She was an over-worked and underpaid government employee. The moment she called us back to her desk and banged up the wooden shade that separated the clients from the social workers, I had her pegged: this woman was going to be difficult. I’d come as prepared as I could for my son Allen’s supplemental social security income hearing, bringing the psychological testing completed in June that listed his various diagnoses: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Disgraphia. It had been the psychologist’s suggestion that we apply for SSI for Allen while Occupational Vocational Rehabilitation found a placement for him. The whole process made him very nervous.
“So,” said the woman on the other side of the desk, “what are you here for?” She had a file in front of her clearly marked with Allen’s name; surely she knew. Still, I’d not only come armed with my son’s records, but also with a growing understanding of grace, gleaned from my summer work with Kathy Carlton Willis’ Grin With Grace Bible study. I smiled. “We’re here to apply for Allen’s SSI,” I said. I grinned.
She snarled. “Your son is obviously old enough to speak for himself,” she said and fixed me with a cold stare. “Yes, M’am,” I replied. Allen had begun to drum his fingers on his thighs. I put a hand over his and nodded encouragement. How much, I wondered, did this woman understand about those on the spectrum?
She fired question after question at Allen, who answered the best he could, while repeating things under his breath in his verbal tick. About half an hour into the interview, he began to stim with his right hand, waving it out in front of him in an effort to calm himself. The case-worker stared. I put my hand in Allen’s and lowered it to the table.
Here was, I realized, an opportunity to put grace into practice. I’d had a pretty stressful summer myself, dealing with a job loss, my husband’s ongoing illnesses, and Allen’s diagnosis. But I’d been refreshed each morning by Grin with Grace, sitting on the back deck with a cup of tea and God. Just that morning, Kathy’s words had spoken to me about celebrating God’s rescue. I recalled the words of Psalm 13:5-6: “I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms. I’m celebrating Your rescue. I’m singing at the top of my lungs, I’m so full of answered prayers.”
I was not doing that, I had realized. Instead of celebrating what I knew God was going to do and just letting myself fall backward off the cliff, confident of God’s rescue, I plot and plan and count my pennies. I control and manage and when I’m sure I have the right wings and they’ve been tested out at low levels and passed a rigorous inspection by the Federal Bureau of Wings, I strap them on and venture to the cliff, making sure that there is a group of EMT’s standing below with a safety net.
And this woman across from me with the stern face and the worry lines on her forehead, was she trusting in God’s rescue? Or was she so worn down by hearing so many problems, day in and day out, that she had lost faith and grace? I scribbled a note on the back of a Walmart receipt in my pocket and passed it along to my son. The note said, Let’s pray a smile from the woman. He nodded.
Allen, bless him, did his very best with the questions and now and then asked the case-worker, very politely, if he could confer with me. I pointedly prayed for her, asking God to allow light into her heart. I grinned with all my might, even when she was rude or short.
God, I prayed, I need a smile from this woman. Let me show her so much of Your grace that it lights up her face!
An hour and a half later, the grumpy woman went to make some copies and my wrung-out son went to take a break. She came back before Allen did and sat heavily down at the desk. I grinned. “Thank you for all your help,” I said brightly.
She harrumped and flipped through some papers. I kept grinning and praying. I was paraphrasing Proverbs 3:5, trusting God and not trying to figure it all out on my own. After a moment, she looked up at me. Her look was softer than before.
“I see here,” she said, “that your husband was disabled fifteen years ago. You take care of him?”
I nodded, still grinning and praying.
“And you take care of your son?” Another nod and grin. God’s grace was clearly satisfying my needs. I was not even tempted to be upset with this woman.
Slowly, she reached a hand across the desk and patted my own. “God bless you, honey,” she said. “You’ve been given a burden to carry.”
Now was my chance, I knew, the moment God had cleared for me to speak! “God gives me what I need,” I replied. “Are you a woman of faith?”
“Oh, yes, indeed, honey,” she said. “I took care of my folks for seven years with no help from no one. I understand burdens.” The edges of her mouth began to twitch. “God alone got me through.”
We were almost there, I knew, almost to that moment I had been praying for, that smile I’d asked of God as I grinned with grace. “Our sufficiency is from God,” I responded, lifting 2 Corinthians 3:4 from Kathy’s pages. The woman nodded and then—glorious to behold—a smile transformed her face, dispelling the worry lines and the frowns and dropping years from her. She was another woman, another traveler, another one who knew the burdens of being a care-giver.
“I’d like to share something with you,” I said and dug one of Kathy’s book cards out of my purse. “I’ve been reading this,” I told her. “Perhaps you’d like to read it, too.”
She looked it over and nodded. “I will indeed,” she said. Then she offered me her hand to shake just as my son returned to his seat. “Mr Allen,” she said to him, “I just do the paperwork on this. But I’m gonna pray this works out for you and your momma.” Then she turned back to me. “And I feel so blessed to have met a sister in the Lord,” she said. Then, because when God gives He gives in abundance, the smile that had worked its way up to her lips could not be held back any longer, she laughed.
Allen and I exited into the summer day. “Well,” said my son, “she sure was happier at the end than at the beginning.”
And isn’t that true whenever we allow God’s grace to work?
Would you like to join the journey of Grinning with Grace? Find Kathy's book here!