently. They see the world differently.” My husband and I nodded, our ears ringing. The ophthalmologist began drawing a diagram on a white board. His words came to us through a sieve of emotions. “This is a retina. This is how yours looks – smooth. This is how your son’s looks – folded. He has no central focusing vision. He sees everything like we see in the peripheries.”
“Will glasses help?” No.
“Will patching help?” No.
Someday he’ll tell us what he can see.
The vast highway of futures I visualized for my son narrowed into scattered footpaths. Would he drive? Would he read printed letters? Would his friends remember to tell him where they went on the playground? The dream bubbles that contained things like surgeon, builder, airplane pilot, police officer, even high school volleyball star dissipated in the finality of the diagnosis.
It seems ridiculous that I had to grieve careers and opportunities in which my son may never even take interest. What makes me think he ever had the aptitude for any of those things? At the same time, I wonder if anyone will speak the words to him that my generation heard so often while growing up: “You can achieve anything you set your mind to.” “The sky is the limit.” “Oh the places you’ll go.” “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up.”
Were these phrases ever true of any of us? Or were we set up to collide with disappointment sometime in early adulthood when we realized that certain experiences inevitably closed some doors and opened others? Some choices we made for ourselves and others were set by circumstances. There’s no way to be everything all the time. Possibility eventually materializes into reality.
Now that I’m a parent, I wonder if these decisive moments are more difficult to watch than to experience. Every parent eventually says goodbye to a few of the futures that they imagined for their kids. No, it doesn’t always happen before their child can crawl. But as life unfolds, we’re bound to be struck by the dissonance between the picture we had of our children’s lives and the reality we see before us.
Created for a purpose
Of all the words we heard on that diagnosis day, I find myself hanging on one – design. “Your son’s eyes are designed differently.” The ophthalmologist could have said your son has an “anomaly,” “condition,” “genetic mutation,” “disorder,” “disability,” and a myriad of other words that imply the warping inherent to this world. But he chose a word of intention, not accident. A design means a creator. A design means a purpose.
I hear God loud and clear in this word. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” he declares (Isa. 55:8). “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” he asks (Job 38:4). “For I know the plans I have for you,” he reminds (Jer. 29:11). This chorus comes through contexts much different than my own, yet it rings true. So I lean into the wisdom of countless parents who have gone before me and called upon the God who designs.
There are things my son will do, create, and give to the world that are only possible because he sees differently. I believe that to be true for your context too. Are you carrying a heartache into this new year? Maybe when you visualized 2020, you thought your career, your relationship status, your finances, your friendships, your fitness journey, or any number of other measures we put on life would look different. The God who designs holds us close as we bear these disappointments. He calls upon us to rename them. What we once thought was disordered and derailed he is making new.
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