Sometimes I have good ideas and other times I have absolutely ridiculous ones. Like the time I decided to take my two small children to dinner at a sit-down restaurant when my husband was out of town.
Autism affects my 6 year old son’s mind in such a way that it can be both a brilliant gift and a debilitating hindrance, depending on the day. No matter how much we prepare, sometimes something so insignificant can completely set him off. He sees a fly. His peanut butter sandwich has slightly too much peanut butter. The lights are too bright. The soda machine is too loud. Because of this, we live our lives trying to anticipate all of these hidden factors, but it doesn’t always work. This was one of those times.
As soon as we sat down with our food, I immediately had to clutch my plate so it didn’t get tossed. His face turned bright red and he screamed at such a high pitch I could see the people around us wincing. He stiffened out and slid under the table. He jammed his fingers in the cracks in the wall. He tossed his toy across the restaurant. I ran to get it as I barked at my daughter, “Go get some to-go boxes!” I scraped food off our plates while simultaneously trying to keep him from clawing his own cheeks with his fingernails.
I gathered up all of our things, attempted to balance our food and pick him up at the same time, all while trying desperately to avoid eye contact with all of the people who I assumed were judging my parenting because he looks so “normal”. I was so tired of living life in this constant state of embarrassment, seclusion, and exhaustion. So very tired.
Then it happened. A hand reached out and gently touched my shoulder.
“Hey, I just want you to know this happens to all of us and it’s ok. It’s usually her!” She pointed to her small daughter sitting at the table. She gave me a warm, reassuring smile and my eyes filled with tears. I squeaked out a “thank you”, hung my head, and bolted to the car.
All the way home I couldn’t stop thinking of the kindness of that woman. She was a stranger who didn’t know me, but sympathized with my situation and wanted me to know I wasn’t alone. It meant so much more to me than the quick “thank you” I muttered and I regretted that was all I was able to offer in return at that moment.
How many times have I had the same opportunity to reach out and touch a shoulder and I’ve let it go by? How many times have I missed the opportunity to say some of the most important words a fellow frustrated, worn out woman can hear?
You are not alone.
It says, “Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out to the exhausted, pulling them to their feet.”
I know that night in the restaurant, I sure did feel like an exhausted straggler who needed to be pulled to my feet. All it took was a little encouragement from a stranger to remind me that there are probably more people looking at my parenting struggles with empathy than with judgment.
I hope that I can open my eyes to the other stragglers around me and have the courage to place my hand on their shoulders. I pray that with God’s direction, I can be brave enough to pull them to their feet by offering a kind word, a helping hand, or even just a reassuring smile. If we truly are the hands and feet of God, we must show the world that He is good by taking care of each other when we feel that nudge in our hearts telling us that it’s needed.
If you feel like you are the exhausted straggler today and no one is reaching out, God sees you and He will pull you to your feet. Hand Him your weariness, your problems, your frustrations, and your worries and He will carry them for you.