About this time a year ago I had an experience in the Washington D.C. airport that I doubt I’ll ever forget. In the baggage claim area, there was a mom holding a little boy and the dad followed right behind with most of their luggage. The airport was bustling with travelers anxious to get home to their families before Thanksgiving the next day. In the midst of a sea of travelers, this particular mom was rubbing her son’s back and whispering in his ear in an attempt to help him settle down. The young boy wasn’t crying, but he was making lots of noise. Out from the crowd a lady emerged, approaching the little family from behind. She got shoulder to shoulder with the mom, looked right at the boy, and scolded aggressively, “Stop screaming.”
Perhaps you can imagine how that mom felt, but I can do more than make a guess. Since I was the mom holding the noisy little boy, I can recount the feelings I’d sometimes like to forget. If I had to guess about something, though, I suppose that lady believed it wasn’t appropriate behavior for a child to be making such a racket in a public place. I’d tend to agree with her, but in the airport on November 22, 2017 there were a few crucial facts she didn’t know:
She didn’t know that my son has special needs and was screaming because he was overly stimulated.
She didn’t know that he had spent the first five years of his life in an orphanage.
She didn’t know that he had only been with us, his parents, for the past two days (a year ago today, if you’re keeping up).
She didn’t know that he had spent the better part of a day traveling and hadn’t slept at all.
She didn’t know that his world had changed overnight or that he was coming home to a place he’d never been.
There was a lot that lady didn’t know about Deni or our family. As tempting as it is to vilify her in my mind, she has instead served as a mirror to show me parts of my heart that might bear a resemblance to hers. What I learned in the first few moments of landing in the United States with my son is something I’ve relearned time and again this past year: there’s always more to the story.
There’s more to Deni’s story than what you can gather from observing him in an airport or in Walmart, just like there’s more to my story than what you see at first glance. The people we encounter doing ordinary things on ordinary days all have stories we don’t see; some are living their extraordinary moments right in front of us and we don’t even know it. To that lady in the airport, my son was a nuisance and I was permissive. But I was living a dream come true as a brand new mom holding the child I had prayed for, simply trying to process the enormity of the experience. She didn’t know that. She couldn’t have known that.
We don’t have to know the details of strangers’ lives to live compassionately. We can choose to resist ignorance by remembering that there’s more to their stories than what we see in the checkout aisle or the restaurant booth or the waiting room or the airport. Of course we don’t have to condone everything we observe, but we can learn to be conscious that there’s more going on than what we see – for better or for worse.
As Christians this shouldn’t surprise us, this idea that there’s more going on than meets the eye. After all, it’s thematic of the redemptive work the Bible recounts from Genesis to Revelation. Each story in the Bible is part of a larger Story, moving toward the arrival of Jesus or reflecting on His life and work. And when we read it carefully, we discover that our lives are actually caught up in that great Story. The devastation of Eden, the anticipation of the Messiah, the heartbreak of the crucifixion, the triumph of the resurrection, and the hope of Jesus’ return – all of this has a bearing on the 24 hours of a late November day.
In the past year since we reunited with Deni for good, we’ve ridden a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences. We’ve learned quite a bit, but still have more to discover. Of all the lessons learned and relearned, the one I remember most is the one I was introduced to first – there’s always more to the story.
When it seems like I’m in over my head, I remember the rest of the story that tells me God’s grace abounds and His strength is evident in my weakness.
When I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, I remember God’s promise to give wisdom to those who ask.
When days are great and gladness abounds, I remember that God is the giver of good gifts and the ultimate source of lasting joy.
And when I’m out and about, prone to write people off quickly or cast a stone of judgment, I’m learning to remember there’s more to their stories than what I can observe – just like there’s more to Deni’s, more to mine, and more to yours.
For Christians, the truth is that there’s more to our stories – to the Story – than simply the sum of our experiences. Yes, pain still hurts, sadness is still a reality, and questions still linger.
But there’s more than pain and loss.
More than grief and sorrow.
More than waiting and bondage.
More even than death.
There’s healing and abundance.
There’s joy and comfort.
There’s fulfillment and a Rescuer.
There’s even resurrection.
And that part of the Story is what enables us to fight for hope and choose compassion when the stories we experience or witness don’t seem to make any sense. What we see and feel today is significant, it’s just not the whole Story.