You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it’s still a bit hard to take. I had gone to my daughter’s classroom to pick her up and drive her to a field trip the class was having at a park nearby. The rest of the class was walking through the woods from the school to the park but it was a bit too risky to expect Mary to walk the whole way and assume she wouldn’t decide to pop a squat halfway there. This child has mastered the art of “the flop” creating a situation that makes it nearly impossible to lift her small frame from the ground when she has decided that that’s where she wants it.
Disrupting Mary’s normal schedule in any way is always a big deal. She immediately became confused when she saw me enter the classroom, and you could almost see the thoughts she was having scan across her her furrowed brow like the subtitles scrolling the screen of a foreign film. Fortunately, after seven years of loving this sweet girl, none of this is foreign to me and her reaction was completely expected. Her personal aide immediately responded to her look of concern, pulled out her picture board schedule and walked Mary through what the morning would hold. I reached for Mary’s hand to lead her out of the classroom and she immediately let go and ran back over to her aide, seeking the stability and comfort I wished I could provide. Mary’s loving and patient aide assured her that once Mary got to the park, she would see her there. After a hug of reassurance, Mary conceded to the plan and, with some lingering hesitancy, took my hand to head for the car.
From the moment we first learned of our daughter, she’s taught me more about the word “surrender” than I ever thought it was possible to absorb. The scene that played out in her classroom that morning was just another assignment in the lesson on handing over control. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I struggle with not being everything my daughter needs, but if I can’t be the one and only, I’m incredibly grateful for the bonds she forms with others.
I’ll never forget my first meeting with Mary’s very first therapist. She asked me what it is that I want for my daughter. Without any hesitation I replied, “I want her to be happy.” At the time I mistakenly and quite naively thought that I would be paramount in making that wish a reality. I’m a piece of it for sure, but I’m constantly reminded where my place is. I liken myself to the team manager. I organize her schedule, chauffeur her where she needs to be, support and encourage her in all things and keep her world as peaceful and organized as possible. But I’m one of many people in this little girl’s world that she counts on.
Mary’s loyalty to her relationships is fierce. It takes a bit to win her over and prove yourself worthy of friendship, but once you do, her love never wavers. She creates a space for you in her ginormous heart and catalogs you where you make sense in her world. She doesn’t want to give me the time of day at school because I simply don’t belong there. Much the same, if one of her aides from school came to our home for a visit, I’m guessing they wouldn’t get a very warm reception.
I’m beginning to understand that God programmed our little lady this way for a reason. She’s a special soul, drawing attention to this paradoxical intersection of vulnerability and unmatched determination and strength, all wrapped in a painfully adorable package. I’m noticing time and again what an important messenger she is for God, showering everyone blessed to know her with His amazing and selfless love. She stretches people to limits they never knew they had and forces new perspective into the lives we thought we had figured out.
One of Mary’s favorite people to play with is a close friend of mine who has fallen under her spell of cuteness. The difference in age spans over fifty years, but their connection is real. This friendship of theirs often leaves me wondering who has more to teach the other. More often than not, when they spend time just the two of them, Mary will bombard her way onto my friend’s lap and sit for a good long snuggle. To know Mary is to know that sitting for any length of time, by choice no less, is uncommon. God had a message to send to this friend, one that could only be delivered by the unconditional love of a child. He needed her to know that the gift of motherhood has not escaped her and there is great need for the compassion and selflessness within her heart. I love it.
The list of those this child of ours has touched is long. Her impact on the people she draws close is a beautiful thing to witness. Perhaps even more beautiful is that I am not left feeling jealous (ok, maybe a little) but rather extremely privileged that I can get this unique view into other’s perspectives. She has this way of exposing the most vulnerable parts of your heart and squelching any of the negativity hidden in there. I often think of her birth mother and marvel at the message Mary emblazoned on her life, one of inner strength and courage that directly contradicts what she saw in herself prior to bringing Mary into this world. I think of her big brothers and the message she has brought to them of the depth of joy loving someone selflessly can bring you. I see it in everyone she comes in contact with; her aides and teachers at school, our family and friends, strangers at the store; she moves people. Some messages are intimately tied to a specific person, others she almost wears as a banner for all to see, silently yet impactfully preaching the beauty of acceptance.
I worry about my daughter. The world will judge her harshly, assuming that her extra chromosome gives them the right to dismiss all she has to offer. I guess I can’t be too critical. If I’m going to be brutally transparent, before our daughter entered our lives, I was probably guilty of doing the same. I wonder how many people walked by Jesus during His time on this earth and dismissed Him as a strange and fanatical prophet of sorts, someone not worth their time and attention. How often do we continue to do that today? God uses everything He’s got to pull us close. He has pulled out every last trick with this young lady of ours, humanizing His message to all of us in a design that’s simply impossible to look past; I’m here. I matter. And if you would give me a second, I’ll bring you more joy that you thought your heart could handle.
Copyright 2017 Nicole Johnson