My toddler Sam cares very little about impressing anyone. He eats with gusto, snorting and shoving fistfuls of food into his mouth with no concern for the mess he creates. He laughs as he throws his sippy cup, splattering milk up the walls. With his dimpled, chubby brown hands, he pinches my nose so hard my eyes water and he grins while I pull away from his freakishly strong, sticky grip.
He passes gas publicly, loudly, and shamelessly. He drools and violently throws his books and proudly wears his stained, cracker-crusted onesie snapped between his chunky, creased brown thighs. He wears a runny nose like its an accessory to his adorable round face. Any attempt to wipe his nose is met with head thrashing and yelling. If onlookers stare in wonder at this toddler screaming and tossing his head like a wild stallion, he is oblivious.
He worships with abandon. During our time of music and song at church, he smiles and yells as he stretches his pudgy hands to the sky. I wonder if he knows the One to whom we sing. Is he aware that Heaven sees his sweet palms reaching up to the Giver of life?
Despite Sam’s loud opinions and intense personality, he shows a sincere desire to connect with people. Living on a busy street in a small town provides daily interaction with colorful characters that move all around us. We met Carla in the summer heat on a concrete slab out back, where the bustling alley meets our backyard. Carla has lived a hard life that carried her beyond the States and eventually brought her east to a small, tucked-out-of-the-way place near our home. She’s a fifty-something with a record, abandoned by a spouse who “just wasn’t happy with her anymore”. Her ragged clothes are soaked with the stench of strong tobacco and body odor. Her raspy voice, stained teeth, and heavy laugh bear witness to that poisonous rectangular carton, a loyal friend in her lonely existence. Sometimes the smell of Carla’s clothes and breath is too much for me. Or maybe it’s her emotional and financial needs that threaten to overwhelm my already full life. When Carla enters our home, I politely keep my distance, wanting to maintain my composure without gagging and embarrassing the both of us.
Sam reaches for Carla. While Carla dines at our table, Sam waddles over to her chair, pats her tattered jeans, babbles, and grins. Sitting on my lap, Sam reaches over to touch Carla’s weathered face, his chunky hand resting over her broken heart. Sam does not yet understand boundaries or maybe he doesn’t care. Unlike me, Sam is not bothered by the pungent odor that shrouds our older friend. He does not turn his head away or hold his breath or find reasons to disengage. He leans toward her, smiles, and tickles her. Sometimes I wonder if Carla is annoyed by Sam’s sticky hands or the dark spots of drool on her jeans but she never pulls away or wrinkles her nose. She seems to enjoy his company, even when he makes himself impossible to ignore.
I don’t know if Sam’s extra chromosome has given him an extra measure of courage or if his personality compels him to care very little about what people think. I don’t know if his developmental stage gives him total freedom from our culture’s idea of socially appropriate behavior. Maybe it’s a combination.
What I do know is that I want to be more like my dear Sam: hands lifted in praise to the One who made me, then extended in love to the outcasts, the poor, the needy. I want to welcome the misfits with a heart of compassion and friendship rather than fear and disdain.
“The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be–and experience–a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned–oh, how it will be returned!–at the resurrection of God’s people.” ~Luke 12:12-14, The Message
Katie Carper is a recovering people-pleaser with a strong sense of justice and a deep desire to include the excluded. She’s grateful for coffee, laughter, and this adventurous life with her husband and 4 kiddos. You can find her at katiecarper.com where she blogs about community, faith, adoption, and special needs with hope, humor, and a good dose of snark. She also shares snippets of her life on Instagram.