I don’t mind telling you that this past Sunday was a pretty crummy day.
We came in the night before, later than late. Yes, y’all. It was ten o’clock at night, which is SUPER late when you’re old, have small children, and have a pastor husband who will be up at 3am the next morning because it’s a church morning.
Our flight had been full after a long, long, long wait in security and a dash to the gate. We were all exhausted. I let the girls literally fall into their beds, where they fell asleep within minutes. That left me with approximately five minutes to take out the exuberant dog (aww, he missed me), unpack part of the luggage (so the pastor could find his deodorant in the morning), and contemplate whether or not I’d be able to feed anyone in the morning with what was in the pantry (I would NOT) before Wes followed suit and fell asleep as well.
And he can’t seem to sleep without me in the bed with him (what did he do for the first twenty-three years of his life?), so I was done.
Things would look better in the morning. Surely.
The morning came when Wes left and I enjoyed, for the first time since we left on our vacation a week earlier, a solo trip to the bathroom (glory!) where I could actually fix my hair and put on makeup. I was looking good just as the girls were waking up… when I got a call from Wes.
It was the first week of Advent. And you would think that at a church our size, we would have four candles somewhere in the church building. And you would be WRONG for thinking that, y’all. There were no candles. None. Wes relayed this all to me in a bit of a panic.
Before I could open my mouth to tell him, “that sucks, Pastor,” he said, “can you do something for me?” At this point, my six year old was attached to my leg, blowing her dragon breath up into my face as she chanted “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy” at me while my seven year old sat in the recliner like a queen on her throne requesting that I change the channel on the television even though the remote was only two inches from her hand.
“What do you need me to do?,” I asked, thinking that I was already doing plenty for him by taking care of the children that I had so graciously carried and birthed for him. (I mean, really. What more could he want?)
“I need you to find some Advent candles.”
Well, okay. I began listing possible stores where I could find these… only to have him tell me that none of them would be open this early. Before I could open my mouth (again) to tell him, “that sucks, Pastor,” he said, “please, I need you to leave right now and go find some somewhere.”
This wasn’t how my morning was supposed to go. But I could deal.
And so I got the girls ready for church in under ten minutes. Efficiency, thy name is Mommy. I got my little darlings into the car where they began to discuss who had the stinkier breath. I wondered for a moment if, in my boastful efficiency, I had neglected to make sure they had brushed their teeth. No worries, though, because they were just pretending that they had stinky breath when they actually had minty fresh breath. (Yes, these are the kind of pretend games they play. They’re odd children sometimes.)
We pulled up to Wal Mart because who doesn’t love an early Sunday morning jaunt through Wal Mart, right? I told the girls we needed to find candles. Emma found incense. Ana found those candles in jars that have pictures of Mary and Jesus on them. I told them they both had it wrong… and then lamented that I, too, had it wrong with my white candles. (Seriously, there are no purple and pink candles at Wal Mart.)
A quick call to Wes to hear him confirm that these would be good enough. Then, a quick ride over to the church where we handed them to him and sent him on to the other thousand tasks he had ahead of him.
At this point, Ana reminded me that we hadn’t had breakfast. I still had to get ready to teach a Sunday school class, and all the time I had planned to review my notes had whittled away to almost nothing. But the call of donuts was so strong that the girls’ donut chanting couldn’t be contained, so I took another five minutes to go to the donut shop…. then another five minutes while the girls decided what they wanted. THEN another five minutes to wait in the long line.
Oh, Sunday morning. You weren’t turning out like I had hoped.
Back over to the church finally, where I set up my notes in the classroom, ready to review and prepare as the girls ate. Which I would have been able to do had Emma not decided to start crawling all over the floor and rolling around in her dress. Just as I was about to tell her that she would either get right and come to Jesus or meet Him very, very soon in an untimely demise, the class started showing up. As I chatted with the ladies there, Ana spilled some chocolate milk.
Before I could even get upset about this, I figured out what had happened. Emma, who wasn’t paying attention (because God love her, she CAN’T seem to pay attention to ANYTHING) danced right into her big sister and knocked the milk out of her hands.
Even then as I was figuring this out, she was obliviously shimmying her way out the door while I still had a milk mess to clean up. I pulled her back in by the back of her dress and had both girls help me clean up the mess as the class, which was now filling up quickly, watched me continue to berate Emma for not watching what she was doing.
It was a fine moment for me. But it was nothing compared to what was to come.
After Sunday school, I got the girls back downstairs and into the sanctuary, where people were coming up to me to leisurely chat while Ana dug through my purse and Emma skipped around the bottom of the stage, doing an elaborate kicking high-step as she did so. When a pink, sparkly princess shoe flew past my ear, I excused myself with a sweet pastor’s wife smile and turned to my youngest with a look that would bring out the fear of God in any normal child.
But Emma? Is NOT a normal child.
Just as the praise band was starting up and Wes was magically there again, shaking hands and telling me that he had ten tasks to do in five seconds and could I help by —
Well, I didn’t hear the rest because Emma, who had grabbed up a donut hole outside the sanctuary to snack on, dropped it on the floor, then dropped to all fours in her dress to climb under the seats to retrieve it. I ceased hearing anything at that point, as I pulled her little proudly displayed butt out from underneath the seats, sat her in a chair, and told her, “STOP.”
And she said, “Yes, ma’am,” and sat quietly with her hands in her lap.
Oh, I kid, y’all. She opened her mouth and SCREAMED blue murder. At me. In church. While everyone stared.
And she must have known from the shock in my eyes that things weren’t going to go well for her because she FOUGHT me as I began dragging her little butt out of the sanctuary while she screamed and cried snotty tears. Once I got out, I still had to walk the long way around to the pastor’s office, past more and more people who stared at mild-mannered, easy-going Emma, who kept screeching, “Oh, nooooooo, Mommy!”
Oh, nooooo, indeed. Inside the sanctuary, they were singing about Emmanuel, God with us, as I continued dragging our own little so-named Emma down the hall, concluding that if God was with us this morning, He was probably covering His ears because the tantrum was just that loud.
Inside the pastor’s office, I got her to sit down and calm down. And before I could even begin to correct the behavior, she said, “I should not have done that, Mommy.”
I was about to say, “You think?!,” when she added, “I’m soooooo sorry.”
So we talked about how she would act from now on. We talked about how she wouldn’t be a hollering monkey anymore. We talked about how Jesus was certainly not honored by tantrums. We talked about how we need to behave during worship. We talked about how today was going to be a good day.
Back into the sanctuary while the choir sang, while Wes preached, while we went on with our Sunday morning… and it was fine. Then, church was done, the crowds left, and we began to help decorating the sanctuary for Christmas. Ana and Emma began playing with a couple of other kids who were there, and sweet, distracted Emma ran a scooter right into the Advent candles (yes, those stupid Advent candles that had started the whole ruined morning!), knocking down the only substantial one in the bunch and breaking it in half.
She gasped and looked up at me, waiting for me to explode.
Which I very well might have done, had a very sweet woman in our church not stepped up to the broken candle, stuck it back where it belonged, and said, “Oh, well. Jesus doesn’t care. It’s just a candle, right?”
And in that moment, I could rightly conclude some things. Jesus doesn’t care about spilled milk. He doesn’t care about princess shoes that fly off of very busy feet. He doesn’t even care about active children acting like active children and dropping down on all fours to eat a donut off the floor.
What He DOES care about, though, are irate mommies who are more concerned about what people think than they are about their children’s hearts. Sure, Jesus doesn’t want my kids to be brats, but if I’m policing their behavior and becoming exasperated over their actions, I’m not doing much to correct their heart’s intent because I’m modeling such a poor example of godliness and love for Christ myself.
And I seem to care more about broken Advent candles than I do about being a godly parent.
I’m challenged to remember this. To remember that underneath every action is a heart motivation — in me and in them — and that godly correction lies not in yelling “NO!” every five seconds but in teaching and modeling what it means to love Christ and to act in a way that honors Him. Not such an easy thing to do since it requires the same of me, and my inclination is to just BE and not be intentional about how I’m living and seeking God.
Praying for the wisdom to know how to change and the motivation to do so.