When I heard this poem for the first time, I was very moved. Its message brought to me a comfort, that, although we had not landed where we expected, we would be fine in our new location.
As time went by, this poem started to have new meaning to my husband and me. We realized we had indeed, landed in Italy after all. Rome, Italy. As we reminisce about our experience, we agree, that it is not the tulips of Holland we are looking at, but the basilicas of Rome.
Rome is even more gorgeous than we expected. It is almost like we heard God over the loud speaker in the plane, saying, “Welcome to Rome. I will be traveling with you. You are indeed blessed.” My husband and I grabbed our guidebooks-- the Church’s teachings-- and held them tightly. With our daughter as our tour guide, we see the beautiful hills and valleys of our new location. Each day we learned more than the day before. Yes, we have landed in Rome, and how sweet it is!
Our lessons in Rome came quickly. As pilgrims, we would learn more than ever before. Our first lesson in Rome taught us about God’s unconditional love. Following the birth of our daughter, one of the nurses shared with us how frequently children with Down syndrome are terminated. I believe it was a reaction on her part. She was telling us how beautiful our daughter is, and simply blurted this out. In that moment I realized not everyone would value my daughter, or love her as deeply, as we already loved her. While staring at our newest treasure from God, I could not help but think of my own imperfections, which I know are part of me. I thought deeply about the love that God has for me, imperfections and all. The words of John 15:9-12, whirled through my head, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” It was so easy to love our precious new daughter. She is a gift from God. God had unconditionally loved us all these years. Our youngest daughter helped us to understand the depth of God’s love for us. We know that although all of us are imperfect, He loves us so. We understand this love more now than we ever had before.
Our second lesson in Rome came rather swiftly following the first instruction. Although we love our child unconditionally, we knew that there were some things out of our control. Questions rolled through the minds of my husband and me. When will our daughter walk? Will she talk? Will she know God? It was in this moment that we realized, we must surrender it all to God: we must humbly hand it all over to Him. He had created this child for His purposes. He had created this child for His plans. What ever comes, will happen in His time, and in His way. In this lesson we learned to surrender, and we were versed in humility. “The poor and humble surrender to the loving will of the Father, in ever deeper union with His beloved Son.” When we were able to do this, we were able to love more fully, more unconditionally. That first lesson grew more completely in the second lesson. We opened ourselves to His will. In doing this, we found the peace we needed to wholly accept our daughter, exactly as God had created her. We learned to enjoy her and not miss out on this time worrying about what was to come. We were able to take pleasure in all of her little baby stages. We are so grateful for this surrender, because, as she grew, we realized that she is more like our other children than she is unlike them. It would have been a waste to have spent this time worrying, instead of enjoying our little baby.
Our journey in Rome did not end there. At four and a half months of age, our tour guide went into heart failure. Our third lesson had begun, we were instructed very clearly on our prayer life. When we brought our little darling to the pediatric cardiologist, we found out that not only did she have an extra chromosome, but she also had a little hole in her heart. Well, it is amazing what a little hole can do to a little heart. At this point, she would teach us all how to handle heart failure and how to wait until she was six months old for open heart surgery. Our prayer life increased in every way during this time. We learned, St. John Chrysostom was accurate when he said, “It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop…while buying or selling…or even while cooking.” While we waited for our turn to have this open heart procedure done, prayer was as present as breathing.
Our family has always been a prayerful family. However, during this time, every thought was offered up as a prayer. Truly, this prayer and the Graces of the Mass, carried us through while we waited. We turned to the saints, to implore them to pray for us as well. In moments when we were unable to pray, we sent out emails asking friends and family to pray. Many Masses were said for us in this time. The Grace of all of these Masses and prayers carried us. St. John Chrysostom was right again when he said, “Nothing is equal to prayer; for what is impossible it makes possible, what is difficult is easy.” While I would not say waiting was easy, I will say, it was not impossible. It was much more endurable because of the prayers and Masses.
All of these lessons came to us when we took a surprise detour to Rome. The “Vatican” is truly as tremendous as everyone says it is. Our Holy Father is doing a wonderful job of shepherding his flock, and upholding the teaching of the dignity of all life. The artwork in Rome is absolutely stunning. Paintings and murals depicting the infant Jesus will never look the same again. If you look at them very closely, you might actually think that you are seeing the beautiful almond-shaped eyes of an individual who has Down syndrome. Perhaps, indeed, the artist was wise enough to use such a person as his model. Our family is ever grateful to have learned many lessons about Rome in the years leading up to our darling’s birth. Landing in this place, has brought those lessons to life. We will forever be grateful to have traveled in Rome. And we are eternally thankful for the adorable little tour guide that God sent us. Indeed, we are blessed.
By Diane (ME's mom)
1. CCC 2712
2. CCC 2743
3. CCC 2744