Our dear Daniel has his First Reconciliation next Saturday, and I'm a little confused because, um, wasn't he just born? Eight years sure flies. We're preparing for his big day by completing the "Gift of Reconciliation" book our church provides. Last year, Paul and I took turns completing it with Phil, but this year I selfishly took over this task all on my own for three very important reasons. (1) While we do the book Paul has to put the other kids to bed. (2) Did I mention I get to do the book while Paul puts the other kids to bed? and (3) Daniel is the ultimate mini-me, and thanks to the fact that we are so similar he is also the child with whom I need the most reconciling. Imagine that. Not because of his sinfulness, really, just because of mine. I can't even imagine what he's going to confess in confession, the little dude is the sweetest. Wiping his nose on his sleeve? Taking too many turns on the Wii? I'd love to be a fly on the wall. But he's so excited for his big day, it doesn't even matter.
The other night we were working through a chapter together and read the story of the prodigal son. "Oh, I LOVE this one." he said, and I agreed. We laughed, remembering how his Religious Ed class last year acted it out and had so much fun taking turns being each character in the story. Their little play was in a way a metaphor for life: we might all take turns being each of those roles at some point on our journey, right? Then we got to a new section: "Mistakes are not sins." Daniel started reading out loud and by the time he finished the section I was holding back tears. He was ready to move on to the next page, but I stopped him. I was feeling majorly convicted. I bit my lip.
"Daniel," I said. "I need to apologize to you."
He looked at me with some concern.
"D," I said, a tear running down my face. "I just realized that sometimes I get angry at you when you make mistakes. That's not fair. Mistakes are not sins. Mistakes are how we learn."
"It's really OK, Mommy."
"No, Daniel, it's not OK," I said, still crying. "That is not good of me. You need to make mistakes. We all make mistakes. I am sorry. I am so sorry I haven't been a good mommy to you."
I started to sob.
Daniel started to get desperate.
"MOMMY!!!!" he crawled into my lap and put his arms around me. "You are a good mommy! Stop crying! It's OK! It's OK! I'm OK! I love you and I think you are a good mommy."
He cuddled his head under my chin.
"Will you forgive me, Daniel?"
"Yes, Mommy, just PLEASE stop crying."
"OK" I grinned sheepishly and wiped my tears. He shot me a concerned look as he turned the page, but I pulled myself together and we moved on.
I haven't been able to get that moment out of my mind since. "Mistakes are not sins." When he read that I was like, "OHHHHHHHH SNAAAAAAP." Got me. Mistakes are not sins. It seems so obvious in print. So why in real life do I respond to my children like they are something intentional? We all make mistakes, and as much as I personally hate making them, how will you learn and grow without the opportunity to try and fail and do better the next time? So when Daniel spills his milk or loses his iPad case at school or forgets his lunch bag or misplaces another library book or gets spaghetti all over his face at dinner or shoves his laundry in the drawer the wrong way, I'm not sending him a very good message about his essential humanity if I lose my patience with him. I need him to develop the loving internal voice to be kind and patient with himself, and in order to do that I need to give him the gift of words that can build his character instead of tear it down. I can already tell that I have been failing in this by the way he profusely apologizes for his mistakes, "I'm so sorry, Mommy, I'm so sorry. I forgot to make my bed, I'll go do it, I'm so sorry. I forget all the time" or "I fell at recess today, I'm so sorry. I can't believe I did that. I shouldn't even play soccer at recess. I'm so sorry." Ouch. If that doesn't tell me that I need to nurture that sweet little heart, I don't know what does. Our world is in such desperate need of kindness and peace and reconciliation right now. If I want it out there, I had better get to work up in here.
The psalm last week at church was a favorite of mine, "The Lord is Kind and Merciful." That one is so encouraging, but humbling as well. God is so amazingly abundant in His mercy that not only does he overlook our human failings and mistakes, He also forgives all of our on-purpose sins. He's just pure love, and He adores each of us. I get to be a beneficiary of the grace and mercy of our loving God every day of my life, and I am so grateful. But I need to admit that I can always do a better job of passing that grace and mercy on to my children, and being slow to anger and abounding in kindness every day is a goal I am working towards. As they have grown older, I've come to realize even more the abounding kindness I need right here in my home. The world can be cruel out there, our home needs to be a place where gentleness reigns. I also need to help them become functioning adults, so there is room for correction and discipline and teaching and learning in there, too. I've got to stay in tune with the balance. As one of my favorites, Glennon Melton, says, "Don't be so concerned with raising a good kid you forget you already have one."
God made all four of them just right.
We moved #4 into a big boy bed this past weekend. . .never too early, really. I even made it before my target date of February 30, two thousand and never and he was totally out of his crib before his fourth birthday next month. ;) He has been over the moon excited, which is so cute but also makes it a little hard for his bunkmate, Joshy, to sleep. The other morning in the kitchen Joshy was crying, "Mommy, Noah NEVER lets me go to sleep! He is always trying to talk to me and get in my bed!"
I tried to remain serious but started to giggle a little bit. Oh, the irony. I was getting ready to point it out but Phil beat me to it.
"Josh, when you were three you used to do the SAME THING to us every night! You cost me like $1.50 every week!"
"Oh my goodness, Phil, I totally forgot about the sticks!" We laughed remembering how for a while they had such a problem getting out of bed and being silly that we gave them each 8 popsicle sticks and every time they got out of bed it cost them a popsicle stick, or $.25 of their $2 allowance. That worked for everyone except Josh, who is totally Captain Silly and could have cared less about money. You can't put a price on funny. And now the tables have turned and his three-year-old brother drives him crazy.
Daniel chimed in, "Remember when I was three?"
"Oh, Daniel, I couldn't forget. I'm really sorry about that buddy."
"Yeah, you guys put a CHILD SAFETY KNOB on the inside of my door when I got out of bed too many times so I couldn't get out! Not cool, Mommy!"
"Daniel, I am so sorry about that. If I could go back and be your mom again when you were three, I would do things differently. That was not the kindest parenting on my part."
Daniel laughed, ever the picture of forgiveness. "It's OK, Mommy. Look, I'm fine. I turned out great."
He grinned at me and shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, "I'm just right."
I grinned right back at him and ruffled his hair. He put his arms around my waist and looked up at me with his big blue eyes and tousled blond hair.
He HAS turned out fine, despite all my mom fails.
He's so forgiving, and at the very least all of my failures give us a chance to celebrate the gift of repentance and grace and mercy and reconciliation over and over again.
He's a marvelous creation, and he doesn't need fixing.
He is just right.