Heart-wrenching. It’s hard to quantify the level of emotion in a word, but this one seems to hit closest to the mark. In many ways, I am hesitant to speak of this challenge, but am no stranger to the truth that it is exactly that which I’d prefer to keep private that God gently prompts me to share, if not only for the cathartic experience of working through it all in my own heart, but more importantly with the sincere hope that, in some way, it may be of value to another.
The present day struggle started a few weeks ago, but the first instance of this very human fear of exposure-the knowledge of one’s own nakedness-can be traced back to Eve taking that life-altering bite from the forbidden fruit. In so doing, we were each stripped from the cloak of purity that clothed us from the reality of shame, and all at once, we found ourselves scrambling for cover, choosing from a wardrobe of justifications, emotions and ignorance that we were never meant to try on.
When I went to pick my daughter up from school that day, it wasn’t the first time she had chosen to remove her clothes in what had become the peak of her defiance and desperate attempt to stand her ground and claim control over her day. This had been happening on and off for over a week and, on this particular day, was the second time her behavior had crumbled to this state of pure and utter brokenness. What made an awful situation worse was when she decided to take things up a notch and urinate on the floor. You read that right. And for those who know her, I imagine it’s as hard for you to read it as it is for me to come to terms with it and put it out there in black and white. My daughter is eight years old and has been potty trained for years. It’s true she has an extra chromosome that complicates her understanding of and navigation of this world, but she undeniably knows right from wrong. What on earth was causing this behavior?
When I got to school, I was in mama-bear mode and just wanted to get to my cub. I marched right past the front desk, skipping the sign-in protocol, and quickly took to the stairs to find my little girl. I knew just where to find her, as these episodes (thankfully) always took place in a private room where Mary went to take a breath … a time-out room if you will, void of toys or anything distracting where just Mary and her aide can take a few minutes to regain good behavior. There was a flurry of activity outside the room she was in and, as I made my way to the door, my skin crawled with the looks of sympathy cast my way from well-intentioned teachers. “I’ve got this,” I said as politely as I could manage to the trio of aides scrambling to handle the situation. I walked into the room and there was my little girl, naked and smiling.
My heart hit the floor and I fought back the tears as I grabbed for her things and tried to clothe her once again in humility with underwear, shirt, pants and shoes. Responding to the briskness of my tone and the shaking of my hands as I pulled on her clothing, this vulnerable little soul slowly began to feel remorse for her actions and, looking up at me with her beautiful brown eyes, asked, “Mama, happy?”
“No, Mary”, I responded. “Mama is not happy.”
As I took hold of her hand and felt the smallness, warmth and softness of this child, I realized, in her nakedness, she had exposed my own insecurities and the fears I try to hide each day as the mother of this miraculous child and her extra chromosome.
During the short ride home, the tears silently streamed down my face as a storm of thoughts and questions fought for attention. The immediate need to bathe my child, the prayer for patience as I struggled with the anger I felt about her blatant and intentional act of defiance, the question of how I would talk this through with her and help her understand just how inappropriate her behavior was. And what about tomorrow? And the next day? How were we going to get this behavior to stop? Was I doing everything I could to support her and advocate for her needs? Could I trust that her team at school was doing everything they could? And then the forecasting I can never seem to avoid-that paralyzing look into the future while in a state of present fear. What does the future hold if this is happening at eight years of age? Where, God, are You in this?
As the school days come and go, I feel as though I am holding my breath — just waiting for an email from her case manager with an update on her day. Some days go without incident and my heart soars with relief and pride in her maintaining control over her frustrations. Other days end in endless questioning from my little one of “Mama, happy?” as I try to sort through my confusion and disappointment.
As I write this, it has become crystal clear to me that this roller coaster of emotions is what God must go through a million times a day, watching each one of us — His sons and daughters — make our way through this life, rejoicing when we are able to fight against the cultural tides of selfishness, make good decisions and remain clothed in His image. And, knowing His love for each of us, I can only imagine the enormity of His sadness when we choose to disrobe ourselves from all that is good and stand naked and exposed in defiance of who we are truly meant to be.
One recent morning when dropping Mary off at school, anxiety high and nerves a flutter, the aide that would normally be waiting to meet Mary was in a meeting so we were met by a different teacher, a woman I don’t know all that well, but understand she occasionally helps with Mary. As she helped her out of the car, she gave me a most unexpected gift. “I wanted to tell you something,” she said. “When I’m with your daughter and she is struggling, I pray for her.”
My eyes immediately filled with tears and I managed to squeak out a “thank you” before driving away with more peace in my heart that I’d had for the past few weeks. With this simple proclamation, outside the bounds of a parochial school no less, God had graciously shown Himself to me with a much-needed reminder that He is never far from our suffering.
As school starts again this January, Mary will be faced once again with the challenge of dealing with her frustrations and desire for control in a positive way. And I’ll be charged with the challenge of trusting and the honor of loving her through each day, whatever her behavior. Although the decision is ultimately her own, she won’t be alone in doing so; she will have her team of support at school and the prayers from all of us who believe in her.
In much the same way, as each one of us embarks on a new year, we have 365 days full of opportunity to discern what it is in our own lives that strips us from the image in which we were created and leaves us exposed and vulnerable. And each one of those 365 days is a new chance to accept God’s cloak of protection, mercy and love as we make our way through the ups, downs and middles of this gift of life. Happy New Year and best wishes for choosing just the right outfit for 2019.
Copyright 2019 Nicole Johnson