(Note: This was written with help, insight, and revision from my wife… Thank you, Angela.)

“Wait a minute, Ma’am… does she have a disability?”

The question cut through both of us like a word of law, judgment, and accusation.

What was she getting at? What was she implying? Where are we going with this? Sigh. Here we go again…

As parents of a child diagnosed with a noticeable disability, we have encountered our fair share of what I’m sure were well-intentioned, but nonetheless uninformed comments assuming our daughter’s limitations. There was the doctor’s comment to my wife the day Grace was born, shortly after we heard that our child “might” have Down’s Syndrome: “Those are tears of joy, right?” Then there was the lady at a church we were visiting who opined: “I believe children like that are closer to God.” After service one Sunday, I slightly chided our little girl for abruptly interrupting an adult who later tried to assure me: “Oh, it’s okay, I wasn’t offended. I taught special education for years.” Of course, my personal favorite was the Sunday School teacher who accosted us in the hallway as we were sending each kid to their respective class. With awkward hesitation and a look of worry on her face, she asked, “Does she have special needs? Can she follow directions?”

It’s embarrassing, to say the least, to constantly have your child evaluated, assessed, and labeled. It’s humiliating to constantly have to be reminded that, yes, she is apparently what the world would consider “different.”

We had been enduring the heat, the long lines, the overpriced concessions, the smell of animals, the impatient whiny children on the last day of the Wisconsin State Fair. After clearing the “you must be this tall to ride” marker, we were about to pay our fare for the whirling swings when the operator stopped my wife and questioned, “Does she have a disability?”

I’m so proud of my wife. Though visibly annoyed by having to once again justify and advocate for our child, she paused, processed, and then very humbly yet assertively responded, “Yes, but nothing that will prevent her ability to ride these swings.”

We weren’t expecting what followed… which is always the nature of grace.

You see, we were both expecting to receive law, to be given a word of disqualification. We both expected to hear that our daughter’s weakness would preclude her from the same carefree amusement all the other kids were enjoying.

“Ma’am, I don’t mean any harm by asking you that. It’s just that kids with disabilities can go on all the rides here for free, and and I don’t want anyone to cheat you out of your privilege. I’m so sorry, please don’t be offended… Enjoy the rides!”