Light from Lucas: Lessons in Faith from a Fragile Life
In the spring of 1993, Darla and Bob Vander Plaats anticipated the birth of their third, presumably healthy son. "I joked about my plans to create the perfect basketball team," Bob writes, having hoped to eventually father five strapping boys.
But in the delivery room things spun out of control. The doctor summoned an air ambulance, euphemistically explaining that the baby had "issues" and needed the support of a big-city hospital. For starters his head was "completely out of proportion to his frail body," and his blue skin "wasn't pinking-up." Later that day Darla also resorted to euphemisms as she tried to grasp potential realities. "What are we going to do if he isn't right?" she asked Bob. Thinking "I am the man. I am supposed to be tough," he managed a brief affirmation: "We'll get through it." Well, they did, but maybe because of God's grace and help more than Bob's self-reliance.
Lucas was and is severely developmentally disabled, unable to care for himself, suffering seizures, unable to speak. Now a young teen, he lives in a care facility, with seemingly frequent but short visits to the family house. He repeatedly has been at death's door, creating a family dynamic that is anything but normal.
As the subtitle suggests ("Lessons in Faith from a Fragile Life"), LIGHT FROM LUCAS lays out Bob's "learnings" and invites the reader into the real-life classroom. Most chapter titles are statements that could well start with the phrase I've learned to or that…: "Expect the Unexpected"; "Make It Count"; "You Are Never Alone"; "There Are Angels Among Us." One chapter praises his wife, on behalf of all good mothers. Darla "remains passionate in her love for [Lucas] and diligent in her duty to him. I believe it's a beautiful picture of what God intended moms to be…lovers of their children, no matter what."
I found the most moving passages to be letters addressed to Lucas --- most written by Bob, but one each by Darla, an older brother, a family friend --- expressing love, gratitude and sometimes acknowledging unrealized dreams ("If it were up to me, I would remove all of your disabilities. You would have no more pain. You would have no more fear…More than anything, you would talk") and life's injustices ("I'm sure you notice that some people don't really know how to respond to you.").
LIGHT FROM LUCAS is clearly written from a man's perspective, with sports imagery sprinkled throughout. Even so, it speaks to women. (A refreshing chapter toward the end of the book is written by Darla, who admits her frustration with Bob's career-focus when Lucas was a baby and Bob was a small-town high school principal.) Another chapter, toward the end, addresses the issue of guilt --- Bob working through his early inclinations to blame himself for his child's pain.
The book is especially but not exclusively applicable to families who have children with developmental disabilities --- and their friends. It would be a good addition to a church library, to promote sensitivity to members with disabilities and simply to inspire all families to look for lessons in every situation and for graces in every life.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on January 17, 2007