It stops with me

Guess what?  I have never raised a three year old before.  I mean, prior to Evangeline turning three last September that is.  When she turns 4 next week, I will never have raised a 4 year old and will find myself in the same position of clueless inexperienced motherhood.

Sometimes, most of the time really, it doesn’t matter.  A solid combination of parenting books, Google, common sense and bribery-by-candy seem to get the job done just fine.

But, let me tell you, there are times when I have no earthly idea what I am doing.

This morning, about five minutes before we had to be loaded up in the car in order to get to preschool on time, SOMETHING SNAPPED inside my little girl and thus began THE TANTRUM.  This summer she started having toddler-like ‘melt-downs’ and when we aren’t smack dab in the middle of one, my husband and I can have calm, rational conversations about why this is happening and make reasoned, educated guesses.  Is it a growth spurt?  Does she need more sleep?  Does she need different strategies to help manage her anger?  Is this just completely normal for a 3 year old?

But when we are in full-on TANTRUM mode oh Dear Lord help me I have no clue what to do and nothing seems to end the irrational screaming and kicking and I panic. We have to be to school on time or all the other parents and teachers will know what a bad mom I am who can’t control her child and that my pretty daughter isn’t perfect and then I won’t make it to my play date or finish the grocery shopping and…Exhale. 

In these heated moments I am torn between remaining the calm adult ready to wait out THE TANTRUM and employ my Super Nanny skills versus transforming into the cornered, wounded animal ready to use every ounce of strength in my body to get that girl in her car seat if it is THE LAST THING I DO

In these heated moments I am tempted to forget that my children aren’t actually my enemies and that I am not in a battle, I am in a family. 

I may have forgotten those things this morning, but eventually we got that girl strapped in the car and she finally started to calm down.  She hadn’t had enough breakfast (and I think needed a blood sugar boost after that exhausting and impressive display) so even though I was running late I decided we would cruise through the Starbucks drive-thru to get her a chocolate milk and a muffin.  And since I already divulged that using candy as bribery is part of my parenting strategy, I might as well admit that the Starbucks treat was offered in part to make sure that by the time we got to school I could present an appeased, happy child to the nice, composed Christian ladies there while I take all the credit for awesome mothering.

So we’re in the drive-thru line and I am totally in my head debriefing and decompressing and coping and trying to recover internally from THE TANTRUM and I hand the Nice Starbucks Lady my debit card and she says “the car in front of you paid for you”

“Huh?”  I say, so stuck in 3 year old drama that I wasn’t quite ready to interact with another member of the adult world.

“Actually you are car number 9” she continued.

“Excuse me?”  I say again (now seriously regretting not getting a caffeinated treat for mommy)

“9 cars ago a lady paid for the person behind her, and every car since has passed it on”.  I could see in her eyes how exciting this was for her, she was witnessing an ever growing chain of random acts of kindness!

“Oh” I manage to mutter as she hesitantly handed me back my card.  “Oh, okay thanks”.

And my oh my, what a wonderful story it would be if I could write about how I did the same for the car behind me and it kept going for 20 or 30 or 100 or 500 cars!  What a testimony to human kindness and loving our neighbors!  It would be called the Great Tucson Starbucks Kindness Extravaganza of 2013 in the newspaper.  I could see the caption now… All because ordinary individuals decided to pay it forward…

Nice Starbucks Lady had a bit of a dumbfounded and disappointed look on her face as I shoved my card back into my wallet and drove off.

I didn’t pay it forward.

The Great Tucson Starbucks Kindness Extravaganza of 2013 never happened.

Whatever kind of crazy morning the person behind me was having didn’t get improved by a free latte.

Any joy and elation in the Starbucks crew ended abruptly with the grumpy mom in the grey Ford Taurus.

It stopped with me.

It stopped with…gasp…a Christian.  I’ve never been so thankful I don’t have a Jesus Fish stuck to my bumper as I was this morning when I let down the human race with my under caffeinated, overwrought, too self-involved-to-care-about-others KINDNESS FAIL.

And I can’t help but wonder God what the heck are you thinking?  Why have you entrusted us with anything?  Why have you entrusted ME with anything?  Do you realize you have given me two of your most beautiful creatures to care for and raise?  Do you?  Do you realize you have left the message of your Love and Salvation and Hope to people like me who can’t even pay it forward in the Starbucks drive-thru?  Do you?  Do you?

So often is stops with me.

I see my neighbor out there but it would just cost too much awkwardness and too much energy and too much possible rejection to stop and talk.

I see that person who is struggling to survive but I have had a hell of a morning and just can’t do anything about their problems right now.

I hear about those children who need help NOW but I can’t even get my own daughter to school on time and my budget is a mess so maybe later.

So, God, your love stops with me and I have to ask you again…do you realize what you are doing? 

Why have you asked me, asked us, to do this work?  I don’t think I am very good at it.

And I think it might be obvious to others…

As much as I like to think I appear the expert Christian mommy when I drop E off at school I am sure that the teachers can recognize a rough morning when they see it.

As much as I like to think I am doing my part, I’m sure even Nice Starbucks Lady can spot a woman on the brink when she comes through the line asking for chocolate milk for her 2 and 3 year old at 8 a.m.

As much as I like to think that I am a beautiful, smooth porcelain vase, I think maybe I’m meant to be a rustic, crumbly jar of clay and should just own it.

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.  2 corinthians 4

Maybe it’s okay that my 3 year old isn’t perfect.

Maybe it’s okay that her mom isn’t perfect, either.

Maybe God knows that I will let down Starbucks and my neighbors and the homeless and the children around the world – but He loves and forgives me anyway.  

Maybe God knows I might never do anything kind or special or sacrificial – but he finds me worth saving anyway. 

Maybe God knows that His grace and His mercy will shine forth even brighter from my imperfect life.

We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. 2 Corinthians 4

Maybe God knows that she who is forgiven much, loves much, and that perhaps tomorrow I will take that love down to the Starbucks drive-thru or to the lady across the street or to the man in the park, or even to myself as I do the best I can with toddlers and preschoolers and TANTRUMS in my life.

Thank you God for loving me in failure, in victory, in good deeds, in bad deeds, and in missed deeds.  Please help me to show others who You are in the calm and in the crazy, in the holy and in the ordinary.  Thank you for Christ in me.

Oh, and thank you Lord for Starbucks. 

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