Updated: Mar 10, 2022
Today was just like any other day at the grocery store with Essie. About every 5 feet we would stop so she could converse with a stranger and make a new friend. She currently still likes to sit in the basket (because who wouldn't want to ride if you can still fit? I'd sit in the basket too if someone else would push!). Frequently when I reach to grab an item, I turn back around to find someone close to Esther, trying to talk with her or get her to touch their hands. If I'm honest, it's both endearing and annoying.
As we pulled into the checkout lane, I was keenly aware that the bagger was staring at Esther. While this is common, this is the moment in which I know to brace myself. I feel it coming, but I never know which way it will go.
The veggies went through the scanner. Wait for it... Beep.
Beep. There it is.
"Does she, is she like.. I mean... is she..."
The poor guy was fumbling with his words so much it was painful. So I decided to help him out.
"This is Esther. She has Down Syndrome. Essie can you tell him how old you are?" She replied proudly, "Six." Beep.
He ignored her and asked me again. "So like, she has special needs right? Is she like, on a spectrum?" I've gotten this one quite a bit so I clarify. "Down Syndrome doesn't really have a spectrum, it's not quite like that. But yes, she does have what you would call special needs."
Beep. Beep. Pause.
This time it was the cashier that looked at me as she paused mid-scan. She cocked her head to the right and sheepishly caught my eyes. I could tell she wanted to ask me a question too, so I smiled.
"This might not be appropriate, but may I ask you something else?"
I nodded and smiled.
"Is it hard to raise a child with special needs? I've always wondered as I see people come through and I've thought to myself, 'I wonder if I could do that.'"
Beep. Beep. Beep.
If I had not been standing in a line with many people behind me (all aware of our conversation) I think I might have crumbled and wept. Her question, so innocently and honestly posed struck a deep deep chord in me. My oldest daughter Abigael who was also with me could see my shakiness. When we got back into the car, Abi immediately asked me how I was doing. She said, "Mama, I could tell that one hit hard. Why?"
As a tear pushed it's way out I whispered, "Because I felt seen."
Essie gets a-lot of attention for various reasons. For the most part, people are kind. Sometimes just curious, and on a rare occasion rude. But we do not go anywhere unseen, that's for sure. Yet standing there at the checkout line, I was struck by how different the two questions presented to me felt. From the bagger, he was satisfying his curiosity for his own knowledge and clarification. He did not "see" Esther. He talked through her. From the cashier, she pondered and asked permission to pose a personal question. And yet her question this time, was compassionate and real. I too had wondered the same thing many times before I had Essie. As I saw mamas of kiddos with various needs or possible challenges, I would wonder what life was like. I would wonder if I could do it, secretly grateful I didn't have to. Yet I was never brave enough to ask.
I wanted to give her an honest answer, but also one that spoke of hope. This is always a place of tension for me. How do I share truthfully about life and challenges while still giving a glimpse into the beautiful grace and joy that God gives through it all? So I simply told her this:
"Thank you for asking me that honest question. So I'll give you an honest answer. Yes. Many times it is hard. Many times I don't know what to do. But it's also fun. And I believe God gave her to us and He shows us how to do it. And if he lets you care for a child with special needs one day, He will show you how to do it too."
She beamed and continued scanning the Cheetos and yogurt.
Beep. Beep. Beep. And life continued. Refreshingly so.
Sometimes all we need is someone to look at us and acknowledge the hard. To really "see" that each day is a choice to wake up and be in the next moment. I believe we each have a need for someone else to walk through the door and notice both the sacrifice and the victory. I'm not saying that I'm phenomenal at doing this all the time, but I do recognize it as a universal human condition. We long for another human to see that what we are walking through is exhausting, painful or draining. And yet we conversely want to be strong and seen for our ability to remain in it. Do ever find yourself walking around and sighing? No- just me?Perhaps shuffling around at the end of the day so that someone else sees that you're tired? Why? Because today was hard and you need someone to say it. Yes, Jesus gives us grace for each day. Yes, we are actually able to get through the hard days with the strength that comes from God, so is it right to need this acknowledgment? I don't know the answer to that. Sorry. What I do know, is that standing at the checkout line, when a complete stranger looked at me with compassion and asked me if it was hard- it met a need so deep in my spirit that near brought me to me knees. And I also know, that it gave me an odd sense of strength and confidence. Yes this is hard- but you know what? We are doing it! And it's good! I can do hard things and keep going.
Today my friend, let me say this directly to you and the moment you find yourself in:
What you have walked through and are currently navigating is hard. It's not easy. There are moments no one else has seen and never will. There are times you have felt suffocated with grief, exhaustion, confusion and heartache and you wondered how you could take another breath. Those moments were no less hard than anyone else's. God has seen you in them and doesn't compare your pain to others. It's hard. You have crumbled, but you are still breathing. You have faltered but you're still walking. And guess what? You are growing! You aren't the same person you were before this pain and struggle. The sun will go down tonight, and prayerfully will rise again in the morning alongside us. And when it does, remind yourself,
"The God who made this sunrise sees me. And together we can do today."