Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It happened again.

That moment when you realize that you've let something emerge from the fetid swamp of your heart and the creature has wrapped its claws around one of your children before you could stop it.

He just wanted to please me.  To surprise me.  To make me happy.  He just wanted a hug.  A smile.
But I made him cry.  It wasn't intentional.  But it didn't matter.

Sometimes the absence of intentionality is the worst of all.

He spoke to her harshly.  The sweet little sister whose heart is almost unnaturally pure and kind.  She was just looking for her shoes.  I had asked her to find them as we rushed rushed rushed out of the house to get someplace.  Someplace insignificant enough that I can't even recall where it was, but in that distracted and impatient moment it apparently seemed important to enough to break his spirit over arriving there on time.  I snarled at him.  I'm sure if I'd had a mirror, even I would have been wounded by the darts of disapproval shooting from my eyes.

"YOU WILL SPEAK WITH LOVE AND KINDNESS!", I growled. The tone of my statement seeped with irony and contradiction.
"But Mama-"
"Stop! It is not your job to tell her what to do!"
His little chin trembled.
"No!  Don't talk back to me." my irritation was taking on  red hot life of its own.  Doesn't this child know who I am?  Doesn't he realize I'm in charge?  And in a hurry?!?
A tear spilled down his freckled pink cheek.
"Mama....you don't undersatnd...i just...." his words came slow and choppy, interrupted by jagged breaths.  "Mama....I didn't want her to get the bags out of the closet to get her shoes because I put them in there so you wouldn't see..."
"Why in the world would you put bags full of shoes and toys and junk in the closet?" I'm sure I narrowed my eyes at him.
"....because I didn't have time to put everything away.....I cleaned the van out....for you.  I wanted to..... surprise you.  I threw all the trash away..... and since we were in a hurry..... I put the other bags of stuff in the closet.  I just wanted you to be happy..... when you got in the van."

My heart crumbled into a thousand bitter pieces of shame and regret.

But I couldn't take it back.

Isn't that the hard, convicting truth about words and unintentional moments?  You can never take them back.

Once, when I was small, I was wounded by my own impulsive carelessness.  I was doing my homework at the kitchen table, doodling in the margins of my math paper, wishing for a distraction.  Suddenly my Granni's voice broke the monotony, like a life preserver to a kid drowning in numbers and equations.  She had stopped by for an unexpected visit and I couldn't have been more excited to see her!  I leapt from my seat and, in my hurry, the freshly sharpened pencil I was holding gouged forcefully into my thigh.  Reactively, I pulled my hand back, breaking the lead off under my skin.  It hurt.  A lot.  But even more disturbing was the sight of the black lead now permanently embedded in my leg.  Almost thirty years later, it's still there.  A small, dark circle.  Never taken back.  A reminder of impulsiveness and lack of thought.  It's permanence and tendency to wound.

The words I spat to my son that day....like lead.  Sharp and black.  Wounding.  Permanent.  Void of intention but full of ire.

It's easy to move through life as if little things don't matter.  Letting our emotions and circumstances dictate our actions.  Surrendering to what we feel at any given moment.  Moments are like pieces of a puzzle.  Each one small, but every piece fitting together to complete the picture.  Every piece matters.  And you can't just throw the pieces on the table and expect that they will create something beautiful on their own.  You must think.  You must take care.  You must be intentional.  Lack of intentionality just results in an unfinished mess of pieces.

In His great love for us, He mercifully breaks our hearts with our own ugliness.

Then gathers the broken pieces, carefully realigns them, smooths rough edges, and puts it all back together.
Sometimes He has to break us so He can build us.

Life is marked by moments.  Intentional moments.  Unintentional moments.  And those moments leave marks.  Marks that can never be taken back.

I pray that the moments that I bring life to my children's hearts will be fondly remembered.  And, by His grace, the moments when I fail to do that will be gently redeemed.

Some of the best and most vivid memories of my childhood occurred when I was 5 and 6.  That was the year that my mama and I moved out on our own.  Until then, we had lived at my grandparents house and, though I loved them both very much, it felt so good to have my mama all to myself.  It was just a sparsely furnished two bedroom apartment whose biggest selling point was probably the fact that you could get from one end of the place to the other in ten steps or less, depending on the breadth of your stride.  
I'm sure I did some big stuff that year, trips or birthday parties or other "special" events.  
I don't remember any of them.
What I remember is mama.
I can still smell the fish sticks and vegetable soup and I can hear her laughing at me as I waited for dinner with all the patience a 5 year old could muster, sitting on my hands and bouncing in my seat and swinging my legs, wishing mama could just hurry up and make it ready faster.  
I can still see the sleek black talking car and the dark living room aglow with the flickering light of the television as mama and I sat and watched Knight Rider together. 
I can feel the scratchy softness of a bare mattress against my cheek as I lay sick in mama's bed, admiring her while she sewed cloth baby dolls to sell for extra money.  
I can still feel the quickened pace of my heart and the unbound excitement, listening to mama's end of the conversation as she talked on the phone to grandaddy about what they were going to name their new chihuahua.  Tiger!  The name I had chosen for him!
There are so many more things that I don't even remember with words or details or mental pictures.
I remember them with a feeling.
Of presence.  

Oh mamas…my heart aches for you to embrace the truth that it's not about what you can give your children.  It's about WHO you can give them.  

This morning my 8 year old daughter snuggled up next to me on the couch, looked into my tired eyes with her sparkling green ones, crinkled her freckled nose and said. "Mama, do you remember that time in our old house when we sat on my bed after I just woke up and we laughed so much?"  She chuckled at the memory then rested her pigtailed head against my shoulder.  I didn't have any idea what she was talking about.  But I wrapped my arms around her, pulled her closer and said, "I love laughing with you."  Against my arm, I could feel her cheeks swell into a smile.

They may have your Pinterest inspired table decorations securely nestled in their memories for all time.  But it's more likely that their hearts will take them back to the time spent with you around that table.  And those memories will envelope their tender souls like emotional bubble wrap, protecting them from the barrage of hurts that will inevitably assault them as they move through life.

You won't parent perfectly all the time.  Chances are, you won't even parent perfectly for an entire day at a time.  
But your children don't need you to be perfect.  They need you to be present.

He will remember how you looked straight into his eyes instead of at your phone when he told you exactly how he came up with his idea for his latest fabulous lego creation.
She will remember that time she beat you at Memory, and you tickled her until she could hardly breathe with laughter and you told her the only way to get free was to declare you the winner.  And she did, with rosy cheeks and leftover giggles.
One day, he will find himself picking up a can of squirtable cheese for his own children, not because it tastes good but because seeing it made him laugh in the middle of the store aisle at the memory of you squirting it on your face in the shape of a processed orange mustache.  
One day she will smile and sigh contentedly when she recalls lying on the sofa with her head on your lap while you read a book and softly combed your fingers through her tangled little girl hair.

You may not get your bed made every morning.  You may not even get it made for the next 12 years.  But they won't remember your unmade bed.  They'll remember you inviting them to skip their chores and cuddle up beside you in it to watch a movie on a rainy day.
She won't remember that you rarely get around to showering before lunch.  Or that, even more rarely, you get around to wearing anything other than yoga pants.  She will remember that you spent the morning reading her books and laughing with her at the funny parts.
He probably won't recall everyone who was there when he blew out the candles on his birthday cakes.  What he will remember is the way your eyes lit up when he walked into the room.

I've had a lot of fish sticks in my life.  But the only ones I can still taste are the ones that were served by mama in our little apartment.

These babies of yours, they will grow.  Out of your arms and into the world.  
When they set out on their own journeys through life, and they take a long nostalgic look over their shoulder, what do you want them to see?

Let it be you, mama.  Let it be you.  

So when they turn back around and face the rocky road ahead, they'll know without a doubt who is behind them. 

They'll know that you are present.
Then.  Now.  Always.