I had a universal meltdown. I mean literally, a Universal meltdown.
Two weeks ago we spent spring break in Florida, with our first three days of the trip dedicated to visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando. I’ll tell you straight-up, theme parks are not in my wheelhouse. The crowds, the lines, the $29 hamburgers, the fact that despite my vat of hand sanitizer, chances are still good that I will succumb to the 21st-century version of Black Death as a result of the barrage of germs. And to say nothing of the expense! As I mentioned to my husband when we clicked “Purchase” for the three-day park pass: “We could sponsor two and a half more Compassion kids for a year for this!” Not to put a big fat damper on the fun or anything.
That said, I was pretty psyched about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My boys LOVE Harry Potter. We’ve read all the books, and watched all the movies ad nauseum, and plus, I’d heard really good things about the theme park (red flag: sky-high expectations).
Which is why, on our first morning there, when Rowan announced, “I don’t think I’m going to ride any of the rides. I think I just want to walk around,” things began to fall apart. Not at first, mind you. Initially I tried, really I did, to be The Rational and Empathetic Parent. We talked about his fears. I suggested we scale back to the tamer amusement ride options and ease into the more dramatic experiences later. We rationalized and hypothesized and psychologized and psychoanalyzed. But no, Rowan would have none of it. In fact, he was quite specific about which rides he would not partake in: “the ones with the conveyor belts.”
In other words, pretty much every single amusement park ride ever known to mankind.
We had basically remortgaged our house and our favorite neighbor’s house in order to purchase tickets to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, and my youngest child decided he preferred to “walk around” and “look at stuff,” and “maybe have some popcorn.”
People, can I just say, this is like visiting the Swiss Alps in order to drink hot chocolate in the chalet.
This is like flying from the United Emirates to the Mall of America to “window shop.”
This is like holding front-row Adele concert tickets in your hand and then deciding, “Eh, I’ll just watch one of her music videos on YouTube instead.”
Catch my drift?
Commence Universal Meltdown.
I’m making this sound funny, but believe me, it was not funny. Not Funny, in capital letters and boldface type. As Brad later described it, “We ride-shamed our kid.” There was whisper-yelling (mine). Threatening (mine). Bribing (mine). Guilting (mine). Sighing (mine). Eye-rolling (mine). Bitter retorts (mine). Shaming (mine). Pouting (mine). The Ice-Cold Shut-Down (mine). And crying (mine and Rowan’s).
In fact, at one point, as I sat on a stone wall next to Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls water ride and cried behind my sunglasses, I actually thought to myself, “There are 15,638 mothers in this park right now, and I am the only one who is crying.”
Ultimately we salvaged the vacation. Life dramatically improved when we left Orlando and headed for the beach. And we did actually have a few good moments at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (I captured all two of them and posted them to Instagram and Facebook, because, you know, even if we’re not having the time of our lives, it’s important that we at least look like we’re having the time of our lives, right?).
I apologized to Rowan. We made up. And as is always the case with Rowan, he was quick to forgive me and move on.
But here’s the clincher: I couldn’t forgive myself. I couldn’t move on.
A week after we’d returned from Florida, I was still inwardly berrating myself for my atrocious behavior. I prayed the exact same confession five nights in a row. “Please forgive me, Lord, for shaming my child and for being a terrible mother.” By the third night, I’m sure God was thinking, “Have we not sufficiently covered this yet?”
The thing is, God may have forgiven me the first time I confessed, but I didn’t believe it. I simply couldn’t believe my terrible-parent behavior was forgivable. I refused to trust the fact of grace.
I suspect I’m not the only one neck-deep in this struggle. I suspect I’m not the only one who has sinned and repented and yet still struggles to accept the real truth of God’s grace. In moments like these, grace simply seems too good to be true. In moments like these, grace seems possible for everyone else but ourselves.
Friends, let me remind you of what I’ve had to remind myself this past week (and Holy Week is a very good time for this reminder): Jesus Christ died for this very reason.
Think about that for a moment. A real person, a human being who is at the same time God, died a painful, humiliating, lonely death on a cross 2,000 years ago for this very reason: so that we would not have to continue to carry around our failures and our faults forever.
Jesus Christ died so that we could be free from the very weight I have insisted on clutching and carrying ever since we returned from Florida. He died so that we could be free.
Refusing to accept God’s grace, a grace that comes to us at the highest cost, defeats the whole point of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. Holding on to our guilt and our shame and our inability to forgive ourselves not only hurts ourselves, it also hurts God. Because Jesus died for this moment – this moment right here, the ugliest moment that feels impossibly broken, the moment that feels definitively unfixable.
When we insist on holding as tightly as we can to our guilt and shame, when we refuse to relinquish our sin and accept God’s grace, we deny the ultimate sacrifice God made for us. We deny his life. We deny his sacrifice. We deny his resurrection. We deny him.
I’m not going to lie. A big part of our spring break stunk like giant smelly deviled eggs, and it was almost entirely due to my own bad behavior. It hasn’t been easy to let that go, to forgive myself and hand every last bit of my guilt, shame and regret over to God. But that’s exactly what I am doing. I am handing it all over to him. I am allowing God to take it. And I am stepping fully and completely into his grace.