Sometimes we finish the day in rags and mud, and the things we carry cover us like a tomb. And it’s testimony to the Light in her that even though she’s afraid to be embarrassed, she says I can write about this, our walking through together.
In my arms, she trembles. “I just want to be normal,” she says into my shirt, her voice now raw with pain. Her muffled anger still sounds fierce. “I want to be able to eat without pricking my finger.”
We stand in the kitchen together, right where we walked in the door, and the edge of the counter top presses a line into the base of my back. My purse, which is bigger than I would choose if I carried only my own things, sits right behind her, where I dropped the heavy of it first thing, before I had a chance to think beyond our conversation. Her feelings pour out unhindered, soaking my chest, reddening the whites of her eyes. “I don’t want this,” she says, pressing her forehead hard against me, “I don’t want this right now. I just want to be a kid. I don’t want to be weird. I’m afraid everyone thinks I’m weird.”
“I know,” I whisper into the top of her hair, inhaling the sweet smell of mint. She starts middle school next week, and into the social storm she wades, wearing diabetes like a tattered tartan. Adam has been blessed differently in two ways with regard to all of this: he was diagnosed at two, well before he developed memories of life without the disease; and while autism widens the range of taunts, it also grants him some oblivion with regard to social stress. But my Zoe, so perceptive and self-aware, remembers well what it was like before, and she feels embarrassed. On our way home, I have been telling her about how things will work, about what the nurse wants her to do, about the twists and turns involved in her new routine. And for her, these details are dust and rain, an ugly film crusting over her smooth skin. We walk in the door, and I turn to see the tears sliding along her jaw.
I wrap my arms around her, ignoring the ache of the day that twists the muscles in my shoulders and upper back. I have questions, for later. I have things to say. Parenting is so much more than meals and laundry and dust; it’s more than the day we have spent shuttling back and forth between doctor’s appointments, assembling in crooked lines to wait, pressing to be ready. Children learn the earth by instinct, but it is ours to teach them the lasting things, ours to show them that walking is so much more than taking steps, that seeing is so much more than surfaces, that hearing is not merely the capturing of sound. Even so, I collect my words for later. It is enough, just now, to let her know I hear. And I do hear, so well that my own tears fall, just the few she won’t see, barely wetting the top of her head. I am thankful to listen, thankful she talks to me, and at the same time so exhausted and shadowed myself that I wish we might have saved this for another time.
This day has been a day for not enough and by mistake, but until this moment I haven’t noticed the collection of filth I’ve gathered all day, the bits of human criticism and comparison and condemnation sticking to me, ugly. It’s not possible to travel these temporary roads without picking up the dirt. But standing in the kitchen with her tears soaking my shirt, sheltering her trembling shoulders, I suddenly feel the weight of what covers me. I recognize it as the heavy pain cramping my shoulders. And then I hear the nasty taunt of something, the wicked well doesn’t this just fit the day, settling. Were my arms not tightly wrapped, I might lift them and evaluate the ripped up places running from elbow to fingertips. But to do that, except to lay the wounding down, would be to offer it some value as a testimony. And these light and momentary troubles are achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17). It’s the glory, the achieving of it, that deserves the testimony. I have asked God to teach me how to speak. So, I wrap my arms into a tight shelter for my daughter, and I give thanks for her trust in me.
I smooth Zoe’s hair back with my hands, and I listen.
“I wish I didn’t have to have someone ‘supervising’ me all the time at school. ‘Remember to check your blood,’ ‘Remember to eat a snack,’ ‘Remember!’ I don’t want to have a snack. And I don’t want to have a ‘notebook.’ I don’t want to be late for class. I don’t want to go see the nurse. I don’t want to KNOW about any of this. I don’t want it! I wish you could get well from diabetes like you get well from a cold. I wish, even just for a while, I could NOT be diabetic. Mom?”
She pulls away from me and studies my face, and I rub the red splotches on her cheeks with my thumbs, content just to hear. I press my lips together in a thin, acknowledging smile. “I know. I’m sorry. I don’t know what it’s like, but I know it’s hard.” The truth is that I want to fix it. I want to take the burden away from her and carry it myself. But I can’t. The best I can do to love her well is to teach her how to walk through, to have eyes that see, to have ears that hear.
It’s as though those words—I know it’s hard—untie the last of the threads she has carefully knotted through her small arms and around her soul, and the last of these muddy rags fall away in a heap at my feet. I wonder how long she has been binding herself with these sighs, these weights laying flat against the Light, these grave clothes stuffed into her hands by an unseen enemy. My daughter has a tendency to do this over time, to let painful thoughts layer and build until they begin to smother her. But I say those words—I know it’s hard—and she crumbles, relieved. She buries her head one more time in my chest and lets the shadows dissolve.
When she settles down, I look into her eyes and tell her the beauty I see. I tell her the story of a stunning, radiant girl born of Light who really lives, of a girl who cares when other people feel embarrassed and afraid and uncomfortably different, because she knows how hard it is to feel that way. “The things He doesn’t take away from us, He changes. He makes them new and uses them in ways we could never even imagine,” I whisper, right into the crown of her head, veiling her sacred with scripture, like a Bride. And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We have to lay these things at His feet and ask Him to teach us to see. We can’t wear shadows over the robe He’s given or let this journey cake us in mud. That would only cheapen what His sacrifice has achieved. Ours are blood-bought, royal robes. We live redeemed, not defeated.” I say this into her soft hair, into the sweet, clean smell of mint, but the conviction is as much for me at the end of this heavy, shadowed day, as it is for her. And when she looks at me with those deep eyes, blue like the stormy sea, I offer her a mirror in which to see the light and fire and life of her, the Truth that burns clean through the cracks in us, obliterating all the things meant by the enemy to be our shroud. “What God has given can never be taken away. So be who you are, Zoe. Be His.”