The Eyes Of An Artist

{By Kelli Woodford}

 “If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.” F.Buechner

Twenty-two years.

For twenty-two years she has been taking care of the baby. Washing her in all the normal places, not to mention the not-so-normal ones. Clipping her fingernails. Changing her diapers … and always her sheets. Cooking for her, holding her hand across the parking lot, guiding her firmly by the shoulder away from disaster.

Twenty-two years of parenting a preschooler.

The first time I met them, I wondered at that mother. How hard would it be, after all, to have a special needs child who never graduated out of diapers? How would it be to know that your baby – toddling precariously around, pulling at tablecloths and drooling on strangers – would never grow out of it?

I’m sure I can’t say.

But for three years I watched.

And I can say that for three years there was rarely a time when it didn’t touch me deep to see the tenderness of this mother’s love for her needy child. Oh, not her needy 9 month old, with chubby thighs and cute dimples. Not even her needy 4 year old, with funny bits of adult-ish phrases mimicked from listening in on daddy’s phone calls. Her needy twenty-two year old baby, y’all. No longer little or cutesy in any physical way. Think about it – when this girl wanted her mama’s arms, there was no crib to set her in, no pacifier to pop into her mouth, and precious few babysitters qualified to care for her. She would wail like she’d lost her best friend to see her mama cross the street to get the mail – which of course, she had.

Because her mama was her best friend in all the ways that mattered.

And their tale is far from told. In fact, it is still being written every day. It’s written in the gathering light of an early dawn, her baby bearing down hard to pass what everyone else does with daily ease – and mama right beside her, midwife to a bowel movement. It’s written in the handful of half-eaten apples that litter the living room when she’s wandered into the kitchen hungry while mama was busy changing those sheets or plunging that toilet. It’s written in the late nights of moaning for bellyaches she doesn’t know how to describe. And then, when the whippoorwills sing them both to sleep through the open windows of an old Missouri homestead, it’s written by the one ear mama keeps alert for the sound of the doorknob turning in the stillest part of the night … and the dreaded sound of those shuffling feet down the concrete steps and out toward the unforgiving road.

But this story being written is not a tragedy, in the end. Oh, it has dramatic moments of sorrow and grief. And rightly so, for this is nothing less than the acknowledgement of the human condition. But the playfulness, the adaptability, and the imagination of this mother make her an active co-creator with God in writing a story of joy.

Together, they create days of sunshine and swings. They invite children to come play, for this twenty-two year old baby loves nothing more than being among them. They watch movies and feast on popcorn and always apples. They share snuggles and hot chocolate on the couch. And when the daughter sits subdued in the corner, dog-eared nature magazine in her hand, it’s mama who reads her vacant eyes and sees what ails her.

Because this mama has learned to see behind her daughter’s eyes. She does not see the inconvenience or the mess or even the tediousness of those twenty-two years. What this mama teaches us – as all parents perhaps somehow teach the world – is how to see her child.

She sees her as an artist sees.

For this is what it means to love.

(photo credit: Shemer via photopin cc)


kelli bio picKelli Woodford has always had a quirky penchant for collecting quotes. The words she feels at home in most, though, are from Mr. Mark Twain himself, “One must travel to learn.” While she hasn’t hung her hat in every one of the fifty states or abroad, she has been known to travel compulsively in the world of ideas. Kelli considers curiosity a serious expedition and is rarely satisfied with anything remotely status quo. She collects friendships with people as different as they can be and feels all the richer for it, but never experiences “home” so much as when she is with her best friend – who also happens to be her husband. They make their abode in Love, but also in the Midwest with their seven blue-eyed children. Kelli engages us with her writing as part of the writer’s team. You can follow Kelli on her personal blog, or on facebook and twitter.

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a million little waysA Million Little Ways uncovers the creative, personal imprint of God on every individual. It invites the discouraged parent, the bored Christian, the exhausted executive to look at their lives differently by approaching their critics, their jobs, and the kids around their table the same way an artist approaches the canvas–with wonder, bravery, and hope. .’”~~Amazon

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27 Comments on “The Eyes Of An Artist

  1. Gosh, friend. Just beautiful. As always, I love the way you see– through an artist’s eyes. May we all see through the Greatest Artist’s eyes– and see through love. So powerfully convicting, what you’ve written in your signature gentle way. Sometimes my eyes are clouded with cynicism. Thank you for reminding me. Love you, sweets.

    • I remember sitting next to you in one of the sessions of Jumping Tandem, Nacole, when we were asked to write our big dream down on paper. Mine said “I not only want to make good art, I want to live good art.” It would be months until I would discover the Buechner quote above – but when I did, you better believe it took me right back there to that chair beside you, thinking what kind of life I want to live … How I want to SEE. Thanks for your warm encouragement, friend. Always.

  2. Really beautiful post & story. Truly enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing the glimpse into the love of this mother for her child. It’s touching to see mother’s loving children through all the different possibilities. I’ve not had that level of special needs to care for but have a friend who does. I have had my own journey or loving many, many children with a variety of needs. God’s love becomes more felt & visible as a mother shares it through her nurturing.


    • May God give us all grace to love well those in our sphere – whether they have special needs or not … Perhaps we all have special needs in one way or another, yes?

      Thank you for reading, Jolene.

  3. As the mother of a special needs child, I want to say thank you for seeing what some refuse to. Our children are like any other child. They just want to love and be loved. I remember the weird looks we’d get when my 15 yr old daughter would climb into a shopping cart wanting to be pushed. For her, it was the most natural thing in the world. When the store told her she couldn’t climb in anymore, it broke her heart. For her, she couldn’t understand why other kids could do it, but she wasn’t allowed to. They just want to be like every other child, regardless of their size. Again, thank you for seeing our children as they should be seen.

    • What a tender piece of your story you have shared with us here, Patty. I honor you for the ways you have loved and SEEN your daughter – regardless of what onlookers may think. THAT, my friend, is a legacy worth leaving. Bless you.

  4. I love how you put this. It is beautiful looking through these lens of yours. I have a special needs niece who passed away at eight years old. I saw first hand what a gift her mother was to her, yet a bigger gift she was to her mother, my sister. The act of service and love exploded, splatters of paint everywhere. Art, it was.

  5. Oh Kelli … What tenderness painted this beautiful picture… A story of joy and sorrow mingled together… All covered by His blood… Filled with His Grace. And I love the quote

  6. This is so lovely, Kel. It’s a hard road to be a parent of a severely disabled child (is that the correct term?) – I know several. And each of them is like this mama you describe. Joyful, patient, with eyes to see their children with love and understanding. Thanks for capturing all of that.

    • First of all, Diana, I LOVE that you called me “Kel”. Just had to say that. 🙂

      Second, I know what I’ve captured here is like to a single word in the narrative being scripted of these lives, but I did want to give tribute to the beauty I saw – whether or not I “captured it all.” Thank you for your graciousness, friend. Always.

  7. I love that quote, and this story about the seeing what’s beneath… yes, Lord, help me see with eyes like that.

  8. All I can say is that even after nearly 20 years of motherhood, I have much to learn. But oh, to see with the eyes of Jesus, the eyes of the artist, the beautiful that shatters our preconceptions…

  9. Beautiful, Kelli. I think of my brother-in-law and his wife who for 16 years devoted their life to their special needs daughter. It was beautiful to watch them. It was a picture of love and sacrifice.

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