I (Mandy) actually heard them before I saw them.
As I rounded the corner, I saw the harried mom pushing her heaping cart while trying unsuccessfully to corral her three rambunctious boys from the toy aisle. I knew her.
I stopped to say hello and watched as two of her sons rode up and down the aisle on bikes they'd pulled off the shelf.
I plastered a smile on my face and nodded as she explained that they were driving her crazy. She complimented me on how well behaved my kids were. I waved her off and gave one of my stock answers, "oh you should see them at home..." while mentally patting myself on the back because my kids weren't acting like hers.
She shared with me that she was expecting again. I offered a "congratulations!" but couldn't stop thinking that she couldn't handle the 3 she had...
Then another time, I watched as a mom begged, threatened and cajoled her toddler to get off the floor in the bread aisle at the grocery store. The defiant toddler, whose face was red with rage, refused, but continued to scream and stomp his feet. As I passed by I saw the mom hand the little guy a package of candy. Apparently that was the crux of his meltdown, because he jumped up and skipped along, happy as can be.
I shook my head and thought to myself, "She shouldn't have given in. No wonder he acts like such a brat."
I listened in disbelief as the woman told me how her son had broken his leg riding his roller blades down their steep hill. My eyes betrayed exactly how I felt as I stared at her with my mouth hanging open. She laughed it off and poo-poo'd my reaction. One thought reverberated in my head as I sat and stared at her, "How could you be so careless with your kids? How could you allow them to do something so dangerous, knowing the consequences could be dire?"
Have you been where I've been? Have you passed judgment on another without so much as blinking an eye?
I claim to be filled with the love of Christ. I recite scripture and post Bible verses on Facebook, and I say I support women and proclaim the desire to reach moms with the love of Christ...
And then I silently pass judgment with a pasted-on smile smeared across my face.
I am that woman.
And how I wish I could tell you this revelation came to me during my quiet time with the Lord in the wee hours of the morning while sipping coffee before anyone else awoke, but that would be a big. fat. lie.
Instead, it came rushing down on my head yesterday like a freight train going at mach speed.
Yesterday--the day I left my 8 month old baby in a cart by himself at a store-- for a loooong time--while I shopped with my family--completely unaware that he wasn't even with us.
HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?! HOW DID YOU NOT KNOW?! HOW COULD YOU DO THAT?!
I honestly don't know.
I have relived the scene a million times. Each time I gasp at how I could have let it happen.
There were a string of events that led up to us leaving him there, but it still baffles me.
It ended happy. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, thank you, Jesus.
Because he was safe and actually asleep. A kind woman came across him and took him to the office. The police were called and he was kept safe until we were reunited.
But once the realization hit that he wasn't with us, we were terrified. We raced through the store searching everywhere. I grabbed a woman's arm and told her through tears that we couldn't find our baby. She yelled that he was in the office. She had heard he was found. And then she looked at me and said, "How did this happen?!"
I just looked at her and said, "I don't know."
I felt the enormity of her condemnation. But it would have to wait because I was busy sentencing myself as a horrible, unfit mother.
I was also simultaneously rushed with relief that he was okay and safe.
Making my way to the office felt like an eternity. I never knew that store was so big. And I was dragging along 3 other children while a fourth was crying in the cart.
Everyone watched us. Everyone stared. I knew they were all thinking the same thing; "How did she lose her baby? What kind of mother loses her child?"
I was thinking the same thing.
When I finally got into the back room, just as they were paging me over the intercom, I saw my husband Joe. He was already back there.
And then I saw the baby. Fast asleep in his car seat in the cart.
I lost it.
Every emotion I was bottling in those few short minutes since realizing he was missing and finding out he was safe exploded.
I was practically hysterical. I apologized over and over. To the baby. To everyone in the room. To God.
All the scenarios of what could have happened still played through my mind. The adrenaline I'd had coursing through my veins surged.
The realization that I LEFT my baby behind was more than I could bear.
Nothing like that has ever happened before. Ever.
I take all 6 of our kids to stores and restaurants by myself all the time. Not one incident.
Joe and I have this down to a system. We have been to this store countless times before and followed the same path hundreds of times before...all without incident.
What made yesterday different?
I honestly don't know.
I have thought about it and rehashed it so many times I get sick.
I don't have an answer.
But I can tell you that I didn't like being on the receiving end of the condemning stares and harsh words.
It did nothing to help the situation.
I also didn't feel justified in defending myself because I agreed with what the others were saying and thinking.
But I am getting to the point where I can tell myself that I am forgiven. I can look at my baby without guilt and shame literally weighing me down.
But it's changed me. And I hope for forever.
I don't want to be the one adding to that mom's guilt/stress/shame anymore.
I want to truly love like Christ...freely, unconditionally, and to all without finding fault.
And I don't want to ever be the one lobbing flaming arrows into another's already broken heart.
I wish I'd come to this realization before, but I tend to be a hard sell for lessons.
But I get it. And I don't want to lose it. I want all those flowery words in my bio to be true.
And I hope you'll join me in putting down the scales of justice.
I know it will be very difficult forgiving myself and moving on, but I kind of hope a little bit of the sting remains so that I never forget how awful it is to be suffering and beating myself up while others join in.
There's a story behind what happened; behind our family and how we love our kids so much that I literally lay awake at night listening in case one of them calls out to me; planning how I would save them all if we were to have a fire, praying for God to protect them. My heart aches for each one of them because it's so filled with love. I obsess over how to protect them because I never want harm to come to them...
But none of those people yesterday knew any of that...or cared.
And I want to remember that on the other side of the broken heart I see, or the harassed face on a mom whose kids are acting out in the store, is her story. The whole story. More than meets the eye and more than I could possibly ever know being on the outside looking in.
And more importantly, Christ is there holding that mom's hand, forgiving her even before she can begin to think about forgiving herself.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Please fill my heart with Your love for others. Please let me see others through Your eyes and with Your tender forgiveness. So often I am quick to rush to judgment, sometimes without even realizing I'm doing it. I pray that I remain humble and aware of my short-comings. Please let me love from the heart instead of condemning from my pedestal. Let me love like You love.
Thank you for your forgiveness and Your mercies, which are new every morning.
It's in Your precious name I pray, Amen