By Sharon Mager
Noah McGaffin and Isaac pose for a photo, two brothers, arms wrapped tightly around each other without asking. They truly love each other. Isaac helps his brother tie his shoes and make his lunch, but in this case it’s a bit different. Isaac is three years younger than Noah, but Noah has Down Syndrome and sometimes needs a helping hand. But that doesn’t matter to Isaac.
“It was a long time before Isaac even knew his brother had a disability, says Becky, their mom, who attends Redland Baptist Church with her husband, David. Of course, Becky and David knew from the start.
So how does it feel? How did you handle that? Those are questions no one really wants to voice. Becky asks me if I’ve ever read the poem, “Welcome to Holland?”
No, I hadn’t, but I did, and then I almost cried. Written by Emily Perl Ingsley about the experience of raising a child with a disability, the poem says having a baby is like planning a vacation to Italy. You plan and imagine the sites you’ll see, learn a few words in Italian, then after months of anticipation a stewardess says, “Welcome to Holland.”
And while everyone else is in Italy, you’re not.
“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… 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.”
God created us and planned for us to be who we are.
“There are no mistakes,” David said. “All people are individuals. For somebody like Noah, sometimes those individualities are magnified.” And make no mistake, Noah is loved just the way he is.
David says, with any baby, the parents’ concerns are whether the child is eating, sleeping, and breathing. “You can’t get overwhelmed by what could be. It’s just now. It’s always now. All you have to deal with is now,” David explains.
Isaac has been very quiet, but suddenly nods toward Noah and says, “He’s a very happy person.” And he is.
Noah continues to smile through the whole visit. “I’m cute and handsome,” he says. He likes school, “fixing cars,” and he likes big trucks. He enjoys horseback riding, karate, and playing guitar. He won a bronze medal for javelin throwing in a Maryland Special Olympics track and field event.
“Noah,” I say, “Tell me about God.”
“God loves people,” he answers, without skipping a beat. His favorite Bible story is about Noah, unsurprisingly.
At church, Noah sings in the “Waves of Grace” youth choir, and he and Isaac both act in the church’s productions. Recently they had a program about Moses and the 10 Commandments. Each child had a number to correspond with the commandment.
“I was 10,” Noah says proudly. Becky laughs, sharing how each of the kids held up their numbers, but Noah brought his number up with fanfare, and the whole congregation loved it.
Dave and Becky are very appreciative to Redland Church members and how they’ve included Noah naturally in Sunday school, youth group and AWANA.
“It helps when Noah’s Sunday school teachers call and, ask ‘How can we best include him?’” says Becky.
“I want people to know that we’re a happy family. Having a child with disabilities doesn’t put you in a category of the family that is bawling and having difficulties every day,” she adds.
“I’ve thought about what it means to be blessed. A blessing is something that brings you closer to Christ. Having a child with a disability is a blessing.”