Every Thanksgiving, our family enjoys getting outside of the city and spending a few days with my parents on their land out in the country. I love it there. As a child, I explored similar terrain on my grandparents’ land (see above pic!). I would be gone for hours, meandering through the woods on a cow path, with only the ranch dog (and sometimes a rather adventurous cat) for companions. As long as I was back by dinnertime, my grandparents didn’t keep track of my whereabouts. What a GIFT for an independent and adventurous child like me. I deeply believe that the free rein I was given to explore the woods and creek beds and horse pastures in solitude helped spark a life-long love of the outdoors and a deep sense of wonder and imagination at the world around me.
So naturally, I was very much looking forward to spending a week in the country to relax and feel refreshed in the wide open outdoors. I am really not sure how it is that every time we go on a trip with kids, I forget to set appropriate expectations. Traveling with kids is not always fun. To be honest, I think it’s like 25% fun and 50% so-so and 25% absolutely horrible. Rare are the moments when everyone is content at the same time. That is extremely frustrating to me, someone who is all about fun.
I should know by now to mentally gear up. Yet somehow, I forget. Every single time. I head into the trip with idealistic anticipation of all the wonderful experiences our family will share. So when the kids start whining and complaining and fighting and waking up before the sun is up, I am abruptly jolted out of my fantasy world and very quickly annoyed, then completely pissed off.
I think it was Day 2 when I completely lost it. I had the brilliant idea to try and get some homeschooling work out of the way so we wouldn’t have it hanging over us until the night before school. All he had to do was read 3 freaking pages, a total of 5 freaking sentences. But oh, he dug in his heels and refused. It was one of those tasks that I knew he knew how to do. He just wouldn’t. And just to annoy me, he started guessing every word. He’d see the first letter of a word and rattle off every word he could think of that started with that letter. Oh, he thought it was hilarious. I was not amused.
I will neither confirm or deny that a tiny blue Kindergarten reader was hurled across the bedroom and slammed full-force into the wall. I cannot fully recall what happened, but I think it ended with me angrily snapping: Forget it! I’ve had ENOUGH!. And storming out of the bedroom.
Not my finest moment.
I yanked on my mud boots, then headed outside for a walk to cool off. As I marched down the gravel road, I was mumbling to myself all the way, sputtering out every curse word I could think of to express the full depth of my anger. I am sure that every cow, bird and hibernating rattlesnake within a square mile of me was thoroughly entertained by my colorful rant.
My anger didn’t last long, maybe 5 or 10 minutes, but those few minutes were INTENSE. They always are. When I get angry like that, it is as if a hurricane is swirling around inside and all I can do is wait it out until the storm subsides.
Once the anger dissipated, it was immediately replaced with a wave of shame. Heavy, crippling shame. I heard it whispering: You are a terrible mom! You lost it again! What do you think you’re doing trying to homeschool your kids? You can’t even keep it together! You are going to scar your children by the way you act! What is wrong with you? You have serious issues. Get it together. How pathetic!
Sadly, this is a very familiar voice, and it is a voice that inflicts deep wounds.
It was with that burden of shame crushing down upon my shoulders that I approached the cattle guard and crossed over into the pecan bottom, one of my favorite places on the ranch because of the flowing creek bed hemmed in by thick woods.
I can’t fully explain what happened next, but I heard, or rather, felt, in my heart, a voice say, I love you! I love you! I love you! You are my precious child! The apple of my eye! Do you know how much I love you?
This voice was quite different from the dark and cynical voice of shame I had just heard. This was a strong voice, and one that rang of truth. Suddenly, it was as if all of the woods came alive. There were birds everywhere, hundreds of them. Red-breasted robins. Swallow tails and cardinals. Wood-peckers and blue birds. Flitting about on the ground, fluttering among the trees. And they were singing, joyfully, loudly, happily. Just singing away. I felt like I had just stepped into a private concert in the woods, a secret musical being played out in nature. I spotted a pack of Hereford cows grazing in a lush pasture nearby. They lifted their heads to stare at me for a moment, then returned to their grazing as if this was nothing out of the ordinary, to hear this spectacular melody. I felt a tightening in my chest and had to catch my breath, I was so overtaken by the loveliness of the moment.
I felt like God was bathing me in His love, letting me tangibly experience His presence through the song of these birds. And all the while, I kept hearing that voice speak to my heart: I love you, I love you, my precious child! I love you. And the birds seemed to echo, Yes! He loves you! He loves you! He loves you!
It was a powerful moment for me. All of the shame I had been carrying suddenly disappeared. At the sound of His voice, it fled. And I knew who I was again: a beloved child of God, free from guilt and condemnation. All of the shame of my past, my present and my future had already been paid for. I was forgiven and therefore, free.
Friends, if there is anything you may be experiencing that feels heavy and burdensome, causing shame or guilt, I urge you to bring this to God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the Orchestra Conductor of Nature, the Lover of Beauty, the Joy-Maker, the Peace-Giver. Lay it down, friends, at the cross of Christ, and let Him carry that burden for you. He is strong and able. He loves you. More than anyone else in the world.
During this Christmas season, join me in rejoicing that we are deeply and wholly loved by the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Maker of the Stars and the Sky and the Sun and Moon. There is nothing, not any power or ruler or authority who can separate us from the love we have in Christ Jesus. Join me in welcoming this precious Babe into the world who came to rescue us from darkness and bring us into the kingdom of light. Merry Christ-mass.