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The Things That Stick

I've always been sensitive. If there is a slight breeze, I'll feel it. If there is a whisper of an odor, I'll smell it. If there comes a chill in the air, my body feels it. And if there is a word or deed that hurts, my fragile soul will begin to crumble.

I understood at an incredibly young age the power of words. Not just the words themselves, but how they're delivered. The passive aggressive comments that are meant to attack. The back handed compliments whose only purpose it was to damage. And while, of course, when directed at me, my heart would break and I'd start to cry, it was when I heard things about my children that the pain 
I felt would just about almost crush my spirit into nothingness. 

I have been so stuck lately on a comment that was made many years ago about Avery. It hurt the first time I heard it, but the remembrance of it makes me angry. And I can't understand why. 

And so it is that I write. Because for me, I don't know what I'm going to write about or what conclusion I'll come to until I get to the end. I write what needs to come out trusting that somehow God will use the written word to help me make sense of things. And, 9 times out of 10, I feel better, more at peace, after I write. And I need to feel better about this.
Avery had eczema. That meant really dry skin. More than likely it had to do with undiagnosed
Celiac. Eczema is one of a ridiculous amount of symptoms of Celiac. Two years before her death we cut gluten out of her diet and she was like a totally different kid. Even her skin improved dramatically. But we didn't know that at the time. She was just a young child with really dry skin.

It was summer time and Avery was busy playing with a bunch of kids while I was at work. When they wanted to go outside sunscreen had to be applied. I was eventually told by the adult in charge that they would rub the sunscreen on all the kids except Avery. Avery had to do it herself because they didn't like the feel of her dry skin. They went on to tell me how they always kept their own children's skin nice and moist by rubbing lotion in every night and what a wonderful experience that was. 

I was stunned, but laughed it off. I'm not good at assertiveness and I'm too emotional to even start to say what I feel (lest I turn into a blubbering idiot 37 seconds in) and I don't like confrontation. Even 
I know that someone who feels compelled to go up to a mother and point out their child's skin problem has no cares about hurting feelings.

So, I did what I always do. I laughed it off. Chuckled weakly, nodded my head, yep, yep she's got dry skin. Oh, hey! I'm late, we have to get going! When what I wanted to say was are you serious? You are supposed to be some fabulous child advocate and yet you single out the children not good enough for you? 

My feelings were hurt; yet, worse was my fear that Avery had felt this different treatment. That she had possibly felt the hurt that comes from being segregated and subtly shown you're not good enough.

But Avery never let on to me that she even knew this had happened. We walked on into the sunshine, celebrated the day, continued to sing way too loud in the car, and ate way too much popcorn as a snack before bed.

And I forgot about it.

Or so I thought.

It seems now, for whatever reason, this comment has come back to haunt me. It won't let me go. And it leaves me feeling angry.

Angry because I was her mom and I failed her. I was too weak to say something. I should have stood up and clearly disallowed that type of behavior towards my child. And yet, I knew that it wouldn't have mattered. They were already treating her differently; doesn't matter the reason: too annoying, too snotty, too dirty, or too dry - that wasn't going to improve just because I called them out on it. 

Angry because my daughter deserved better. All our daughters do. And our sons. Who comes into this world asking for drug addicted parents or a mom who's a stripper, or a palsy that confines them to a wheelchair, or a skin disorder that makes their arms feel like sandpaper? Who of us entered this world controlling our circumstances? Our physical appearance? The amount of money in the checking account? And yet somehow, as an adult, we feel we have the right to treat people - young, innocent people - different because of something they have no control over. As adults, we should know better. We should be better.

Angry because I am so naive as to believe that everyone who chooses a profession that claims to be an advocate of children is actually a practicing advocate of ALL children. Not just the cute ones or the ones whose mom's drop them off wearing the NorthFace jacket, yoga pants and Uggs. 

Angry because when I look at all the children waiting in orphanages or in foster homes for a family to love them - just love them - not provide a upper middle class home with a fireplace and spring break vacations to Myrtle Beach each year - just LOVE - they aren't chosen because they're not perfect enough. They aren't cute enough. What are we telling them? If you were just a little closer to perfect you would have been chosen. Unfortunately, you're not good enough to deserve my love and acceptance.

Sometimes I see the most judgmental adults with the seemingly perfect kids. They don't know what it's like to put a baby in physical therapy with the prayers that they will someday walk. They don't know what it's like to battle a learning disability secretly fearing the limited future of their child. They don't know what it feels like to be the mom in the stands whose child sits each and every game on the bench, whose teammates forget he was even part of the team after they graduate. 

I wonder why God does that. Why does He give these judging adults - most of whom can't even see that they're callously judging others - why does He give them these seemingly perfect situations? 

And then I think: but what would it mean for the imperfect child to be brought into a home where the one person who was supposed to love them unconditionally was unable to see past their imperfections?

Maybe that's why the comment is bothering me so much. To remind me of how easy it is to treat a child differently. To remind me of how easy it is to hurt a child through segregation. 

And maybe this is haunting me to serve as a warning; to remind myself what responsibility I have to the hearts of others. To caution me not to forget how the treatment of others can be filled with dignity, or infected with disrespect. Maybe it's God's way of preparing me for what's to come. 

Matt and I coach the 5th and 6th grade girls basketball team at Avery's school. Each and every single one of those girls I swear I can see into their soul. I swear God has graciously allowed me to look into their hearts, see where their hurts lie, see what they fear. They are so amazingly beautiful and I KNOW God has a special plan for each one of them. 

I want them to know how worthy and special and amazing they are. I want them to see that there were no mistakes when God created them. They are beautiful. They are special. And they deserve unconditional love. 

I want to sit every single child down and just give them a huge list of all the positive things that make them uniquely them. Because we are not our physical selves. See, none of that matters. Society makes us believe that in order to be successful you need the right hair style and the latest fashions. Society tells us we should focus on the outer appearance and then we will be liked and valued. And that is so wrong!

But guess what?

WE are society. You and me. Our families, our friends, our co-workers. It's US who teach this way of thinking to our children.

And I have a choice to make as to what beliefs and comments I throw out in the world because, trust me, something will stick.

I want to be the person that would take that child with dry skin and a heart of gold each and every day, a thousand times over. And it would be me who would feel lucky and blessed. Me who would feel so privileged to be trusted with God's most special children. And all He would ask is that I just love them.

Such an incredibly important thing God calls us to do... simply love. Love so hard that it sticks with that child no matter where they go in life.

Maybe all this remembering of something thrown out in the past is just a way to challenge me to watch what I throw out in the present.

You know, I do feel better. And now I know better, too.


Ephesians 4:29ESV
 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths,
 but only such as is good for building up,
 as fits the occasion,
that it may give grace to those who hear. 


Jackie Cardin said…
I hope the lady that made those comments remembers also. I hope she remembers the day she callously singled out a beautiful, special , adorable girl for something she couldn't help. I hope it changes her heart when she thinks about the fact that Avery is no longer here, to grace us with her light, and she can never take those words back. I hope she NEVER makes another mother or child feel that way. I know Avery will help her.
Lady Jennie said…
I memorised all of Ephesians 4 and part of 5 one troubled night when I was a baby Christian and it is one of the single most influential scriptures to guide my behaviour.

I've been here before, I know. I remember reading about Avery. My heart hurts that she is no longer with you. I have celiac disease and my son, though he tested negative, has major eczema. I'm taking him to an allergist soon.

May God be with you as you stumble towards perfect. Hugs.
Shannon said…
Shannon said…
I feel absolutely TERRIBLE right now! To think that my sister carried this comment with her for so long. I struggle with touch. I am not a “hugger”. I don’t like when people put their arm around me as they talk to me. I can’t concentrate – I just keep thinking ‘stop touching me’. I hate the feel of dry skin – my own dry skin and especially others. Yes this is a struggle. (My husband is a hard worker which means dry, callused hands. I try!) But I know the power of touch and work hard to ‘be better’ with my own kids. Which means, yes, when they were little I would apply lotion after baths. It didn’t last long. I make them do it themselves now. It is hard for me.

And so YES, I told my sister that her daughter – my beautiful, wonderful, incredibly funny niece – would have to apply her own sunscreen because I hated the feel of dry skin. I never intended that to hurt a momma’s heart. I only wanted to clarify that she could do it. Because in the past (when my niece was younger) I did do it when she was here playing in the sun. Her delicate skin would become red so quickly in the hot sun. So I would do that. But my touch sensitivity made that really hard. But I didn’t ask right. And I didn’t say it right. And somehow it got all twisted and misinterpreted. And for that I will be forever apologetic.

I cared very much for my niece. And I have enough sensitivity that I did not say this IN FRONT of her. In fact, when we applied sunscreen, I would say ‘you’re a big girl now, right?’ with a smile and not only did she apply her own sunscreen, my oldest would proudly try to apply his own too. Of course she even knew about this situation – it was MY issue and I would have never made it about her dry skin.

I can’t be positive this blog is about that day. My sister has never asked to talk about this with me. And especially because she writes something about ‘the adult’ rubbing lotion on her children and it being a ‘wonderful experience’. I would certainly never use those words to describe my attempts at learning to be less sensitive to the that physical sensation. More like tolerable. But I’m working on it. So it could be about another adult.

But if this is about that day, I need to share and apologize. Share so others know that even when you never, ever intend to hurt – to cause something to ‘stick’ in a negative way -- you can. And apologize – to my sister who has carried this with her. I feel absolutely terrible that something I said has caused you pain. I will think about it. I will pray for guidance and wisdom with my words – help to make sure that I never say things that can be interpreted as hurtful, critical and judgmental.

Please share with others and learn from my mistake!
Anonymous said…
I just 'stumbled' upon your blog for the first time and am SO happy that I did! What a wonderful post and a good lesson for everyone. We should all know better than to ever hurt people with our words, let alone children. I, too, am very sensitive and in-tune to hurtful comments and have spent many, many minutes of my life in tears because of mean-spirited adults. Unfortunately our non-verbal son with autism makes an easy target.

Your words and your beautiful daughter touched my heart. Hugs to you.
Colleen Walker said…
Thank you so much for this! This has just about knocked me to my knees as it speaks to me very personally right now. Thank you so much for sharing this and opening my eyes and perspective. I pray to be so much better for all of God's children!
Chiconky said…
Amazing post. I have tears in my eyes. And then I read your sister's and the tears started again. I've been guilty of saying stupid, hurtful shit and having absolutely no idea. This whole post has reminded me to be more thoughtful. Thank you for writing this.
The girls in the basketball team that you coach are so fortunate to have such a sensitive and kind coach to guide them. I wish all children could be treated with the kind of caring and respect that you describe.

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