It starts with a load of laundry.
Don’t the most profound conversations usually begin with the mundane?
I’ve been feverish for two days and my nerves are as raw as my throat. I’ve done zero laundry all week, and I know I must do one load today or else we will have no underwear left in our drawers. But the Sweet Pea, our first-born daughter, has her laundry in the dryer.
“Please,” I rasp from the couch, “please, will you go downstairs and put away your laundry?” She makes excuses, tells me why this won’t be possible. I close my eyes, try to find some words of patience written on the inside of my eyelids, massage my throbbing forehead.
“This is not obedience. Please, just do what I asked you to do?” The excuses come louder and faster. My eyes fly open, no longer searching for patient words. “Just. Do. It. Please.” If I could have yelled, I would have. As it was, my words were an emphatic, hoarse whisper. Her eyes flood and she heads down to get her laundry.
On her way back through she bumps her knuckles into the doorframe, loses all control, begins sobbing. I know the tears aren’t about her sore fingers. I know they aren’t even about the laundry. I know what they’re about, but probing around in that wounded area of her heart scares the pants off of me. I don’t want to go there. I cry, too.
The family that God placed me in for my formative years was not especially affectionate. My mom and dad loved me in the best way they could. They were broken, wounded people, just like the rest of us, and I longed for things from them that they simply weren’t able to give me–long hugs, cuddles on their laps, snuggles and nightly tuck-ins.
This is my inheritance from my family of origin–I don’t know how to show my daughter that I love her.
I force myself to follow her into her bedroom. We talk about the laundry, being obedient, why I needed her to do what I asked her to do. I ask her, “Is there anything else you want to say?” She looks away, pauses long. Then shakes her head. I really want to accept that, and be done. But I press on.
“Are you sure? You look like you’re thinking about something. I want to know what you’re thinking about. Will you share it with me?” Another shake of the head.
I pause. “Are you afraid I’ll be angry?” Her eyes fill and she nods. Oh dear. I recognize this landscape. I’m there–in that place where I didn’t want to go. Poking around in that sore spot in her heart. I think long, make sure I can promise what I’m about to say. “I won’t be angry. I want to know what you’re thinking. Share it with me? Please?”
She sighs, covers her mouth with her hands, looks away, wanting to say it, but afraid to be heard.
“Sometimes, I feel like you don’t love me.”
My heart is pierced. Even though I knew those words were coming–saw them coming a long time ago–I am still caught unprepared. How do I respond to that? How do I convince her that she is my first-born daughter, flesh grown from my flesh, life nourished from my own life and that I could do nothing but love her?
Why is this living and loving so messy? Why is it that we love people, and yet they still don’t know that we love them–can go a lifetime without ever knowing that they are loved?
I share with her some of what it was like for me as a little girl, and some of why it’s hard for me to love her like she wants to be loved. I think she understands as much as she is able to. And we agree on some ways to grow, in order to understand each other better. I agree to make an effort to speak more in ways that she can understand, and she agrees to make an effort to listen differently.
I tell her that I’m not perfect. But that I’ll try.
I want to tell her that just as I’m not perfect, there is One who is. I want to tell her that His perfect love, is the only perfect love she’ll ever know. The rest of us just do our best to paint a cheap imitation of it. I want to tell her these things, almost tell her these things, but stop myself. We’ve been talking so long. There are two younger brothers wrestling in the bathroom with loaded toothbrushes. And there’s a baby at the breakfast table throwing oatmeal on the floor and screaming to be let down. It’s not a good time to open up such a precious conversation.
Somehow, though, I’m sure we’re going to have lots more opportunities to talk about my imperfections. And so I tuck it into my backpocket for future discussion.
I’ve always heard that anything worth doing is worth doing well. For much of life I believed it. I lived it. Actually, my mantra went more like “Anything worth doing is worth doing perfectly”.
But I’m learning another way. I’m learning that anything worth doing is worth doing imperfectly. Motherhood. Loving people. Growing and learning. Talking with your daughter. If it’s worthwhile, then it must be worth doing in any way possible–knowing that I’m going to screw it up, that I will miss opportunities, that I will hurt people and be misunderstood. That I will botch conversations, and end them too early. But at least I did it. And, by God’s grace, can try again tomorrow.
And in my imperfections I can point to the One who does things perfectly, because He is perfect.
On the day that these events and conversation unfold, I read this post from Ann–words just for me.
“God appoints people who do disappoint–to point to a God who never disappoints.”
It is the love note that I’m carrying around in my pocket–waiting to unfold it and read it to my daughter’s hungry heart.