So close to Christmas.
And it felt like I had committed a crime.
With one violent contraction, triggered by a massive bawl, the colorful contents of a toddler’s tummy were all, in three projectile instances, spewed all over the floor.
I felt like the worst parent in the world.
Smothered in guilt, my face flushed with shame.
In more parts of the world today than ever, spanking is frowned upon.
That evening, however, after repeated warnings, Cliff and I agreed that the repeated acts of boundary-pushing warranted discipline. We had spanked before. There would be an explanation, a controlled, un-angry spank, tears, a debrief, hug and life went on.
We had read books on this, discussed it, prayed, spoken to mentors, thought this through.
But that day, little did any of us expect what happened next.
Perhaps there were gastrointestinal factors at work. Perhaps I was a little more heavy-handed than before. Perhaps I was simply a bad mom.
But spank, I did. And the bout of projectile vomiting that ensued after, triggered by a choking sob, traumatized the both of us.
On my hands and knees to wipe the mess and calm her at the same time, I couldn’t stop saying, “I am so sorry, sweetheart.”
I apologized, explained that that was not my intention, explained that I had meant to discipline, but wasn’t expecting this.
“I am so sorry, sweetheart. Mama did wrong.”
I am learning- that the longer I am a parent, the more a certain black box of shame inside of me has the propensity to grow, if left unchecked.
Shame, for the things I had done wrong; shame, for what I thought people would say of me; shame, for the things I did out of the best of my intentions which went sorely, sorely wrong.
It was an ironic sight.
The more tears dammed behind my eyes, the more composed my two-year old toddler became.
While I was on my hands and knees wiping up the mess, my two year old stood firm and hugged me, “It’s okay, Mama. I forgive you.”
There was no resentment, no holding back. No bitterness.
“Does your hand still hurt?” I asked, certain that it was still smarting.
“No, Mama. Jesus healed it. See?”
That night after I had put our little trooper to rest, Cliff held me as tears streamed down my cheeks.
At once, I felt God speaking to me about the freedom of forgiveness and the purity of a child’s faith.
When I became a parent, certain childhood incidents shaped the narrative of my own parenting. Having been spanked when I was little to the point I lost continence, I promised myself I would never be heavy-handed; Having been raised by a series of domestic helpers while growing up, I promised not to make the same choices my parents had to in their time.
But when this happened, I was unraveled. In a moment, I saw how the best of my intentions were all for naught.
In a grand moment of generous mercy, my two-year old perfectly modeled what extravagant forgiveness looks like, and the freedom it brings.
She made me wonder- how different our lives would be if we gave forgiveness as freely as she did, not only to others, but to ourselves.
As my toddler held my hand, at once I learned a lesson from her- that perhaps, the greatest gift we could ever give to our loved ones this Christmas is the gift of forgiveness.
Forgiving our parents for the way we were brought up, for even their best intentions may result in unintended consequences.
Forgiving our children, again and again, for the cups they break, the lies they tell, the mess that never ends.
And forgiving ourselves, for the crimes we commit, the mistakes we make, our brokenness within.
This year, as we look back to year of major transitions, moving countries, moving homes, from being a stay-home mum to a working-homeschooling mum, and as we look towards a new year of potential transitions back to a developing country to serve… we could question and berate ourselves for the many choices we made and will make for our children.
Would they grow up resenting the choices we made, the lives we lived, or embrace them fully? Only time would tell.
So many people had raised their eyebrows at us, given our untraditional model of homeschooling, full-time daddying and full-time-flexible-work-mummying.
Yet, in that moment, as Sarah-Faith held my hand and said, “I forgive you, Mama” and days later, said, “You are a good Mama,” as she nestled her little head into my lap like a kitten, I learned one thing- that perhaps, all God and our children require of us, is not perfection, but a willingness to be perfected.
And all we can expect from our own parents, whose parenting journeys might have ended, are not perfect ones, but journeys of imperfection that can spark redemption and grace in ours.
That day, my two year old taught me a deep lesson on forgiving well.
That to forgive well, requires celerity, before the root of bitterness springs up. How quick she was to say, “Mama, I forgive you.”
That to forgive well, requires empathy to affirm, to assume the best of the other person, even when circumstances don’t suggest it. “Mama, you are a good Mama.”
That to forgive well, requires a faith in God’s power of restoration and redemption and thus absolves us from the need to have our debts repaid by another. “No, Mama. My hand does not hurt. Jesus healed it.”
This year end, as you look back on a year of failures and hurts, heartaches and regrets, would you join me in learning to forgive well, too?
For all the joy that you bring- Blessed Christmas, little one.