I looked at the empty spot where the stranger had stood a moment earlier. Had that just happened? Maybe not. It had been a crazy day, after all.
It was the day we would find out the answer to many questions. My sweet Kristen had been diagnosed with LAM and on this day, we would visit a specialist who would tell us her prognosis. We would find out if she would live a significantly shorter life; if she would suffer; if we needed to make lifestyle changes. We were scared but trying not to be.
Kristen, who is developmentally delayed and has autism, read us like a book. She had heard our conversations more than we realized. She recognized our anxiety level. She didn’t for one minute buy into our soothing words. She acted out on what she had heard, what she saw in our body language, and what she’d overheard earlier in the week.
It was awful.
Have you ever heard the school chant, Everywhere we go, people always know, Broncos! Broncos! Broncos! (not Denver; Denton High School)
That’s how our day was. Everywhere we went, people always knew.
Our visit to the medical facility was a two-part appointment, one in the morning for a breathing test and the doctor visit after lunch. When we returned to the medical center, I urged Kristen to come with me to the restroom. She yelled no, stomped her feet, then followed me in.
“Okay, go ahead and go to the bathroom, honey,” I told her as I headed into a stall.
“No!” she yelled. “I don’t need to go!” I imagined her arms tightly woven together, her “mad arms” position.
I knew she had to go. She’d just had two drinks at lunch. From inside my stall, I begged, “Kristen, please, just go. It’s not a big deal. Just go.”
And then I heard a woman’s soft voice say, “Excuse me.” I winced as I heard Kristen’s routine response “No! Excuse ME! I’m upset!” I could hear her stomping into the next stall, then slamming the door.
I put my head in my hands and offered up a prayer.
When I came out, there was the woman washing her hands. I turned on the water, thinking, I could act like nothing happened or address it.
I smiled at her and said, “I’m sorry she was rude to you.”
The woman smiled and shook her head. Her voice was soft and sweet. “She wasn’t rude to me.” She hesitated, then said, “You know, I just started praying for you. I prayed that you would have peace and just an extra measure of patience.”
Her gentle words touched my bruised heart. All day long, Kristen’s out of control behavior had been turning heads. Her words had been poisonous to Rick and me. It was my birthday, but all she knew was that something bad was happening today, and it was about this doctor’s visit. No amount of cajoling or positive rewards could make up for her perception.
My eyes teared up as I received this sweet stranger’s words, thinking how badly I needed extra patience with my daughter on this crazy day, and how badly I needed peace for our uncertain future. I think her eyes were misty, too. I felt the urge to hug her, but I stopped myself, knowing I would break down. Then what would Kristen do?
So I thanked her and felt my burden slide off my shoulders.
This sweet stranger, who had nothing to gain, gave me so much that day. Her prayers and words of mercy rejuvenated me. They were just what I needed to keep going, to look at my daughter with fresh eyes and say, Okay, I can do this, no matter what people think, or say, or how grim the prognosis.
That sweet woman changed everything for me.
I want to do that for someone. Lord, open my eyes to the needs only You know.
That day, a stranger blessed me when she could have cursed me. Her simple mercy will never be forgotten.