In Her Shoes is a series written by readers to give us a glimpse into their lives – to see what it is like to walk in their shoes. Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to one of my favorite new writers – Gillian Marchenko! I’ve already raved to y’all about her memoir – Sun Shine Down. Let’s join our friend as she shares with us what it is like to walk in her shoes. ~ Love, G
Mrs. Marchenko, we wanted to let you know that Kristi, one of the classroom aids, bought a new pair of tennis shoes for Evie. She just loves her so much. Let’s see if these stay on Evie better! Have a great day!
I looked over at my little girl just off the bus, happily playing with a light-up toy and drinking a juice box on the couch. Yep. Sure enough. New shoes; white with pink outlines. A wave of shame rolled over my body. The note, just two lines in my seven-year-old daughter’s communication journal her school and I trade back and forth daily, caused me stop what I was doing and sit down. I read it again: Kristi bought a new pair of tennis shoes for Evie. My cheeks heated up. Tears sprung to my eyes. “Crap.”
Evangeline has autism and Down syndrome. She attends a wonderful special needs school in our city and although she functions around eighteen months, has shown great gains this year socially, emotionally, and cognitively. She has a beautiful heart-shaped face and loves to swing.
And she definitely needed new shoes. The Velcro on the gray pair she wore to school each day was shot, partly because she constantly removed them and took up the practice of sucking on the straps. My husband and I have taken turns doctoring them up with duct tape in a furry of hustling for the bus, or late at night when the thought came to mind, ‘Evie needs new shoes.’
But I hadn’t purchased any.
I have four daughters. Evie and Polly have special needs. I’m in the midst of writing a memoir about motherhood and depression, which is one part invigorating and three parts, dare I say it?, depressing. My husband pastors a little church that struggles to pay the bills, and many nights I fall into bed breathing out a prayer. “God, please help us. Help me. I can’t take another step.”
So, why didn’t I smile at the shoe gift from school and simply cross it off my forever to do list?
Because I worried about what Evie’s teachers and aids thought. Did they think I was neglecting my child? Were they judging us when she showed up at school in broken shoes?
I’ve been a special needs mom for eight years and still, sometimes I wonder if I’m really who God wanted to parent my kids. I fail daily. I can think of many women who seem to be parenting their kids better, at least from the highlight reels imposed on Facebook.
But I have to keep these thoughts in check. As a Christian, I know I’m the right mom for my kids. God made it clear each time he wanted us to have another baby. And in 2009 his presence was like a giant thumb coming down from heaven when we traveled to Ukraine to adopt Evie.
I’m a story person. I’d pick a book over just about everything else in life. So, I go back to what I know. God, the greatest story teller of all time, took my story of fear and worry over parenting a child with Down syndrome and turned it into a story of acceptance, crazy love, and adoption. He took Evie’s story of life in an orphanage and turned it into life in a family. And he takes the story of broken shoes and turns it into answered prayer; new white tennis shoes with pink outlines.
I need to stop worrying about what other people think. And I need to slow down enough to see God work in my life. He answers prayers every day. He is providing people to help me take the next step for myself, for my kids, and for his glory.
I saw Kristi last Friday at Evie’s school picnic. I thanked her for the shoes. She smiled. I smiled. Evie smiled. God is good. And so far, Evie hasn’t kicked off her new shoes or sucked on the straps. I think she understands the blessing of answered prayer, too.
Gillian Marchenko has given birth in three places, the most interesting being Kiev, Ukraine. She is an author and national speaker who focuses on imperfect faith, special needs, depression, and deep belly laughs. Gillian’s memoir Sun Shine Down published in August of 2013 (T. S. Poetry Press) and she is currently working on another memoir about depression and faith (InterVarsity Press). Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Chicago Parent, Literary Mama, Thriving Family, Gifted for Leadership, Today’s Christian Woman, MomSense Magazine, The Lookout, Charlottesville Family, EFCA Today, and the Tri-City Record. She lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and four daughters. You can find Gillian on any given Sunday bouncing a toddler on her knee in the back row of the church her husband pastors while giving her older girls the look. Gillian says the world is full of people who seem to have it all together. She speaks up for the rest of us. Get to know Gillian more on Facebook.
To read more encouraging stories, or if you are interested in sharing your own story, please go to the In Her Shoes tab near the top of the page. I love learning about the people in this series. Connecting with others seems to make the world feel not quite as big and scary. We’re all in this together. I can’t wait to hear from you, to read your stories, and learn more of what it is like to walk in your shoes.
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