Emma and I shared a moment the other day. We had just dropped Mary Ashley off at ballet, and when we returned home, the boys bounded out of the van. They had been involved in a heated competition before we left, and they were eager to get back to their video game.
Two-year-old Emma stayed behind, unable to free herself from her car seat. As I helped her unbuckle, her big blue eyes looked so sad. "Da boys say I can't play," she began slowly. I could feel her disappointment, and I asked her if she was talking about her brothers' game.
She nodded slowly, then continued sadly, "Nobody wants to play with me."
I gave Emma a big hug and asked her if she would like to play with me. A smile touched the corners of her lips, and she seemed content to spend some special time with Mommy.
With this incident still fresh on my mind, we picked up Mary Ashley from ballet and headed straight to Christian's soccer practice. There 4-year-old Mary Ashley, still in her tutu, garnered lots of attention from the other children. "Ooh, look at the ballerina!" one little girl whispered admiringly to her mom. Another little girl, about 5, approached Mary Ashley and asked her to play. The two girls stood chatting between the soccer fields, deciding what to play.
Stationed beside my chair, Emma noticed the big girls talking and was eager to join them. So she toddled over and introduced herself. "I Emma. I 2," she offered. Then she pointed toward Mary Ashley and me. "Dis Meh-Ashley. Dis my mommy."
I watched out of the corner of my eye as the girls smiled at her, and I could tell Emma felt so happy to be included. She wanted so much to be one of the big girls! She shifted on her feet, cocking one hip to the side, trying her best to look cool and casual. She put her hands on her hips, and in her best big-girl voice bragged nonchalantly, "Yeah, I go tee-tee in the potty. My daddy say I do a good job."
I swallowed a giggle, realizing Emma had no idea that rather than making herself sound older, sharing this achievement with the over-2 crowd would actually remind them she was younger. But shortly after, the girls took off for a game of chase with Emma in tow. She laughed and played throughout soccer practice, a little girl so happy to be one of the big girls.
As a mother, my heart has ached for all of my children at one time or another when they have felt left out. Whether as a result of sibling squabbles, playground politics or new-school situations, all four have experienced pangs of isolation and insecurity.
Perhaps as mothers, we take our children's struggles to heart because our own battle scars from growing up are still so tender. We remember well the sting of harsh words, the sharp pain of rejection, the deep ache of loneliness. And we remember how much we yearned for a friend.
And so we pray often for friendships that will bless our children's lives. For friends who will keep them on the right path. Friends who are compassionate, loyal and trustworthy. In short, the kind of friends we all need. The kind of friend we have in Jesus.
Isaiah 53:2-6 tells us about the best friend the world would ever despise: "He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (NIV).
So I pray that as my little girls become big girls, and my little boys become big boys, they will come to know the blessings of true friendship. As their mother, my heart goes with them, swelling when they laugh and play in harmony, and aching when they experience conflict. And yet I know that each encounter good and bad better schools them in becoming a true friend.
And most of all, I pray their longing for friendship leads them to Jesus. Loving and long-suffering; patient and peaceful; faithful and forgiving -- He truly is the Friend for all time.
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command" (John 15:13-14).