A few weeks ago, Story and I had a really bad day. May is a tough time to be a high school teacher. My students had spring fever, but I felt the constant pressure of needing to prepare them for their exams. We were in the midst of the busy (but fun!) arrangements for my brother's wedding, and I was getting increasingly uncomfortable in my six-months pregnant body.
One afternoon, I brought Story home and needed to get inside to make dinner. There is no harder time in my day than the hour or so before Andy gets home, when I am dead on my feet, and need to cook. This wasn't fun before Story, but now, I have the added challenge of a whining toddler who weaves in and out of my legs and intermittently falls onto the floor in tears of frustration because I won't stop what I'm doing to play with her. I've heard that this pre-dinner time is called the "witching hour" by some moms. I'd agree- I just don't know which one of us is the witch
So this bad day, Story and I had been playing outside, but I knew I needed to get in and start dinner. Since she wasn't obeying my commands (shocker), I picked her up to take her inside when I felt a sharp pain on my ample belly- she bit me!!! And it HURT! I got inside, in physical pain, but I was in worse shape mentally and emotionally. She'd been threatening at biting for weeks. But this was the first time she'd really gotten a chunk of me. My exhaustion, emotion and frustration collided. I gave her a spanking, sat her on a chair at the kitchen table and left her there, howling, as I went upstairs to change out of my work clothes. I needed space between me and her. I paced around my room, trying to calm down.
After a few minutes, I went back to the kitchen. She sat in the same spot I'd left her, red-faced, with steady tears coming down her face. Usually, when Story is crying, whether she's hurt or is in trouble, my heart breaks the minute the first tear falls and I pick her up and comfort her. But not this day. I'd had it. Had it with the whining, the demanding, the biting. Had it with the exhaustion and the dreaded hour of the witch. There was no nurturing touch in my hand as I yanked her up and put her in her high chair and placed some sort of leftovers in front of her.
Time passed, and Andy still wasn't home, so I got myself a plate and sat down at the table, not really making eye contact with Story, who had stopped crying and was occupied with pushing food from one side of the high chair tray to the other. But after she finished eating, I asked her to do something she refused to do, and this time, she swung her hand at me. She does this all the time. I think all toddlers do this when they are feeling frustrated. I usually calmly catch her hand, squeeze it and firmly say no. At most, I give the little hand a tiny pop that elicits some equally undramatic tears and then we move on. But this time I was enraged. First she bites me. Then, while I'm still angry- she HITS me! I gave her the second firm spanking of the day, and left her standing in the kitchen howling while I cleared dinner plates.
Right about this time, Andy got home to his angry wife and screaming kid. I blurted out what had happened while he tried unsuccessfully to console Story. She ran into our den, still howling, and began to pace back and forth in there like a caged animal. Andy again tried to pick her up and comfort her- she really was a wreck. But she couldn't go to him. She was disoriented and devastated.
Maybe that was the moment I stopped being a witch. I went into the den and knelt down, arms open. Immediately, Story flung herself into them. her heavy head found my shoulder and she breathed ragged, tearful breaths into my neck.
A few days later, God used this moment to teach me something. Story created that situation for herself. She was defiant, mean, and hurtful. She made bad choices that led to consequences that left her confused and with hurt feelings. But in the midst of those consequences, her only desire was to be reconciled to the person who had exercised discipline in her life. That's why she wouldn't go to Andy for comfort. She could hardly even factor in that he was in the room with her. Things weren't right between her and Momma. And the world was upside down.
God showed me that I need to be like Story. No matter what has happened. Even when I am the maker of my own mess, I need to realize that my Heavenly Father's arms are always outstretched, and I need to run into them. Because, even though He is the one who exercises discipline in my life, He is the one that I need.
This year has been tough in many ways- our move, new jobs, new house and demanding routine. In the midst of that, we had to make some tough decisions about personal relationships that cast a shadow of loss over our little family. Tough, tight places like these are where God likes to do His disciplining work, but my first response isn't always pliancy of heart. I like to try to work my way out of those types of tough spots- with reasoning, distraction, or the sweat of my brow. When really, I'm similar to my toddler - my world is upside down. And I need the open arms that never stop loving me more than I need anything else.
I ran back into God's arms after this really tough day with Story. I could feel God start working in and through me again in ways that have renewed my soul so that I cross the "finish line" of this school year today, not somehow, but triumphantly (as my BSF teaching leader always said).
God of grace, thank you, thank you, for never leaving me. When I am in pain because of the circumstances of life, the decisions of others or even when I am in the midst of the consequences I earned for myself, You are there. Thank you for holding me and letting me breath my own ragged, exhausted, sin-soaked breaths into your neck. Thank you for cleansing me, making me new, and giving me new strength to do what you call me to do each day. I love you, Abba.