I ordered Chinese food today at our local place, and while I waited for my food, a lady walked in to place an order. She was the kind of lady that I would assume demands attention wherever she goes. A few words immediately sprang to mind when I saw her: classy, beautiful, poised, elegant. She ordered her food in a quiet, polite manner, and than sat down next to me on the bench to wait for her meal.
As I sat there waiting, I did a little silent inventory of myself. I was wearing old jeans, ratty gym shoes, and my husband's t-shirt. My hair was in a messy pony tail, and I was wearing a little mascara and some lip gloss (OK, chap stick). I slouched in my usual style on the bench, feeling every one of those extra pounds I desperately need to lose. Then I began to take inventory of her. She was tall and skinny and carried herself like a model. She had a beautifully tailored jacket on, long skirt with matching top, gorgeous boots on her feet. Her skin was flawless, with perfectly applied make-up--even lip stick. Her hair was swept into a low twist at her neck without a single fly-away strand. Her jewelry coordinated perfectly to her outfit. Her long nails were polished without a chip. As we sat there, silently waiting for our food, I began to feel quite self-conscious about my appearance!
Then she sighed. Not one of those "oh, I'm so hungry and tired and now I have to wait for my food" sighs. No, this was more "The weight of the world's on my shoulders" type of sigh.
My heart immediately went out to her, because I know that sigh. It's the sound you make when you feel like life's defeated you. I glanced over at her again. And this time I saw something more. I saw the circles under her eyes that no amount of make-up can fully cover. I saw the way she pursed her lips together as she rubbed a well-manicured hand across her temples--a hand that was shaking slightly. I realized that I was not all that different from her--that on another day, in another place, that could be me. That has been me! Because, no matter how much I try to present a perfect facade to the world outside, I too have days when the problems of this life have beaten me down.
People ask me all the time, "How do you do it?" How do I raise two children with unique needs? How do I run back and forth for therapies and counseling appointments and still have time to breathe and maybe do the grocery shopping? How do I not get overwhelmed by it all? And I don't really know how to answer that question. If I was honest, I would say that I sometimes I just don't. Sometimes I literally crawl back into bed and sleep the day away. Other times I walk out of the house and try my hardest to forget about everything at home for at least four hours. And many more times than I would like to admit, I just sit down and cry out of frustration and fear and anger and sadness at what this life has given me. Not all the time, mind you. Most of the time, I just do what I have to do, because it's my life and I accept what I've been given. But sometimes...well, that's why I knew what that woman's sigh was saying even before I looked again.
I never answer that question honestly, because that would involve letting someone look a little closer, and see the person I really am, not the one I present to the world. Kind of like the woman in the restaurant. I don't know what she was dealing with, but when I looked beyond the presentation she wanted everyone to see, I saw a sad, tired person who was struggling inside with something. I wondered briefly what I could say to her, but then my food was ready. As I left, I caught her eye and gave her a smile, hoping to convey in just one smile that I understood exactly how she felt.
There's a song on the new Jars of Clay album that they've been playing on the radio here a lot. The first time I heard it, I cried. The lyrics told me exactly what I need to hear. Read the words to this song, and know this: that we all suffer, and we all need help once in awhile. And we're all holding on to the lies this world tells us--lies that say we need to be perfect and present a strong front in the face of adversity. Lies that say we need to be self-reliant and take care of our own problems. We're all wearing robes that society tells us we must wear. We're claiming names that God never intended us to wear, names like Superhero or Failure. But guess what? We're not alone. None of us is. I'm not alone, and the woman in the restaurant is not alone, and you're not alone in whatever your facing either. It's OK to let each other see who we really are. It's a lesson I'm trying to absorb. Maybe the next time someone asks me how I do it, I'll tell them the truth.