Be sure that no one misses God’s grace. Hebrews 12:15 NIRV
Last week God taught me an amazing lesson in, of all places, the dentist’s office. We had the first appointment of the day. I am not sure why an 8:00 appointment seemed like a good idea six months ago, but somehow we arrived on time. The young woman led me, Jake, and Lilly down the hallway, past friendly animals painted on the walls. This was our third visit to the dentist since they both turned two, so I assumed we had settled into that veteran mode, where tears and fears were no longer as issue. Why, oh why do I make those assumptions?!
Jake is normally the timid, more cautious one, and since my kids are polar opposites, Lilly claims the title, “Brave One.” On this particular morning, they decided to swap places, without sending me the memo. Jake quickly climbed into his chair, excited to get the show on the road. Lilly did the same, but seconds later she was in tears. Each time I asked her what was the matter she frowned and slumped further and further down into the chair. Our last visit went smoothly, so I was not prepared for this uncooperative and very unhappy patient.
When the X-Ray machine came close, she backed away. When asked to bite down, she refused. When asked what was wrong, she cried harder. Finally, I realized this was going downhill in a hurry, so I asked if we could skip the X-Rays for the time being and try them again later. (It was the first experience with X-Rays and I thought maybe a quick chit-chat would help get to the bottom of her fears.) We talked and she calmed down, and eventually she agreed to cooperate.
When the hygienist came in to clean Lilly's teeth, she explained everything she would be doing. She even showed her how it would feel by pretending Lilly’s fingernails were her teeth. I could tell Lilly was warming up to her and that she was gaining trust for this sweet, gentle woman who I wanted to take home with me- she was that good. Lilly was ready to lean back, open her mouth, and be a brave big-girl. Until the tools made noise. Within seconds her hands flew up to her mouth and the tears ran down her face for a second time. Patience abounded in that tiny dental room, I tell you!
When all else failed, a princess crown was mentioned. At the sound of getting to pick such a prize after her cleaning, Lilly tried as hard as she could to be brave. And then she quickly decided otherwise. That’s when the screaming happened. Not irritating-unpleasant-sounding wails. No, these were more like blood-curdling-earsplitting shrieks that could have easily broken every window in the building. Saying it was a bad visit is a horrible understatement.
As we walked up to the reception area to check out, Jake was offered a prize. He had already received numerous praises from the staff and especially from me, as I was relieved to only have one screaming child instead of two. He took a couple of seconds and then confidently made his decision. My heart was breaking for Lilly who was clinging to my legs. She wanted that crown, but she definitely did not cooperate with any of us and she most certainly interrupted everyone’s morning- at least those within a two mile radius- with her shrillness. That’s when I realized that I hate these kinds of decisions. I dread the moments when as a Mom I have to decide what to do, knowing my words carry extreme weight.
When Lilly was asked if she also wanted to pick a prize, my heart sank, remembering the conversation we’d had in the car before the appointment. I had reminded them about choosing a prize and I went through all the things that I expected from them. I knew what I would be saying if I let Lilly have the crown. But looking down at her, I suddenly felt this overwhelming desire to give her exactly that.
I pulled her aside, bent down and looked into her watery eyes and told her that how she acted was not acceptable. I pointed out how kind and helpful all the ladies had been, and asked her if she thought she deserved the crown. She shook her head no. Then I made a deal with her. She could have the crown as long as she promised to try her best to be brave the next time we came. She agreed and was soon happily wearing her crown.
I can tell you that there were some folks present who totally disagreed with my parenting. As a recovering approval addict, I wish I didn’t notice, but I did. No one told me so, but there is a tension in the air you can just feel when you are a Momma of a kid who misbehaved- let me correct that- a kid who misbehaved badly. But as her Mom, I knew in my heart that she wanted to be brave and she wanted to do what she was asked to do. Yet, fear snuck up and stole her courage.
As I sat in the car, drenched in sweat from this early morning fiasco, I regrouped and prayed honestly to Jesus. I had this feeling I had made a mistake. I wasn’t even sure why I said what I said and did what I did. It felt so wrong to give my child a crown when she acted the way she did. What am I teaching her? I thought. Did I do the wrong thing? I asked Him. Clearly she did not deserve to be wearing a princess crown.
Tears were flowing and this time they were mine. Why don’t they tell you parenting is this hard? They prepare you for the sleep deprivation, they offer classes for breastfeeding, they’ve written books on how to handle temper tantrums, but no one explains this heart-wrenching feeling that inevitably follows every decision you make as a parent. No one tells you that on a daily basis you will have to choose what is more important- your child’s heart or what other people think of you. It’s moments like this that make me want to hug my own mom and tell her how much I appreciate her. With deep breaths we continued our morning errands, and I continued my prayer long past the parking lot. As I pulled up to a red light, I felt the most precious three words enter the quietness of my heart. This is grace.
A princess crown is probably the farthest thing from what Lilly had earned.
This is grace.
Her behavior did not measure up like her brother’s, yet she also received a prize.
This is grace.
Lilly did not deserve a crown, but still, she was wearing it- with a smile.
This is grace.
Grace is a word that gets thrown around a whole lot, and I think we often forget that it is truly amazing. Grace is what we have all been given- undeserved, unearned, and precious. I glanced in the rear-view mirror and realized that I don’t deserve to be wearing the princess crown on my head either. As a daughter of the King, I did not earn an invitation into His kingdom- it was a gift. I don’t deserve to be called His child because of my track record, yet that’s exactly who I am. Even when I try to act the way I know I’m supposed to, I still fall short. Grace is something I can never, ever earn.
Feeling a whole lot better about the situation, I wiped my tears, turned around, and told Jake how incredibly proud I was of him. I told him how happy it made me that he listened at the dentist and acted like a big boy. As I shifted my gaze to Lilly, her head was already hung, brows furrowed as if she knew what was coming her way. When I told her that I was proud of her, too, she looked up confused. She knew she had not acted in a way that made me proud. But instead of focusing on her behavior, I focused on her as my child, the way that God looks at me. “I am so very proud of you, Lilly, because you’re my girl.” Smiles spread and grace rerouted our morning. It’s a beautiful thing- this grace.
God looks not at our messes, screw-ups, or failures. He is not a bit surprised by them. In fact, He expects them. He waits for that moment when our heads are hung low, when we’re disappointed that we’re here again, and then He lets us have it. This is grace. He gives it freely and abundantly not because we deserve it, not because we can ever earn it, but because He loves us, and we are His.
This is grace.
But he gives us more grace. James 4:6 NIV