Red Paint

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”-Romans 8:26

The year was 2002. I had a 5 year old, a 3 year old and a new baby. I was the kind of tired that only a new baby brings. The kind where your skin hurts, and you can barely put a sentence together. I’d been meeting the needs of my baby, but the other two had had a lot of time on autopilot, in front of Thomas the Tank Engine videos.

So, in a moment of caffeinated bravado, infused with guilt, I decided to try and be “good Mom”. You know her, she is able to meet emotional needs and the requirements of early childhood development instead of just preventing death by misadventure. And so in pursuit of her, I made the greatest sacrificial offering in the Mothering world. I decided to let them paint.

So we dragged out the art box, blew off the dust and began to set up. They were excited to have some of my time and attention. Even the baby was a part, sitting on the table in his bouncy seat. (I know he shouldn’t have been on the table, hush.) Finally, little smocks in place, paper and brushes out, I began to set out the paint. Since it had been awhile I had to shake it up before pouring. Blue, then green, then yellow, then red.

As it turned out the lid on the red paint was not on very securely. I gave it one good shake, said lid flew off, and red paint went everywhere. Everywhere. On me, the table, the chairs, the walls, the upholstery, the rug. Everywhere. My “good Mom” impulse had just turned into an hour long clean up in addition to everything else that needed to be done. If a car had pulled up the the door and honked the horn at that moment, I like to think I wouldn’t have gotten in and driven away from my life, but I can’t be sure.

For a long moment it was as though time stopped. Everyone froze, even the baby, and turned to look at me. If I’ve ever sent up a Mayday prayer it was at that moment. I knew I didn’t have it in me to have the right response and that I was about to blow it. I was dangling by a tattered fiber from the end of my rope.

And in the silence of that moment, I felt the Lord whisper a word to me. One word.


There was nothing in me that wanted to laugh at that moment. I wanted to scream and throw things and cry my eyes out. But I looked around that table, at those little faces looking at me, waiting to see what I would do. And I saw the one thing on them that I never hoped to see, fear.

And so, I laughed. I didn’t mean it, but I did it. As an act of love. I saw the relief shoot across their faces and then they laughed too, and they did mean it. The moment passed and they began to paint and I began to clean up.

I doubt they even remember that day, but I count it as one of my parenting “wins”. There have been many more times I’ve blown it and maybe I’ll blog about them too one day.

All these years later there is still a little red paint in the woodwork of one of my dining room chairs. I decided to leave it there. To remind me of the day the God of the Universe heard an S.O.S. prayer and reached down into my dining room and saved the day. To remind me that at least once in a while I got it right, that sometimes in life, no matter how careful we are, red paint goes everywhere, and when it does we clean it up. And we laugh.

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