What Anabel taught me about love...

I've wanted to write about Anabel...but I didn't know what to say. Yet Mary Burleson relayed a story Anabel shared, and it hit me that I didn't need to write about Anabel at all.  That her own words said everything...

Mace could sing one song with great gusto -- just one: Jesus Loves Me.
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.

He would throw his head back and hold on to that first "Yes" in the chorus as long as he could, and then he would get tickled and almost fall out of his chair.

Sometimes -- when I think back on those days that seem so long ago -- I can still hear him giggle. How special that memory is to me. . .

I never doubted for a moment that Jesus loved our profoundly retarded little boy. It didn't matter that he would never sit with the kids in the back of the church and, on a certain special night, walk down the aisle, take the pastor by the hand, and invite Jesus into his heart. It was entirely irrelevant that he could not quote a single verse of Scripture, that he would never be able to reason or to comprehend God's love, that he would never be a dad -- I knew that Jesus loved Mason.

What I could not comprehend, what I could not accept, was that Jesus could love Mason's mother, Anabel. I believed that in order for anyone to accept me, to love me, I had to perform for them. My standard for getting love was performance-based, so I performed constantly, perfectly. And I was convinced that if anyone ever really got to know me, he or she wouldn't like me.

Mace could never have performed for anyone's love . . . but oh, how we loved him. His condition eventually deteriorated to such a degree -- and so rapidly -- that we had to institutionalize him when he was very young, so we enrolled him in the Enid State School for Mentally Handicapped Children.

We drove regularly the 120 miles to see him, but on this particular weekend he was at home for a visit. He had been with us since Thursday evening, and it was now Saturday afternoon. As soon as the dinner dishes were done, I would gather his things together and take him back to his house. I had done this many times before, but today God had something in mind that would change my life forever.

As I was washing the dishes, Mason was sitting in his chair watching me, or at least he was looking at me. That's when it began -- spinning emotions, tumbling stomach, the familiar sickening thoughts of separation and defeat: In just a little while, I'm going to start packing Mason's toys and his clothes, and take him away again. I can't do that. I simply cannot do it. I stopped washing dishes and got down on my knees in front of Mace. I took his dirty little hands in mine and tried desperately to reach him.

"Mason, I love you. I love you. If only you could understand how much I love you."

He just stared. He couldn't understand; he didn't comprehend. I stood up and started washing dishes again, but that didn't last long. This sense of urgency, almost panic, came over me, and once more I dried my hands and knelt in front of my precious little boy.

"My dear Mason, if only you could say to me, 'I love you, Mother.' I need that, Mace."

I stood up to the sink again. More dishes, more washing, more crying. But now thoughts, foreign to my way of thinking, began filtering into my conscious awareness.

I believe God spoke to me that day, and this is what He said:
"Anabel, you don't look at your son and turn away in disgust because he's sitting there with saliva drooling out of his mouth; you don't shake your head, repulsed because he has dinner all over his shirt or because he's sitting in a dirty, smelly diaper when he ought to be able to take care of himself. Anabel, you don't reject Mason because all the dreams you had for him have been destroyed. You don't reject him because he doesn't perform for you. You love him, Anabel, just because he is yours. Mason doesn't willfully reject your love, but you willfully reject Mine. I love you, Anabel, not because you're neat or attractive, not because you do things well, not because you perform for Me -- I love you just because you're Mine."

Incredible! Unbelievable!

I had struggled for so many years, hating my performance patterns and yet living to perform, driven to perform, searching out the praise of people and thirsting for the love of God that I thought could come only to those who performed well enough to merit it. Yet God had just shown me that He loved me in spite of anything and everything, and He had shown me in a way that I could understand -- through my dear, sweet Mason.

Do you understand? You don't have to do anything for Him; you don't have to be something for Him. You can know that there is Someone who loves you not because of the way you do or don't look, or because of the talents you do or don't have. All you have to do is accept it: He loves you just because you are His.

* * *

Anabel's 'earthsuit' as Bill always called it is now with Mason's.  And her spirit is with Mason too. More than that, both are with the One who loves them so much.

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Maira Gall