I saw you today at the grocery store.
Tired. Hunched over. Sad.
Your snow white hair was combed neatly across your forehead. Your blue and white plaid shirt tucked snugly into your denim pants.
A middle aged man followed a few steps behind you. He picked up a box of mashed potatoes and dropped them in the cart. “No, Joey. No mashed potatoes tonight.” You placed them back on the shelf. “This way Joey, hold the cart,” you said, guiding him with your arm.
I watched you both as you made your way down the isle. You guiding. Redirecting. He, meandering around. Wandering off a bit. Rocking now and then. Dropping bags of pasta and ramen in the cart. You, placing the items back on the shelves as you shopped from your grocery list.
You were gentle. Kind. Patient.
But you were also tired.
I could see the love in your eyes. But I could also see the weariness. I could see you had been doing this for a long time.
An elderly father.
A middle aged, disabled son.
Grocery shopping. Together.
And I thought. I thought about how this will be me eventually. Only it will be a bit different.
It will be an elderly mother.
And a middle aged disabled daughter.
Grocery shopping. Together.
And the tears came. The pain of it took my breath away, again. The waves of grief washed over me.
How did this happen? Why does it have to be this way? Why did Autism have to steal so much from my daughter? Why did it have to take so much from our family?
Why her? Why us?
I love her. I love her so dearly. I would give anything for her.
This is not how I envisioned it. I never imagined it would be this way when I held my beautiful baby girl for the first time at the hospital. I didn’t expect that she would grow into a woman on the outside, yet always have the mind and abilities of a very young toddler.
Who wants this for their child?
No one wants this for their child.
No mother hopes her daughter will still need help crossing the street when she is grown. No father envisions helping his son in the bathroom when he is 35. No mother hopes her daughter will still be watching Winnie the Pooh and playing My Little Pony when she is 60.
No father envisions helping his middle aged son in the grocery store.
How painfully glorious.
How did I never see them before?
Grey haired men and women, walking alongside their adult special needs children?
I see them everywhere now.
Parents whose children have Down’s Syndrome. Autism. Paralysis. Dravet Syndrome. Trisomy 18. William’s Syndrome. Cerebral Palsy. And a thousand other life altering disabilities.
I see them walking on the sidewalks, hand in hand. I see them at restaurants, feeding their adult children by tube or spoon. I see them at parks. Church. Doctor’s offices. Grocery stores. Caring for their children. Loving them. Keeping them safe. All the days of their life.
What a picture of Love. True, deep, Sacrificial Love.
A love that says, “My life for yours.”
A love that says, I am here for you.
No matter what.
A love that has traded in the dreams of Golden Year Vacations in the Caribbean for quiet evenings at home building Lego airplanes and watching Thomas the Train .
A love that knows it will never again grab keys and wallet and walk out the door alone without first arranging for a caregiver.
A love that knows there will be sleepless nights, gastric tubes, meltdowns and wheelchairs for the rest of its life.
A love that knows those Golden Year candle lit dinners for 2 will be replaced with Happy Meal nights in for 3.
A love that knows it will still be helping an adult son in the grocery store at 80.
A love that has seen so many dreams die.
But in their place is a firm resolve. A resolve that as long as you live, your child will be loved.
No matter what it takes. No matter the cost. Even if it takes a life time.
Isn’t this the kind of Love Jesus was talking about when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends?”
Isn’t this a small picture of Jesus, and His love for us? Isn’t this the sacrifice God calls each of us to?
So to the elderly man in the grocery store, whoever you are, Thank you. Thank you for the love you have for your son.
To all the elderly men and women out there helping their adult sons and daughters, Thank you.
Thank you for being kind. For being gentle. For being patient.
Even though you are tired.
And it’s been so long.
Thank you for reminding us we are not alone. That others have and are walking the road ahead of us. That if you can do it in your old age, we can too.
Thank you for being there for your children.
No matter what.
Thank you for reminding us of the Love our Father has for us. Walking beside us. Helping us. Guiding us. Loving us.
Thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus. Even if you don’t know it.
Thank you for showing us a Love that says, “My life for yours.”
How utterly Beautiful.
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13