Investing in the Present
He screamed an ugly scream at the top of his lungs.
The first time I took my son to this Mimi’s Cafe it was a learning experience. He was one year old when we met just days before and I don’t imagine he’d spent much time in public places. For some reason he chose that moment to exercise whatever anger was inside him. He hollered like a lunatic.
People were watching.
I got the side eye from customers who couldn’t possibly know our story. But I stayed and endured. The one thing I know is you can’t learn appropriate behaviors for any situation without being in the situation. I was unmoved from my goal by his outbursts and continued to calmly instruct him. We made it through breakfast. By the end of our meal he offered one of his few words, “bye” to two patrons we passed on our way out.
I’m not sure who was more relieved to see us out— me, my son, or the other patrons. It didn’t feel good to be judged, but I was determined to love this little person through the experience. He was mine now and I would have to do this to myself again and again until we mastered it.
We worship a living Savior; a loving parent who willingly steps into shame in order to claim us, and teach us how to be His. He did it for the children of Israel. He did it on the Cross. He does it daily in each of our personal lives. Even when we make his church look bad, even when we earn the disapproval of others in the Body, He brings us in. He keeps us in learning environments until we master proper behaviors.
He can stick by us during our “tantrums” and angry outbursts because of His absolute confidence in who He is.
A year and a half later, my son and I sat in this same restaurant. After he politely ordered his food we continued chopping it up like any two “best friends” he labeled us as being since we were out to breakfast. He sat across from me in our booth and used his best manners. He even stuffed a napkin in the neck of his shirt to prevent messy clothes. He pointed out different things on the walls and talked about how much he really liked jazz music. He absolutely loved the “golden sinks” and “magic flush” in the restroom. He asked for a “to-go” box when he was full.
Nobody from our first visit to this café would have even recognized this little boy as the same person who was so unpleasant back then. The changes in him protected him from being permanently identified by a moment. I’m not sure my son would have believed me if I had reminded him of his past. But there was no need to.
Healing and transformation had taken place and I was the one who had witnessed it and learned from it.
Not my son; and not the people who were watching. His offenses were my blessings. Before that moment I’m not sure anyone could have convinced me of that.
And just like before, someone noticed. As we got up to leave, the older man part of a couple sitting nearby waved for my attention. He wanted to tell me how much of a gentleman my three year old was “sitting there handling his business.” His wife said how “handsome” he was. My son was humble in demeanor as he politely thanked them both and left with a, “Nice meeting you.”
There’s no way to know what their expectations or previous experiences with little kids in restaurant settings were. The fact that they noticed his quiet behavior leads me to believe they know it didn’t have to be that way. I feel good knowing that the next child might be filtered through the lens of possibility rather than a negative expectation. They didn’t have to say anything. His behavior was “normal” and would have been easy to overlook.
Their intentional sharing was encouraging.
It’s something I want to remember to do for other parents.
Transformation itself is a powerful witness. It may take a while. It may look like a failure as old history and past wounds show up after we have been called into God’s house. Eventually people who knew us before see the changes taking place under the influence of the Holy Spirit. God’s Love gets credit.
One more thing, because there’s always one more thing:
As I consider my parenting journey alongside God’s intention to grow us in grace and mercy, I hope other believers practice the same willingness to accept the disruption of our church environments. There are others whose stories we don’t know and whose behaviors might very well shame us. Loving them is what Jesus would want. It may make us uncomfortable. It may make us look bad. But love says we endure it so they have the opportunity to learn how to belong to our family. With my son it cost me $24 for our breakfast, and to get to see how much he has become like me. But God has given us every opportunity to become like him for free.
He gave up his Son so that I could keep mine.
At 40-something Kairis Chiaji, born and raised in Oakland, CA, is a happy wife with citizenship in two countries thanks to her Kenyan husband. She has the honor of being mother to three biological children, and through foster care, adoption and community, 14 more born in her heart. She is a Professional and Community Doula, a Caterer, writer, and an advocate for homeless women and children. She also has a passion for natural beauty. A Master Braider with 36 years of experience perfecting braids, locs and twists. Kairis is a self employed, self-proclaimed natural hair artist, escaping only to coach laboring women at whatever hour a baby decides to enter the world. Doulas, like Brides of Christ, are on-call 24/7.