I should have seen it coming. After all, I was the one who had introduced my two and half year old to red finger nail polish.
It had been one afternoon only a few days before. In a frazzled attempt to get ready for an evening out, I had gambled that including my young daughter in my manicure process would be a smart solution to my present busyness.
I lost my bet.
So I really wasn’t too surprised one morning a few days later to walk in on her painting her nails, our light Frieze carpet, and the whole town red. Correction, candy apple red.
What I was completely unprepared for however was my own reaction.
“What in the world are you doing?! For goodness’ sakes, what were you thinking? How am I ever going to clean this up? You are NOT supposed to play in mommy’s makeup. You know that!!!”
How effortlessly, how naturally, how simply it all came spewing out. Gone were any pretensions of June Cleaver or Donna Reed. Here was a grown woman screaming and ranting at a two year old. Looking into the dark confused eyes of my daughter, I continued.
“How am I ever going to get this out of the carpet? I can’t believe you did this. Stop crying! Go to your room and stay there. Mommy needs some space. Just go away and let me clean this up!”
Her size-five feet fled down the hall and I heard her broken sobs. Instantly, my tantrum subsided, replaced by a flood of remorse. What was I thinking? What in the world had I just done? I knew better; I couldn’t believe I had said those things. How was I ever going to clean that up?
I followed her to her bedroom and found her on her bed, her little body still shaking with surprise and sorrow. I sat down on the edge of the bed, lifted her into my lap and pulled her close. My arms circled all of her barely twenty-six pounds, and I held her securely until she calmed down. The lips that moments before had condemned her, now spoke words of regret, acceptance, and reassurance. Within a few minutes, my daughter had forgotten my tirade and only remembered a mommy that loved her.
My recovery was not quite so simple.
What haunted me even days later was not merely that I had lost my temper - I had done that often enough – but the fact that with one small wave of her chubby hand, my toddler could undo years of spiritual maturing. How could such a little person push me so far and dismantle every bit of my self-control? After all this time, had I finally met my match only to discover that she was two years old?
Or was the reality deeper than that?
Maybe what had happened that morning hadn’t been caused by my two year old; maybe I was the one to blame. Had I been hiding so long under a veneer of goodness and beauty and grown so accustomed to the niceties of religion that I had forgotten who I really was? The truth was that what had surfaced that morning was the real me. The real me that screams and yells; the real me that lashes out; the real me that hurts others. The real me that needs grace and forgiveness.
And suddenly there was comfort in the hope of God’s mercy. A mercy so wise that it uses the foolishness of a child to teach. A mercy so full of patience and peace that it deals with my childish rage. A mercy so encompassing that it reaches down to the real me and heals and transforms.
A mercy so unlike my own heart.
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