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UFI_Image_2014_02_11Marlene Hinton

Against doctors’ suggestions that Ilene would require institutionalized medical attention, a mother’s earnest patience and love keep the family together. Ilene’s daily ways invite her family to learn compassion and to delight in her life regardless of the challenges.

She was six years old, stick thin, and non-communicative except for the fluttering of her little hands to indicate contentment or interest. She still wore diapers, like her two younger sisters, but the most pressing problem for Mom was that my sister wouldn’t eat. She simply refused all food of any kind but one: Mom’s homemade wheat bread. And so she survived for years on just bread, spending hours every day in a high chair with Mother coaxing, encouraging, and tempting her with every type of food—even desserts—without success. Sometimes Mom would sit for long periods of time very close to my sister, trying all of the strategies common to parents to persuade her to try just a tiny taste, but there was zero curiosity or even attention paid by my sister. Other times, Mom worked busily about (making more bread and butter!) with frequent glances to assure herself that my sister was eating her bread and fluttering her hands.

What stands out above all in my memory is the earnest, deliberate, enduring patience. At the time it didn’t seem remarkable; life is simply what it is to a young teen. Sometimes the canvas of one’s memory is underscored by the shadows of what didn’t happen as well as the colors of daily lived events. The portrait that surfaces is not punctuated with exasperated outbursts—no slamming down the high chair tray in frustration or firmly setting my sister down out of the high chair amid expressions of desperation. But the blackest of shadows had been cast in the background of our hearts: the doctors telling Mom that my sister would have to go away, to an institution, that the time would eventually come when Mom’s love and patience simply would not be enough.

Often, Mother’s voice was tremulous as she prayed that my sister would eat, but fear never forced her patience to retreat nor blurred her focus on the fact that my sister was, in fact, serving our family in a remarkable way. Daily, my sister invited us to learn compassion and kindheartedness, to invest in service, and to delight in her life regardless of the challenges. Mother modeled these qualities for us in her angelic ministrations so well that I was startled to hear someone refer to my sister as severely mentally handicapped. She brought so much joy and laughter, and Mom contributed such grace and love that our home was blessed with happiness together. And my sister never had to go away.

Today’s post and image are contributed by Seeing the Everyday magazine. Read Marlene Hinton’s article in Seeing the Everyday No. 20. For more information, go to seeingtheeveryday.com.