"Mama, it's burning me."
My six-year-old's voice barely didn't even register as I parked in front of our new apartment. It wasn't a panicked voice, more monotone than emotional. Head wrapped around my own emotion, my own stress, my own black cloud of fog, I heard her, but didn't. The Mommy-radar wasn't blinking, no emergency here. Just words.
"Mama. It's burning my fingers."
That earned a blip on the radar, and a quick look from the front seat, but the girl's white-toothed grin shut down the potential for upset. She leaned forward, wrapping her fingers around the metal spokes of the passenger headrest, that normally would have been very hot. Normally would have burned indeed.
Because July heat in Louisiana doesn't forgive. It offers no grace, is beyond relentless. Suffocating. Consuming.
Especially inside a car with black leather interior.
But hallelujah for quality air conditioners. Any metal in the car had long been cooled during our drive home. I wasn't feeling grateful though. Stress and exhaustion from the past week of emotion had gripped a vice around my stomach. Breathe. Function. Survive. Repeat.
I turned back around, gathering my things, a knot in my throat that would have put a Boy Scout to shame. Purse. Phone. Flip-flops that had stowed away on the floorboard the past month. What else?
"I tricked you Mama!"
The stress ball doubled, flipped. "No, you didn't." I tried to keep my patience. I'd been tricked, yes, but not by her. Never by her. I juggled my belongings. Just wanted to go inside and breathe. Function. Survive. Repeat.
She pressed on, bouncing in her seat a little, sing-songing her victory. "You thought it was hot and it wasn't! I tricked you!"
"NO, you didn't!" I erupted a little, then, volcano spewing over the sides. Not a full onslaught, but trickles of heat oozing from the dark pit within. "I know you were just trying to trick me. I knew the whole time."
"How'd you know?" Grace kept her from being offended by my outburst. Only curiosity blinked at me from behind pink glasses.
My frustration mounted. I climbed out of the car, arms loaded but not with nearly the amount of baggage still burdening my heart. I bit off my abrupt answer before I shut the door. "Because! You're a smart girl. You're not going to hold on tight to something that hurts you!"
The door thudded shut just as my heart thudded to a stop.
There are moments in life when you can all but visibly see God quirking an eyebrow at you. In that particular moment, the cosmos parted, the clouds reeled back, and that heavenly eyebrow lifted right up.
And I laughed. Bitter, at first, a "ha-ha" type of snort, one that rises from your stained insides. The stains of guilt, judgment, jadedness. Stains of smeared pride and leftover lies.
But then I laughed. Joyful, at first, a "a-ha" type of giggle, one that bubbles up from a well untapped. A well of living Water, satisfaction, healing. A well begging to quench a relentless thirst and rejuvenate a heart long parched.
And God whispered "I tricked you".
Because who would expect Gospel from the mouth of mischievous kindergartner, Gospel from the mouth of a twisted-up mama, Gospel to squeeze past the knots and unravel every frayed lie. Gospel to unload the baggage and help a burdened heart breathe. Function. Survive.
Because the knots don't forgive. The lies offer no grace, are beyond relentless. The burdens of baggage suffocating. Consuming. Thicker than the fog over a Louisiana bayou.
Until Gospel comes in, like a volcano wild, bursting and erupting and spewing not with the venom of a stressed-out-single-mom, but with the holy wildness of a God-man determined to save. And His forgiveness and grace is relentless, His fire consuming and burns 'til it heals right up.
And the only thing suffocating is the knowledge that it's all free. All ours. All we want.
Because He held tight to us, as the cross held tight to Him.
Even when - especially when - it hurt.