Who Can You Not See?

I wrote last week of an incident in which I realized Penny had appeared to be willfully disobedient, mean, and destructive (Happy Tears: Why I Believe in My Daughter). Based on what I already know about her and some gentle nudges from the Holy Spirit, I questioned that version of events. In time, by talking it through with Penny and her brother, I realized she had made some mistakes, for sure, but her intentions had been good. She needed some guidance on how to assist a toddler and how to color the Christmas tree. She needed to apologize for the consequence of her actions. But she wasn’t trying to scribble on the wall or push the toddler down.

It brought me back to a scene a few weeks earlier when we were having brunch with some old friends and their friends from church. Penny was sitting at a table across the room. She was eating her eggs and ham, seated next to her best friend from school. A woman I had never met before approached me and said, “You were so brave to have more children.”

Every muscle in my torso tightened. I said, “I’m very grateful for all my children.”

“No, no,” she said. “You must have really amazing faith. I would just be angry with God forever.”

I took a deep breath and said, “I’m very grateful for all my children.”

She came back one more time: “I come from a medical perspective, so I don’t know that I could have handled it.”

Later, I thought about saying so many other things: “Well I come from a family perspective, and our family is good and whole with Penny in it.”

Or, “It actually doesn’t take much faith to believe that Penny is a gift. If anything, I’m more convinced of God’s goodness and presence in our lives as a result of her.”

But what I wish I had said, most of all, was, “Can you see my daughter?”

****

This fall, Peter and I have been leading an adult Sunday School class using Paul Miller’s Person of Jesus curriculum. In this study (which I highly recommend), Miller points out a pattern throughout the gospels in which Jesus sees someone, feels compassion, and then acts upon that compassion. See, feel, respond. It’s a pattern throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament God often sees (or hears) his people in distress, is moved to compassion, and then acts on their behalf. In the gospel stories Jesus not only sees people, but he also makes a point of helping others–his disciples, the Pharisees–see them too. When the disciples encounter a man born blind in John 9, they see a problem, not a person. When Simon the Pharisee observes a woman anointing Jesus with her tears in Luke 7, he sees a sinner, not a person. But Jesus cuts through the stereotypes. Moreover, he refuses to look past people, to disregard their inherent worth and dignity. He sees them, he sees us, as full human beings. Beautiful, broken, beloved.

****

I was so angry during my interaction with that woman a few weeks back that it took me a few hours to realize she couldn’t see Penny. She could see Penny’s diagnosis, and apparently she filtered Penny’s whole being through a “medical perspective” which led her to conclude that Penny’s life was tragic and difficult and faith-crushing. She couldn’t really see me either. I was just the poor parent of a disabled child. And perhaps my anger and defensiveness prevented me from seeing her as well.

When I look at Penny, I see a cute, capable, sometimes deceitful, endearing, frustrating, talented, bright, lovable little girl. I see someone who is working hard to learn how to cartwheel, someone who loves books and writing, someone who works hard, someone who lavishes hugs upon anyone she knows, someone who would put ketchup on anything, someone who aspires to lead worship in church when she gets older, someone in whom I take great delight. If she were not my daughter, I don’t know what I would see. But I know that she has enabled me to see other people more fully, more clearly, with more compassion and more belief in their particular giftedness than ever before.

It is a blessing to be able to see any human being. It is a sign of the Spirit in our midst, giving us eyes to see, leading us towards compassion and away from anger and judgement.

Who do you have trouble seeing?

About Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker writes and speaks about family, faith, disability, and culture. A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is the author of Penelope Ayers: A Memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift (Bethany House), and Why I Am Both Spiritual and Religious (Patheos Press).

Comments

  1. LisaLaverty says:

    Love this Amy Julia!

    I just know I was more like the lady in the restaurant in this story than not, before I had ~G. I am so thankful for him and the blessing of having my eyes and heart opened on so many levels. I don’t feel sorry for us or ~G. I feel blessed and could never think this little guy doesn’t have a valuable spot here on earth.

    I will most likely have similar encounters with my -G as he grows ( he is 10 months)and also has Down syndrome. I hope I am able to be graceful in those moments as painful as they can be.
    .

    • Lisa, Thank you! One of the interesting things as Penny has gotten older is that interactions like this don’t feel painful anymore. They just make me steaming mad. My husband didn’t hear what the other woman said, he just heard my response and later he said, “you were crackling.” I could be wrong, but I think moving from pain to anger is good. Eventually, perhaps, compassion for those who can’t see her as I do?

      • BGZ123 says:

        Amy Julia, beautifully written and deeply felt. Reminded me – on a much more mundane level – of seeing patients (as a physician). Often someone would come in with what I considered a “bad attitude” – angry, demanding, unwilling to listen. As a young doctor, I wondered what I was doing wrong. It took me a long while to stop taking this personally. I finally understood they were responding to other issues in their lives, not to me, I just happened to be a convenient outlet. I was then able to let go of both my pain and anger. I have sometimes fantasized about how things would change if the whole world learned this lesson. Merry Christmas and have a wonderful new year! – Brian Zack

  2. Mark Leach says:

    A wonderful example and commentary on the reductive nature of medical diagnoses: reducing the complexity and uniqueness of an individual to solely the medical label. But you say it so much better than “reductive”!

  3. Tim says:

    AJ, I was thinking earlier when reading Laura Martin’s “Enough Light” blog post about how Jesus looked around for the people no one paid attention to and then chose to pay attention to those people. It’s ;like you say here. He sees the person, not the label others puts on those people. Thanks for helping me see that too.

  4. Christen says:

    So beautiful, I didn’t want the article to end!

  5. Denise says:

    So many times I have encountered a similar response the most memorable was, “you knew when you were 13 weeks pregnant and you kept her?” My blood was boiling, and all I could only come up with “Well we are Christians and abortion is not an option.” I still wish I had a better response like …. well I guess I still don’t have an answer….. Just forgive and be Thankful God gave our girls to us because we are the best mommas for them!

  6. Jeannie says:

    This is such a lovely post — the idea that being able to really see another person is a sign of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Thanks for sharing with us what this experience taught you.

  7. Roger Morris says:

    “I was so angry during my interaction with that woman a few weeks back that it took me a few hours to realize she couldn’t see Penny. She could see Penny’s diagnosis…”

    Ok, this is understandable, but the author’s defensiveness may be just as revealing. The lady having the conversation with the author was obviously well-intentioned and probably just being honest about her imagined own difficulties in coping in the same situation. I think it is unfair to judge this lady too severely for her well-intentioned but possibly clumsy interactions.


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