We were in the throes of the testy threes when I was called into my daughter’s classroom one Wednesday night after church to discuss her behavior. The weary look on the tired teacher’s face said that it hadn’t been a good night.
“We had a really bad night,” she began. “She was yelling and kicking. She even threw her shoes at me.”
The news rocked me. “What?? My baby girl??” Not that I didn’t think she was incapable of such behavior. She had occasional emotional flares at home. But, she never showed out in public. That had been her brother’s job and he did it well. Now her, too?!
With a face burning from embarrassment, I bent down to refasten her red glittery shoes before scooping her up. I mumbled both apologies and excuses to her teacher. “I know she’s really tired,” I tried to explain. “I just don’t know why else she would act like this. I never get bad reports on her.”
The teacher looked unfazed by my attempts to soothe it over. She offered no condolences nor words of understanding. She only looked disapprovingly at my daughter and said, “I hope next time you will act better.”
Clutching her brother’s hand, whom I’m sure got an equally bad report, the three of us exited the building as quickly as possible.
I prayed all the way home. With heart weighed down, frustration high, and bells and whistles of incapability blaring in my head, I sobbed my guts out to the Lord. “I don’t know what to do! How do I teach her? What do I do, Lord?”
”Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead…” the Holy Spirit whispered.
“Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes,” I continued.
A whispered Word at just the moment I needed it most. In Greek, this is called a rhema.
It was a profound moment because 1.) the Scripture seemed so random and 2.) While seemingly random, it made perfect sense and gave me the direction and application that I had just begged the Lord for.
Sweet relief flooded my mind as I pulled into the driveway, unbuckled car seats, and ushered testy toddlers with all their clutter inside. After flinging bags, Bibles, sippy cups, discarded socks, artwork–and anything else that I was able to carry in one load–onto the counter, I made my way to my daughter’s bedroom and called her in.
We talked about her behavior. Well, we talked as much as a newly minted testy three can talk about her behavior. She expressed remorse and my heart was moved by her conviction. Since my middle guy is a strong visual learner and I often use visual aids for teachable moments, I pulled out dry erase markers and a board. I drew stick figures of two little girls. The girl on the left had a big bow in her curly hair, a lovely smile on her face, pearls around her neck, shoes on her feet, and a big red heart on her chest. The girl on the right had disheveled hair, a scowl on her face, one shoe on and one shoe off, and a scribbled-out heart on her chest.
I asked my daughter which girl was prettier.
I asked her which girl she wants to be.
I asked her which girl she had acted like that night.
I think you can guess her answers.
We both agreed that she wanted to be the girl on the left. Then, I pointed out the biggest difference between the two. The girl on the left had a beautiful heart. The girl on the right didn’t.
I held my daughter as we looked at the stick figures and I explained how important having a pretty heart was. I told her that it doesn’t matter how pretty we are on the outside if the inside doesn’t match. I told her that we needed to focus on keeping her heart pretty. And, to help us remember, she wasn’t going to wear pretty things for a while.
She was taking all this in, probably enjoying mommy’s comfort, attention, and funny drawings more than anything else. But, when I emptied out a box and started placing her hair bows inside, the realization of what I was doing hit her. She cried. I wanted to stop. But, I forced myself to keep on. This lesson was too important to waste.
Bows of every color went into the box. Next, I moved to her chunky bracelets and beaded necklaces. Plop, plop into the box. More tears. I scanned the room to look for other sparkly or shiny accessories. Princess wands. Tiaras. All into the box. Just when I thought we were done, I glanced up once more and saw the red glittery shoes.
Not the shoes!
Yes, the shoes.
Into the box they went.
I held her while she cried. This is the girl who couldn’t point out her toes, fingers, or nose to the pediatrician during her one-year check-up. Instead, when prompted, she pointed to her bracelet, earrings, and bow. He chuckled and said, “Ahh, she knows her accessories! That’s good, too!”
Needless to say, all these pretty things were near and dear to her.
And, that’s exactly why, as hard as it was, I had to take them away from her.
After her tears were wiped away and further explanations and assurances were given, I picked up the box with the intention of stashing it away. As I looked for a good spot to hide it, my very next thought took me by surprise:
“What if I packed away all my pretty things whenever my own heart was ugly? What if my outside always mirrored my inside?”
We—both of us—began Operation Pretty Heart that week. I put a concentrated effort on modeling a gentle and quiet spirit to her. Was I always successful? No. But, I kept trying. And, five years later, I’m still trying…every single day.
If my memory serves me correctly, I believe the box of pretty things stayed tucked away for two weeks. That was harder for this bowing-loving mama than I thought it would be! However, the no-bow look was a constant reminder of the bigger, more important, lesson that we both needed to learn.
That shoe-throwing night of long ago during the testy threes momentarily defeated me. However, because I laid it at the Lord’s feet as quickly as I could, He has turned it into one of the greatest teaching moments in our home. And, it didn’t end once the bows returned two weeks later. Rather, it was only the beginning of a conversation that we continue to have to this day. It was a conversation we had five years ago, a week ago, a day ago, an hour ago.
Focusing on the heart not only allows true transformation to occur, making the inside match the outside, it also helps us in other areas:
Does this mean that my kids are perfect? Not for one minute! Like I mentioned above, I have already had one heart-to-heart conversation today and I just paused from writing this to have another. We have ongoing parenting struggles and challenges that seem to never end. Our motto is two steps forward, one step backward. But, even on the backward days, such as today, the Lord has clearly shown us where we are to aim each and every time: the place where the things that are most valuable to God reside. And, in doing so, it reaches and teaches our own as well.
First, I am a child of God. And, like a child, I am always learning and growing. The more I know Him, the more I love Him. Second, I am a wife to a good man. Missions is his thing while teaching women to love God’s Word is mine. Third, I am a mama to three plus a sweet cockapoo who thinks he’s #4. My children are my ongoing sanctification. Fourth, I am a passionate advocate of all things healthy & natural and a dreamer/designer. Old friends call me Becky, newer ones call me Rebecca, and the most intimate ones call me Beck. You can just call me friend.
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