Brown paper covered the tables in place of a fancy tablecloth, while the head of a deer with over-sized antlers hung above our table in place of class. In place of a vase sat a cup of broken crayons, which came in handy when sometime after the drinks were served, I scribbled, “Help!” The six of us squeezed shoulder to shoulder into a booth that comfortably sits four. Each time a waiter rushed by, our jackets swung back and forth on the horseshoe from which they hung, like a pendulum thumping the back of my head. Trapped in a coo-coo clock, I waited for the hour to end.
I began reflecting on the days before kids, when tablecloths were white and dinner conversation didn’t consist of, “Oh honey, Nathaniel hasn’t been wiping again, and since he wears his pants inside-out with bum to the front, I think you’ll understand why the neighbor pulled me aside today.”
I also got to thinking about the days before kids, when a flickering candle gently lit up our space. Together we whispered sweet words of undying love. But that was the past, and now four children were present, competing to make their mark on the world.
No child makes his mark quite like our son Graham, who at some point in his six-year career as a boy morphed into a two-foot tall Billy Graham. Billy Boy Graham nearly had the restaurant staff singing “Just As I Am,” while the customers walked through the aisle toward our table with all other heads bowed and eyes closed. Our entire time in the restaurant, Graham talked about Jesus and Satan:
“Dad, does Jesus walk the earth?” He asked.
“Is He inside me?”
“Does Satan walk the earth?”
“Is he inside me?”
He thought for a moment, “What do people do in hell?”
“They just burn forever and ever.”
Again, he asked, “Why do we have to do what Jesus said, just ‘cause He died on the cross?”
Dad tried to change the subject, “Can we talk about this later?”
Then very loudly, Graham calls out, “Whoever loves Jesus, put up your hand! Mom, don’t you love Jesus? Put up your hand!”
“Graham, no more of putting up hands in the restaurant OK? Yes, I love Jesus. Brendan how was school today?”
“Whoever doesn’t love Satan, put up your hand!”
“Graham, no more putting up hands, OK?” I yanked down his hand.
“You know who I love best in the world, Dad?”
Meanwhile, four-year-old Nathaniel ate sour cream with his fingers while Maddy picked fries off the floor and Brendan the teen-aged eating-machine surveyed the dessert menu. When he enters a restaurant, Brendan expects the full meal deal served on a silver platter. “How much is the sky high chocolate pie, Mom?” he asked.
“Seven-fifty I think. It’s expensive.”
“OK, I’ll have that next, and I need a refill on this drink.”
The way he sees it, money is no object until Mom and Dad start to object.
In stark contrast, Maddy sits in her spot and eats whatever is passed down to her: tomatoes, a chili fry, chunks of chicken, even the sour cream from Nathaniel’s fingers, if that’s all she can get her hands on. My daughter will eat until her eyes leak, and still want more. I know better than to ask my husband, “Do you want some of my meatloaf?” Because Maddy will start hopping up and down in her seat yelling, “I’ll have it.” And then a fist fight will breakout with her brothers, and she’ll win.
Ninety minutes and fifty dollars later we dragged the kids out with a crowd of sorrowful eyes watching us leave. Nathaniel was a walking sheet of fly paper—plastered in sour cream, salsa, and ice cream. We were careful not to brush Fly-Boy against anything on the way out, including small children that could have been dragged to the car by his cheek.
Twenty seconds passed and then a little voice from the back seat started up again, “Dad, why is Satan inside me?”
“Satan is not inside you, I told you that. Jesus is inside you.”
“No, you said Satan is inside us.”
“No, I didn’t.”
With that, Graham started again, “Whoever believes Dad, put up your hand!”
We arrived at home late, and before long, it was time to wash each messy face and tuck each little soul into bed. After tenderly kissing their foreheads good night, I reflected on the days before kids, when tablecloths were white and flickering candles lit up our space… Small hands never reached up for mine in the market, little lips didn’t press a kiss on my cheek, but most importantly, the day didn’t end with a tug on my heart and a child whispering, “I love you, Mommy; good night.”
I look at my children in awe of the gifts God sent my way, and how much He has abundantly blessed me today. I don’t want to look back on what was, or focus on what is to come. God has set my feet upon the path of motherhood, and with each step I take, I see a little more of His blessings unfurled. It’s when I discover that I’m right where He wants me to be; I see how He’s blessing me with messy faces in divine places.
“Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy…
Oh how blessed are you parents,
with your quivers full of children!”
~ Psalm 127:3,5, The Message
Drawn from my archives