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I dished out leftovers.

Not the kind that gets better overnight. I plated my kids the kind of leftovers that sends a clear message: You are getting whatever is left.

And it wasn’t much.

My family had had consecutive days packed full of fun activities mixed with tough challenges. By midweek, my boys were exhausted, as evidenced by their behavior.

My patience tank was empty. I was spent from the week we already had and the rest of the week that was yet to come.

So I served leftovers.

I served them to my boys for lunch, but really for the day.

My energy, effort and attention were second rate for the people I claim come first.

The best of me didn’t go to my husband or my kids. It went to less-important work for less-important-to-me people. My preoccupation wasn’t for the ones I care about most.

We were all a little moody and not quite our best. I corrected behavior without much understanding, and I barked ultimatums to simply get the “I’m sorry”s I wanted. Instead of pursuing their hearts with gentleness, I pursued results.

I’ve heard fatigue makes cowards of us all. But I think it can also make us callous.

Caught up in our own selves, we care little for anyone outside our own skin. Too often, those who are closest bear the brunt.

I didn’t feel good about offering half-hearted attention, but I gave it anyway. I felt bad about my impatient tone and insensitive words, but it didn’t stop me from saying them.

Late in the morning, I looked across the room at the flurry of six hands and six feet that were maneuvering about a construction site of couch cushions and cozy blankets with a fleet of cars and trucks. It was a symphony of sound effects and belly laughs.

I sat down to finalize plans for guests we’d be hosting the following evening. And as I wrote out the grocery list, a thought hit me.

Could I imagine serving our guests leftovers?

No, I absolutely could not.

How embarrassing that would be. How degrading that might feel to them. I wouldn’t think of doing that.

Then why was I OK serving it up for my own?

It was as if I thought familiarity or authority gave me license to be less loving. And as I saw it for what it was, I wondered what they thought of me. Because the truth is, I knew what I thought of me in that moment, and it wasn’t very good.

So I shut down the construction site and sat eye to eye with the kids I’d looked at but hadn’t really seen all morning.

I told them I was sorry.

I told them it was wrong that I’d treat grown-ups or strangers or anyone else better than I treated my own family — the ones I loved most. And as I ached out the words, they looked slightly confused but wholly happy.

When I finished by asking for forgiveness, they granted it without hesitation. And immediately asked if I wanted to be the excavator toy.

I don’t know if they understood what I said or why I was upset at what I did. But I undoubtedly understood what they said and why I was humbled at what they did.

There was no holding back in their forgiveness and no hesitation in their invite to play.

I served them leftovers.

They returned it with their best.

Forgiveness, it turns out, feels sort of like a feast.

Theresa Meacham’s column appears Wednesdays. She

can be reached at theresam

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