I was at the park yesterday with my two boys. It was going better than I expected. I was hanging out in the shade, sitting on a blanket, drinking coffee and reading my current fav, Thomas Merton’s autobiography. Kids were happy so I was happy. You know, there is that saying, “If Mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy.” For me, it’s, “If my kids ain’t happy Mama ain’t happy.” My 6 year-old, Hudson, was sitting next to me playing when we noticed a woman and a kid walking up to the park. Hudson noticed before I did. He leaned in and whispered, “Mom, that kid is Autism.” We still don’t have the lingo quite worked out yet. I watched as this 12 year-old’ish boy walked and how his movements were slow and cautious. He shuffled along on his scooter, grunting rather than speaking and looking aimlessly around. As he walked by us he looked down at us and stared. Hudson looked up at him and said, “Hi!” The boy looked back with a beaming smile, and said, “Hi!”
We watched as this woman gently led him by the hand to the obstacle course and helped him do simple climbs. She tickled him and laughed with him and hugged him. As we watched this kid struggle with every little thing from walking to climbing to speaking, Hudson cuddled me and said, “I feel bad for him. He has a hard life.” I agreed and said back, “Yes, but it looks like God gave him a nice mommy who loves him a lot. It’s probably harder for her than for him. He seems happy.” We prayed for them and sat together. I think we were looking at them like we were looking at ourselves. We were both picturing Holden 7 years from now. Would he be able to talk? Would he be able to run free? Would he be able to be happy?
I walked up to this tremendous woman, assuming she was his mother, and told her how inspired I was by how great of a mom she is. She quickly said, “Thank you but I’m not his mom. I take care of him in the afternoons.” I said, “Well I guess that’s a testament to how well you love him. I assumed you were his mom by how attentive and caring you are to him.” Shelly and I became quick friends. We sat at a picnic table while Holden ran continuous circles around her dog and Hudson spilled his huge bag of toys out.
Hudson and Logan played happily together with action figures. Logan would get a little forceful without realizing it and Hudson would sweetly say, “Logan, can you be a littler gentler please?” Logan would nod and they’d go on playing. Then I heard some of Shelly’s story.
I asked what led her to work with Special Needs kids. She said immediately, “I always knew I wanted to, all the way from the time I was a teenager. Maybe it’s because I grew up in an abusive home and was left to take care of my younger siblings, and even my mom. I felt like it was my calling to help the weak.” Then she said something that blew me away. “I would do it for free if I could. I love these kids.” And the thing is, I totally believed her.
We went deeper as we swapped war stories. She shared how she was battling health problems, from Diabetes that was diagnosed when she was a teenager to Spinal Stenosis to fatigue to almost losing her eyesight due to retinopathy. I said, “Wow, you look so healthy! And you have such a good attitude. I would’ve never guessed.” She said, “That’s what everyone says. My sister keeps telling me that all this will make me stronger. But I don’t want to be stronger. I just want to rest.”
My heart ached for her in that moment. People say things like that with good intentions. But to the person who is suffering, it often lacks encouragement. I’ve been there. I say to God, “I don’t want to be stronger. I just want to rest.” Sometimes I don’t hear anything back. Other times I hear Him say, “Remain in Me. I am faithful to provide the strength you need. I am here with you.” Other times I hear him say, “My Beloved, I am so sorry for what you are suffering. The sorrow is great, but a day is coming when it will be no more.” These are the Divine whisperings that pull me through the darkness one step at a time.
These are the living realities that remind me: being stronger isn’t the purpose. Being weaker is.
The more I come to God like a bruised child that has fallen again and again, the greater abandon and vulnerability I offer to Him. And with this level of confessed weakness comes Real fellowship with the Holy One, with the Father, with Jesus. He ceases to be at a strangely pervasive distance and becomes as near as my heart.
I wish I could rescue people like Shelly from their trials and tribulations, but at the same time some part of me knows that those who suffer are the lucky ones. We who suffer know we are weak, desperate, and in some ways, very very alone. These are the mystical elements that shift us into the Ultimate Reality and out of the fantastic illusions we believe to be substantive.
When we were driving out of the parking lot, I looked back at Hudson and said, “I’m so proud of you for playing with Logan.” Hudson looked at me with his big brown eyes and said, “Why would you be proud of me? He was a nice kid who wanted to play. So I did.”
Yes, that’s right. This is the kind of kid I want to be with God. When He says He is proud of me, I want to respond, “Why? This is what you have for me and I’m going with it. It’s just that simple.”