Sunday Best

As the days grow shorter and the temperatures cooler, I’m reminded of stories from our summer that I haven’t had a chance to share.

Let’s travel back to a small church in a small town in northern Wisconsin.

In July we spent a week visiting Michael while he worked the High Adventure program at Boy Scout Camp Tomahawk. This isn’t a picture from camp. But it is a picture of Michael and I love it. I’ve needed an excuse to share it.

Anyways, we traveled to the camp and enjoyed spending time hanging out with Michael. On Sunday, we headed into a small town to attend Mass. We arrived a few minutes late and scrambled to find seats. Our family was separated as Michael, Becky, and I settled into a pew on the left side of the church. Sam and the other kids found seats several pews in front of us.

At the end of our row was a woman by herself. She gave me a smile as we stood for the opening prayers. She wore an emerald green dress with a pattern of sprigged flowers, her long brunette hair falling in gentle curls over her shoulders. After we sat for the readings, Becky was unusually squirmy. She kept reaching for Michael and then for me. She threw her Cheerios and then a book. As I bent over to grab Brown Bear, Brown Bear, I noticed the women’s open-toed sandals and a lovely shade of pearlized coral.

From head-to-toe, she was dressed in her Sunday best.

Please don’t think me strange. I don’t normally pay close attention to other people’s wardrobe and pedicure selection. But we were dressed far too casually for a Mass and I was self-conscious. I had remembered the sunscreen, swimming suits, and s’mores. Our dress clothes, or even anything a little less campy, were back at home. We barely looked presentable for a bonfire let alone a Sunday service. So I was more keenly aware of the people sitting around us.

I grabbed the book and tried to regain composure as my body temperature rose. Questioning Becky’s endurance, I scouted out an escape route in the back. When I turned back around, I noticed the woman’s hand resting gently on my forearm. She looked at me and said, “Please don’t crowd yourself. There is plenty of room and I don’t mind you spreading out one bit.” I was immediately grateful to be sitting next to someone with such graciousness. I took her up on the offer and slid closer to the center of the pew.

And then Becky had a field day.

Throughout the rest of Mass, Becky waved and smiled. When the woman smiled back, Becky would stretch her arms out and clap in a robotic fashion. She tilted her head to one side and locked eyes with the woman. She reached over and stroked the woman’s hair. At one point, Becky leaned over and rested her head on the woman’s arm. Becky’s new friend was more than happy to respond to these antics.

Apparently, Becky is a member of the official welcoming committee for Planet Earth. She excels in this role.

As Mass concluded, I gathered our belongings, breathing a sigh of relief that we had survived another hour without driving fellow congregants to frustration. As I turned to leave, I saw the woman looking at me. I thanked her for her patience with Becky. I noticed tears gathering in her eyes as she began to speak. She introduced herself as Linda. And then she thanked me for Becky.

She told me that she had been struggling recently and that she came to Mass in a bit of a funk. Becky had been just what she needed that morning, the warmth and affection of this child soothing a worn heart. Linda shared about her late husband and the years she had spent caring for him as he suffered from dementia. We visited for awhile and I told her some about Becky and our journey with a special needs child.

I’ve had many encounters like this since Becky was born. One night, after Becky was recovering from her first open heart surgery, her pediatric surgeon stopped into the cardiac unit to check up on us. Dr. R. had operated on Becky when she was just 10 days old. Although out of place in the PCICU, she stayed for almost an hour visiting with me. We talked about the struggle to raise children and balance the various demands of life. She is a gifted and much sought after surgeon but she is also a mom who has to juggle sports schedules and grocery shopping. Her husband drives the Amtrak train route between Chicago and St. Louis. As we stood at Becky’s bedside, we chatted like old friends.

Another time, a fellow from the heart institute shared about her issues with a step-child. Nurses told me of problems with grandchildren or ex-spouses. One nurse shared about her ongoing battle with infertility. One of the maintenance women told me about her Cross Fit workouts and plans to move into her own apartment.

And it’s all because of Becky.

What is it about Becky that draws people into her orbit? I think I have finally figured it out.

Becky’s disabilities are apparent. There is no mistaking that she has Down syndrome, that her life looks different from other children. And I’m her caregiver. Not just me but our entire family. People intuitively know that our life looks different and assume that things have been hard for us. Somehow our circumstances provide an unspoken invitation to others to share their own struggles. Each such encounter widens our circle of friends and enriches our family life.

All of this because of a little girl who can’t stand on her own. Or walk. Or even talk.

It is the greatest honor to accompany this child and share her with people like Linda. As I said goodbye to her, I invited her to follow this blog. I scribbled the web address on the back of a bulletin and handed it to her. I gave her a hug and she squeezed Becky’s cheeks one last time. Then we left and walked to the car.

As I strapped Becky into her car seat, Rocky said, “Hey Mom! I didn’t know that you had a friend in northern Wisconsin.” I smiled as I nuzzled noses with Becky and we shared a knowing laugh.

I responded, “Well, I do now.”

3 thoughts on “Sunday Best

  1. Love this story. We often feel like we need to behave in such a manner that we don’t “bother” others, when in reality, we can be a witness to others and bring back many happy memories of long lost times. Whenever I see a mother wrestling with their young child, it sometimes bring a tear to my eye, remembering when I thought those were the toughest times. Little did I know what God was preparing for me what I would need deal with later in life.


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