My husband collects nice coats. Ironic because we live in the hot desert of Arizona. He doesn’t even have to search, they find him almost effortlessly. I can’t tell you how many times he has walked through the front door with a brand new jacket that he picked up at a thrift store on his lunch break, or after a good old “Saturday-morning-fruttering” (as we like to call it) around yard sales in our neighborhood. He even found a Jolly Ranchers brand jacket on a freeway, yes you read that right, a freeway! One of our adult sons, who lives in a much colder climate, still wears that relic to this day (with much envy from his friends and brothers).
We have 4 adult sons who at times venture to borrow a coat or two from their dad on the rare occurrence of a frigid day or upon the arrival of hunting season in the Fall. Our son, who battles a serious mental illness, often struggles to discern the temperatures with accuracy. He also has an affinity for his father’s coat collection. In particular, he loves his dad’s long army jackets that remind him of his childhood days spent hunting with his dad, something he can no longer do.
A few years ago, family was visiting from out of town. It was a particularly cold day in the desert Fall and we decided to stop by In-n-Out Burger for a quick bite to eat after attending church. Our son wore his dad’s army jacket that day. The restaurant was packed and our son was a bit restless, one of many accompanying effects of living with this disability. He would sit on the bench inside waiting for our food order, then step outside for a break intermittently. We intuitively gave him his space.
Just before our order was called, a police officer entered the restaurant and abruptly made a beeline toward our son sitting inside on the waiting bench. My husband stood between myself and our son, he glanced at me while putting up his arm in a cautionary gesture. He knows me well, I shift into mama-bear mode at the drop of a hat. The officer reached our son before we did, but we quickly intervened. After inquiring as to why he approached our son, he told us that someone had called saying that a homeless man was loitering in the establishment. We carefully explained how our son is disabled and that he was here with our whole family after attending church just down the road. The officer politely apologized to us and left the restaurant.
After calming down later that day, my husband declared that that was the last day he would ever allow our son to wear one of his army jackets. A seemingly innocent Sunday spent with family turned into an occasion for anger and hurt all because of how someone in a restaurant saw our son. They didn’t see a person who was struggling with intense symptoms of a disability. They didn’t see someone who was battling with every fiber in his being to relax and enjoy a few moments with visiting relatives. They didn’t see an image bearer. They saw a jacket, an agitated man. And unless they have been touched by someone near and dear who has suffered this way, they only saw one of those Schizophrenic-druggy-type people we shelve into categories. They saw one of those people who make us uncomfortable and need to be removed out of sight, away from our normal way of life.
One of my many pitfalls is a constant fight with anger over the injustice we see and experience against those who battle severe mental illnesses like Schizophrenia. I just don’t understand why people and institutions don’t see it. Why is this issue not raised to the level of other social justice causes that get everyone’s attention? Why don’t people see it? Why don’t people care?
I take solace in this truth, in the face of discrimination against this marginalized group, that God sees. That God cares. I don’t stop speaking up for my son and others. But I can do it in the strength God provides knowing that He is so much greater than myself and that this idea of wanting justice originates with Him. When I cry out in anger, “why doesn’t anyone see this?” I can remember, but there is One who does see…
“I have seen the violence done to the helpless, and I have heard the groans of the poor.” - Psalm 12:5
I can ask God to help me to trust him again. I can ask God to help me to glorify him and not sin in the face of injustice. I can ask God to help me in the waiting for him when progress seems so slow. I can take comfort in the God who sees my son.
I can remember the character of God and how he has compassion on the outcast. I can look to stories in scripture and see how God looked upon people like Hagar and her son when Abraham and Sarah cast them away into the desert alone:
“And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.” - Genesis 21:17
When I become discouraged and angry, which is often if I’m honest, I can remember that my view of God is becoming small while my view of self is unduly enlarged. The glaring injustice is no excuse to give in to my own efforts, my own pride and sin. But I can be honest, for sure, and say just like Paul did in the book of Romans…
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” - Romans 7:24-25
And I can be free to continue to look to and cry out to God again like Ethan did in Psalms 89…
“How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever?”
And my confidence in God can grow as I pursue Him, meditate on His character and greatness, as I remember that He sees. He cares. And His vantage point and ability to rescue and bring justice is beyond my wildest dreams, expectations, and meager human efforts. He is not bothered by the cries or angry failures of a mother, he is not inconvenienced by the needs of the seriously mentally ill, or put off by their weakness. In fact, he loves to meet us in our valleys to display his tender mercy and compassion.
But how often do I really go to him? Not enough, not enough…yet there is more grace to be had when I remember that God sees.