The day after Missy was born, the doctor told her mother, Lib, that she had Down syndrome. This was 50 years ago, back in a time when children like Missy were often hidden away and what little the general population knew about Down syndrome was often wrong. One of Lib's friends insisted, “She’ll outgrow it.” Her sister told her to put Missy into an institution immediately, to never bring her home from the hospital.
Missy’s parents and her four sisters had a better idea. They received her as the newest member of their family and went about including her in their lives. There were challenges, to be sure, but they learned that the blessings far outweighed any struggles along the way. From Missy, Lib says she has learned that “imperfection is beauty.” She stands in awe of her daughter’s compassion and her wisdom.
When Missy was a young adult, she worked for seven years at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in food services making salads, then for a short while at the Marriott making beds. When she lost that job, there was no more work to be found. Opportunities for people with special needs over the age of 21 were scarce. So, Missy’s parents decided to take matters into their own hands.
Because Missy had always enjoyed getting dirty, Lib thought, “Why not pottery?” She enrolled in a class and took Missy to learn with her. Those classes were followed by another class at the University where the instructor gave Missy and Lib their own studio for a while. Then Missy’s dad said, “Let’s build our own studio,” and that’s what they did.
Missy sells her pottery at shows. Its childlike, primitive quality with colorful creatures painted on the sides give her work a style all its own. I happen to have several Missy Moss Creations in my home and at my office; people always admire them and they want to know about the potter who created them.
Missy’s favorite thing to paint on her pottery is butterflies. They have whimsical, big eyes and their wings are spread to fly. Butterflies are one of her passions. She works at a nature museum, where she gets to feed them. She also is a friend to the turtles there and serves them gourmet salads that she creates especially for them.
When I hear about all the activities that Missy is involved with, it makes me dizzy. At one of the local churches she goes to dances and plays bingo. She attends art classes. She participates in her “Circle of Friends” with over 200 developmentally delayed people from all around the city. At church she enjoys cooking and cleaning up. Her obsessive-compulsive tendencies come in handy because she has a knack for keeping everything in its place.
At night, Missy has a ritual of putting things to bed because she doesn’t like anything staring at her while she sleeps. So she’ll turn her pictures to face the wall every night. Interestingly, she doesn’t mind being up front during worship, where she clearly has the attention of everyone in the church. All eyes are upon her whenever she serves as an acolyte.
Lighting the altar candles is a challenge for Missy because she has some issues with her eyes that leave her with no depth perception. Have you ever tried to light a candle with one of those long candle lighters and you can’t tell exactly how far away the candle is? It ain’t easy! When Missy first began serving as an acolyte, she took the candle lighter home to practice, but on Sunday mornings, she rarely hits her mark. We learned that the best way to handle this is to have another person stand behind her and help guide her arm toward the candlewick, if necessary. I am always watching and hoping that she won't need the help, but she pretty much always does.
On the Sunday after Missy’s 50th birthday, she was serving as acolyte. Before the service, as she pulled her robe over her head I noticed she was flushed and a little teary. “Are you all right, Missy?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I just love it! I love it so much!”
When it came time for her to light the first candle, Missy struggled to get the flame near the wick. First she was short, then she was long. She went to the right of the candle, then to the left. So the assisting minister who was standing behind her gently touched her arm and guided her to the right spot.
Missy bowed at the altar and moved to the second candle. This time she slowly and deliberately moved the candle lighter in the direction of the altar candle. She touched the fire to the tip of the wick, and a flame popped up on top of the candle. As soon as she saw it, she looked over at me and I gave her a thumps up. She smiled smugly in a way that said, Of course I lit the candle, that's what I do; I'm an acolyte! and then she gave me a big thumbs up of her own. It was a moment of absolute triumph and joy. Nothing else that followed in the worship service that morning could top it.
After worship, when I greeted Missy, I told her, “You did a great job lighting those candles today!”
Missy hugged me and said, “I did GREAT!”
That’s the way she saw the day. She did great! There were two candles on the altar. She lit them both. One, with some assistance. And the other, all on her own. Yes, she did great. And she knew it. The meaning of her deep wisdom for my own life was not lost on me.