There they were, sitting right in front of me. And I simply couldn’t tear my eyes away from them.
A handsome couple, somewhere in their 70s, his arm protectively circling her petite shoulders as they shared intimate looks and warm smiles while waiting for the service to begin in the church I was visiting that Sunday morning several weeks ago. Such adorable lovebirds. I was later to learn their names were Bill and Sandi. They’d been married for decades.
He sat to her left and was very well dressed, shoes shining, groomed to a glow. Sandi was quite attractive also, her hair and makeup impeccable, lovely accessories, her dress and matching sweater fashionable and wrinkle-free. They seemed like the perfect older couple, happy and smitten.
“I hope we’re as in love as they are when we’re that age,” I thought, glancing over at Spouse, who was apparently attempting to scratch a mosquito bite hidden within the recesses of his bunched-up pants leg with the toe of his scuffed shoe. Classy, that guy. Almost as classy as me.
I kept admiring the obviously deep-in-love couple sitting in front of me. Ahhh. So sweet. But something seemed … well, different, about them. What was it?
Never having been lauded for my superior observation skills, it was only then I noticed the wheelchair. And the contracted fingers of Sandi’s right hand resting in her lap. And the AFO leg brace. My 36 years as an occupational therapist clued me in that Sandi had experienced a stroke (CVA) with residual hemiparesis of her right side. Her right (very likely her pre-stroke dominant hand) arm and leg were essentially nonfunctional.
Ohhhh noooo. My heart lurched for her. I knew all too well the indescribable struggles, disappointments and heartaches inherent in life after a stroke. And a stroke like Sandi’s that affects the left hemisphere of the brain (and right side of the body) likely results in sensory deficits and speech problems too.
If you’d like to imagine what that’s like, try putting socks over your right hand and foot then have someone tie your dominant arm tightly to your body with rope and weigh your right leg down with a permanent 30-pound ankle cuff. Slap some duct tape over half your right eye. Now wash your hair and try to dress yourself. Then stuff cotton balls in your mouth and attempt to talk, eat, and swallow. Every. Single. Day.
That’s what Sandi had been going through for the year since her stroke. With Bill right there by her side every step of the way.
When the congregation stood for the first praise song, Sandi didn’t make it all the way to her feet before gently falling back into the wheelchair. But it was so graceful. Like a breath of spring air sweeping by. Bill, watching her closely the whole time while allowing her the freedom to try it alone, casually assisted her to her feet, making no big deal about it at all. Sandi smiled lovingly at him and swayed slightly before extending her left hand to share the songbook as they lifted their voices toward heaven together, his strong, stabilizing hand discreetly at her waist.
About halfway through the first song, Sandi’s cardigan, which was elegantly draped over her shoulders in cape fashion, slid off her left shoulder. But she was unable to use her paralyzed right hand to retrieve it and her left was grasping the songbook. I grappled with myself for a long moment over whether to lean forward and pull it up for her. I know how important it is not to over-help people with disabilities who yearn to be as independent as possible yet at the same time still respect their limitations and offer assistance when necessary. But I was afraid in this case my doing so would create something of a commotion.
And nobody I know with disabilities wants to intentionally draw attention to their “differences” or need for occasional help. I totally get that.
Thankfully, before I could jump in where my persona might well be non grata, Bill deftly reached out in a smooth move and reconciled the prodigal sweater with Sandi’s shoulder using subtle skill evidently honed by practice. In doing so, he drew no unwanted attention whatsoever.
“Good man!” I wanted to exclaim. But cleverly (considering I was in church), I didn’t.
Throughout the remainder of the service, I watched Bill gently retrieve and replace that errant sweater on Sandi’s left shoulder four additional times. Each time, my heart stirred and my eyes welled. Something about that simple act of him willingly and unobtrusively responding to her unspoken need, even for something as small as this – no especially for something as small as this – totally spoke to me. It said love. REAL love. Forever love. He was watching out for her. He literally and figuratively had her back.
In this age of an horrendous socially acceptable 50% divorce rate that has already affected or at some point in time will rip the very soul of every living human on this planet in one way or another, this sweater kind of love must be celebrated. Applauded. Admired.
Because it’s the only kind of love that’s full of unselfishness, life and power.
It’s the same kind of love Christ has for us, his bride (the church), that’s so well expressed in Ephesians 3; 19 (NLT): “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”
And you’ll know without a doubt that you’re sweater-loved.
After the church service, I boldly strode forward and introduced myself to Sandi. I told her how much I admired her tenacity and encouraged her to keep her plucky spirit of independence and hey just GO GIRL! She shared with me some of the victories she’d experienced becoming a one-handed person in a two-handed world, as well as some challenges she and Bill have yet to conquer.
I felt like I’d met a new kindred spirit. And a wonderful inspiration.
So dear BBFF (Blessed Blog Friend Forever), what are your thoughts about the sweater kind of love? Have you ever experienced unconditional love like that? Whose back do you have in your life right now? Does anyone have your back like that? Is it as as precious and priceless to you as it is to me?
*Whoa! You’ve got to stop right now and zip over the “Freebies” part of my website and click on my new Sizzling Summer Giveaway. Look at the great prize package you can win absolutely FREE!
**Get a load of the adorable new hot pink gift version of my bestselling Too Blessed to be Stressed: 3-Minute Devotions for Women – it’s available now at www.Christianbook.com if you want a unique girlfriend “Just because” or hostess gift. And stay tuned for the upcoming release of the gorgeous Too Blessed to be Stressed 2020 Planner!