An Invitation to Color Outside of the Lines (Hope for Try-Hard-Moms)
Her disgruntled wail rose over the clank and rattle of the cereal bowl I’d just dropped on the floor in my attempt to carry all of the breakfast dishes from table to sink in one swoop.
Maggie had agreed to color a picture for Grandma while I mopped up milk splats and recovered the kitchen from another round of morning mania. But the sound of her little fists pounding angry on the desktop prompted me to abandon the dirty dishes and head to the adjacent room to investigate the problem.
When I reached her side, my littlest girl’s face was a sweaty shade of crimson, her hand held hostage by a wad of transparent tape tangles that had somehow wrapped themselves around her purple crayon and the fingers that gripped it. Her coloring page lay in a sad crumple on the floor. Her blue eyes fumed with tears of frustration.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked as I bent low to retrieve her half-finished picture.
“I can’t do it!” Maggie groused.
“Do what?” I inquired, reaching for the scissors to carefully snip those sticky shackles off of her fingers.
“Make the picture perfect,” my preschooler said as she waved her unleashed crayon in the air.
“Let me see,” I murmured, dropping my voice to a low calm to offset Maggie’s dramatic squeals.
I laid the coloring sheet on the scratched-up desktop and began to smooth its crinkled edges with my palm. The kitty on the page looked like it had been caught in a crossfire. Tiny holes dotted the page beneath the wayward streaks of color.
“See?” Maggie said with an exasperated sigh. “I can’t color in the lines. And the harder I try, the more holes I keep making!”
She swatted my hands off the picture and clutched her purple crayon in a white-knuckled press. Her brows furrowed as she positioned her hand over the page and tried to fill the remaining sliver of white space on the kitty’s tail with a purple smear. I could see the concentration etched across her wrinkled forehead, could feel her toiled trying in my own neck as I watched her slender shoulders grow taut with each squiggly stroke.
As she’d predicted, Maggie’s stiff scribbles ripped the thin paper. With one more wail and gritted teeth, Maggie rubbed the purple crayon furiously over the new puncture in a hopeless attempt to disguise the rip with an extra layer of waxy purple. But the more firmly my daughter pressed that plum Crayola upon the paper, the more the coloring page tore beneath the weight of her efforts.
My four-year-old stared at her picture with disappointment, then turned to me and quietly proclaimed herself a failure. “I’m not a good artist, I guess. I just
can’t make anything beautiful.”
My skin bristled at her erroneous declaration. This is my child who chalks gorgeous flowers on the driveway and paints remarkable rainbows on paper palettes; the one who sculpts gourmet cakes from play doh and designs doll clothes from scraggly scraps of fabric. This child, like her big sisters, is an artist to the core. She sees colors in the sky that I fail to notice and spies sketches in the clouds that I overlook.
She just doesn’t know yet that the beauty of her gifts are not meant to be measured between the lines.
And as her shoulders slumped in discouragement and she flopped herself sad upon the floor once again, I saw myself in her weary surrender.
There, in my four-year-old’s furrowed brow, I saw the me who had once believed that a good mom lives within a set of invisible lines.
A good mom keeps a clean house, makes homemade cookies and boasts well-behaved children.
A good mom loves to dress those tiny little Polly Pockets and crawl around on all fours pushing Hotwheels across the carpet.
A good mom delights in rocking her babies even in the midnight hour, and listens carefully to her first-grader’s rambling tales.
A good mom arrives everywhere on time, makes smoothies with flax seed, bakes bread from scratch, and only uses candy to teach math facts (not to bribe grumpy toddlers).
A good mom is wise enough to know what to do when her child cries over dying babies in Africa or refuses to eat anything green or announces that he’d rather go to jail than go to kindergarten.
I don’t know from where all those unspoken lines of motherhood had come–well meaning parenting books and fabulous Facebook posts, my own unrealistic expectations and my twisted good-girl gospel- but for a decade those lines were the paragons of perfection that guided my exhausted efforts day by day.
The problem was this: my life just kept spilling outside of the lines.
I was certain that a good mom never lay in bed at night and wondered if she was ruining her children. (But sometimes I did).
And surely a good mom didn’t drop her pony-tailed girl at the wrong soccer field on the wrong day for the last game of the season or forget to pack her kindergartener’s sack lunch on the day of the school picnic. (But I was guilty of both).
And I was convinced that a good mom never left the house with dirty-faced-children or fished her toddler off of a cushion of frozen peas in the grocery store because he’d decided to dive into the deep freeze. (But I could add those proud moments to my mom-resume, too.)
Living within the lines had been easier without children, but motherhood made image-management impossible.
Like my daughter frantically trying to fix the holes in that ripped up coloring page, I lived a try-hard life, doing my best to cover up my holes, pouring my energy into those must-do’s between the lines.
But the harder I tried, the more my soul ripped.
The more I strived to disguise my flaws, the more flawed my understanding of God became.
Plain and simple, I wasn’t capable of making my life beautiful. That was God’s job.
While I scribbled out my best attempts at the good-mom life, my Savior just stood by waiting to sketch His dreams upon my ripped-up soul; dreams that weren’t limited to lines of perfection or hues of human expectation. Dreams that lived within the borders of love.
I’m not sure what finally drove me to surrender my crayon after a decade of try-hard motherhood.
Maybe I just grew too tired to cover up my holes. Maybe it was because baby number five kicked in my womb and I didn’t have the strength to stay within those lines of perfection any more.
But whatever it was that pushed me to the end of myself, it was these words penned by another flawed and passionate follower of Jesus that brought me to the beginning of a whole new life. A life filled with beautiful tints of trust and shimmering shades of joy:
“My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
I remember reading that verse one morning while my toddler built a Lego tower at my feet in the dark before dawn and wondering if it could possibly be true. If God’s grace is really enough.
And on that particular morning, I decided I’d risk it all and believe it is.
I would lay down my crayon, my best-efforts to stay within the lines, and I would choose to believe that the Painter of the morning sunrise could create something beautiful in me, too. Despite my holes.
I’m not sure why on that day I finally decided to stop trying and start trusting. But I’m glad I did.
Because that was the day I traded my flawed efforts for His faultless grace.
That was the day I lifted my eyes off of my own weakness and began to celebrate my Savior’s strength.
That was the day I began to truly enjoy motherhood, to find joy in the mess and laughter in the mayhem.
And when I stopped trying so hard to create my own masterpiece, when I stopped obsessing over my gaps and started offering my meager life for His glory, I finally discovered that He is EVERYTHING for which I’d been tirelessly striving. Confidence. Joy. Hope. Value.
“The gospel strips us down to nothing but builds our hope in a secure, restless, passionate god who loves us and saved us in spite of our messed-up selves. And then He uses those wrecked places to show His glory… Our value comes from God: it can never be found in how we measure up. So whether you feel worthy or ashamed, this news should probably undo you. It is the character of God that gives us worth, not anything we have done or will do.” -Jennie Allen, Chase
Maggie was still crying over all those holes in her coloring page, so I tipped her chin and asked her to watch as I held that punctured picture up to the window.
Bright morning sunbeams were cascading through the glass, streaming right through those holes in the paper and casting a glorious rainbow of light upon the carpet at our feet.
Maggie grew quiet and stared at those beautiful shimmers on the floor.
Then she clapped her hands and handed me something small and purple. “I don’t need my crayon anymore, Mommy. I like my picture just like that.”
And we stood at the window together, watching glory stream through all those gaps.
(photo credits: www.mycutegraphics.com and clicker.com)
linking with Jen at Rich Faith Rising,Jennifer for Tell His Story, Beth for Wedded Wednesdays and Jen for soli deo gloria