I vaguely remember restaurants. Those pre-pandemic places where small groups of strangers sat down in large rooms and food was brought in on trays by exuberant servers who introduced themselves with: “Hey, guys! I’m Jill, and I’ll be takin’ care of y’all tonight!”
We’re nostalgic for those good times. But nostalgia conveniently smooths over rough edges like screaming children. You remember those, right?
It’s so shrill your head whips. Is everything okay? Oh, it’s just a kid screaming near your table at Applebee’s … Suddenly you do a double take when you realize it’s not a toddler. Mom tries to calm her little girl who’s actually far too big to be acting like this. Mom caresses her hair, offers a cracker and whispers in her ear. Hmph! If my 12-year-old ever acted like that in public, I’d …
Don’t worry. Long before you shot her a dismissive glance, Mom is painfully aware of your derailed dinner conversation and the eye rolls insinuating that she’s a “bad parent.”
If it stops and your meal resumes, you probably don’t think twice about it. But if the volume rises, at the very least you wonder to yourself, or maybe even aloud: Why can’t she control her child? Why don’t they just go out to the car?
Good question, since “the car” is where everything went south 11 years ago. On a scorching July afternoon in Nashville, this beautiful girl was left strapped in her car seat for almost 2 hours as the temperature inside hovered around 160 degrees. So if that squeal during dinner is upsetting, imagine what it sounded like while she screamed in that car. For almost 2 hours.
The mom in the restaurant wasn’t even a mom back then. She was just a Physical Therapist at Vanderbilt assigned to work with this little girl who miraculously beat the odds and survived her hellish ordeal.
But the prognosis for this traumatic brain injury was bleak: she would never walk, talk or feed herself. Birth Mom signed off. Put her in an institution. Let the taxpayers take care of her.
But Future Mom had always wanted a child, and so she refused to let them cast this little fighter aside. She hoped for better. She prayed for better. And she knew better. So she adopted this little miracle and named her Joy.
And she was right. There was so much more to this little girl’s story.
You may have been too irritated to notice, but Joy walked into the restaurant with Mom. Joy is feeding herself. And despite the occasional squeal or outburst, Joy is also communicating by speaking. (She also uses sign language … are you bilingual?)
But my favorite is when Joy squeezes your neck, presses her lips to your cheek, makes that soft “kissing” sound children make, and then throws back her head and laughs out loud.
And since we can’t do that during a pandemic, she FaceTimed us this week and talked about playing in the snow and her favorite book, Pete the Cat.
If 2020 taught us anything, we learned life can be hard, and that we have no idea what burdens other people carry. Maybe that’s why Scripture reminds us to “be kind and tenderhearted to one another.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Long, long ago … when we used to eat in restaurants, my cousin Donna paid the check and generously tipped the servers for their kindness. Because even way back then, it was just nice to get out of the house sometimes, you know?
And Donna holds her daughter’s hand as Joy walks out of the restaurant.
Dr. Steve Cothran lives in Newnan and has been a Baptist youth pastor for over 30 years.