We get out of our car, my sister Katie in a skirt and heels and myself dressed similarly except I’m not in high heels. To any random person on the street we look “normal.” We look like healthy 17 year old girls getting out of our car to go hang out with friends downtown. When you look at us, you don’t see the eight different medications I carry in my purse and must take every four hours just so my body is somewhat functioning right. You don’t see the migraine my sister is fighting as she puts on her cute sunglasses. You don’t see the IV’s we have connected to ports in our chests.
When we park in handicap as a way to save our very limited energy supply, you don’t see us in bed the next day because of the exertion of the outing. So dear stranger, when we step out of our car and you stare with disdain in your eyes, I know you are judging us. From your perspective, you can’t see what is going on in my life or what sort of war is constantly raging inside my body. When you make disparaging comments because a look just doesn’t satisfy the judgement you feel toward two, seemingly healthy teenagers parking in a handicap spot, you don’t see what effect your piercing words have.
We are complete strangers. You probably won’t see me again and I probably won’t see you again. Our paths have just barely crossed. Human as I am, I’m ashamed of the need I feel in the moment to make you understand how hard I have worked to not be in a wheelchair and what a victory this seemingly unimportant outing is. I feel upset when you stand there judging me and I start my own judgement about you by your actions towards me. Yet dear stranger, I forgive you because just like me, you carry invisible hurts as well.
As the heat of the moment passes, I’m not angry at you. Instead, I wonder what hidden pains you’ve been carrying around? What scars of people’s judgements are hidden where I don’t see? What pain and hurt are you trying to sooth by judging me? What is your invisible pain that makes you lash out at a stranger? Surely you may be hurting even more than I do as our paths barely cross and yet so much bitterness comes from your soul. Dear friends and strangers, we could let others bitter words and actions become our own. We could harbor them and spew them at our own strangers. Yet let’s choose not to let bitter actions from strangers become our own. Choose with me to let stories and experiences like this remind us that while some of us may have invisible illnesses, all of us have invisible hurts.
Yesterday when that clerk was cranky, you didn’t see that he was scraping together a living for his disabled daughter who was once again in the hospital. Maybe next time you see him, instead of meeting his sharp words with your own, you can instead meet them with grace.
Or that driver that cut you off? You know the one you don’t want to admit you yelled at from inside your car and honked at? It was a single mom, working two jobs, trying not to be late to her son’s baseball game once again.
That rude waiter? I don’t know his story. From all appearances he has no “good reason” to be that way, no good excuse for his behavior. Yet dear friends and strangers, meeting his rudeness with that of our own, I dare say that isn’t coming from a place of love and grace in our hearts. In those moments, I fear we aren’t shining our Savior’s light, but rather our own pride and ego. Remember dear friend and stranger, we didn’t have an excuse for our behavior when Christ died for us.
Our paths will cross with some for a lifetime and others for just an instance. How we will treat and acknowledge in the moment, what may at times seem rude, strange or behavior we have no explanation for from others, can either reflect the grace and love of our Savior or all too easily our own shortcomings. We all could go on about how “others” shouldn’t judge, yet let’s try instead not doing it ourselves and baffle the world with grace and forgiveness that’s not our own.