This story (like many of the past decade) connects inextricably to being a mother. It’s Mother’s Day, and this story involves another mother. So I thought it’d be a fitting means of getting a glimpse into how God uses mothering as His tool in my life.
Last spring, I saw a woman at our church (that we no longer attend) who’d come after the service to work childcare for a seminar being offered to parents. Our family wasn’t staying, but we left a bit late. This lady had already arrived by the time we left. I hadn’t seen her for a few years; she’d attended our church in the past, back when my two sons were babies and toddlers. She used to work in childcare for our church events: women’s morning Bible studies, for example. Our church picked up the tab, for which I was grateful…I could enjoy the Bible study, leave my children with this woman, and pay only for the study materials.
One semester, there had been issues with the childcare situation. The worker frequently arrived late, once more than 20 minutes. One particular morning, I returned to where childcare was held to pick up my boys, and I discovered my one-year-old with a lollipop in his mouth–something he’d never had before and that I decidedly did not pack in his diaper bag. I asked her about it, totally perplexed. She said she gave it to him; I asked why she’d chosen to give him something I didn’t send and told her I wasn’t comfortable with his walking around with a lollipop.She answered defensively, almost angrily, that she had asked my older son (who was 3 and 1/2 at the time), and that he had said it was OK. Surprised, I said that my older boy was just a kid and couldn’t give permission for his little brother.
She walked away and began talking to another person, avoiding the conversation by turning her back on me. Over time, I realized she probably didn’t have the tools in her emotional tool box to deal with this. To say, “I’M SORRY.” That’s really all I needed. An “I’m sorry, Allison; I should have waited to ask you” or “I’m so sorry; I wasn’t thinking.” or just “I am sorry.”
She probably felt overwhelmed with the idea of dealing with the problem instead of just ignoring it (and hoping I would, too). So I didn’t press her. After that semester, she served less in paid childcare roles, and over time her sporadic church attendance tapered off. But when I would see her I would discipline myself–I think the old-fashioned term is “take myself in hand”–to speak to her, to make eye contact. I disciplined myself to practice the act of forgiveness. Not that I had to keep forgiving her for crossing the line with the candy, but that I had to treat her with forgiveness. To treat her with love no matter that she didn’t apologize and that she wouldn’t hear me out over the issue and that she pretended nothing had happened.
I had to call the issue “closed” even though there hadn’t been genuine reconciliation. I needed to accept her where she was AND–this is the big part–love her with words and deeds, in spite of. When I saw her again last spring, unexpectedly, it wasn’t hard this time, because I had been practicing, you see. It wasn’t a stretch; but I WAS intentional about it. To approach this woman, put my arm around her, hug her. To ask about her son and how she was and to tell her it’d been so long since we’d seen her. To tell her I was glad that she was there. She still seemed tentative, kind of holding herself back–which I’d noticed that she’d done (as long as I had known her) not just with me but with others. Maybe that’s why she’d been reticent to deal with the lollipop issue all those years ago–perhaps she wondered if she’d truly be accepted if she admitted she had made a mistake. I think I was ready to walk in forgiveness and extend fellowship, because I had practiced living it out with this woman in the past.
Forgiveness and acceptance, from one mama to another.