my daughter needed a plate, but i had just stacked them up as high as humanly possible, so i told her to wait until my phone call was done, and i would get it for her. being a family of 6 and going on 3 months with a broken dishwasher, there are never enough places to put a dish to dry. and there always seems to be a more imminent catastrophe than wet dishes, so there the dishes sit, piled dangerously high like a tetris game, ready for the slightest movement to send them all crashing onto the floor, or worse, the sink, full of more greasy dishes soaking in cold bubbles.
i tell her to wait, but she is impatient, so she tries on her own. down comes a huge wok, and it narrowly misses her foot. plastic baby cups and random utensils crash down around her.
“india, i said to wait!” i yell, but as soon as the words are out, i realize they are most definitely all the wrong words. her eyes are big and she is quiet, so i clear my throat and try again. “i’m sorry, what i should have said is “are you okay?”
she nods at me, but there are tears in her eyes. is it wrong to hope that it is her foot that is hurt, and not her heart?
it turns out that the soft rubber handle on the heavy wok caught the edge of her tiny toe, painted bright with coral polish, so after a kiss and some ice, all is well. my mama heart is relieved, but i still feel ashamed.
it’s not even an hour later that i do it again. this time it’s not childlike impatience from her, but willful disobedience from my #2 son. still, i lose my temper and yell, and there is immediate regret, because what kind of message requires anger and volume? what could i possibly communicate through yelling that couldn’t have been said another way?
parenting is by far the hardest journey i have ever been on. it pulls at every part of you, putting to the test every principle on which you thought you were firmly planted, every character trait you spent your entire pre-motherhood decades working on, every bad habit you thought you had mastered. it is one of the most beautiful things to experience, but not without soul crushing, humiliating moments that often take place at Costco or somewhere extremely quiet like the library. for me, and many others, God has used motherhood to squeeze the ugly things out. and it turns out there was a whole lot of ugliness down deep.
the saying is cliché, but very true, that “hurt people, hurt people”. i have been there so many times, when deep rooted disappointment feeds my selfishness and what springs up is ugly, and unfortunately contagious. in other words, i pass on my pain, and watch in defeat as my tiny people pass their pain on to one another until everyone, one by one, is absolutely miserable. and it’s not just me- i see it every day, people being bruised and broken, only to turn around and batter the next person in their path. it’s like we cannot stop, but if you’ve seen the state of the news lately, it’s clear that cannot go on this way either.
as a follower of Jesus, i’ve been intrigued by this problem of cyclic hurt, because it doesn’t seem like the Church has gotten much further than the rest of the world. when we are broken, we SHOULD be the ones who are the most resilient, the most gracious, even merciful…but judgment and bitterness seem to be strongholds for so many brothers and sisters in Christ.
i used to think that i could pick myself up, try harder, memorize some new verses, meet with my mentors, commit it to the Lord and then i would love beautifully again. so when pain entered my life in a way it never had before, i was unprepared for what was to come. i found no end to the depths of the sin and ugliness that had been hidden deep underground. it was buried so far below the surface that it was even more painful as Jesus brought it to light. layered underneath years of comfort, distraction, busyness, and more was a belief that i could handle it all myself.
and then i saw it in that moment, myself in my little girl. i saw her wanting to do things her way, just as i do, and realized that my motivation for teaching her was all wrong. i was teaching her to avoid mistakes, which is impossible. of course, teaching our children to be wise is good, and necessary, but we are broken people, and we will break things along the way. what i had forgotten to do, was to forgive myself for making mistakes. this is why i’ve stayed broken most days. it’s why i scold her first instead of checking if she is okay. i’ve somehow become more concerned with avoiding mistakes than loving my kids well. i’ve somehow become more convinced that i should spend more time reaching for perfection rather than striving to love myself as Jesus created me. i’ve left an example of trying to hold to a standard that is humanly impossible, and thus brokenness leads to more brokenness.
so i come to Jesus, and say
i am broken, and that’s all.
and He says, you are LOVED.
i have nothing to give anymore.
and He says, you are LOVED.
i don’t know where to begin.
and He says, you are LOVED.
and i say, how can You be sure?
and i fall asleep, almost sure, but still wondering somehow.
i wake the next morning to a tiny princess snuggling her tangled hair into my neck, tiny hands on my chin. “you’re the best mama ever, and i love you!” she says like nothing rude ever came out of my lungs. grace upon grace upon grace, just like He promised. joy comes in the morning.
this won’t be the last time i fail to love my daughter completely. but it’s times like these that i hear the Holy Spirit whispering “try again. love her more. love her better. because you are loved.”