Ragged dirty clothes covered the short stocky frame of the man as he stood outside the supermarket. I was living in La Ceiba, Honduras at the time and was accustomed to seeing beggars outside of El Ceibeno. But I couldn't help notice the heavy, several sizes too large jacket hanging from his stooped shoulders. La Ceiba is hot, very hot. The coat seemed odd, out of place. His feet were bare, caked with several days of dust and dirt. Someone placed a coin into his short, stubby hand. He raised his head and smiled, revealing a mouth full of broken, rotting teeth. And I saw the eyes slanted slightly. Down's eyes.
Some things bothered me very little while living in Honduras. The street smells I could pretty much ignore. The drunks lying in their own vomit and filth outside the bars by the mission house, I could look past them. Even the street kids, some of them with bags of glue up to their noses, I could handle. And in a land where the blind beg, the homeless rummage through garbage cans and the handicapped fend for themselves, you simply do what you can. You put some coins in the outstretched hand of the cripple, give a sandwich and a piece of fruit to a hungry child or a pair of shoes to the one in need of clothing.
But when it came to those with mental disabilities, I struggled. The man with Down's didn't look cared for. I wondered how he got to the store each day and where he stayed at night. And because he was Honduran, I knew he could expect no government assistance, no mental health program, no assisted living facility, no special school. Nothing at all.
And then there was the man who lived next door to us. Actually, the fire department was next door but he was always there, fed and housed by the firemen. His clothes were neat, his face was washed and his hair combed. Average in height and build, if you were to merely glance at him you would see nothing out of the ordinary. That is, until you looked into his eyes. I saw that same look a couple of years ago while subbing in a class for mentally disabled children. Its name is autism.
I wondered where God was in the lives of these two men and others like them. I longed to know how they could possibly comprehend the love of their Heavenly Father when they were obviously out of touch with so much around them.
One day I was hurrying along the sidewalk towards town when I saw the short, squat figure in his oversized coat heading my way. As I drew closer I realized he was oblivious to me and everything else around him. For cupped in his stubby hand was a bright red flower. His nose was deep in its folds, inhaling deeply of its fragrance. His eyes were but slits, and his mouth was open in pure rapture at the delight of it. He moved on past me, and God spoke in a whisper to my heart. "He knows me, Marcy. I am the source of all joy. That's what you have just seen."
A few days later I heard beautiful music coming from outside the front gate of the mission home. Someone was whistling. It immediately reminded me of a record I sometimes listened to while growing up, "The William Tell Overture" performed by a man who was blind. I was amazed that a person could whistle like that, and the fact he couldn't see made it all the more beautiful to me. I peered out the slats to see if I could could catch sight of the talented musician. There, leaning against a concrete post was our neighbor with the vacant eyes. I stood there by the window in awe, not daring to move until the song was over. God once again spoke to me in that still, quiet voice. "He knows me. His eyes may seem empty. But he sees things you know nothing about."
These two men taught me something. God has no limits, especially when it comes to His love. And because He loves these special children, He speaks in ways that we can't even begin to comprehend. The day will come when their minds and bodies will be perfect. But for now He speaks to them in His own way and simply says, "I am God and I love you."
There's a little more to this story. The red flower I mentioned earlier grows in abundance along the sidewalks in La Ceiba. One day I picked one and held it to my nose. To my amazement it had no smell. Nothing. So exactly what fragrance was coming from my young friend's flower? I guess we'll never know. That's between him and his Heavenly Father.