Family Alive

Brian, Kristine, Analise, and Josiah Toone

Perspective: The Invisible Woman (by Nicole Johnson)

16th April 2008

"As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right." This poignant essay was shared at my Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) meeting yesterday. It really struck a chord in my heart, and I’m excited to have found it’s from a book called The Invisible Woman: A Story for Mothers.  Here’s the YouTube version, which is very, very good (about 5 minutes).

The Invisible Woman
by Nicole Johnson

It started to happen gradually …

day I was walking my son Jake to school. I was holding his hand and we
were about to cross the street when the crossing guard said to him,
"Who is that with you, young fella?"

"Nobody," he shrugged.

Nobody? The crossing guard and I laughed. My son is only 5, but as we crossed the street I thought, "Oh my goodness, nobody?"

would walk into a room and no one would notice. I would say something
to my family – like "Turn the TV down, please" – and nothing would
happen. Nobody would get up, or even make a move for the remote. I
would stand there for a minute, and then I would say again, a little
louder, "Would someone turn the TV down?" Nothing.

the other night my husband and I were out at a party. We’d been there
for about three hours and I was ready to leave. I noticed he was
talking to a friend from work. So I walked over, and when there was a
break in the conversation, I whispered, "I’m ready to go when you are."
He just kept right on talking.

That’s when I started to put all the pieces together. I don’t think he can see me. I don’t think anyone can see me.

I’m invisible.

all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the
way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and
ask to be taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, "Can’t you see I’m
on the phone?" Obviously not. No one can see if I’m on the phone, or
cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the
corner, because no one can see me at all.

I’m invisible.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this?

days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock
to ask, "What time is it?" I’m a satellite guide to answer, "What
number is the Disney Channel?" I’m a car to order, "Right around 5:30,

I was certain that
these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied
history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude – but now they had
disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.

She’s going … she’s going … she’s gone!

night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a
friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip,
and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was
sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well.
It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down
at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was
clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid
I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty
pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package,
and said, "I brought you this."

was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly sure why
she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: "To Charlotte, with
admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees."

the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. And I would
discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after
which I could pattern my work:
  • No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record of their names.
  • These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.
  • They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.
  • The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.
legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the
cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny
bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, "Why
are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will
be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it."

And the workman replied, "Because God sees."

closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was
almost as if I heard God whispering to me, "I see you, Charlotte. I see
the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No
act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake
you’ve baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are
building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will

At times, my
invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is
erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own
self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.

keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one
of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished,
to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of
the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built
in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to
that degree.

When I really
think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing
home from college for Thanksgiving, "My mom gets up at 4 in the morning
and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three
hours and presses all the linens for the table." That would mean I’d
built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come
home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add,
"You’re gonna love it there."

mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re
doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will
marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been
added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

2 Responses to “Perspective: The Invisible Woman (by Nicole Johnson)”

  1. Mom Says:

    That is so beautiful. I’m crying.

  2. Organizing The Details Says:

    Building Cathedrals…

    As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices o…

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