My Wood-Carved Valentine

February 14, 2011 | 28 comments

I asked the world’s most obvious question:

“All right, who did this?”

I jabbed a finger at the letters carved in the back of the chair: A N N A.

The oldest sister chimed in first, rolling her eyes for dramatic effect. “I recognize those backwards Ns anywhere.”

The youngest sister’s fork fell with a guilty clink on the plate. She buried her face in her palms, as if she might squeeze her whole self behind her hands if she pressed hard enough.

I could see the red of shame rising in her cheeks, behind her meager camouflage.

I trapped my tongue behind clenched teeth. Hush, Jennifer. You’ll regret what you’re about to say.

Hadn’t I promised that I’d never raise my voice over this etched set of table and chairs? Hadn’t I, indeed, declared publicly that I found the beauty in the etchings? Hadn’t I determined that the table held memories all its own, with its nicks and scrapes and curves of letters?

It is a tableau of life, this wooden rectangle.

Grandfather’s checkmarks. He’s been gone two years now.

Deep-grooved tine points. They were banged in by a toddler, first time with a “big-people fork.”

One long scratch. A souvenir from the visiting missionary.

And now this: Anna’s name carved in half-inch tall letters on the back of the chair.

I peeled her hands back from her hiding place, and lifted her, ladling her body. She shook. Shame ran wet down her cheeks.

I held her tight, swallowing the caustic sermon about the difference between right and wrong. She knew. She knew.


Three days later, just this morning, she stood at the back door, with her gaze locked on her feet.

“I did it Mommy,” she confessed.

“Did what, Anna?” I asked, making a panicked inventory of the room. (I had forgotten about the chair, but suddenly remembered the Sharpies within reach.)

“I put my name on the chair because I want that to be my chair, and you always move it when you mop the floors,” her words spilling relief and the hope of a pardon. “Are you going to be mad at me now?”

I dropped to my knees in front of her, lifting her chin to release her gaze from the tips of her snowboots. We talked about why it was wrong to carve forever letters into the wood. I repeated a lesson about respect and care for the things that God has given us. We talked about the importance of saying sorry. And she did. She said sorry.

And we hugged.

But there’s something I didn’t say. I’m saving it for this space, because I know she can’t read yet. So let’s keep this one between you and me. Deal?

I took Anna to the end of this country lane a bit ago, where the bus met her at 8 a.m., and then I promptly returned to the kitchen to snap a few pictures of a single word carved in wood, a name engraved, an enduring little Valentine from a girl who won’t write with backward Ns much longer.

And today, the carving makes me think
of the Father, and of this:

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands …
— Isaiah 49:16

Submitted as part of L.L. Barkat’s “On, In and Around Mondays” series.

by | February 14, 2011 | 28 comments


  1. Nancy

    You're such a good mama! So many places I wish I could go back and extend grace to my children in this way. Something tells me you're never going to get rid of that chair!

  2. jaybird7

    This was important for me to read today; I error-ed this morning with one of our kids.

    No – I need to name it for what it is: I sinned against one of our kids.

    And the pain of my sin is stabbing my heart.

    'Home-From-School-Time' cannot come soon enough.

    Thank you for this timely Word.

  3. Suz

    What a wonderful story. What a wonderful lesson. You touched my heart.

  4. Laura

    Oh, Jennifer. What a lesson you have given me this day. Too often I appreciate those little "valentines" only in hindsight. I'm trying to do better. Thank you for helping me :). I'll see Anna's name in my mind when I'm tempted with one of those caustic sermons too. Backwards Ns and all.

  5. Natalie

    Oh, so many words have fallen from my lips that I regretted only moments later. Praise God for giving you the self-control and GRACE you needed at that moment. Oh, to etch those five letters on the hearts of our children!

  6. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    Hi friends,

    Thanks for gathering around the table with me today, to gaze upon my little Valentine carving.

    Lest you think I handle all things well (I don't, by a long shot), let me tell you this: Instead of telling this story today, I could have told the story of how I overreacted to strewn toys across the living room floor yesterday afternoon.

    Like jaybird7 said, it was a sin against my girl. I apologized. And I'm always amazed at how quickly children extend grace. I can learn a lot from that.

  7. Melissa @ Breath of Life

    Such a sweet story. I would've just blown it with my girl for doing that. Praising God for the grace He gave you to get through that without such an outburst.


    This is so SO beautiful.
    I wanted to cry for your little girl, because I can so vividly remember standing before Father knowing I had done wrong things — yet, every time, He is full of grace and forgiveness and loves on me.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  9. Shaunie Friday--Up the Sunbeam

    Someday (I think already) that little carved Valentine will be your favorite thing about that table & chairs. Beautiful story, full of grace.

  10. Michelle

    Happy Valentine's Day!!

  11. Christi

    Bless her baby heart, and yours too… to remember and respond with grace.

    I need to remember, always, too.

  12. Kim

    Another memory beautifully etched into wood and heart…

    My wife has always encouraged me that "People are more important than things." For me, that has meant exercising self-control over my anger and impatience when things I value are damaged or lost by people close to me. Thanks for being a good example!

  13. violet

    Yikes – I'm a bit choked up…

    Your story reminds me of how there are usually two sides to every issue. It's making me think of how important it is to hear the other person's side. To wait to hear reasons like: "I put my name on the chair because I want that to be my chair, and you always move it when you mop the floors," before I go all ballistic, and miss the important and honest expression of a little heart.

  14. nance marie

    go ahead … tell her the rest of the story.

  15. Deidra

    My daughter used to write her name everywhere. I'd find it on the window sill behind the curtains in her bedroom. On the closet wall. On the back of the bathroom door. The first time I lacked grace. The second time I lacked patience. By the time my discoveries reached the double digits, I realized it was the beginning of her leaving a mark on the world. Your daughter's explanation? It is beautiful. Those children, huh?

  16. Linda

    The screen is a blur Jennifer. You are so very dear. You make me wish I could go back and redo so many things. I am blessed by your wisdom and grace. So is Anna.

  17. Brock S. Henning

    Gosh, I think about all the times I've got on my kids for stuff like that, and trying to find that balance between keeping things nice but allowing them creativity. Love how you ended this. 🙂

  18. S. Etole

    on wood … the price is paid

  19. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    Amen, Susan! The carpenter's grace …

  20. Patricia

    Oh, Jennifer. How precious is that! What a beautiful grace picture. All of it. Thank you!

  21. Lydia

    This was beautiful – especially the part about swallowing the sermon. Isn't it true that, most of the time, they know? And yet we still lecture and finger-wag anyway. Beautiful response, beautiful etching. I love those backwards N's <3

  22. Missie

    Your family is so precious!

  23. Debra

    Oh my goodness … I have those photo's, too. Notice I said photo's … little pieces of my heart and theirs to remember for always. 🙂

  24. monicasharman

    A week ago I had one of the biggest conflicts with one of my boys that I've had in a while. It was largely because I had not enough grace and love. So for the past week I've been asking God and intentionally looking for help in parenting. This post is one of God's helps.

    "She knew," you said. But the thing is, you knew that she knew. I have been so terribly condemning in the past, really MAKING SURE he knows, even though I knew (or should have known) that he already knows. I don't want to be that guilt-focusing mother anymore. God help me.

    And He does. Thanks for posting this. Really. It's a big help.

  25. A Simple Country Girl

    May those backward N's always remind us of us… and how we are without God.



  26. Kelly Sauer

    Siiighhh. How do you NOT tell them what they know? I just want to SAY it half the time, to heap all my frustration up on the one who has caused it.

    I am not so gentle, not so self-controlled. Jennifer, your love for your girls helps me love my girl. Thank you.

  27. deb colarossi

    Hugs to you Jennifer.
    For you , with you.
    I do so much better now with all of this, but oh.

  28. Cheryl

    I'm sensing that too. They're growing so fast. 15, 13, 13 and 10 1/2. Where does the time go? Wasn't it just yesterday that they made those sweet sucking noises while nursing, the very ones that disappeared without warning?

    And of course, this stood out to me. You must mop frequently. 🙂


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest