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Unexpected Gifts

December 23, 2012

We’d stepped out into the hallway so Reed could play  while waiteing on dinner to be served at the wedding reception. In his trademark move, he scooted around on his rear-end, exploring every square inch of the carpeted foyer. A gentleman from our table joined us in the hallway, looking for the gift table, I think. He watched Reed for a few seconds, and already knowing a little bit of Reed’s story, said “That’s hard” — I guess referring to the challenges he/we face because of the developmental delays — shaking his head slowly while a sad smile passed over his face.

As a mom to a kid with special needs, I both appreciated his acknowledgement — yes, there are moments of great difficulty — while also struggling with his limited assessment of our situation. Hard? Yes — my heart feels that often! But…

I looked down at Reed, studying this little person who is part me, part Ben, and wholly himself. I remember smiling as I watched my son but I don’t remember my exact response to this gentleman. I was distracted by the realization that erupted in my mind. I didn’t feel sorry for us anymore.

Actually, I love us. But I didn’t always. Wanting anything but this. People’s pity only reflected the acute ache in my heart, and as those comments trickled in, I nodded sadly along. Isn’t it so sad that our son is atypical? That he can’t yet walk like other toddlers have been for over a year now? Isn’t it heartbreaking that he can’t verbalize what comes so easy to others his age?

The difficulties haven’t passed. In some ways, they continue to grow. And even once he’s “caught up” — walking and talking — we’ll likely know new challenges.  But my heart and mind and way of seeing has changed. I can remember that first year, that entire first year, before there was this other thing, this rare statistic, this realized fear. I only knew Reed as Reed. And that is such a gift — then and now. I just didn’t realize that the gift I had that first year, I still have now.

For most of us, Christmas isn’t a time of unexpected gifts. Even if we don’t know what we’re getting, usually we know something is coming. But this Christmas, as I study the gifts under our tree, I know that the greater gift for me came unexpectedly through the same comment I’ve heard and seen a thousand times in others’ eyes — the pity, the sadness, the questions. And the gift is no longer seeing that within myself.

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