Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the whole world knew your pain? Would you feel exposed or liberated? Would you be embarrassed or relieved? Would others treat you differently? I frankly never gave it any thought until 3 weeks ago when Craig and I took the children to Colorado for their first ski trip.
We enrolled Christiane in a program called Challenge Aspen, where children with special needs are taught to ski. Her instructor, Chloe, had worked with children with all sorts of disabilities and turned out to be a perfect choice for Christiane. While Christiane is not totally blind, her vision is blurry with dark spots; she sees shapes and shadows and struggles to focus on objects up close. Chloe asked me how Christiane would feel about wearing a fluorescent vest that indicated she was visually impaired. At first I felt exposed and uncertain about drawing so much attention to Christiane, but the obvious necessity to alert other skiers that she was skiing with a visual impairment made it an easy decision. So off they went, in matching orange and green vests, with Christiane’s reading “Blind Athlete” and Chloe’s reading “Guide for the Blind.” I followed behind and watched in awe as Christiane began to trust her instructor as she was led down the slope holding on to Chloe’s pole that was extended horizontally in front of her.
After the first day, Christiane was skiing independently and following behind Chloe’s outstretched arms as she slowly called out in the most soothing and melodic voice, “left turrrn, right turrrn.”
I watched them wind their way down through the bare leafed Aspen trees covered in shelves of snow and captured an image of her blossoming confidence that I will never forget.
For the next 3 days, Christiane shuffled in and out of ski lines for chair lifts and gondolas, she carried her skis and she side-stepped down stairs independently, calling out, “I can do this by myself, Mom.” We were greeted with empathetic smiles, patient helpfulness, and kind gestures from everyone we encountered. The chair lift attendants slowed the lift for her to dismount at the top, attendants helped her in and out of moving gondolas, and there were spontaneous and encouraging words from people we didn’t know.
Yes, people stared and whispered, but then I realized that there was more to it than people just responding to Christiane’s handicap. They weren’t whispering simply because she was blind, but rather because she was skiing in spite of it! The amazing thing was that the patience, kindness, and helpfulness of others responding to her handicap fostered a sense of gratitude, humility, and community for us.
So with skis dangling from the chair lift, and a pensive gaze at the snow covered evergreens cascading down the mountain, a new perspective emerged for me. What would the world be like if EVERYONE wore a vest inscribed with their own pain and hardship?
Would we complain and be critical if only we knew the burdens and weight others carry, but are persevering in spite of them?
Would we be more patient in traffic if we knew that last week the driver ahead of us was the surviving passenger of a fatal accident and now driving in spite of it?
Would our words be softer and kinder if we knew that the grocery store clerk just found out she has cancer, but is finishing her shift in spite of the news?
The last day we were there, I myself could have worn a vest titled “Fearful Mom,” but I found myself pressing on in spite of it. Chloe had to leave early and Garland and Craig had gone back up the mountain for one last run. As Chloe departed, Christiane looked up at me and said, “Come on Mom, let’s go down together one last time.” Without hesitation I said, “Let’s do it!” I immediately started reeling from the commitment I had just made. “WHOA, how’s that going work?” I silently asked myself. I say left, Christiane says right, I say up, she says down. We’re talking about a fiercely independent child! I mean, I’m not an expert skier and certainly not versed in leading a visually impaired, strong willed child down the slope, but I simply knew we had to do it.
So, back up we went on the gondola, the whole while I was praying silently that God would lead us and give me the words, skill and leadership to get us down safely. We hopped off the gondola, and made our way to the side for me to help Christiane put her skis back on. With nervous anticipation, I was down on my knees in the snow, snapping her boots back onto her skis, praying that God would cover us with his presence. In that moment, she popped her goggles over her face and with 100% confidence proclaimed, “COME ON MOM!! FOLLOW ME!!” Can you imagine the faces on the by standers who overheard the child in the blind vest calling out for her mother to follow HER?!!
We made it down safely without incident, and I was reminded and confident of God’s presence, and tickled by His sense of humor.
Don’t you just love the way God surprises us and speaks to us in the most unexpected ways?? Trusting God in difficult circumstances seems to be the best place to find His blessings! I never cease to be amazed at the way He shows up. It is never the way and never the timing we expect it to be, particularly in this instance. I surely didn’t expect it to come from Christiane herself. After all, how can He lead our steps if we are not stepping and trusting that He will provide? Leave it to a child to show us how to do that!
Perhaps we should not only trust that He will provide, but trust that the vest we are cloaked in has purpose. Sooner or later, we will find someone else cloaked in the same vest to encourage and love and inspire. Or perhaps, we will inadvertently encourage someone else faced with a completely different challenge.
As for me, losing my vision is not the vest I wear, but I’m inspired nonetheless. I will forever recall the beautiful image of my child facing her own challenge, gracefully gliding down the mountain, trusting, and pressing on in spite of the vest she has been chosen to wear. I am grateful.