Back then I had a friend. We became friends in an odd sort of way, but the friendship stuck for many years. Actually, she had a third daughter who was only a few weeks older than ours, so of course that was an immediate bond. When our little punkin' was tiny, we wanted to have a special service of dedication for her, and their family was looking to have a special service of thanksgiving for the adoption of a child...their second daughter who was about a year old at the time. She was a special needs infant adoption, and at the time her development was very up in the air. Much was unknown. Their eldest daughter had also been a special needs adoption, as an older child. She was a sweet big sister, not without her struggles, but a cute kid. The third daughter who was their only "homegrown" one, at the time, was severely handicapped and medically fragile.
So we had the service together, both sets of parents praising God for their perfect little family. And through the years we remained friends. A few years later they had a fourth daughter as well, physically healthy in every way. I used to watch my friend with her brood, and marvel. Of course back then I had only one, and I thought that could be hard at times. I would see my friend struggling with so many issues...older child adoption issues, learning disabilities, endless battles to find services and help for her children, constant runs to the hospital to literally save her child's life. There was a continuous round of therapies and doctors appointments, and meetings at the school. And through all of this my friend remained "normal". She was active in her church, close to her extended family, attentive to her friends. Their family went on vacations, baked cookies, swam in the pool, went to the beach. In fact, we did our fair share of those things with them, and often. Our families were close, and we enjoyed one another's company. I would watch her children every now and then, and not even give it a second thought. I had known them much of their lives, and was familiar with their challenges. Looking back now, I know it should have scared me to try and take on their care. Anything could have gone wrong at any time, and it frequently did. But I was young and I knew everything back then.
I remember listening to my friend talk for countless hours, describing their days, and struggles, and victories. I know now what she was doing. She was indulging me, and educating me. How in the world could someone as young, and green, and stupid as me presume to understand her life? But she was older, and wiser, and much, much stronger. I am grateful she took the time. I always thought I understood, from my vantage point of looking in from the outside. Sometimes I had the audacity to have my own opinions and secretly believe I would have done things differently or better. Only once did I ever catch a glimpse of the truth, and I have never forgotten it.
We were at the beach, late in the afternoon, coming onto evening. Our families were picnicking together, and the children were running about, under the eyes of two Daddies. I was at the picnic table fussing over food, or messes, and my friend got up to comfort her third daughter who was being fussy in her adaptive stroller. She picked her up and carried her out towards the sea wall, bouncing her like a fussy baby. But she wasn't a baby, she was a little girl, who was growing taller and heavier by the day. My friend was a tiny whip of a woman, little more than skin, and muscle, and bone...with a long blond braid trailing down her back. As she walked away from me I noted what a struggle it was for her to hold and carry the stiff body of her child. A few minutes later I looked up to see them in the distance. Her back was to me, her face to the sea, and her daughter lay outstretched on her arms. Their bodies formed the silhouette of a cross, as the wind whipped both their hair.
I remember staring at the image, shaken by the knowledge that I was looking on something I did not understand. I was humbled by the strength I saw. I never told anyone about that moment. I was still too busy back then, trying to know everything.
I've since lost touch with my friend, and I sincerely regret it. Truly, I'm not even sure how it happened, though I suspect it had more to do with me and my inherent selfishness, and less to do with anything she did or did not do. And now I am her age, or the age she was back then I mean. I am faced with a few of the same struggles and sacrifices that she faced with such grace. I am profoundly grateful now, for all of the time she took to indulge me, and educate me. Again, such grace, to take a spoiled child like me under her wing, and broaden my narrow world. Do we ever know the far reaching implications of a merciful, hard working life? I wish she could see her "cross" as it remains in my memory all these years later, and know that her faithfulness reaches so much farther than she could have imagined.