Most Important Mistake

I stand at the sink, sleeves rolled up, hands plunged into warm water. Rub clean the lunch plates, listening to the clink of dishes, the burble of bath water running, the happy sound of Youngest singing along as the bubbles in her bath rise and the water warms. Such a balm, warm running water. I stack plates, scrape potatoes from fork’s tine and knife’s face. Hear the water in the tub turn off, happy splashing from youngest spills from the open bathroom door as I listen and work, listen and work.

Youngest lives in the moment, ever my child who sucks the marrow from life. She lives hard, plays hard, falls hard and gets up again with hard resolve. She tries, but so often in her exuberance she acts before she thinks. Touches the hot pan on the stove, snips long gold curls from her head, climbs higher than she can climb down, speaks before the consequences of her words can form in her mind. Life is bumpier for Youngest, yet she enjoys it so much and brings such joy in her love for life, her creativity, her commitment to live every moment to the fullest.

I am rinsing the dregs of the lunch dishes, chasing spent suds from the sink’s steel sides, when I see it. We’ve had a good morning, Youngest and I, with little disruption or scolding needed. So it’s due time when I turn to see the dog, our big, yellow, loopy dog, hurry from the bathroom. She comes right to me, her patient brown eyes pleading “fix this, please.” I skip a beat, laugh in exasperation as I rinse suds from my hands and reach for the dish towel. The dog sits with the patience of Job and continues to fix her gaze on me pointedly. Atop her head, scrubbed into curls of fur and mounded like white snow peaks on a dun-colored mountain, shampoo bubbles foam and slide and drip down her golden ears. The water drips onto waxed wood floor, beads up in growing pools. Youngest has shampooed the Labradoole.

It’s obvious what’s happened: Labradoodle, ever-curious, has hung her great doggy head over tub’s edge. Youngest, ever-creative, has seized the opportunity and practiced her cosmetology skills. We have talked much in previous weeks about things like this, because a parent can’t anticipate every childish crime that comes her way. The first time you {paint the cat, cut your hair, dig a large hole in the middle of the yard, wash your stuffed animals in the dish washer….} you get a stern explanation as to why your actions are wrong and a warning as to what will transpire if it happens again. This first action is a mistake…the next such action is a premeditated, willful sin and will be punished as such. This dog shampooing, being the first of its kind, falls into the former category.

I pull Labradoodle’s head over tub’s high side, kneel beside white porcelain and carefully rinse suds from curled yellow fur. Youngest watches. “Mommy,” she ventures. “It was a sin to shampoo the dog. I’m sorry.” I smile, push stray hairs from my face with the dry back of my wrist, wrestle the dog back into place with one hand on the collar. “It’s OK, sweetie…you thought you were helping. But now you know better, and if you do it again you will be in trouble.” I continue to rinse, pink plastic cup bobbing into warm water over and over. Youngest sniffles. Whispers. “No, Mommy. It was a sin.” I look up to see Youngest point, follow her small finger to the damning evidence. My French shampoo, forbidden to children (and this she knows well) is open on tub’s edge, tell-tale pools of lavender-scented soap stain tub’s white and run down its pristine sides. No wonder Labradoodle smells so good.

I sigh. “You knew not to use that shampoo, Love. You’re right, that was a willful sin. But I forgive you, and thanks for telling me. Let’s clean it up.” I stand, shuck water from my hands, rub dog’s grateful head with a towel and release her to lick her wounded dog-pride under the kitchen table. Behind me, from water’s warmth, I hear sobs. Not just the cry of a youngster who has been caught red-handed, not the sorrow of someone who has been found out and must now face the consequences. This is the come-undone sobbing of a soul rent, a hopelessness that I cannot connect with the child of six sitting in front of me. What on earth could be so wrong? I rinse her off, talking soothingly all the time. You’re not in that much trouble, Love. I’m not angry any more, I forgive you. Don’t you understand that I forgive you? I love you so much more than French shampoo! It’s only shampoo, Love. We all sin, that’s just what people do. You’re forgiven, it’s Ok. You’re forgiven.

But for the first time, my mother’s assurances fail to console. Her heart is broken, her sobs reverberate off tile floor and slick porcelain, rise with the steam to heights above us. I stand, wrapping her in towel’s warmth, confounded by her brokenness. What about this has broken her so? She has been naughty in a thousand ways worse than this one. What is in her heart now that tears her apart like this? I rub her, soothe with words, try cheerfulness and stern warnings and finally just kneel and hold her, wretched and dripping, on the cold tile floor. She sobs, hiccups, draws in quavering breaths. Her small shoulders shake as if under the weight of the world. I silently swear off expensive shampoo, pick over my mind for what parental failure has led to this breakdown, hold her close and rub her back. The tide of sorrow abates somewhat, slacks off to let her speak between shuddering breaths.

“I…Just…can’t stop…sinning,” she cries. “I try and I try and I try every day, and then I just sin again!” Oh, my baby! My mother’s heart breaks for her. My baby, we are all the same! Oh, how many times I’ve cried that in my own heart, how many before us have cried the same. I pull her away from me a bit, smooth wet hair away from damp face, see tears and bathwater run in tandem rivulets down her round cheeks. “Mommy, I just can’t stop sinning and I’m afraid I might go to Hell!”

Oh, the moment of realization, when it hits….we look up, realize. I can’t do this by myself. I can’t ever be good enough. On my own, I’m not going to make it.

I wipe tears from her face, smile down into worried brown eyes. “My little love! Jesus knows you try hard not to sin. He knows that sometimes you’re going to anyway, no matter how hard you try. We all do…Mommy, Daddy, everyone. But He will forgive you, just like Mommy forgave you for the shampoo. God is a perfect forgiver, even better than Mommy. He even forgets what you did entirely. Do you know how you get that forgiveness? How you tell Jesus that you belong to him, and that no sin in the world will ever come between you?” She nods uncertainly, she’s heard these words before but until now they have run down the smooth surface. Now for the first time, in her brokenness, they find cracks and seep in. They take root.

I am a sinner. I can’t do this on my own. I need Jesus to help me, to heal me, to forgive me. I need Jesus to save me from myself.

We kneel, two broken souls on the wet tile. We lift our broken hearts to Jesus, offer them up in cupped and trembling hands like breathless doves waiting to take flight. We admit our failure, our brokenness, our habit of sin. We ask, from the soul, for His forgiveness. We ask for Him to take us in, we offer to take Him into ourselves to live. The Spirit fills what is broken, mends what is cracked, strengthens what is weak. “Jesus,” Youngest whispers, her eyes closed tight. “Thank you for dying for my sins. Please come into my heart to live. I give my heart to you.”

The pucker of concern has left her small forehead, the tears are drying on her face. She opens her eyes, radiant and almost painfully beautiful in her moment of joy. “Will I sin again, Mommy?” She asks a moment later. “Yes, undoubtedly.” She nods. “But Jesus will still forgive me and love me, and I’ll still go to Heaven.” It’s a statement, not a question, and I hug her close, tears of my own finally falling. So simple, this offer of salvation. So beautiful and so poignant and so humbling. He is holding out His hand in offering, and it occurs to me that the most important mistake we make is the one that brings us to accept what He has to give.

Join wonderful writer Ann Voskamp for Walk with Him Wednesday…share a spiritual practice that draws you closer to His heart. Stop by Ann’s blog to join or just to read her beautiful words!

7 thoughts on “Most Important Mistake

  • January 20, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    That is beautiful writing — I was absolutely transfixed by your story. And by the truth in it.

    Thank you.

  • January 20, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Oh to recognize our sin and open wide enough to receive the gift His salvation gives. How marvelous when ones offspring yields to that place of surrender. Your words delight. Thanks.

  • January 24, 2010 at 10:24 pm


    You have such a gift for sharing incandescent truths that shine right into the soul.

    Thank you…. (((hugs))) JoAnn

  • January 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Oh my…do I break this way over my sin? Not often enough… Thank you for this.

    (word verification, aptly: messes)

  • January 28, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Oh, this was a most tender and beautiful post, obviously written from a loving mother’s heart. These kiddos speak such truth and shine so much light! Thank you for sharing.


  • April 30, 2010 at 3:52 pm


    Isn’t this time with these children a gift?

    You’re mothering deeply moves me… to be more like Jesus.

    Thank you. *Thank You*

    All’s grace,


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