Close Calls and Other Lessons In Grace

The other night a friend of mine told me a story about a “terrifying yet amazing thing” that happened to her toddler. After not hearing from him for awhile (we all know what happens when a toddler is too quiet) she stuck her head out the back door to see what he was up to. He was standing in their fenced-in back yard pointing at the gap between the fence and the house.

“No, Isaac,” she said. “Come away from there.”

The gap was big enough for him to fit through, and my friend’s husband had been meaning to close it off.

Just then her doorbell rang. It was a neighbor inquiring whether there was a little boy who lived in this house. The man had seen a young toddler walking down the shoulder of the road in front of the house next door, and wanted to be sure he was safe.

Just then, my friend’s son, Isaac, came trotting around the corner.

“Yup, that’s him,” said the man.

Horrified, my friend realized she had stuck her head in the yard just as her son had returned from his streetside adventure.

I think all parents have near-miss stories like this one.

The potential for this incident to end in tragedy was not lost on my friend, but she expressed how faithful God is to watch over our children even when we can’t or don’t. She would not allow herself to dwell on the possibilities, nor would she allow her husband to beat himself up over not having fixed the gap sooner.

God had shown them grace, and they did not take it for granted: the gap was fixed immediately.

I was impressed by this take on things. She had started the story off by saying, “I need to tell you something really scary that happened to Isaac, but it was also really cool.”

I was intrigued.

As it turned out, the Really Cool part was the ability to recognize the presence of Grace in a preventable circumstance.

It made me think about me and Bryan, and all the bickering we’ve been doing lately. I played out the scene in my mind as it would have happened had the same thing happened to us. I dare say neither of us would be so gracious.

Bryan would have blamed me for not having some sort of system in place to make sure Things Get Done around the house.

I would have blamed Bryan for not having time to Get Things Done around the house.

Neither of us, I believe, would have been able to let go of the fact that the gap SHOULD HAVE BEEN FIXED a long time ago.

Neither of us, I’m certain, would have been gushing on about how amazing it is that God protects our children when we should be perfectly capable to do it ourselves.

This is how we struggle. How do we show each other grace – how do we recognize God’s grace? – without sacrificing the need to be good stewards of the things God has given us?

Bryan and I are pretty hard on each other. I know I feel the heavy hand of high expectations, and I dish out a pretty good dose of justification. Just the other day after reporting the nail polish incident to him at work, his first question was, “Where did she get the nail polish?”

Because of our struggles lately, this was a loaded question. In my mind it implied so many things: Why was the nail polish on the dining room table anyway? Why did you let so much time go by without checking on Ruthie? Why weren’t you able to make the salad during the kids’ nap time? Don’t you think you’re taking on too much by babysitting someone else’s toddler?

Bryan may have thought these things, and he may not have. But history begged the possibility of both the questioning and the track record prompting the questions.

In the end, what I long for is graciousness: the ability to give it freely, and the ability to see it when it’s given freely to me.

The lesson for today is “Listen To That Inner Mommy-Voice When It’s Screaming At You, or Else [insert tragic circumstance here].”

Just when I thought I was running out of things to write about and my blog would shrivel up and die, my two year old once again provided plenty of material for me.

To preface this story I would just like to say that in addition to my 4 month old and two-and-a-half-year-old, I’m also watching my friend’s 18-month-old for a week. Plus, it’s ninety degrees today which makes everyone whiney.

That is my defense.

For a brief hour today I had all three kids simultaneously taking naps, during which I read a book without guilt. One by one they each began to wake up, so I began the snack rotation while putting dinner together. It was only 1:30 in the afternoon, but I was making a chicken curry salad that needed to be chilled.

Toward the end of all this mayhem, one kid was crying, one kid was wandering happily about with toys in hand, and one particular EEEVIL blond girl was much too quiet.

The Voice told me to check on her.

I ignored The Voice.

“But I just want to mix this dressing,” I told The Voice. “I’ve been trying to make this salad all morning and I’m almost done.”

She’s up to no good, said The Voice. CHECK ON HER NOW!

Quietly and patiently I scooped the salad into a tupperware and put it in the fridge, washed my hands, put a few dishes in the dish washer, then walked into the living room to check on Ruthie.


[Now, let me just take this moment to assure everyone that I later apologized to Ruthie for what you are about to read because, while she grossly misbehaved, there is no excuse for the temper I unleashed on her in my anger. I am far from perfect as a mother, but I always make a point to tell Ruthie I’m sorry when I am wrong.]

The pink I painted on her toenails apparently was not enough for Ruthie, because she confiscated the bottle of nail polish and painted her legs, her arms, and poured the rest of the bottle out onto my BRAND NEW COUCH.

This is the couch I saw in the store window, fell in love with, waited six months until we had the money to buy it, waited five weeks for it to be delivered, and now have the privilege of napping on daily. It’s red. It’s soft. If I were Dooce I would lick my couch.

I’ve only had it for three months.

I believe what came out of my mouth was something like, “YOU ARE IN SUCH BIG FUCKING TROUBLE YOU KNOW BETTER THAN TO TAKE THINGS OFF THE TABLE DO YOU REALIZE HOW MUCH I HAD TO FUCKING BEG FOR THIS COUCH I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU DID THIS…” etc. etc. etc. You get the idea: all caps, no punctuation, lots of swearing.

Poor thing. Poor, unsuspecting cute blond girl who just wanted to look pretty.

I think the most important thing that I am currently learning as a mother is how easy it is to crush the spirit of my children and embitter them against me. Countless times I have, in mid-sentence, flash forwarded in my mind to Ruthie at age thirteen: bitter, rebellious, and hating me because we’ve spent our entire relationship butting heads.

She is a creative, smart, observant, verbal, independent girl, and I think most of the time I fail to recognize all of these (and more!) amazing qualities about her because I’m so fixated on her stubborn will and propensity to be curious.

I pray on a daily basis that I will let go of this and learn to choose my battles more carefully with her so the next time I go ape over [insert tragic circumstance here], my voice is not just the white noise she hears from me all day long.

I made good with Ruthie. As I cleaned her up I spoke quietly to her, apologizing for losing my temper, and I asked her to forgive me. We kissed, we hugged, then we had some snuggle time while the other kids napped again. I cherish my time alone with her, and I wish I could will myself into being more tender with her when she’s out of line.

She is a beauty — a one-of-a-kind — and I love her dearly.

Drunkard’s Prayer

Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist of the band Over the Rhine canceled their national tour for the OHIO album a couple years ago because the stress of their work was taking a toll on their marriage. They stated in the liner notes of their most recent album, Drunkard’s Prayer, that they needed time to figure out if being together was something they were still committed to.

“When we came home from the tour,” they wrote, “we bought two cases of wine and decided we were going to put a bottle on the kitchen table every evening and start talking until nothing was left. The idea was not to get plowed, but to talk face to face deep into the night.”

Out of that experience came the song, Born, plus a whole host of other beautiful melodies on Drunkard’s Prayer.

Two kids, depression, his career, and pastoring a church on the side has taken a toll on us. We are broken, and I feel as if nothing can fix us.

Religion says God will fix us, but the Bible says I am arrogant and stubborn and must let go of my anger.

Religion says God will make me feel better, but the Bible says I need to humble myself and ask Bryan to forgive me.

Religion says I deserve to be happy, but the Bible says we are children of grace who have been given a new voice to praise the Most High God.

I am nobody. I am a lump of clay who shakes her fist at the potter.

I’m tired. I give up. I will let go of my resolve and listen for the Still Voice to whisper again to me – I hope I can remember what He sounds like.


My two year old daughter loves to help me. For instance, yesterday morning I was pulling weeds in the garden when she came up behind me with a pair of my gardening gloves on, and began pulling up the alyssum in the garden’s border.

“Help!” She kept saying over and over again, as she struggled to grab something through the huge gloves with her tiny fingers.

Normally I would’ve thought that to be so adorable, but I was nine months pregnant at the time and was simply trying to feel like I was accomplishing something in order to satisfy a ferocious nesting urge that my large and off-balance body was not cooperating with. In short, my patience was thin.

I tried to distract her with a broom, asking her to “help” mamma by sweeping the walkway, but she was only interested in the broom when I was the one sweeping with it.

I have to admit I do feel a twinge of guilt for being so irritated with her for wanting to “help” me with everything. After all, when we first saw the ultrasound and learned Ruthie was a girl, all I could think of were the many ways I would be able to teach and disciple my daughter to be a godly woman, a hard-working woman, a woman capable of making her home warm and hospitable.

From the very beginning Ruthie has been an observer and a clean freak. She has her own set of wash cloths now so she can clean off her own booster seat tray. When she spills water from her cup she runs to the kitchen to find a towel and wipes up her mess. When she finds discarded mail or scraps of paper on the floor she picks them up and carries them to the trash can in the kitchen, and just the other day she placed a stray section of the newspaper in the recycling basket.

Bryan calls her obsessive compulsive. I think she’s brilliant.

I know this is cliché mom-speak, but I am terrified at how much of my behavior she mimics. She pays attention to what I do and learns from me. When I lose my patience and am harsh with her, the sad look on her face breaks my heart. Her sad little face is God’s conviction for me, my conscience.

“Mamma was wrong to react that way, Ruthie,” I said at one point yesterday. “I’m sorry.”

Ruthie looked me in the eye, then leaned forward and gave me a hug, and I knew she understood.

And that was profound to me.


Before we decided to not hire a contractor to remodel our basement, we actually did hire the tall and loud contractor team that was in our home the night I found out Gordy had cancer. He was supposed to draw up the plans, submit them to the city for permitting, and get started on the project within a few weeks.

What I learned, and what I’m sure everyone who has undertaken a remodeling project has learned, is that these things never go as planned.

I bought a plane ticket on a Friday to leave for Minnesota that Sunday afternoon in May – Mother’s Day 2004. I took Ruthie with me but didn’t get her a seat, hoping she would sleep in my arms, which she did – for about half an hour.

I think that was the longest flight in my life for more than one reason.

Gordy was in round two of his six rounds of chemotherapy. My visit coincided with the “good” week of the three-week cycle. Since his cancer treatment began, the concept of a “good” week or a “good” day has taken on a new meaning for me.

Gordy’s hair began to fall out while I was there. Not that any of us are insensitive enough to care that he is bald, but the hair loss is a visual reminder of the illness. Once you see his bare head you know, you are reminded — even if he is having a “good” strong day where he seems to be his old self – the illness can’t be ignored.

I was very grateful for that visit, for that window into the early days of his fight against the imperfection and unfairness of our corrupt life on Earth. It made me think a lot about Adam and Eve and the blissful life they led, naked in the garden. How nice that would be today.

Back then, in May 2004, my mom was very optimistic about the future. I wanted to be optimistic, but something inside me left me heavy and foreboding. I hated the waiting, the wondering, the questions left unanswered. It drove me crazy that The Doctors didn’t give percentages or prognoses, that they didn’t say, “If you do X, the outcome will be Y.

I felt like that’s all we did that summer – waited. Six times, over the course of four and a half months, for three days in a row each time, nurses would inject powerful chemicals into Gordy’s veins.

And we would wait.

And we waited all summer, wondering what would happen.

I called home several times during that visit. The contractors were supposed to start their work while I was away, but we had heard nothing from them in over a week. I began to worry that he was flaking on us, and was grateful we hadn’t given him any money yet. Bryan sent a terse email requesting that he update us on the project, and he finally responded. He was waiting on word from the city regarding the permits, and would get started as soon as those came in.

So we waited for that as well.

The words of Psalm 40 came to mind: “I waited patiently for the Lord, he turned to me and heard my cry.” I wondered what it looked like to wait patiently, and what it looked like for God to hear my cry. Would the bad things go away? Or would I just feel comforted in the midst of the bad things? And was I wrong to feel that being comforted was worse than being delivered?

I was not afraid to ask these questions of God. But like The Doctors, God does not always give percentages or if/then statements.

I felt comforted then, and continue to feel comforted. And now it seems that deliverance by my definition is not to come. But I do not feel wronged by God, only that I am to continue to wait, and that he continues to hear my cry.

Although I’m still not sure what that looks like.

Flashback to April

I had a team of contractors in my house when I found out the spot on Gordy’s lung was cancer. They were tall and loud and made my house seem small, but they liked my dog and thought my daughter was cute so we started off splendidly.

I don’t think I ever suspected the spot would be cancer. Perhaps it was denial, or maybe I didn’t let myself worry until there was something to worry about, or maybe it was denial. It seems that no matter how well you know the Capital T Truth of who God is and how he operates, one still has a tendency to believe good people will go through life relatively unscathed. Maybe that’s why Christ commands in Matt 5 for us to love our enemies, because the rain falls on both the righteous and the wicked.

You’d think after 33 years on this earth I would clue in to the weather patterns of God. It’s not like the Zoloft commercials on TV where the rain cloud follows the individual blob around while the rest of the blobs are having a great time sipping cocktails. No, in God’s weather patterns wicked people can be successful and righteous people can struggle.

This concept never really bothered me much until a family member was caught up in a hurricane. Then it kind of pissed me off. Then it kind of worried me that it pissed me off so much. Then I became less pissed and more trusting of Things I Don’t Understand. Then I began to feel a Star Wars-like force field around my thoughts because that pissed-off thing never happened again.

I remember that the most frequently asked questions I had during those first weeks were “Why?” and “What does that mean?” The first question I continually asked of God. The second was usually in response to my mom’s report on the latest CAT scan or visit to Dr. Duane. The second question usually implied — at least in my mind — secondary questions such as “What will make this go away?”

If only it were that easy.

The tall and loud contractors left my house, finally, but we never hired them even though they liked my dog and thought my daughter was cute. In fact, we decided to not hire a contractor at all, but have the work completed as smaller, more manageable task projects. It will be a labor of love requiring patience, and a lot of tolerance for Things Left Undone.

How appropriate.