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The God of Future Grace

The five of us walk confidently into the sanctuary.

After a week of practicing how to get the family somewhere early (hint: Vacation Bible School), we’ve made it on time. Even with Daddy out of town.

I stand for worship and Drummer boy climbs onto the chair so that his head is even with mine and his body fits into my left arm.  On my right Jellybean moves into the other open arm and Mookie, left with no side to take, grabs my hand instead.

“He is wonderful, He is glorious,
Clothed in righteousness, full of tenderness.”

Voices of all ages join together and my heart lands on the word tenderness.  I think back to the times that I’ve raised my voice (code phrase for yelled) or been impatient with the bickering this past week and again I feel the warm bodies pressed in from all directions. I’m in awe and thankful that they still desire to be with me much less really be with me skin and heart and all.

I begin to think of a nice blog post about God’s tenderness and mercy.

I also compose a few pretend conversations in my head that might occur after the service.

“What a sweet picture your family was this morning,” a friend behind us might lean forward and comment.

I’ll look surprised and moved, “We’ve had a quite a week, too.  Isn’t God merciful?”

(You might have noticed that I’ve paused in my worship.)

I’m a few sentences into my mental blog draft when I notice that my son has his finger in his nose with the hand that’s not holding me in a sweet hug.

“Joshua, don’t do that,” I whisper.

“I have to.”

“No you don’t.”

“I need a kleenex.”

I disengage from the girls embraces and we leave the front row and head down the long aisle, a rather tight smile issuing from my face as we see familiar faces in the pews.

He arms himself with toilet paper and we return to the front row, the return trip doesn’t require smiling because we only see the backsides of heads.

We take up our stance for worship and I look for some more words in the music that might remind of that tenderness I was so keen on a few minutes ago.

I’m distracted by the familiar nose-picking gesture, enhanced now with a long trail of toilet paper across my sons lap.  Every few minutes he removes it from his nose and looks at the excavation.

For my son’s sake, I should mention here that I forgot to give him his allergy medication before leaving the house and he has a very legitimate itchy, runny nose and a six year old amount of self-control.

The girls have noticed their brother’s particular struggle and they’ve created a distance between our side and their side. Snuggle time is over.

I’m absolutely sure that at least three families have a good view of the nose cleaning party so I try strategy number 1.

Distraction.

“Color in your sketch book, it will make the time go faster I promise,” I conjole.

He grunts a “no” and I pick up the sketchbook myself, thinking I’ll draw something that will lure him into my plan.

After a brief sketch time, I hand him the markers and pencil to fill in my design.

He hands them back to me and gestures for me to do my own coloring.

By this time the pastor is exhorting the congregation from the book of Luke but the name of the book is all I’ve gotten so far. Which makes me angrier because don’t I deserve to have a few minutes to hear this passage thank you very much.

“I need more toilet paper.”

We leave the front row again and I feel the eyes (I say feel, because I’m looking at the floor this time, not at faces) of criticism follow us down the length of the pew.

We return and I make a desperate grab for the bulletin, looking for the scripture and notes for the day.  The runny, itchy nose has moved into tremors down the boy’s arms and legs and he’s intermittedly flopping across my lap like a dead fish or putting toilet paper in his nose.

Thoughts from the mom’s behind me float forward as clear as if they’re appearing in print on my sermon notes.

“You shouldn’t have sat on the front row.  You’re family is so distracting.”

“Why doesn’t your son have better manners about his nose?”

“What a sweet, sweet picture,” one mom thinks, as she looks past us to the very composed family on our left.

Seeing that distraction is a fool’s game, I move on to quiet threats.

“If you don’t get that out of your nose and settled down you will not be going to your class when this is over,”

I whisper fiercely, knowing how much he loves his teachers, even as my hand gently rubs his arm to demonstrate that I’m a loving mom.

These scenarios repeat like a scratched cd until finally it’s time to past the collection plates and sing one last song.

I remember the touching blog about God’s tenderness that remains saved in my head from forty-five minutes ago.  Something like laughter, but not the funny kind, slips from my throat.  Not even a few minutes of peace in church, I rant inwardly.

I’m weighted down with condemnation and snotty toilet paper.  What happened to God’s tenderness and mercy that I wanted to give thanks for less than an hour ago?  Where is it now? This doesn’t feel merciful at all.

(Mercifully) I realize that I’ve been experiencing self-condemnation not God’s condemnation.  Even if some of the thoughts I imagined from other Mamas are real, that’s still not condemnation from the Lord.  I imagine running into Jesus as we exit the sanctuary and realize He’s already meeting me with mercy and grace.

Looking ahead to the rest of the day (day 3 of temporary single parenting), I see future acts of sin (mine and the kids) and future acts of grace (the Lord’s first and hopefully mine soon to follow).

“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Psalm 86: 15

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