Saturday, April 05, 2014

The time I cried in Starbucks

Yesterday, in one of those short windows of time where you can't do anything productive so you take the kids to Starbucks to kill time, I had a parenting moment. The kind that makes you know that you know that this is all worth it, the kind where in the midst of the daily grind, your purpose as a mom gets recalibrated and your eyes get opened to all sorts of things you'd been missing.

My daughter, who was drinking chocolate milk, and who is 11, and who this year began the dreaded zone of life called Middle School, and who almost never opens up, said the following:

daughter: Mom, there is this one girl in my math class that NObody likes. Actually people are sort of afraid of her. And she did a crazy thing which was shave off her eyebrows. (She's furrowing her brow, and I know she's asking questions by these statements, trying to make sense of this.)

me: Do you think people are afraid of her because she's different?

daughter: Yeah...and she's like, not that nice either. She can be rude.

me: Let's think of reasons why she might be so different and have that kind of attitude.

daughter: Because she isn't very loved by her parents? (I think, bingo. She gets that kids aren't this way for no reason.)

me: Yep, that could be one reason. Everybody needs to be loved and wants to be loved. That's why most people your age are trying SO HARD to be the same as everyone else. To fit in. She doesn't feel the same, she knows she doesn't fit in, and so she wants to make sure everyone knows she is different. Do kids talk about her a lot?

daughter: Yeah! (she's surprised I know this)

me: This happens in all ages, grown up girls too. It's because girls really struggle with comparing themselves with others and feeling confident in who God made them to be. It's hard when other girls gossip about kids who are different.

daughter: Yeah! And I feel weird about that...I mean, I want to do something, but I don't know what.

son, chiming in: Well do you think if you tried to be nice to her, your other friends would stop liking you?

daughter: Yeah...I'm pretty sure they would.

me: (saying nothing, because they haven't yet noticed I'm beginning to be overcome with emotion.)

And this is when I laughed at myself, because I was crying in Starbucks. Because my girl who doesn't say much and often would choose to read a book alone than be in a crowd of people, sees that different girl who shaved off her eyebrows in 6th grade. Really sees her, and feels uncomfortable by the gossip. I was in awe of her little 11-year old heart, and I knew it has been formed by God. I knew I could take no credit for this.

The kids started to look at me like I was crazy, by the way, crying in Starbucks. And so I had to go into this whole explanation. I blubbered out, "I am just so proud of you."

So many thoughts were going on in my head, and I didn't share all of them. I couldn't keep myself collected, for instance, if I unfurled my deep awareness that I know I'm NOT that girl, the one who sees the different girl. I am the one who feels awkward and afraid of extreme difference and doesn't know what to say. I'm ashamed of that. And I'm the one who, in my flesh and my ignorance, wants my daughter to be more a part of the crowd, to bond with the general populace, to engage in meaningless chit chat over the lunch table like a typical tween. But she doesn't. And I worry that she'll be standing there alone when the beehive of girls decides to buzz on to the next activity. I'm ashamed of that too, that wanting her to be different and...safer. 

And so all I could sniffle out was, "I am just so proud of you. God has given you this amazing gift of compassion! That is so rare, especially at your age. Most people are afraid of those who are different. But it is a special gift to be able to see those who are different and long to show them love! You are seeing her like Jesus does." Sniff sniff.

And then I told them about this memory.

When my daughter first went to 2-morning a week preschool, when she was 3 years old, I wanted her to connect with the other girls in class. It was her first exposure to regular socialization, after all. I wanted her to "succeed" at it. One day at drop off, I brought her a bit early. In the class, there was a large box of dress-up things to which all the other girls flocked every morning to be the first one to pull the cheap Cinderella polyester over her head. I prodded my girl to join in; after all, she loved dressing up at home. But she would not go join in. She stood still. Alone. Staring. I felt increasingly uncomfortable,  projecting that onto my 3 year old, so I prodded more, my anxiety rising that she wouldn't be a part of the princess crowd.

But little did I know she was taking everything in. Most of the class was little girls, currently fighting over the plastic click-clack shoes, but my daughter was seeing the one blond haired boy, off to the side looking unsure and afraid. After a time, she walked straight to the dress up box, grabbed a cowboy hat, walked over to the boy, and extended it to him without saying a word.

I will never forget that. No one saw that boy but she. No one felt inclined to include him or take notice of him. While all the other girls were living examples of the survival of the fittest concept, my girl showed mercy to the one on the outskirts. And still, to this day, I can hardly wrap my mind around her actions because I am not that girl. She is. And seeing it again, yesterday, made me weep.

Because I'm not that girl, and I don't have her gift, I couldn't offer much advice on how to reach out to the eyebrow-less girl in math class. But I could offer her the Wonderful Counselor. I said:

me: Ya know, God knows whether or not you should reach out to her. I don't know if you are supposed to, but it seems He's put the desire and a lot of compassion in your heart for her. So if I were you, I'd pray and ask Him for an opportunity to talk to her if He wants you to. And if He doesn't want to use you in that way, maybe that chance will never come up. But I DO know this. You can't base your choice on what your other friends may think of you. If they did stop being your friend, then you don't want that kind of friend. And there is a possibility that they may even learn from you. What if your other friends thought, "Wow. I wish I was brave like that." What if they admire you for it, and what if they feel encouraged to be more loving to others too? At least your Christian friends will hopefully understand.

Hopefully. Why is this so hard? This loving those on the outskirts? Why does it involve so much fear and strategizing? The only answer I can come up with is sin. We are all broken and can barely love the lovable well, much less those who are hard to love. As I've said, this stuff is hard for me, a grown up. I can't imagine how hard loving the unlovable is for the typical, crazy-insecure, still-developing middle schooler. But Jesus makes all things possible, and I truly believe that. Seriously, WHAT would we do without Him? He raises up His people to see the injured ones on the outskirts, to love them and embrace them like He does. My daughter may be called to be His hands and feet to the girl in math class. That is no small deal.

I hope this story isn't over. I hope there will be a Part 2. But if not, the conversation between my kids and I was an epic one. Perhaps the most valuable take away is that I learned more about my daughter's heart, her gift of seeing the unseen. I am aware that God in His grace is humbling me, weaning me off of wishing she'd be more engaged with the princess crowd. God in His grace is reminding me I have a lot to learn from my kids. And God in His grace is reminding me that my kids are His. He has knit them together. He has gifted them for purposes I cannot fathom. That goes for the Cinderellas, the odd girls in math class, and everyone in between.

Would I trade that divine handiwork knit into my girl just so she might be a look-alike with some other type of kid, might have more friends, or be more accepted?

Never in a million years. God knows what He's doing in my kids' lives. And I hope, desperately, that as a mother, I don't stand in His way.



  1. I love this, Leslie.
    I have conversations like these with my children often. Especially with my older two now that they are in traditional high school and no longer home schooling. I think about how I have prayed for years that God would "make them the work of His hands." I'm so glad He has. I'm relieved they're not the work of mine! :)

    "God in His grace is reminding me I have a lot to learn from my kids. And God in His grace is reminding me that my kids are His. He has knit them together. He has gifted them for purposes I cannot fathom."

    Yes. Yes He is.

    Praying for your daughter's classmate to come to know the LORD as her God and love and Life and Hope in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen!

  2. Leslie, What a joy to find your blog! I love your writing style and this post really struck a chord with me. My daughter is 10 and we have had some similar conversations. So much opportunity in times as these ... opportunity to keep teaching, opportunity for growth and an opportunity to look back with gratitude and know a difference has been made in more than one life because of the life you are nurturing.

  3. Oh man, this is killer. So beautiful, the pure hearts of these kiddos.
    I have no doubt they will change the world. They feel and see and know Jesus so differently, with so much simple purity.
    And it shows!
    That's what I always wish - to not be in such a rush to "grow my kids up" that I let them miss a single moment of THIS.

  4. What a treasured conversation! I feel like God teaches me so many things through the way my kids see the world. It's a challenging blessing. Praying your sweet girl grows in her ability to see and love people.

  5. oh my! this post....THIS is meat! your words are so wise. i truly am speechless, ...i had to sit here and just soak that in. totally worth crying in starbucks for.