Then, Saturday, I read this interview with Jeannie Cunnion about her new book Parenting the Wholehearted Child, and I knew it was time.
Last month a business associate contacted my husband and me to let us know he was going to be traveling through our town during a road trip with his family. Through our business interactions my husband and I have developed a friendship with Tom, but had never had the opportunity to meet his family. This seemed like a great chance to connect our kids-and for me to finally meet the wife of whom he so often speaks.
It was a Monday afternoon when their van with Indiana plates made its way to our town. It was Tom’s kids’ Spring Break—but just an ordinary school day for us. The boys had soccer practice right after school, then I ran to pick up a gluten free dinner I’d ordered to accommodate our guests. It wasn’t ready, so we were a bit behind schedule. Frustratingly, the half hour margin I had built into our afternoon was gone.
In case I have never mentioned it in this space, I have two anxiety triggers—running late and feeling like I am inconveniencing people. I am AT MY WORST when I feel like I’m putting people out. It has been a painful process for me to realize that I disrespect my own family members (the people I love and value most) from this anxious place of trying to be respectful of others.
The kids & I hurriedly pulled into my driveway with our dinner in the trunk at exactly the moment our guests arrived. I went into Host-zilla mode and spouted instructions to the kids.
“Go immediately inside and change from your soccer clothes and come directly back downstairs to greet our guests. Do NOT get distracted.”
I waved to the guests, unloaded the food quickly, then did a quick glace around the downstairs to make sure we were ready to receive. As I was making my way to the front door I heard the sounds of Mario Kart coming from the dark mudroom. My heart rate quickened. Stupid screens…I peeked around the corner to see my P, head down, playing a handheld device. Whaaaa?
And this is the part where I gulp hard (for the first time).I lost it.
“Hey!” I exclaimed as a popped him on the top of the head like I was ringing a bell for service. “What on Earth do you think you are doing?!?”
I promise this is NOT how I ordinarily handle my children. If you have ever dealt with a sensitive, anxiety prone child with a propensity for zoning out you know this is exactly the WRONG way to get their attention. The emotional whiplash from being jerked back into reality rarely works out well. Predictably, he started crying. His big tear filled brown eyes looked up at me as he stammered, “What did I do?”
Feeling justifiably angry I said, “I told you to go change clothes. I made it very clear we were in a hurry. And you are in here playing a VIDEO GAME!?”
Still crying, appearing bewildered and sad he said, “But, Mom, I did change. I did what you said.”
And although I still have no idea how he managed to do so that quickly, a double check of his appearance confirmed his story. He was sporting the same exact colors he had been wearing before, but he was in clean clothes.
In other words, I completely overreacted and behaved like a very unkind and upsetting Mama as a result of jumping to the wrong conclusion. My heart sank. I was so ashamed. I literally fell to my knees before him.For months I have been preaching/teaching/praying for him about how to handle his anxiety—how to take a breath, slow down and NOT jump to conclusions. And in an instant I had embodied every bad example. Now my innocent child was upset and of course, the front doorbell rang.
Through tears of my own and a huge sigh I said, “P, I was wrong. I overreacted. I did everything I tell you not to do. I was worried and upset and I freaked out. I am so sorry.”DING DONG
Oh ,the irony that I wanted to ‘impress’ my guests with our appropriately dressed family, good manners and a welcoming home—and I left them standing on the porch while repaired a spirit I crushed inside. I glanced at the door, then into the brown, bespectacled eyes of my boy.“I am really, very sorry. Will you forgive me?”
“Yes, " he replied with sweet sincerity, "Will you forgive me too?”
“Oh, you don’t owe me an apology, buddy. You did the right thing. I was the one who was wrong.” I gulped again.
I hugged him tight, then anticipating the third ring of the bell from a family of five that had been driving all afternoon, I dashed to the door. With my best ‘together’ smile I greeted the guests and welcomed them into our ‘lovely’ home. And I felt like a fake. In my desire to offer a 'home' to our company I had hurt one who lived there.An hour into our visit, while discussing the humility of parenthood, I confessed why they had been left on the porch for a bit. Ironically, I got the sense that the humble authenticity was probably the thing that made my guests feel most welcome of all. And I wondered again why we don't all try to live more from this place of 'real.'
Make no mistake, I am not proud of my behavior...but my freak out wasn't the end of the story. As I humbled myself God was able to redeem even my yuck.
That night as I was putting P to bed I brought the incident up once more.
“When Jesus forgives, it is handled. It’s done. You don’t have to keep going over it again and again. But, P, I have to tell you, I still feel terrible about the way I handled things earlier. I am so sorry my heart hurts.”
I could barely make out his face in the darkness, but there was no mistaking the feeling of his skinny arms wrapping themselves around me neck.“Is there anything I can do to help?”
I choked back tears.
So often in hurtful situations both parties share parts of the blame—but not this time. In this scenario it was clear. I was the offender. My boy was the offended. His forgiveness was freely offered—in the tenderest of ways—above and beyond. And I felt a sense wash over me that THIS is grace. Unearned. Gifted to my embarrassed, repentant heart.
This is the picture of love that I hope I never forget (and to offer to others). A sincere apology from a contrite heart, met with kindness and a sweet embrace.
In some respects, the whole situation was God's way of bonking me in the head. Waking me up from my little world where all of my kids' heart development depends on me. It's just not true. I have a responsibility, indeed, but clearly it's not all up to (or about, ahem) me.
Obviously, I wish I could always be the good example. I regret the way I handled my son’s heart. I pray the Lord will continue to work on my patience. But I was blown away by the reminder that God is working in my boy's heart to nurture a tenderness that I can't take much of the credit for.
The same is true of my other ones. God doesn't ask me to be a perfect Mother. In fact, Scripture testifies time and again to the fact that I CAN'T and I WON'T. The point is for my children to worship GOD not ME. My responsibility is not to be their Savior, but to point them to Him.