“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors.
With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists,
we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces.
Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”
For twenty-two years she has been taking care of the baby. Washing her in all the normal places, not to mention the not-so-normal ones. Clipping her fingernails. Changing her diapers … and always her sheets. Cooking for her, holding her hand across the parking lot, guiding her firmly by the shoulder away from disaster.
Twenty-two years of parenting a preschooler.
The first time I met them, I wondered at that mother. How hard would it be, after all, to have a special needs child who never graduated out of diapers? How would it be to know that your baby – toddling precariously around, pulling at tablecloths and drooling on strangers – would never grow out of it?
I’m sure I can’t say.
But for three years I watched.
And I can say that for three years there was rarely a time when it didn’t touch me deep to see the tenderness of this mother’s love for her needy child. Oh, not her needy 9 month old, with chubby thighs and cute dimples. Not even her needy 4 year old, with funny bits of adult-ish phrases mimicked from listening in on daddy’s phone calls. Her needy twenty-two year old baby, y’all. No longer little or cutesy in any physical way. Think about it – when this girl wanted her mama’s arms, there was no crib to set her in, no pacifier to pop into her mouth, and precious few babysitters qualified to care for her. She would wail like she’d lost her best friend to see her mama cross the street to get the mail – which of course, she had.
Because her mama was her best friend in all the ways that mattered.
Their tale is far from told. In fact, it is still being written every day. It’s written in the gathering light of an early dawn, her baby bearing down hard to pass what everyone else does with daily ease – and mama right beside her, midwife to a bowel movement. It’s written in the handful of half-eaten apples that litter the living room when she’s wandered into the kitchen hungry while mama was busy changing those sheets or plunging that toilet. It’s written in the late nights of moaning for bellyaches she doesn’t know how to describe. And then, when the whippoorwills sing them both to sleep through the open windows of an old Missouri homestead, it’s written by the one ear mama keeps alert for the sound of the doorknob turning in the stillest part of the night … and the dreaded sound of those shuffling feet down the concrete steps and out toward the unforgiving road.
But this story being written is not a tragedy, in the end. Oh, it has dramatic moments of sorrow and grief. And rightly so, for this is nothing less than the acknowledgement of the human condition. The playfulness, the adaptability, and the imagination of this mother make her an active co-creator with God in writing a story of joy.
Together, they create days of sunshine and swings. They invite children to come play, for this twenty-two year old baby loves nothing more than being among them. They watch movies and feast on popcorn and (always) apples. They share snuggles and hot chocolate on the couch. And when the daughter sits subdued in the corner, dog-eared nature magazine in her hand, it’s mama who reads her vacant eyes and sees what ails her.
Because this mama has learned to see behind her daughter’s eyes. She does not see the inconvenience or the mess or even the tediousness of those twenty-two years. What this mama teaches us all is how to see her child.
She sees her as an artist sees.
For this is what it means to love.
During September at Living the Story, we explore the theme Create. On September 30th, author Emily Freeman of Chatting at the Sky, joins us with her story, an opportunity for bloggers to link-up, and a giveaway of her new book, A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live. We hope you’ll join us on the fifth Monday in the comments for a chance to win and share your stories with us on how the word Create speaks to you.
Kelli Woodford hopes never to recover from the Mighty Mercy she has been shown. Although her life is now filled with more diapers than she’d like to count, she carves time out to write about finding God in the simple and the frustrating at Chronicles of Grace (http://jasonandkelliwoodford.blogspot.com/).