the eyes of an artist

Written by Kelli Woodford

Kelli Woodford hopes never to recover from the Mighty Mercy she has been shown. Although her life is now filled with more diapers than she’d like to count, she carves time out to write about finding God in the simple and the frustrating at Chronicles of Grace (http://jasonandkelliwoodford.blogspot.com/).

September 16, 2013

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If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. 

With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists

we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. 

Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.” 

(F.Buechner)


Twenty-two years.

For twenty-two years she has been taking care of the baby. Washing her in all the normal places, not to mention the not-so-normal ones. Clipping her fingernails. Changing her diapers … and always her sheets. Cooking for her, holding her hand across the parking lot, guiding her firmly by the shoulder away from disaster. 

Twenty-two years of parenting a preschooler.

The first time I met them, I wondered at that mother. How hard would it be, after all, to have a special needs child who never graduated out of diapers? How would it be to know that your baby – toddling precariously around, pulling at tablecloths and drooling on strangers – would never grow out of it? 

I’m sure I can’t say.

But for three years I watched.

And I can say that for three years there was rarely a time when it didn’t touch me deep to see the tenderness of this mother’s love for her needy child. Oh, not her needy 9 month old, with chubby thighs and cute dimples. Not even her needy 4 year old, with funny bits of adult-ish phrases mimicked from listening in on daddy’s phone calls. Her needy twenty-two year old baby, y’all. No longer little or cutesy in any physical way. Think about it – when this girl wanted her mama’s arms, there was no crib to set her in, no pacifier to pop into her mouth, and precious few babysitters qualified to care for her. She would wail like she’d lost her best friend to see her mama cross the street to get the mail – which of course, she had. 

Because her mama was her best friend in all the ways that mattered. 

Their tale is far from told. In fact, it is still being written every day. It’s written in the gathering light of an early dawn, her baby bearing down hard to pass what everyone else does with daily ease – and mama right beside her, midwife to a bowel movement. It’s written in the handful of half-eaten apples that litter the living room when she’s wandered into the kitchen hungry while mama was busy changing those sheets or plunging that toilet. It’s written in the late nights of moaning for bellyaches she doesn’t know how to describe. And then, when the whippoorwills sing them both to sleep through the open windows of an old Missouri homestead, it’s written by the one ear mama keeps alert for the sound of the doorknob turning in the stillest part of the night … and the dreaded sound of those shuffling feet down the concrete steps and out toward the unforgiving road. 

But this story being written is not a tragedy, in the end. Oh, it has dramatic moments of sorrow and grief. And rightly so, for this is nothing less than the acknowledgement of the human condition. The playfulness, the adaptability, and the imagination of this mother make her an active co-creator with God in writing a story of joy.

Together, they create days of sunshine and swings. They invite children to come play, for this twenty-two year old baby loves nothing more than being among them. They watch movies and feast on popcorn and (always) apples. They share snuggles and hot chocolate on the couch. And when the daughter sits subdued in the corner, dog-eared nature magazine in her hand, it’s mama who reads her vacant eyes and sees what ails her.

Because this mama has learned to see behind her daughter’s eyes. She does not see the inconvenience or the mess or even the tediousness of those twenty-two years. What this mama teaches us all is how to see her child.

She sees her as an artist sees. 

 

For this is what it means to love.

 

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During September at Living the Story, we explore the theme Create. On September 30th, author Emily Freeman of Chatting at the Sky, joins us with her story, an opportunity for bloggers to link-up, and a giveaway of her new book, A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live. We hope you’ll join us on the fifth Monday in the comments for a chance to win and share your stories with us on how the word Create speaks to you.

 

34 Comments

  1. Kris Camealy

    Kelli, what a story. What a LIFE. Thank you for this glimpse into something so few of us understand, thank you for opening my eyes and reminding me to observe, to be a witness to the lives around me, maybe especially the hard ones that don’t look like mine. This is how we can love, by listening, by watching…. thank you.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      “to be a witness to the lives around me, maybe especially the hard ones that don’t look like mine.” oh Kris.

      Yes and Amen.

      Reply
  2. Christie Purifoy

    I have goosebumps. I feel as if my idea of an artist has just exploded wide open.
    Wow. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I know, me too Christie. Kelli has a way of doing that though, thinking outside the box. Love it.

      Reply
      • kelli woodford

        you guys bless me big- you know that, right?

        Reply
    • kelli woodford

      So glad to be getting to know you better, Christie. Thanks for your kind words.

      Reply
  3. Diane Bailey

    You slay me, Kelli. You just slay me!

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      ha! that’s a compliment … i guess … ?? 😉

      ((just kidding, of course, Diane))

      Reply
      • Diane Bailey

        Yes compliment. you leave me speechless. Just sitting here thinking of all that you have shared and how beautifully you say it. You are a very gifted writer!

        Reply
        • kelli woodford

          thank you, friend. that means a lot coming from you.

          Reply
  4. smoothstones

    God bless that mama. This reminds me of the story of that father who’s done all the triathlons or whatever with his profoundly challenged son strapped to his back.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      YES. oh my gosh, Brandee, my husband bawls his eyes out over that story every time it comes up. so very touching.

      thank you for being here, friend. and for engaging.

      Reply
  5. Ashley Tolins Larkin

    Kelli, I so agree with what’s already been shared here, friend. You do expand understanding in a way so infused with grace and yet also with the truth of a bell ringing, splitting through all the noise. Like Christie, I am thankful for this new way of understanding: art = seeing = love. You bless me with your ability to see and to love so deeply. I won’t forget this story. Thank you.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      there is so much beauty – so much ART, if you will – around us, Ashley. i’m thankful for those moments when i see it, but i also know there are probably just as many times i rush past it. perhaps this is why it is so important to trust that what is given – and what i get from what is given – is ENOUGH.

      thanks for your kind words. you always bless me, friend.

      Reply
  6. Holly

    Oh, friend…you’ve done a magnificent job of painting the beauty of this mother, this child, this relationship. And you’ve done another remarkable thing: you’ve called all of us, the ones who take our “easy breezy” children’s lives for granted, and you’ve gently, gorgeously, graciously cupped our faces and turned our eyes to *really* see them and every.single.moment as the gifts they are.
    Thank you.
    Thank you.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      it occurred to me while i was writing this that each of us as parents has the power that this mother has – we teach the world how to see our children.

      i have seen you do this, Holly. you smile and hug what would make some mothers scold or roll their eyes. that communicates what you think of your child, yes, but it is also the starting point for the rest of the world to interact with him. it’s like you set the mold for how others respond to him by the way you have chosen to see him.

      i have been thinking on this application long and hard, my friend. long and hard.

      Reply
  7. olivechan

    *sniff* And to think, that’s how God sees each of us(!) Thank you for this, Kelli..

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      AMEN, Olive. I had a similar conclusion written, but couldn’t make it work with the piece. Thank you for making the point here so lucidly.

      And thank you for reading, friend.

      Reply
    • Keturah Jean Paul

      This is a wonderful truth, isn’t it?

      Reply
  8. Janet

    Oh Kelli, This one touched me where i live, literally. My daughter is 22 and has Down Syndrome. She is not as profoundly-abled as you describe – but definitely differently abled. And I think about how I see her, and I guess at how others see her; I cannot look at her without KNOWING her because we are in relationship and that changes everything. So, sometimes I write about her and try to bridge gaps. I DO think God looks at us, in relationship, the same way – he KNOWS us and LOVES us – Even in our helplessness and need. That mom….and her daughter understand blessings. Thank you for this, today.
    Janet

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      oh, Janet. you don’t know how happy i am that you left a comment.

      as someone who lives this kind of love, may you know that you teach and touch many lives on a daily basis … even if they’re like me and never get a chance to tell you.

      thank you. for really SEEING.

      Reply
    • Paula Gamble

      “I DO think God looks at us, in relationship, the same way – he KNOWS us and LOVES us – Even in our helplessness and need.” I hope I remember this always for me and others. This is grace.

      Reply
      • Keturah Jean Paul

        “he KNOWS us and LOVES us” So thankful for that!

        Reply
  9. pastordt

    Stunning. Humbling. And so hard. Thanks for telling this story so faithfully and so well, Kelli.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      I appreciate your kind words and your support here, Diana. Love to you.

      Reply
  10. Paula Gamble

    I’m so glad you wrote this. And to see behind the faces and love the whole person and appreciate their whole story is love.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      thank you for your kindness in reading AND sharing, Paula. you always bless me more than you know.

      Reply
  11. Elizabeth Stewart

    I want to respond with a sound, something between a sigh and a groan, instead of words. This is what Ann Voskamp would call an ugly-beautiful situation. You amaze me with the pictures you paint with your words.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      They should create an emoticon for that sound – somewhere between a sigh and a groan – because I know just what you mean. Thank you for reading, friend. And for connecting here.

      Reply
  12. Hazel Moon

    Tender moments of a mothers love even through the mess of caring. Touching the heart.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      That’s the trick, isn’t it, Hazel? To keep alive what is tender, even in the midst of so much mess?

      Thank you for reading, friend.

      Reply
  13. Michele-Lyn

    How selfish I am. That’s what I realize even more. And it’s not guilt. It’s desire. A cry to God that I would love so well. I grumble and complain so very much. When I do, it’s His joy and peace I forfeit. I needed to read this. I needed to see.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      Oh, I hear ya. I needed to see this every day for three years solid, friend. It’s beauty like this that turns our hearts from stone into flesh so often, yes?

      Thanks for being here. And for leaving such candid words.

      Reply
  14. Tiffany Stuart

    I so love the beautiful art of this story. I’m sure I would be watching too if I had the opportunity to witness such love. Thank you for sharing this story with such tenderness and sweetness.

    Reply

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the eyes of an artist

by Kelli Woodford time to read: 4 min
35