‘Me and Alex’: Being Loved and Learning to Love as a Child of God

By Shelly Duffer Published on April 10, 2016

Knock, knock, knock.

I knew who it was before I even got out of my office chair.

It was Alex.

For a split second I thought about not opening the door.

We have new neighbors. They moved in about 4 weeks ago. And the day they moved in was the day I met Alex. And her Great Dane, named Dixie.

I’m not a “kid” person. You know people who are great with kids — who know just what to say to soothe a skinned knee or hurt feelings, or can coax a smile from a 2-year-old in the throes of a tantrum. The ones that parenting seems to be so natural for.

That is not me. 
I have four amazing, wonderful, witty, fun and compassionate children. And while I love (almost) every second of parenting them today, it wasn’t always that way. So many times I have felt lost in the world of parenting. How did the other mothers at the playground seem so confident and relaxed? It wasn’t that I was over-protective of my crew; no, in fact, if anything I was the opposite. I seemed to miss the “mama bear” trait somewhere along the line.

There were even times that I wasn’t sure that I knew how to love them well.

Maybe that sounds like a terrible thing for a parent to say; I suppose that to some, it does. It wasn’t that I didn’t love them. I just wasn’t always sure how to love them. I never felt like I understood parenting well, and I often ached for my kids. I felt they somehow deserved better than what they got in me as a mom.

A lot has changed, though, in the past several years. For one thing, I’ve come to know God as my Father. I’ve come to see 1 John 3:1, for the truth that it is: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

So we are. So am I.

And something fascinating happened in my mind and soul as I came to know God as Father, and to understand as best I can that I, as His daughter, a child of God, am loved. I began to understand parenting a bit more. I began to understand a depth in my love for my four children that I never fully grasped. I loved them differently. There was a deeper kind of love accessible in my soul, by which to love them with, than was there before. Goodness, how I love my crew.

Fast forward to today, when the door knocked. When I almost didn’t open it.

Alex is in 3rd grade, or maybe 4th. She’s given me a couple of different answers on that question. She is a bundle of energy. Skinny, with scabbed knees and wild hair, and never seems to have matching socks on. For all of those reasons and more, I instantly liked her.

She has yet to remember my name; instead, she calls me Ms. Chelsea. Every. Single. Day. I’ve given up correcting her; it’s not important. If she wants to call me Ms. Chelsea, so be it — I can be Ms. Chelsea. If I step outside to get something from the garage or go to the mailbox, she is there instantly; bounding across her yard with her Great Dane Dixie, calling out “Ms. Chelsea, can I come over? I have a question for you.”

Alex is inquisitive (nosy) and persistent (stubborn). If she disagrees, she is quick to debate (argue). But she is also eager to please. She craves approval and she yearns for hugs. She steps right up next to me, and if don’t give her a hug, she will grab my arm and put it around her shoulder and say, “We’re friends, right, Ms. Chelsea?” And I can’t help but say “Yes, Alex, we are friends.”

I’m a little surprised at how this scabby-kneed, wild-haired girl has captured my heart. But I think this is why: In her, I see me.

There was a time when I was that scabby-kneed, non-sock-matching, coke-bottle glasses-wearing girl – except my hair was a short mess because I had cut it that way with some dull scissors.

And I was probably inquisitive (nosy), persistent (stubborn) and quick to debate (argue).

And I was aching inside, though I didn’t fully realize it, because I didn’t know what it meant not to ache, not to be afraid. There were hard things in my life.

And, for Alex, there are hard things as well.

For me, my Ms. Chelsea was Machelle. Machelle was an older teenager who traveled to our small Iowa town with a youth group from Red Bank Baptist Church in Chattanooga. She took me under her wing like a big sister. During the backyard Bible clubs they conducted, I sat right next to Machelle, and sometimes on her lap. She brought me candy from the Handy Pantry where they would go for treats, and at the end of the week, she took me into the small bookstore on our town square and told me to pick out any book I wanted, since she knew I loved to read, and she bought it for me.

When she got on that big coach bus to go home, I ran and hid and cried until I very nearly made myself ill. Her unconditional love was sunshine to my world.

Years and years later, I had the gift of getting to reconnect with Machelle. I was working in a Lifeway bookstore in Virginia when two men came in from Chattanooga who were in town for a conference. We got to chatting, and within minutes we were putting two and two together: both of these men had been on that very same mission trip to Iowa, and were still members at Red Bank Baptist Church, and were still friends with Machelle. It was truly a gift of God’s grace to be able to reconnect with her, and to thank her. Grace. That can’t be made up.

So, today, when the inevitable knock, knock came, my first instinct was selfishly not to open the door. I was busy. I had spreadsheets to populate, meetings to attend, emails to send, travel to book. My house is a mess — a broken pipe has created chaos. I have travel I need to plan for, and my crew is home for spring break. I wasn’t sure that I could be “bothered” by Alex today.

But then I flashed back to my own scabby knees and awkward self at that age. And I remembered. I remembered God’s grace, to me, through Machelle. I remembered God’s grace and mercy, to me, in that He loves me. I am His child. He loves Alex, too. Deeply. He sees her scabby knees and wild hair and the hard things of life, and He loves her – enough to give His son to die for her, and to adopt her, too, as His daughter.

What’s five minutes of interruption to my day? Nothing. Nothing at all, compared to the opportunity to wrap my arms around Alex and tell her that I think she’s pretty terrific. And God does, too.


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