I heard the crash and pieces skittering across the floor. I came unglued. Our son’s little hands and my favorite snack bowls shared a propellant chemistry. Dish duty produced frequent launches and the tile floors were merciless. We were down to half the supply packed in from the states, half of the comfort routine I had banked on.
I yelled. A lot. I was wrong.
It was my illusion of control that was breaking. Control over my surroundings and control over myself. A missionary momma fresh on the ground, there was so much I didn’t know how to do. It scared me. My fear of failure actually fueled my worst failures. Pieces of my son’s heart went in the trash with the shards of bright plastic.
Time always brought me back to, “I love you. Please forgive me.” He always did.
Cross-cultural living is a great place to learn humility. Over and over I got it wrong, and in my repentance little arms would encircle me again. Forgiveness is a gift beyond price.
At some point I realized the truth: they were all going to break. I had to find a new source. Not just for bowls, but also for peace.
I couldn’t base my sense of security on my family’s perfection. We were often good, but none of us were ever perfect. I couldn’t support it with my ability to do life, because I had to learn everything from scratch in this new place. I couldn’t put it on my stuff: things + time = wreckage.
We came to this country to live out God’s love; the one he rescued first was me. I began to see myself without the filters of know-how. Who I was when I expected perfection was the exact opposite of who I wanted to be. I admitted it. I took the full weight of my significance off of myself, my husband, and my kids, and put it–imperfectly–into the Father’s hands.
Five years later, I’m still learning to live this out, but we share a new dance, my son and I: who can quip the best joke. High compliments are paid for well-timed song lyrics or movie lines. Insects fascinate him, so we call out to each other when interesting characters show up. He teaches me all about their details. Together we admire the special features God gave them, and I encourage the ones God gave him.
There is always new ground to surrender.
The other day my daughter helped out and spearheaded the week’s laundry. In the process, bleach dripped on our colored sheets. I caught my breath at the sad splotches. Disappointed, yes, but not distraught. In place of explosions, I spoke a wise friend’s motto: people are more important than things.
I have a new source.
My guess is, if you breathe, then sometimes you blow it. Here are 5 steps that help me to begin making it right.
Admit fault. To cash a check, we have to fill in the amount. Being specific about what we did wrong starts the bill pay process to forgive a debt. I’m sorry. I used harsh words and was unloving to you.
Explain what we will do differently going forward. Model making better choices and the value we place on the person. Next time I will speak calmly and help you clean up.
Ask forgiveness. Honor others by giving them the choice and time to consider it. Will you forgive me?
Hug it out. Love expressed through healthy touch can restore heart closeness. Ask to hold hands, give a soft pat to the arm, or embrace to knit back together. When I scuffle with my husband, the litmus test for breakthrough is being able to hold each other again. There’s no rush or pressure here, just a goal to pursue healing until the relationship is restored.
Give positive encouragement. Set up for success by validating the good effort of others. What is rewarded will be repeated. This has been a game changer for our family. Thank you for drying all those dishes. I really appreciate your help. You are a great part of this team.
I would love to share a prayer for infinite patience, but that would just be another form of the perfectionism I have to renounce daily.
This is a constant process in me. Simply getting my crew out the door can still trigger impatience. After barking us into the car the other day, I apologized, discouraged at how often I mess up. Then inspiration hit. Dave-Letterman-style, I announced 10 great things my child did that week. Each one lit his face a little more, until we were both back to bouncy.
When mishaps make breakage, forgiveness frees us from having to be perfect. When you accidentally blow holes in the landscape, use them to plant something beautiful.
Do you struggle with expectations for yourself or others? What sets you free?