My daughter, Lila, had big plans for her birthday: a party with friends. She planned it for two months — the plan incessantly changing — and I kept trying to steer her towards a neighborhood or family party instead. Not because I don’t want her to have what she wants, but because I’m afraid people won’t show up for her; I am afraid of the imminent and foreboding rejection I know comes with a differently-abled child.
It hurts too much for people to not love her like we do, to not see her like we do.
She took a sheet of paper and wrote her own invitation: “Panera or Hawaiian Bros. Town center shopping. Ice cream. Fun???”
Then she created a chart for names and phone numbers she would take with her to school and have her friends fill out. I waited until the Monday before the party because if you wait till the last minute, of course everyone will be busy. It’s just their schedule if they can’t come, not Lila.
But she hounded me. “Text my friends now, Mom,” she demanded, hand on her hip. The list was long. I couldn’t believe she collected all these phone numbers. Odds are good we will have 3 or 4. Each “send” was painful for me. When I say I’m protective of her, I really mean, I have built my life around it, grasping for a sense of control over a diagnosis that seems uncontrollable.
With each text sent, I held my breath, sure that it would be met with “No, sorry” or simply . . . silence. But my phone kept buzzing — everyone was responding. If it was a 13-year-old, it read something like, “Can’t wait! Love her!” If it was the mother of one of the girls, it looked like, “We hear so much about her, wouldn’t miss it!”
I was nervous for the party, and in stark contrast, Lila was not. She was beaming, trusting, a little naive to the harsh realities of what COULD happen. My worries compounded. What will we do? How will I keep them entertained? Will they ignore her?
One by one, her friends showed up. They hugged her and squealed when they arrived at Panera. They sang and danced strange TikTok-ish erratic dances together. (Yes, I am old.) When we went shopping, they picked outfits for her and then oohed and awed when she came out of the dressing room. I kept having to choke back tears. They weren’t faking it, they really loved her. In fact, it was better than I could have imagined, better than any best-case scenario I had played in my mind.
They loved her more than I’ve ever seen a friend from the outside world love her in a long time. She was not strange to them. They laughed when she laughed. She opened presents, screaming with joy at each thing. “Lila is the best gift opener. She’s so fun to watch get gifts!” one girl said.
My breath caught, this is what I cherish about Lila too. They understood her, like I do?
It’s rare that it happens, that people see her like I do. It’s my secret world, the world I protect her in. I save up all the best things about her and hoard them because no one deserves her pure joy if they can’t see it.
That night, when it was all over, I sat and thought over my worries and how they didn’t match up to reality. That for all my trying to control the situation to protect her, if I had it my way, I would have shielded her from a great deal of joy, and not the heartache I feared. My plan would have turned in on me and imploded on itself. There are lots of verses in the Bible that implore us to not worry. That if God takes care of the flowers of the field, we don’t need to worry about how God will take care of us. I know those verses. But in my worry about my daughter, I was really asking a question of provision.
Will you really provide for her? Will you really provide for me? Is the same grace that’s sufficient for me, sufficient for her? These are the questions that pour out of me, trembling, doubtful.
Meeting me in my self-protection, or in protecting my daughter (which is really a way to protect me too), Jesus gently kneels down and searches my face with His own teary eyes. Hey, He says. When I am brave enough to admit with my furrowed brow that I have consistently been afraid that He is not going to take care of me, her, us, Jesus continues,
Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t plant or harvest. They don’t even store grain in barns. Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren’t you worth much more than birds? Matthew 6:26 (ESV)
Isn’t she worth more than birds?
He didn’t have to do it like this. It didn’t have to be twelve girls that showed up for Lila; it could have been four and I would have been thrilled. He didn’t have to make sure someone never left her side, not even for a second. He didn’t have to include dancing and squealing. And He didn’t have to let me watch it all from the outside, having nothing to do with it.
God was doing it, He was controlling the Birthday. He didn’t have to stoop to my level to show me how much He loved her and me. But in His abundance, He did. He went overboard in the best way. And in doing so, healed a piece of my heart I had been unwilling to bring to Him. He pursued it Himself for my good, for my joy, for my healing.