Time for bed.
I didn’t know this before I became a parent, but those three words are full of magic. Or maybe caffeine. I’m not totally sure.
Whatever the case, every night when I say those words, they seem to bewitch my children. No sooner than I finish the phrase, one child is swinging upside down over her bunkbed stairs, another is running naked down the hall, and yet another is stricken with an unquenchable thirst for water and the answers to all life’s deepest questions.
It takes the strength of God Himself to round everyone up in one spot and force them to take care of the non-negotiables. Pajamas. Clean teeth. Potty.
It’s simple, but not easy.
So it was nothing short of a miracle when all three of my children stood at the sink in pajamas, toothbrushes in hand, scrubbing away in peace.
We had finally done it. A successful bedtime routine.
Then I peeked into my daughters’ bedroom and ground my teeth. The beds were unmade. And the clean sheets were downstairs.
I bit my lip. If I went to get the sheets, would all hell break loose in this bathroom?
I decided to be quick and take my chances.
“You guys stay right here and keep brushing, okay?” I said.
Two kids gargled a muffled ‘okay’. The youngest one nodded.
I dashed out of the room leaving them all with their toothbrushes dangling out of their mouths. Down the steps I went, surprisingly pleased with how well everything was going. No one had made a fuss, not even a peep. I rifled through the hamper of clean linens, lost in thought.
Wow, they’re doing much better than I thought they would. Pillow case.
Maybe they’re big enough to take care of themselves now. Fitted sheet.
Ha! This must be what the next level of parenthood feels like! Blanket.
With a huge smile, I scooped everything into my arms and headed back toward the stairs.
This is amazing! It’s so nice to have them help out so I don’t have to do everything all by my—
I stopped in my tracks, finally realizing why everything had gone so quiet.
There, on the steps, my two-year-old stood, toothbrush in mouth, dripping spit. The path he had taken was obvious. Pink, bubblegum-flavored goo shimmered in the carpet every step of the way.
“Buddy,” I whined, “I told you to stay at the sink.”
“But I really love you.” The words sloshed out along with more toothpaste. By this point, the boy’s whole mouth was full of liquid.
Surely, the boy felt awkward standing at the sink, his small hands not yet having mastered the art of brushing his teeth. No doubt standing there was full of discomfort, worry, and loneliness. All he knew was that he was on his own, expected to do something that left him feeling utterly incompetent. And, like any normal person, he wanted to escape that.
But still, the command remained.
I sighed. “If you really loved me, you would’ve done what I asked you to do.”
I understand the internal struggle he must’ve had, though, because I’ve felt that way quite a lot lately. Stuck at home. Locked down. Separated. Every household for itself.
All the while, the world outside implodes with animosity and disease.
I feel like I should go somewhere. Do something.
But I don’t know how to cure a virus or end a global lockdown. I have no clue how to stop hatred and replace it with love and respect. And I certainly don’t know how to rebuild our economy, fix our broken political system, or transform the futile conversations that are taking place as the presidential election nears.
Only God knows how to do those things. And yet, He isn’t miraculously poofing them away.
Instead, He asks us to take care of the non-negotiables. Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked and shelter the homeless. Visit the sick and the imprisoned. Bury the dead.
In short, take care of and respect all human life.
It’s simple, but not easy.
“You stay here and keep loving, okay?” He says.
I nod, and then look at the four kids dangling from my body, their sweet faces watching everything I do. Me. I’m their example of how to love and respect others. Often times, I feel clumsy and inadequate, unsure if I’m doing enough. Teaching enough. Loving enough.
And I definitely feel amateurish sitting in my house, at this desk, not yet having mastered the art of proclaiming the Kingdom—especially not from a computer. All I know for sure is that it’s uncomfortable and lonely. And I’m here, attempting to mother littles and write lots, both of which leave me feeling utterly inadequate.
What God’s plan is exactly, I have no idea. But whatever it is, I trust that it’s for our good. Because that’s what He does. He makes all things work out for the good of those who love Him.
And His command remains.
Stay in this discomfort, this grief, this worry, this incompetency. Really feel it. Let it ruminate. Let it break your heart. Then let it compel you to love harder than ever before.
Every inch of me longs to tramp down the steps, forging my own path with my messiness trailing behind me.
But I don’t.
Instead, I’ll stay right here, deep in the muck of social tension and global pandemic, determined to share His love from where I am. Determined to teach my kids that every human life has infinite value. To show each person I meet, regardless of how they look, the very same thing. Determined to encourage and unite people with the words I write.
Determined to stay.
“I really love You,” I reply. “So I’ll stay and do what You ask me to do.”
Golf is hard.
Especially when it’s in Texas. In summer. In the middle of the day. With four small children.
And did you know that you’re supposed to be quiet at a golf course? Even when you have FOUR SMALL CHILDREN there?
Like I said, golf is hard. And that’s before you actually start trying to hit the ball.
But we go regardless because my oldest is a golf fiend who has a natural gift for crushing the ball and nerds out over things like golf gloves, hybrid clubs, and bags that stand up on their own.
So she takes lessons once a week and we all go to support her and cheer her on.
When she’s with her instructor, I take the littles off to the side lest someone gets struck in the head with a driver. And, more often than not, we all end up crammed into a tiny pocket of shade while I dish out food and drinks to a not-so-quiet chorus of “I’m stirsty” and “MOM I’M HUNGRY!”
Last time, as I dug through the diaper bag for more food, the baby started wailing. Loud. In a desperate attempt to hush her, I pulled her from the stroller, grabbed a nearby iron chair and dragged it to the shade, and then—without thinking—sat down to nurse her. Immediately, my skin slurped up the warmth from the metal seat that had been roasting in the Texas sun. The heat seared my skin, biting my arms and the back of my thighs before bleeding its way through my clothes.
I winced at the pain, but stayed put. I could manage. The soft, smooth skin of my seven-month-old, however, definitely could not. Surely, the blazing hotness of the chair would burn her to blisters. So I propped her in my lap to make sure nothing—not her head, her arms, her legs, not even her clothed torso—touched the heat.
She had no idea how close she was to being burned alive. She just laid there, drinking happily, until the unbearable heat had penetrated through my skin and disappeared as though it were never there.
Then, with the baby tucked safely in the folds of my body, I handed out drinks and snacks to the others.
All the while, my oldest, the golf pro, was whacking balls, holding her own next to veteran golfers. Every time she’d hit a ball over the hill or near a drum, she’d turn to me, her face shining with triumph. And every time she’d turn my way, I’d smile back at her and pump my fist in the air or give her a big thumbs up.
I’m used to this circus act—this juggling of four small people—so it didn’t seem like much at the time.
But as we left, it hit me how much I was actually doing at one time.
Cheering for one, feeding another. Quenching the thirst of someone else. Holding yet another person and literally feeding her with my body. All the while, sitting in the shadows, serving strangers with silence.
And yet God works this way every single day. Not just for four people. But for seven billion.
I’m used to this circus act—this God providing everything I need right when I need it thing—so sometimes it doesn’t seem like much.
But occasionally, when I pause for a moment to really look at what He’s doing, it hits me how much He actually does at one time.
Cheering for one, feeding another. Quenching the thirst of someone else. Holding yet another person. Literally feeding us with His Body. Even His silence, when He gives it, is meant for our good.
I know because I have been all of those people. I have been the one in need of encouragement, the one in need of food. I have been the thirsty. The one met with silence.
And still, throughout it all, I have been the one He spared from the smoldering fire.
Because life is hard. He knows that from firsthand experience.
Especially when it’s covered in sin. During social and civil unrest. In the middle of a global pandemic. With seven billion needy children.
And did you know that we’re supposed to love, serve, and listen to others in times like these? Even when we have SEVEN BILLION people here?
Like I said, life is hard. And that’s before you actually start trying to live like Christ.
But we try regardless because we are Jesus fiends who have a natural desire to love and nerd out over things like the Bible, prayer, and the lives of the saints.
Then we go to Mass at least once a week and to support each other and cheer each other on.
For a long time ago, humanity starting wailing. Loud. In a desperate attempt to help us, Jesus came to earth, grabbed His cross and dragged it to the top of Calvary. Immediately, His skin slurped up the heat from the wooden tree that had been roasting in our sins.
He grimaced and cried out in pain, but stayed put. He could manage. The baby soft souls of humanity, however, definitely could not. Surely, the blazing hotness would burn us to blisters. So He propped us all into His lap to make sure nothing—not our heads, our arms, our legs, and definitely not our hearts—touched the heat.
I may never truly understand how close I’ve been to burning alive. Instead, I’ll stay here, happily drinking in God’s graces, until the unbearable heat penetrates through His skin and disappears as though it were never there.
We love to FaceTime with my mom.
Whether she likes the Blair Witch Project cinematography of our video chats or the loud, chaotic nonsense that comes from our end, I don’t know.
But the sweet lady FaceTimes with us regardless.
Most of the time, the camera points at odd angles, giving her good glimpses of our ceiling fans or tile floor.
Which is how the problem began.
“Is that upside down?” I thought I heard her ask. I couldn’t be 100% sure as most of the children were jabbering away, excited at the chance to get one iota of attention from the infamous Mawmaw. I took a swift glance around the room, looking for anything out of place.
Well, technically, lots of things were out of place. And scattered all over our kitchen counters.
But none of those things were upside down.
I counted off the children—1, 2, 3, 4—and found that they were all accounted for and, miraculously, all right side up.
Maybe I had misheard. Maybe nothing was upside down.
But then I looked at my son, who was standing by the kitchen sink, and stared with dread at what I knew to be crawling under her skin.
You see, I grew up having a special relationship with my mom. She was a close confidante. My biggest supporter and cheerleader. She was someone I could trust, and thus, she became the person with whom I revealed every detail of my life. Not to mention, she was someone who made me laugh until my sides ached. I look back now and realize that, when given the chance to be with friends or my mom, I often chose my mom because I loved her so much.
Because of all the time we spent together, I knew quite a bit about her, too.
Like the fact that she has always been someone who likes everything to be in its proper place. Anything out of place or even slightly askew thrusts a pointy thorn in her side.
Nothing could be scattered. Everything had to be picked up. Anything on the table had to be parallel at the edges.
Which must have driven her absolutely BONKERS when my brother and I were little, thoughtlessly throwing things all over the place. And then, when we grew up, it must have been even more infuriating. Being the punks we were, my brother and I would intentionally move things out of place and then watch our mother surge into action, righting our wrongs.
It became a running joke with all parties involved. My mom would even laugh and scrunch her face at us as she put things back in their correct position.
So the moment I looked down at my son, I knew. This was what drove her crazy…
(Mom, don’t look.)
Like my mother, I am a perfectionist by nature. And yet, like my father, I see the forest for the trees and rarely, if ever, capture small details. The mat could have been like this the entire two years we’ve lived in our house and I wouldn’t have known. But my mom—sweet, detail-oriented lady that she is—picked up on it through a screen while she sat in her own house hundreds of miles away.
It’s kind of impressive when you think about it.
“If you think that’s bad, you shouldn’t come visit,” I jokingly said to her through the phone. “That’s the least of our problems over here!”
But later that night, as I stood on the mat washing dishes, I looked at the upside down coffee mugs beneath my feet. My mother’s words echoed in my mind, along with the agitation in her voice.
And then, with my bare toes, I flipped the mat around. Not because it bothered me. Clearly it didn’t. I did it solely because I knew it would make my mom happy, and that’s all I wanted.
I glanced down at the cups that were now facing me and smiled.
I should show her this, I thought. So I dried my hands on a towel, reached for my phone and sent her a picture.
Her response, like her approach to life, was perfection.
In that moment, I realized that’s exactly how I must live as a Christian.
You see, since choosing to follow Jesus, I’ve grown a special relationship with my Father. He is a close confidante. My biggest supporter and cheerleader. He’s someone I can trust, and thus, has become the Person with whom I reveal every detail of my life. Not to mention, He’s got a pretty wicked sense of humor.
Because of all the time we spend together, I knew quite a bit about Him, too.
You see, our Father is someone who likes everything to be a certain way. He is perfect, and thus, is naturally a perfectionist. He is perfect love, goodness, joy. Perfect mercy and perfect justice. Perfect, perfect, perfect. And He wants that for us, too. Anything less than that (ahem, sin) surely thrusts a pointy thorn in His side.
Which must drive Him absolutely BONKERS when we thoughtlessly throw ourselves at worldly pursuits or other idols. And then, when we mature in our faith, it must be even more infuriating. Being the punks we are, we often know what’s wrong and choose it anyway.
And then, miraculously, we can watch our Father surge into action, righting our wrongs.
But it’s only in an intimate relationship with God—the knowing Him, not merely knowing about Him—that we can understand what pleases Him. Then, accordingly, we can flip our lives around. Not because what we were doing bothered us. Usually it doesn’t. We attempt to make a change solely because we know it will make Him happy, and that’s all we want.
I glance down at my children. The noise, the chaos. The stuff that would usually send Introverted Me running for the quiet hills. Instead, I pull my babies toward me. I let them tackle me to the ground and pile on top of me until I’m buried beneath small bodies and big, loud voices.
And I smile.
I should show Him this, I think. So I send up a silent prayer, thanking Him for the gift of my family and the grace to resist selfishness.
“Thanks,” He replies with a smile and a kiss. “I feel much better.”
“Here, mama.” My two-year-old extended her pudgy, closed fist.
Inside, no doubt, rested a highly-prized treasure. My kids do this often, this bringing me gifts thing. Then they’ll drop their special gift into my hand and I’ll ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over their precious deposit. At times, they give me acorns. Other times, rocks. Or weeds. And, if I’m really lucky, those weeds will somewhat resemble flowers.
I reached my hand out to accept her sweet offering, and she dropped it in my palm.
I looked down, puzzled. What was that thing? A stick?
No, it was too soft and squishy to be a stick.
Did she find a melted piece of chocolate in the couch cushions?
No, it wasn’t dark enough to be chocolate.
Surely it wasn’t…
I lowered my head and took a quick whiff.
“WHAT THE—” I sprang off the couch and suppressed all the expletives that wanted to surge from my mouth.
Sure enough, the kid had put her own turd in my hand. She must’ve fished it out of her diaper. Which meant that…
I frantically scanned the room—the walls, floor, furniture, toys, everything—searching for brown fingerprints.
Fortunately, I didn’t see any. Hopefully I didn’t overlook them. After all, when poop sits for a while, it’s a lot harder to scrub off. But there was no time to scour the house.
With poop squished in the crevices of my palm, I scooped my toddler up by her armpits and carried her at arms’ length to the bathtub.
Before she could wipe her filth on anything else, I washed us both off and sent her back. Fresh. Clean. Ready to reach out and stainlessly touch whatever she wanted.
All too often, I think we forget to hand God our poop.
Naturally, we want to offer Him our best and show Him all the great things we’re doing. Which is absolutely wonderful.
And yet, He wants our filth, too.
He wants us to put our dirtiest, most disgusting traits in His hands.
Which is why I seem to give Him a lot of stuff. Selfishness. Impatience. Explosiveness and quickness to anger.
Those seem to go into His hands almost on the daily.
“Here, Daddy.” I extend my pudgy, closed fist.
He reaches out to accept my offering, and I drop it in His hand.
But He’s not puzzled. He knows exactly what’s going on.
I am stained. And the filth I’ve produced could dirty the world.
He scans my children, my home, husband and friends, strangers, everything searching for brown fingerprints.
Hopefully there are none. After all, when filth sits for a while, it’s a lot harder to scrub off.
Then, with my sins squished in the crevices of His palm, He scoops me up and draws me to Himself.
Before I can wipe my dirtiness on anything else, He washes both of us off and sends me back. Fresh. Clean. Ready to reach out and stainlessly touch the world.
That’s how our house imploded.
I, thinking my three children could share, poured some shredded cheese into one bowl, then set it on the table in front of them.
For a short while, they happily took turns driving their fist into the pile, and then shoving a handful of the stuff into their mouths.
But then the pile grew smaller and smaller. The handfuls less and less.
My middle child grabbed the bowl and clutched it against her chest, claiming it as her own.
“Hey! Give that back!” my oldest shouted, afraid that she wouldn’t get enough.
“This is mine!” Middle replied, stuffing another bite into her mouth for good measure.
My two-year-old simply sat in his chair and started roaring.
The noise and demands escalated quickly.
Maybe they’ll figure this out on their own, I thought. Maybe they’ll remember to take care of each other. Maybe they’ll simply ask me for help.
But no one thought to ask for help. No one even thought to ask for more. Heck, in their primal, animalistic state, they didn’t seem to be thinking much at all. In fact, though I was sitting directly in front of them, I’m pretty sure they forgot I was there all together.
And yet, there I was, watching in horror as my children tore each other apart for a sliver of Parmesan.
I cradled the plastic bag in my hands, feeling its heaviness, its fullness, then pressed my fingers against the bulge of cheese that rested inside. I had everything they wanted, and then some.
Finally, I interjected in a voice that topped my son’s, who was now completely red in the face. The chaos quieted.
“Do you not trust that I will give you everything you need?” I asked.
Middle eyed me suspiciously, still clinging to the bowl. “Yes, I trust you.”
“Then why are you working so hard to take care of yourself?” I asked. “Your brother and sister are hungry. If you trust that I will take care of you, why not give them some cheese?”
“Well I’m hungry, too!” Her face scrunched in repugnance, angry that others’ needs were being placed above her own.
“I know you are.” I lifted the plastic bag and it crinkled in my hand. “Do you see how much I have that I can give to you? How about just asking for more?”
Her body relaxed as she smiled for the first time since the fight broke out. She handed me her bowl. “Mom, can I have some more cheese, please?”
I opened the bulging bag and poured some into her bowl. “Now, when I give this to you, you can give some to your brother and sister, and we can work together to take care of each other. Right?”
“Right.” She reached for the replenished bowl and then scooted it toward her siblings. “Would you guys like some?”
Happily, they all dug in until only small crumbs were left at the bottom of the bowl, and eventually they left the table satisfied and smiling.
And yet, more often than not, we act like the quarreling kids who cling too tightly to their valuables. More often than not, we’re too worried about ourselves to recognize someone else. And, always, when we fail to recognize someone else, we also fail to be the hands who fulfills their needs.
Now, more than ever, it seems as though it’s every man for himself.
How on earth did we get here?
That’s how the world imploded.
God, thinking His children could share, gave us lots of good gifts and set them in this one world we have right in front of us.
For a while, we happily took turns buying and trading, and then shoving the things into our lives one handful at a time.
But then the piles grew smaller and smaller. The handfuls less and less.
And y’all, panic has most definitely struck.
We have wiped entire shelves clean so we can have more than enough during these uncertain days. We’ve shouted at one another over grocery items and mask usage. We’ve suspiciously eyed others for an invisible contagion, instead of seeing what was truly before them—another human being.
The noise and demands have escalated quickly.
Maybe they’ll figure this out on their own, God probably thought. Maybe they’ll remember to take care of each other. Maybe they’ll simply ask Me for help.
But not many have thought to ask Him for help. Heck, in our primal, animalistic state, we don’t seem to be thinking much at all. In fact, though He’s been sitting directly in front of us, I’m pretty sure we forgot He was even there.
And yet, there He is, surely watching in horror, as His children tear each other apart for a sliver of Charmin at the grocery store.
All along, He’s been trying to interject, but He has the patience to wait until the chaos quiets.
Then and only then—in the still, small silence—will He speak. But to hear Him, we must stop talking and actually listen.
“Do you not trust that I will give you everything you need?” He asks.
“Yes.” The word drags itself cautiously over my lips as I eye Him suspiciously. “I trust you.”
“Then why are you working so hard to take care of yourself?” He challenges in return. “Your brothers and sisters are in need. If you trust that I will take care of you, why not give them some of what you already have?”
“Well I need things, too!” My face scrunches in anger as others’ needs get placed before my own. Suffocation clutches my chest in a way that only comes from fear. The fear of not having enough. Enough time. Enough money. Enough food and sleep and air. Enough sanity. Definitely not enough sanity.
“I know you do.” The Creator of the universe responds. “But do you know how much I have that I can give to you? How about just asking Me for what you need?”
My body relaxes as I chuck up a desperate plea for grace and provision.
Then, as He has been known to do, he showers me with three meals a day, a means to pay our bills, and a miraculous amount of energy.
“Now,” He adds, “when I give this to you, give some to your brothers and sisters so we can work together to take care of each other.”
My son has disappeared.
Not physically, thank heavens.
But my smiley, go-with-the-flow, happy-to-help toddler has been replaced by some body snatcher who constantly sulks, shoulders drooped, head down, shouting things like, “I don’t want to!” or some whiny form of “Stoooop!”
Mass has become difficult. Nap time is impossible. Getting him to eat a meal? Forget about it. Heck, even playing together is now a challenge.
But we still grind through all those things because we know who he is—who he really is—and, by golly, we love him.
It wasn’t much of a surprise then, when his legs went limp in the parking lot as we walked into Mass. Then he planted his sneakers firmly on the sidewalk, refusing to move another step.
“Come on, bud,” I called.
He simply crossed his arms over his chest and huffed.
I steeled myself for battle, then scooped him off the ground and carried him inside.
“That’s not who you are,” I remind him, as I do several times a day. “You are good. You are kind. You are sweet.”
I go on and on, detailing the person I know he is.
You are loving. You are helpful. You are smart. You are silly. You like to make people laugh.
He relaxes in my arms and rests his head against my shoulder as I carry him inside. My heart melts. There’s my boy.
Maybe, just maybe, today won’t be such a struggle.
Together, as a family, we process down the aisle, get down on our knees to say hi to Jesus, then slide into the front pew.
Then I make a fatal mistake. I whisper my son’s name in his ear.
But the boy in my lap is not my son. At least, not at that moment.
“Don’t talk to me, Mom!” He pushes himself off my lap, scampers away, and then sits, hunched over, legs draped over the side of the pew. As far away from the rest of us as possible.
If he were my first child—heck, maybe even my second—I would have hunted him down and forced him into my lap like a normal child SO HELP ME.
But he’s the third. And his two older sisters both went through this, then turned out just fine. (I think.)
This, I’ve learned, is a developmental stage that his two-year-old brain simply cannot avoid.
And this, I’ve learned, is not who he is.
He’s not the gargoyle at the end of the pew.
He’s the boy who laughs so hard he snorts. The boy who dreams of becoming a basketball player and a priest. The boy whose face lights up when he runs to me first thing in the morning. And, when I scoop him into my arms, he’s boy who gently rubs my back and says, “Mommy, you’re a great Mommy.”
At some point, that boy will return. It might not be today. It might not be tomorrow. It might be after his next birthday, when these twos stop being so terrible. But at some point, he will be himself again.
How do I know?
Because he’s mine.
I’ve been here with him since the moment he existed. Who else would know him better than I do?
I know who he really is, who he was created to be.
I glance his way a few times during Mass, but the boy doesn’t move a muscle.
So I leave him there. Alone. Sad. Separated from the rest of us.
He didn’t need a consequence from me. He was inflicting the most painful consequence on himself.
Finally, somewhere near the end, he looks my way. I open my arms, inviting him to come back, and he willingly runs to me and snuggles into my lap.
As the final hymn plays, he dances at my feet and shouts goodbye as the priest processes away. My heart swells with love for him.
There’s my boy. He’s back.
In that moment, I think of all the times I’ve been moody and self-absorbed. All the pity-parties I’ve thrown for myself. All the times I’ve held God at arms’ length or ignored Him all together.
And how that must really drive Him nuts. Because that, I’ve learned, is not who I am.
I’m the girl who dreams of writing and living in a way that shows everyone how invaluable they are. The girl whose face lights up when she gets to sit on the porch with a cup of coffee and her Bible first thing in the morning. And, when she encounters God, she’s the girl who, with great awe, says, “Man, You’re a really great Father.”
And no matter what, that girl will always return.
How do I know?
Because I’m His.
He’s been with me since the moment I existed. Who else would know me better than He does?
He knows who I really am, who He created me to be.
And He whispers it into my ear if I listen closely enough.
You are good. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You do not have a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
Patiently, He waits for me to turn to Him, to choose Him.
To be who I really am.
If you’re anything like us, dinner time looks a lot like the end of the world.
Steam rises in a big, hazy cloud. Metal clangs and crashes. Hungry babies wail at my feet or in my arms, begging to be fed. Then there’s the lone grown up, running frantically, bouncing from place to place, trying to make sure everyone’s okay.
“Dinner time!” I adjust the baby on my hip, swipe the sheen of sweat from my forehead with the back of my arm, and dump a scoop of peas onto a plastic plate. “Time to help the family!”
Some of my kids moan, others resist. But whatever the case, someone leads the way to the kitchen and all my kids stomp in together.
Everyone will have to chip in to get the job done.
One of my daughters retrieves utensils and napkins (whether she got the correct kind or amount, heaven only knows) while the two-year-old carries his plate step-by-painstakingly-focused-step toward the table.
“How can I help?” my oldest asks.
Smiling, I give her a task I know she’ll love. “How about you get everyone’s milk?”
The young girl’s face lights up, excited to use her privilege of being the only kid allowed to pour milk from the gallon. Using all her strength, she heaves the huge jug from the refrigerator, then plops it onto the table beside three small cups. The lid clicks as she twists it off.
A brand new gallon.
She tilts the open container little by little. Her arms shake beneath its weight as she hoists it higher.
Then, like a tidal wave, the milk gushes out, splashing everywhere before pooling on the tile.
“I’m so sorry!” Her brow furrows with remorse.
“It’s okay. Accidents happen.” I hand her a towel. “Let’s clean it up.”
Together, on hands and knees, we wipe up the mess.
Eventually, everyone makes it to the table. Broken, messy, and imperfect. The napkins are scattered on the floor and only half of us have forks. We’re a total hodgepodge. A beautiful, jumbled mess. Some things are there, some aren’t. Like the set of my seven-year-old’s teeth.
But we’re together, and that’s what matters.
The serving didn’t have to be perfect. But it did need to be practiced.
After all, I could do all those things myself—pouring the milk, getting the utensils, setting the table. In fact, it’d probably be easier and quicker if I did.
But I don’t ask my children to set the table so they get really good at pouring milk or carrying full plates (though those skills do come in very handy).
I ask them to do those things so they can practice serving others. So they can make a habit of identifying someone’s need and then working to fulfill it. It’s for their good and the good of everyone around that I ask them to help.
How would they learn to serve, to help, to love, if I did it all for them?
That, I realize, is exactly what God does with us.
If you’re anything like me, when you check the news it looks a lot like the end of the world.
Another spike in coronavirus. Another human being mercilessly murdered. Another riot, another looting, another business up in flames.
Mess after mess after stinking mess.
I look to God then, asking why, why, would He allow this to happen?
Couldn’t He simply take it all away? Conquer COVID-19 and the global quarantine? Give people their jobs back? Eliminate racism and prejudice? Miraculously remove the hurt and anger that burns in wounded hearts?
The answer is yes. He could. In fact, it’d probably be easier and quicker if He did.
But how would we learn to serve, to help, to love, if He did everything for us?
It’s for our good and the good of everyone around us that God asks us to help. He allows there to be a need so we can identify it and work to fulfill it. And boy, does the world have a lot of needs right now.
My heart aches as I scroll through the news, finally becoming aware of some of my brothers’ and sisters’ needs. Never before did I realize the work that must be done.
“Time to help the family,” God says.
Some moan, others resist. But whatever the case, someone leads the way and lots of people begin to march together.
But everyone will have to chip in to get the job done.
Some will need to educate, others to learn. Some will raise funds. Still others will speak out against segregation and oppression. To be honest, I don’t even know all the millions of ways people can pitch in.
But I do hope that we will all eventually make it to the table. Broken, messy, imperfect. Because that is humanity. We’re a total hodgepodge. A beautiful, jumbled mess.
But we’d be together, and that’s what matters.
The serving wouldn’t have to be perfect. But it would need to be practiced.
“How can I help?” I ask.
Smiling, God gives me a task He knows I’ll love. “How about you write?”
My face lights up, excited to put my privileges to good use. Using all my strength, I plop myself in front of my computer and scrub the rust from my writing skills. The keys click as I etch black marks onto the blank page.
A brand new post.
The weight of these words is too much and I struggle to understand—let alone convey—the true state of our current reality. The immense sadness. The danger. The hurt. How these tragedies happened right under my nose without my recognition, and thus, without my efforts to stop them. I’ve dropped the ball, leaving not a pool of milk, but my neighbor’s blood on the ground.
“I’m sorry!” My brow furrows with remorse.
God simply hands me a towel. “Let’s clean it up.”
My daughter hates diaper changes.
Especially when she’s hungry.
If it were up to her, she’d happily sit in her mess, suckling milk until the waste burned holes on her bottom.
Even then—blistered and bleeding—she’d be contentedly milk-drunk, filled up with the one thing she’d wanted in this world.
But that wouldn’t be good for her. So I have a different plan. A plan to give her everything she needs while keeping her whole and unharmed in the process.
A plan that involves changing her diaper before giving her any of her beloved milk.
A plan she’s not always a super big fan of.
And, for the zillionth time today, the familiar sogginess hangs from her bottom, its stench reaching my nose as I cradle her in my arms. How on earth she manages to dirty herself this much, I don’t know.
Because I love her, I pull her from the warm, comfy spot against my chest.
“You might get mad at me for this,” I say as I lie her down.
Sure enough, her face flushes crimson and she struggles to breathe, choked by the intense despair of not getting what she wanted. (Couldn’t she have just one tiny drop of milk?)
The cold, hard table. The separation from Mom. The whole no milk thing.
It’s all too much for her to bear.
Gently, I lift her up, wiping away the filth that would hurt her if left untended, and hope for the day she’ll stop messing herself so much.
“Just wait,” I coo, my voice drowned out by her wailing. “After this, you can enjoy the next thing I have for you.”
The moment the words leave my lips, I hear God promise me the very same thing.
You see, these past few months have been a season of constants. Constant sleeplessness and temper tantrums. Constant stretching in four different directions. Constant exposure of my selfishness, quick temper, and impatience.
This season, I realized, is nothing more than a diaper change.
And boy do I hate diaper changes.
If it were up to me, I’d happily sit in my own selfishness, thinking only of myself until sin burned holes in my soul.
Even then—blistered and bleeding—I’d be contentedly oblivious, filled up with Nutella and On Demand episodes of This Is Us.
But spending my whole life in front of a TV screen stuffing my face with sugar probably wouldn’t be best for my soul. So God’s got a different plan. A plan to give me everything I need while keeping me whole and unharmed in the process.
A plan that involves sanctifying my spirit before giving me Heaven.
A plan I’m not always a super big fan of.
So, instead of blissfully sitting on my couch, I sit uncomfortably in the stinky secretions of my own impatience for the zillionth time today. How on earth I manage to dirty myself this much, I don’t know. The familiar sogginess hangs from me, and I cringe as its stench reaches my nose.
Because God loves me, He pulls me from the warm, comfy spot against His chest.
“You might get mad at me for this,” He says.
Sure enough, my face flushes crimson and I struggle to breathe, choked by the intense despair of having to die to myself repeatedly during this season of life. (Can’t I sit down on the couch for one minute?)
The hard, cold nights. The hazy head and separation from my Father. The cross of motherhood on my shoulders that I’m utterly too clumsy at carrying.
At times, it’s too much to bear.
That’s when God gently lifts me up and wipes away the filth that would hurt me if left untended. The impatience. The quick temper. The urge to make life all about me. One of these days, I hope I’ll stop messing myself so much.
And when that day comes—when God has wiped away my selfishness and replaced it with true charity—then, and only then, will I be able to enjoy the next thing He has for me.
Everything’s bigger in Texas. Including severe weather.
Here, there is no defined ‘tornado season’. Not really, anyway. At any given time, warm weather can tango with an incoming cold front and transform into funnel-shaped danger.
Typically, Texas reports about 140-150 tornadoes each year, a quota it reached by May in 2019. In October of that year, 10 tornadoes pummeled through north Dallas in one day alone, one of which was an EF-3, the strongest twister in that area since 1976. In its wake, it left $2 billion in damages, nearly 1,000 buildings damaged or destroyed, and 150,000 people with no power.
My kids don’t know those things, of course.
But they do know that tornadoes are powerful, unpredictable, and completely uncontrollable.
And that’s scary.
So it isn’t any wonder that they were in tears recently when our area got put under a Tornado Watch from 3-9pm.
I tried calming them down by explaining that a Tornado Watch didn’t mean there were tornadoes, just that there might be tornadoes. And even if a tornado did come, it wouldn’t necessarily be near our house.
That did nothing.
Then I reminded them of our “safe spot”—the place in our home where we would be the safest.
That didn’t help, either.
Their panicked questions kept coming. For six straight hours.
“What if the sirens go off while we’re in the car?”
“What if the sirens go off while we’re sleeping?”
“What if the tornado sucks us out of our room before you get to us?”
“What if you’re not checking the weather enough and the tornado comes and we don’t even know about it?”
“What if the sirens go off but there really is no tornado?”
What if? What if? What if?
“Baby,” I coo to my four-year-old who’s too hysterical to sleep, “do you think I love anything else more than you and your siblings?”
“No,” she sniffles. “Well, maybe Daddy.”
I chuckle at her answer, then tuck some of her blond hair behind her ear. “Daddy is my favorite person in the whole world, you’re right about that. But he can take care of himself, and he’ll be right there helping me take care of you. So if anything happens, what will be the first thing I run to get?”
“That’s right,” I say and wipe the tears away from her flushed face. “I will run to you and protect you before I do anything else. Do you trust me?”
“Then the answer to all of your questions is, ‘I trust Mom will take care of me.’ Deal?”
“So what happens if the sirens go off while we’re in the car?” I ask.
She meets my question with a blank stare, so I playfully move her lips with my fingers and morph my voice to mimic hers. “I trust Mom will take care of me.”
Her little face brightens for the first time since the clouds went dark.
“And if the sirens go off while you’re asleep?” I ask.
“I trust Mom will take care of me.”
“Good.” I tousle her hair with my hand. “But what if the sirens go off and there really is no tornado?”
She looks at me squarely, the tears already replaced by courage, as a smile spreads into a crescent on her face. “I trust Mom will take care of me.”
I nod proudly, smiling as my little girl marches calmly back into her room, closes the door and stays quiet the rest of the night.
As the door clicks closed behind her, I can’t help but to notice how much she is like her mother.
The one who silently asks God so many “What if?” questions.
I don’t know the stats on everything, of course.
But I do know that life is powerful, unpredictable, and completely uncontrollable.
And that’s scary.
So it isn’t any wonder I was in tears recently when it came time to deliver my newest baby—a delivery I’d been fearing for nine straight months.
Because of complications with my last baby, I was at higher risk of uterine rupture, a situation that could lead to “catastrophic events” for both mom and baby.
It was my worst nightmare.
My doctor tried calming me down by explaining that a chance for uterine rupture didn’t mean it would absolutely happen, just that it might happen. And even if a rupture did occur, it wouldn’t necessarily mean death. Just excruciating pain.
That did nothing.
Then my husband reminded me of our safe pregnancies—the babies who slid into this world without complication.
That didn’t help, either.
My panicked questions kept coming. For nine straight months.
“What if my uterus ruptures and the baby dies?”
“What if I have to have another emergency c-section?”
“What if I die and I never see my husband and kids again?”
“What if, since I’ll be delivering during flu season, my kids have the flu when their baby sister is born? What if I have the flu? What if the baby gets the flu?”
What if? What if? What if?
“Kelsey,” Jesus interrupts my hysterical prayers, “do you think I love anything else more than you?”
“No,” I sniffle. “Well, maybe the Father.”
He chuckles at my answer, then tucks some of my brown hair behind my ear. “Abba is my favorite, you’re right about that. But He can take care of Himself, and He’ll be right there helping Me take care of you. So if anything happens, what will be the first thing I run to get?”
“That’s right,” He says and wipes the tears from my flushed face. “I will run to you and protect you before I do anything else. Do you trust me?”
“Then the answer to all of your questions is, ‘I trust Jesus will take care of me.’ Deal?”
“So what happens if your uterus ruptures and the baby dies?” He asks.
I meet His question with a blank stare, too scared to even approach the idea. He morphs His voice to mimic mine. “I trust Jesus will take care of me.”
My face brightens for the first time since the worry began to weigh me down.
“And if you have to have another emergency c-section?” He asks.
“I trust Jesus will take care of me.”
“Good.” He tousles my hair like I’m a little child. “But what if you die during labor and delivery?”
I look at Him squarely, the tears already replaced by courage, as a smile spreads into a crescent on my face. “I trust Jesus will take care of me.”
Jesus nods proudly, smiling as His little girl marches calmly back into life, closes the door on her fear and tries, instead, to trust.
“Can we go to daily Mass every day this week?”
The question floated sweetly to my ears on a whisper from my oldest child’s lips.
I glanced down at her face, radiating with innocent joy, as she looked up at me, hopeful that I might say yes.
At that time, we were going through a rough spell. The kids rarely listened to my voice, let alone obeyed it. They constantly bickered and fought with each other. Not to mention, I was in the first trimester of pregnancy and the only thing I’d done for myself was sit on the couch for a couple minutes when sickness knocked me off my feet.
Just thinking about taking all the kids to Mass by myself made the nausea churn in my stomach.
But when the question came, my soul hungered for the Eucharist.
How could I say no to her request?
The next morning, we were dressed and out the door early, armed with water cups, snacks and the naive confidence that I. Could. Do. This.
The two oldest followed me into the sanctuary and we all genuflected in front of the tabernacle before sliding into our typical seats in the first pew.
So far, so good.
I let out a sigh of relief. Maybe I really could do this.
The ceremony began. Father processed down the aisle. Everyone sung a beautiful hymn.
And then my two-year-old went crazy. He bucked and kicked, screamed and hit, as though we were there for his own personal exorcism.
But I couldn’t take him out into the narthex and leave my two girls sitting in the pew. And I definitely didn’t want to do the walk of shame with ALL my children from the front of the sanctuary to the back. So, I wrestled my toddler, shushing into his ear, praying to God that he would calm down.
But apparently even God couldn’t hear me above the demonic noises we were making.
At that point, my youngest daughter realized she could take advantage of my situation and start picking fights with her sister. And, in the span of one of my racing heartbeats, we became a crazy, uncontrollable circus.
Internally, I threw up the white flag and cursed Confident Me for thinking this could ever be possible.
The back of my neck flushed beneath everyone’s stares, their eyes singeing my skin with scorn.
Why would she bring those children here if she can’t control them?
I can’t hear a thing the priest is saying.
They should have stayed at home. They’re ruining the Mass for everyone else.
Of course, no one actually said those things. It was only Satan whispering in my ear. (But man, sometimes he sounds so believable.)
So I sat in my seat, dodging my son’s bucking head and flying fists, blotting the sweat on my forehead and focusing all my energy on holding back the tears that threatened to pour down my cheeks. After all, the only thing that would be more humiliating is if I started crying, for goodness sakes.
And then our sweet, sweet priest stopped mid-homily and looked directly at me.
“Thank you for bringing your children to Mass today,” he said in his gentle, loving way. Into his microphone. For all to hear.
Couldn’t he see that I was trying NOT to cry?
The rest of the Mass went by in a blur. Literally. Tears piled high, testing the strength of my eyelids and my stubborn will.
Afterwards, several ladies approached us, thanking me for bringing my kids to Mass, assuring me that it’s okay if they make noise.
I thanked them with a quick nod and then rushed out the door, on the verge of losing the battle with my emotions.
When we got to the car, my four-year-old daughter whined about not getting to go to the park—their treat for doing well in Mass.
That was it. Battle lost. Tears came flooding down uncontrollably as I wallowed in my failure. Failure to control my kids. Failure to bear embarrassment and humiliation. Failure to go to Mass with my kids. Failure to do anything with my kids that could possibly fill me up.
Inside, I kicked Confident Me. Clearly, she was a big, fat liar.
I couldn’t do this. Not now, not ever.
But still, the hunger for the Eucharist lingered. I knew I needed it now—in my weakness—more than ever. But never again could I go through what I had just endured.
I simply wasn’t strong enough.
So I wept all the way home as my children stared at me, silent—for once—and absolutely horrified. Never before had they seen their mom cry. And boy was she unleashing it now.
When we got home, I told the kids I needed some time to myself, and then I shut myself in my closet and cried more. (Did I mention I was super first-trimester pregnant?)
All alone, I lamented to Jesus about how badly I wanted the Eucharist, but how I just couldn’t do it. Not with children.
Then, to my astonishment, Jesus replied.
“How much do you really want Me?” He asked. “Enough to be humiliated? You were worth the humiliation to Me.”
Until that point, I realized, my answer was no.
No, I did not want Him enough to be humiliated.
No, I did not want Him enough to have to work to receive Him in the Eucharist.
No, I did not want Him enough to endure scornful looks.
No, He was not worth the sweat, the tears, the embarrassment.
But after being called out, I realized that my answer—like Mary’s—must be yes.
The next day, I took my children to Mass again. Then again the day after that, and the day after that. On average, we try to make it three times each week.
Some days my kids participate, singing, kneeling, and responding as they ought. Some days my son sings the Alleluia louder than the entire congregation put together. Some days, my youngest daughter asks if she can offer a prayer request during the Prayers of the Faithful. My heart explodes on those days, as I thank God for the works He is doing in my children through the gift of the Mass.
Other days, my kids bicker and fight. Those days my son runs down the pew and I have to chase him down and wrestle him back to our seat. Those days I get poked in the face. A lot. One day, my son even discovered that his finger fits perfectly inside my ear.
Yet somehow, I now look forward to those harder days.
Then, as I kneel before the Eucharist, I can offer Him my humiliation, my embarrassments, and my weak, tired body. It is then that I can truly show Jesus how much I really want Him.
And only then—when I am at my weakest—can I truly taste rich sweetness of the Bread of Life.