The Words Every Child Wants to Hear

I did something foolish last week. I took my children, aged 3 months, two and four to a museum–during Christmas break. Every other child, parent and grandparent apparently thought the museum sounded like an excellent idea as well.

Not good listeners even on a good day, my two littles sprinted in opposite directions, dodging through narrow spaces, behind strollers and slow walkers as if in a race to disappear the fastest. On high alert, I won the game even with a baby snuggled into my chest: not a single child was lost even for a second.

But each child at some point in the day looked up from playing, didn’t see me and began to panic, tears welling up in their eyes, little heads darting side to side, scanning the crowd for mommy. But as soon as they’d start to lose it, I’d creep through the crowd and touch them, “I’m here,” I’d say. “Don’t worry, I’ve been right here all along.” And back to playing they would go.

***

Can I be honest with you? 2016 was a difficult year for me. We moved from Chicago to Colorado early in 2015 and visited 12 churches in 18 months, unable to settle into the right community. I got pregnant with baby number three a year after moving and found myself buried in sadness, exhaustion and despair. Most people know about post-partum depression, but I had never heard of being depressed while pregnant.

The endless 90 degree days of summer beat me down so most afternoons I was grateful for TV to entertain my children. Usually a healthy person and an optimist, I didn’t recognize this woman sprawled out on the bathroom floor next to the pile of tissues or the woman who would jump into a car on a Saturday afternoon just to speed through the canyon alone in an effort to stop the numbness.

So this week as I moved on from my December tradition of mulling over the Christmas story, I wandered with John the Baptist and Jesus back into the wilderness again. In the pre-dawn light of a dried-up Christmas tree, top-loaded with ornaments because my children picked them off one by one (whose great idea was it to put untouchable toys on a tree, anyway?), I pulled the baby close and opened to the book of Luke.

Jesus pushes through the crowds and steps into the water. As he prays, heaven cracks open and an ordinary snow white dove, the Holy Spirit in bodily form, lands on Jesus. A Voice booms from heaven. The words I read next slam into my soul.

At this point in the story, I glance up at my children who have just come in with their bedhead, footy PJ’s, sippy cups of milk and glistening noses. Their 24-minute show has ended and they are shrieking, wanting breakfast. My infant son has finally drifted off to sleep again at my breast as I precariously balance Bible, journal, pen and coffee mug on the edge of the couch. My husband herds the hungry ones into the kitchen and I wink at him, grateful for another five minutes to read. I reread the words.

“You are my beloved Son, in you I am well-pleased.”

I remember my children at the museum, terrified they were lost. And I think about myself four months ago, wandering in the fog. Like a small child playing hide-and-seek, I thought that in closing my eyes I couldn’t be seen. I imagine God speaking now, his fire igniting my deadened soul. “You are my beloved daughter, Leslie. In you I am well-pleased.”

God did not say to Jesus, “I am pleased with you because you have a high calling, are perfect or are destined for greatness.” He did not point to His miraculous powers, authoritative words or usefulness to Him. Instead, God tapped His shoulder, saying, “I’m here—the Holy Spirit in the form of a plain old dove. I won’t leave. You are my beloved and I am pleased with you.”

Are there any other words a child would rather hear from her parent?

You are beloved.

I am pleased with you.

God is with me—loving me–even when I feel alone and undeserving. I had a dream once where I was lost in a crowded building. Suddenly a strong hand grasped mine, leading me out and away to safety. Single at the time, I knew I wasn’t just yearning for a lover or companion, I knew that hand belonged to God Himself. Every time I try to run away from God, I find I can’t. He is magnetic, drawing me back, compelling me to face Him once again.

Even when I lose my way, He never loses sight of me. Even as I put my head down, absorbed in menial tasks, hobbies or even guilty pleasures, He sees me. He waits for me to look up and notice His adoring gaze, just as we watch our earthly children at play. And sometimes we don’t look up at all. That’s when he comes to us, and gently gives our shoulder a tap.

As we begin 2017, know these words spoken over Jesus are meant for you, too. If we are children of God, then we are clothed with Christ, gifted with fire and Spirit

You are beloved. You are cherished. You are adored.

As a mama who is often frustrated, ungrateful and annoyed by my role, I also pray these words will set me ablaze with greater love for my children. I pray my kids won’t remember harsh words, minutes squandered hiding behind my phone or less-than-attentive responses, but that one day they’ll be able to say:

“My mom? Oh, she adored me. And she sparkled with life because she belonged to Jesus.”

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