It was the week before Easter and seeing that I am always looking for a teachable moment for our kids, I bravely volunteered to help in our church library. I reasoned that with a then two- and four-year old, it would allow me to still be involved and contribute somehow. It also provided a chance to include my children, teaching them on a practical level that we should all do our part.
The assignment was simple as can be.
The library changed their shelving procedures and books were marked with little colored dots prior to the change. Our job was to remove the little dots.
It started out great. It was just the three of us in the library. Bernu, the then two-year old, was happily playing with the ever-popular Veggie Tales display on the counter. Carli was paging through a picture book. I was balancing on a stepping stool, gleaming with joy to do behind the scenes service unto the Lord!
Green dot. Yellow dot. Red dot.
The peace and quiet lasted for about the time it took me to get the three dots off my fingers and trying to get them to stick to the garbage bag instead, when Bernu threw the Veggie Tales sheep down and started roaming towards the books.
I selected a little book for him and it interested him long enough for me to find the last book without a dot when he decided climbing on a stepping stool looked like more fun.
One yellow dot.
I encouraged them to play and read books, reinforcing that we are helping the church. (Why I did not think of actually involving them to take stickers off did not cross my mind until writing it now with several more mothering years under my proverbial belt and having the control freak eroded by many, many similar experiences.)
Always so eager to help, little kids that is, they started noticing the dots I was pulling off and joined in the fun. The only problem was that Bernu had the idea that collecting a pile of 20 books from three different shelves in four seconds flat was the most effective way of getting the job done. The race was on. Shelving the books in their order versus little runner boy pulling their buddies from different shelves was in full swing.
I remained calm until then. All the nice and calm, mommy-in-complete-control voice was slowly changing into this-is-not-how we-do-it kind of voice.
“Leave the books on the shelves, please guys.” Changed to, “Mommy said NO!"
Trying to refocus their attention to the task at hand seemed to work long enough for me to pull off two stickers. Green dot. Yellow dot. It was then when I heard Carli’s voice, “Mamma, Bernu broke the cross!” I turned around to see the Easter display in ruins. Carefully taken apart like only tiny hands can do.
By now all the self control I’ve been praying for and learned and study about escaped my saved-by-grace-work-in-progress-mind, as I tried to reconstruct the display with the cross that kept tipping sideways. I felt the disappointment and frustration flow like lava from my mouth. All those ridiculous threats the great parenting teachers warn against, “I will never bring you to the library again!” started to spew like flying rocks. Finally managing to reassemble the display I turned the lights off and closed the library door, feeling relieved that at least I didn’t slap it closed as hard as I really wanted to.
Huffing and puffing toward the van, plopping everyone in their car seats I felt the tears stinging in my heart first, it was not until we drove from the parking lot that they reached my eyes.
“What is wrong with me, Lord? I love You so much. I love them so much. All I wanted to do was to teach them that our love for You has to grow hands and feet. All it ended up being was me being frustrated and angry, disappointed that all they will remember of serving You was a top-heavy cross, ruined Easter display (sorry Gwen!) and an angry mother.”
And for the zillionth time since the birth of Carli four years earlier the deep cry for help reached toward Heaven. “Lord, help me! I really want to honor You in the midst of raising children, in the midst of two years’ of lack of sleep, and ear infections, and laundry, late night fevers, and puke on the floor, of giggles and mud cakes and pony tales and bedtime stories, of puffy little fingers searching for my hand, of wilted dandelions, and stick men on the refrigerator door, and a life so different from the esteemed professional road.”
We drove home in silence. Silent tears. Silent prayers.
Since becoming a mother God has taught me more lessons about forgiveness, and my shortcomings, than in all the years before. Never have I learned so much about God’s grace since the first little cry and all the subsequent less memorable whiny tantrum cries….
How He loves me completely even in my failed serving-family-of-the-decade attempt!
He has taught me to humble myself to seek their forgiveness. Again.
Their love always floors me. They are so eager to forgive, so eager to let the wrong go, so different from me who so easily like to fester a wrong to the point of a boil. The display of His love and forgiveness through little people living in our home.
Seems that the lesson of the week on serving wasn’t wasted after all, they got a first row seat teaching them that their mommy isn’t perfect, but that she serves and loves a God Who is, and that all she desires is for them to find Him too.