It was one of those days, for him and for me. The hours couldn't fall off the clock fast enough. We'd been battling all day and in my defense, I didn't even wake up that day looking for a fight. If you've raised a 3 almost 4 year old boy, you may know what I'm talking about. The struggle for independence coupled with the desires of an immature and childish mind. They don't always collide well and on that particular day, we weren't colliding well.
We've been in murky water for awhile now with Carter, working to instill obedience in his heart while remembering how hard it is to obey even as an adults who know better. We are walking that line of being consistent and following through in one moment while trying to dig deeper and love him with grace and mercy in the next. It's been exhausting and overwhelming and sometimes I just do not have the energy for one more battle. But then again, he doesn't wake up and want to fight either.
Things get hard, stuff doesn't go his way and the day falls apart as he does. It's so interesting being a parent and seeing your kids process those inner struggles as they grow up. Those thoughts that we still have as adults but somehow we've learned to control them, stuff them or better yet, diffuse them. But when you're almost 4 and you're still learning there isn't much diffusing going on. And so I look at him mid-offense and I see right through that childish behavior and I want to scream into his heart, "Just obey me! Just listen, do what I say and trust me! You will save yourself so much trouble if you just stop and listen, NOW!"
But he's rarely in the listening mood these days and I find myself stopping short of heart behavior and sometimes, for the sake of peace and my sanity, I'm just modifying behavior. That's not my goal by the way, but it just happens sometimes. In the weary moments, on the long and hard days, it happens.
But on this particular day, we were out meeting Daddy for a little lunch. It was a treat, we were all enjoying it and then Walker started to cry because he was hungry and I decided to slip away to feed him while Daddy and Carter made a quick trip to get some wiggles out in the playland. It was all going "according to plan" for awhile and then...well then it just wasn't. Carter came back in tears, Daddy needed to run back to work for a meeting and Walker was just irritated that his peaceful lunch was abruptly interrupted. In a matter of 5 minutes it all hit the fan, more tears, sharp tongues, warnings issued and a fit in the making. And I didn't want to be that Mom who was always stern and not fun. I had planned to reward him for something else, this was supposed to be a fun afternoon out but as the fit grew into an ugly scene I just knew I couldn't ignore this, I certainly couldn't reward it and I needed to hold my ground. Sometimes you just sense that some ground is sacred in the soul of a child. There are watershed moments when they need you to be their parent, to say no and to elevate the importance of a character issue over their happiness with you. This was one of those times and yet, my heart broke for him. I wanted to give him the answer he was looking for, but I loved him too much to just cave and act like it wasn't a big deal.
So we packed up, there were more tears and lots of repeated reasons about why we needed to just head home. I wiped those tears, kissed that red face and wished along with him that we could stay. But as we walked out of the mall I spotted a great distraction. To the left of the doors was a big shiny, red firetruck. Every boy's dream. No one was around it and I knew we couldn't pass by without letting my truck-loving son adore it up close. So we looked closely, we touched it, we admired it and even saw our reflection in the paint job. Wow those firetrucks are clean! And then as we stood there talking about how big this truck was up close, a Fireman came out and saw us. He pulled a fire sticker badge out of his pocket and gave it to Carter. He answered questions and then he really extended the best kind of invitation. He asked if he'd like to sit behind the wheel. And oh my, was that grace. On this very hard afternoon with a sad little boy and a sad and weary Mom, here was a special treat that was completely unexpected and such a reprieve for both of us.
And with almost no battery in my phone or any room for one more picture, I managed to get this one and is it ever perfect?? It was all the grin that Carter could muster and yet, it was a grin. A break in the storm so to speak. It was just the lift my little guy needed and the best part? I didn't have to back down or not follow through like I should have. I just got to enjoy this treat right along with him and appreciate it for what it was. Unexpected grace from the Lord. I really believed that in the moment and I still do as I look back on it now.
Obedience is a struggle. For Carter and for his Mom too. Because of the presence of sin in our nature, it always will be on this side of Heaven. But I'm so very thankful that we have a God who does not withhold His love based on how well we obey or struggle to. His love is unconditional and He longs to turn our hearts toward His, and not just so He can reward our behavior. He died to break the chains of sin in our lives, to free us from a captor we could not escape and to rid us of the control sin desires to have over us. And He gives unexpected grace and delight to His children just because that's WHO He is, not because we've earned it or done anything to receive it. Grace was His idea, it's initiated by Him and it flows freely from Him. And all of that is important because if that's how God loves me, it's also how I need to love Carter. And Ava. And Walker. And Trav. And anyone else in my life.
Who knew that an obedience struggle and a firetruck would lead to us to thanking the Lord that afternoon for how He loves us so? It's still a thrill that Carter talks about, weeks later. And it's a special reminder to me that little boys will never achieve perfection in their obedience, but that doesn't mean we don't strive for a heart that is quick to listen and willing to obey. It's also a timely lesson in seeing how unexpected grace can go a long way in the heart. And in the end, what's happening in the heart is really the most important thing anyway.
It's no accident that Carter's memory verse in AWANA tonight was from Ephesians 6, verse 1.
"Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."
I'm thankful that the Lord is using all kinds of things to drive this lesson home and that He keeps intersecting truth in our days, no matter how long or how hard they might be. I sure love my 4 year old son and I love how the Lord is pursuing him and helping him as he grows and matures. I also love how He is helping me as I grow and mature.
It's unexpected grace to be his Mom.