We find inspiration in the most surprising places when we least expect it, but sometimes, when we need it the most.
A few weeks ago, I was shopping at Wal-Mart. Shortly into our trip, I could hear a child struggling. He was screaming, throwing a temper tantrum and when he came into vision, he was almost bucking himself right out of his seat.
His mother was unusually calm, almost had an odd sense of peace about her. And I say odd only because it was uncanny how she kept herself so powerfully composed.
Despite her son's incessant outlashings, she kept pushing through her trip. As our paths kept crossing in almost every aisle, I was mortified for her for a number of reasons.
I've been there many times. When I take all of my children grocery shopping and manage to survive, I consider it a huge feat. Although "they" say you should immediately remove your child from the store to show them you won't tolerate their inappropriate behavior, it's not always an option.
For some mothers, it's only opportunity to get the family's groceries.
I was infuriated for this poor mother, in that with each judgemental glare I saw her receive, not to mention the few appalled whispers I caught, my heart just broke. I, too, have received those evil looks and felt as if I was ready to crumple.
For some reason, I was drawn to this woman. As people sneered and looked down on her - how dare she let her son ruin everyone else's shopping trip - I looked at her in total admiration. Fortunately I was able to notice what everyone else seemed to miss.
Given my experience and education, I was immediately able to tell her son had autism.
There were times the mother did calmly intervene when necessary, however, when it was appropriate, she had let him go expressing himself in the only way he knew how to. And what others failed to see, was the handful of times I saw her stopping to go over picture cards with him, showing him that soon they would be going home. Her gracefulness and patience left me with the chills.
Here I am, trying to hold one of my toddlers safely in the cart as she almost is climbing out of her buckle, bribing the other toddler that if he is a good boy and stops pulling things off the shelves that he'll earn his fruit snacks in the car (great parenting, right?), and coaxing my oldest to hold on to the cart as her legs were too tired from walking, as she begged me to carry her.
Was I a picture of grace and beauty? Hardly.
Before my encounter with the woman, I had started specifically seeking out and praying for more patience. It is something I always have prayed for and even joked about, but I truly felt compelled that patience was, and still is, an area of my life that needed some serious attention and improvement.
There's only so much of blaming it on pregnancy hormones that one can take. As my husband lovingly puts it, "You can only pull the 'P' card so many times, honey!" All jokes aside, I felt a deep conviction to better myself in the area of maintaining my patience.
I've yet to find the magic ingredient of sustaining this. Or even being able to find my patience in the first place on most days. But it was at the most appropriate time that I was, what I felt, brought to this woman.
Not only did we cross paths in several aisles, it turned out I was right behind her in the checkout line. Without even hesitating, I went up behind her, softly put my hand on her back and told her I thought she was an incredible mother. With a surprised, yet warm smile, she immediately burst into tears.
I think that was probably the last thing she expected to hear at the end of her shopping trip, but I?think it was something that she deserved to hear from anyone who took the time to see the phenomenal things she was doing.
She introduced me to her son and briefly shared some of their struggles they face on a daily basis with autism.
I felt humbled to just be in their presence and to meet such a handsome, bright eyed, intelligent young man. It's truly amazing how God facilitated such perfect timing, when I least expected it. I felt that I had left my grocery trip feeling more inspired as a mother than I had in a long time.
After our short talk, we both parted ways in tears. The mother thanked me for reaching out to her and shared that that was not the type of feedback she normally receives. I assured her that all the thanks were for her, as she was a blessing in disguise, a walking example of true perseverance, sincere compassion and an overabundance of patience that left me in complete awe.
How often do we catch ourselves being so quick to judge? As mothers, we want to be the best, want our children to be the best. And if and when we're not, we make excuses in our heads until we believe what isn't actually reality.
I only wish that each person, especially any parents who may have crossed paths with this mother, got to leave with the inspiration that I did.
I constantly look to be inspired - to find people or situations to improve my outlook on life and encourage me to become a better person.
I often think of the countless times I was not in tune or open to the hundreds of potentially inspirational moments that I was right smack in the middle of, but resistant to, but instead found myself in total shut-down mode or just too busy to even notice.
Life simply is about moments. We won't remember the days, but rather the moments that impacted and changed our lives. Luckily for us, these moments are all around us, waiting to be discovered and experienced. The hard part already is done.
All that is left for us is to live with our hearts and eyes wide open.
Long is a local author of "101 Moments of Motherhood."
Her column is published on the third Sunday of each month. To contact Long or to receive a copy of her book, email firstname.lastname@example.org.