When the child was still not three, the only outdoor rule was this:
You may not go outdoors by yourself. Ever.
It could not have been simpler, clearer, or more reasonable. Stay in with mom or go out with mom. Those were the options.
On that particular Wednesday night when the dinner hour arrived – for which I had miraculously cleaned up, not a small thing in the days of small children – I could not find the child. Anywhere. Which was not entirely new or unexpected. He had no great love for being found.
I methodically checked inside closets, under beds, down basement stairs, and behind the shower curtain. I rechecked inside closets, under beds, down basement stairs, and behind the shower curtain.
The child not-yet-three was in none of those places because he was here instead:
Front-crawling through the mud puddles he was, because there is nothing better than swimming if you are not quite three.
He’d gone outside. Without me. Which was against the rules. And then he swam in a mud puddle because it was there, calling his name, and I had never said:
You may not swim in the driveway mud puddles. Ever.
Dinner was late. I was clean. The child was dirty up and down and all around. And the child had done wrong – much or little didn’t matter. He was a muddy mess indeed. I could have said:
Do you know what happens to little boys who sneak outside to swim in mud puddles? They turn into mud pies and spend their whole lives living in muddy muck, eating dirt and slime, crying because they are locked out of the house forever and ever and ever. That’s what.
I considered it. I really did. After all, I was clean. That doesn’t happen every day when the kids are not-yet-one and not-yet-three.
But it was chilly out. And people were getting hungry. And there are no beds or books or blankets out in the mud. And he was a child, – my child.
The only option: to go out myself, walk through puddle after puddle until arriving at his puddle, bend down to eye level, and say:
Here I am. I’ll help.
He was not interested in being helped.
I wrapped my arms around him anyway – because sometimes mothers must; cringed as the muddy slime smeared all over the clean me – because where else could it go; felt that precious not-yet-three boy against my body – because that’s right where it belonged; and caught my breath – because, gracious sakes alive, mother love will take one’s breath away, no matter how much muddy slime drips around the edges.
When the boy was not quite a man, there were rules aplenty, but more importantly there was this:
Home, security, family, love.
Which was more than enough. More than more than enough.
But not enough for the boy. Not nearly enough. What he wanted was a dead dad. Because that meant money. And money meant power and freedom and life. Everyone knows that.
But the power, freedom, and life drained out dry, leaving behind nothing but the slimy filthy stink of hopeless disgrace and shame-filled self that dragged on and on and on until even the disgrace and shame was sucked dry, a lifeless shadow of its lifeless self.
When the son came back, dirty up and down and all around, stenched through and through, having done wrong beyond measure, the father could have said:
You? Here? You?? Here?? YOU ARE DEAD TO ME!
But he never considered it. Not even once. Not even though he had every right to. This was not a child in a puddle. This was a soul in a tempest.
So: filled with love and compassion, he embraced the boy; and when that filthy stench of death and shame smeared all over his own unsullied self, he did not cringe, draw back, cover his eyes, or hold his breath to keep out the stench.
But indeed, he did catch his breath – because gracious sakes alive, a holy love will take the Savior’s breath away, no matter how much sin drips around the edges.
And drip it did. Drip and smear and suffocate, all over the Savior while he hung there on that gloriously death-drenched cross, holding us in his breathtaking embrace, hugging us from death to life.
(I Peter 2)
He personally carried our sins – dripped and smeared all over his holy soul – in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. And having carried them there, and nailing them there, and hanging them there on himself, he said IT IS FINISHED,
And then he breathed his last.
Because we really do take God’s breath away – that day, this day, every day.