My seven year-old daughter wears her heart on her sleeve. Unfortunately, wearing your heart in such a vulnerable place leaves it open for getting damaged, broken, or lost. In most pockets of my life, I keep my heart safely tucked away, where no one can find it and hurt it. Not my girl. She puts it right out there, showing it to and sharing it with anyone who needs it.
She’s the girl who cries when cartoon animals are mistreated.
She cries at the thought of squirrels being cold in the winter.
She cries at funerals for people she doesn’t know.
She cries when she hears an ambulance, for fear that a stranger is terribly hurt.
She cries when she thinks of Jesus’ love for her.
But, with all of those tears, and all of those feelings, she is not deterred.
This past weekend, we celebrated my youngest stepson’s birthday. My daughter is crazy about birthdays. She plans and obsesses over them, wanting each detail to be perfect for the birthday boy or girl.
She labored over which decorations to buy, and which gift he wanted most. She spent her money on two very thoughtful gifts and wrapped them with love and the great delight of one who loves to give more than receive.
She meticulously hung streamers and filled balloons, all the while, chiding him like a mother hen to “not come out until it’s ready.” She asked me a dozen times “do you think he’ll like it, Mommy?” with her eyes shining at the thought of making his day special.
When it was perfect, and she was ready to reveal her hard work, she led him by the hand, begging him to keep his eyes closed tightly until she told him to open them. When he did, she exclaimed “Happy birthday!”
He looked up, surveyed her work and said: “Can we go play now?” Now, you have to understand—he is seven, and he is a little boy. He wasn’t trying to be rude or hurt her feelings. He was just in the middle of something and was annoyed at being pulled away from it. Not an unnatural response—and not a response I haven’t had myself, more than once.
I gasped a little and looked at my daughter, expecting the tears to come. Instead, she hopped from foot to foot, grinning widely and said “I knew you would love it! We wanted it to be perfect!” The gift of her heart and her love for her brother didn’t leave any room for hurt feelings, or bitterness or feeling unappreciated.
When he unwrapped his gifts later, she could hardly wait for him to unwrap hers. He thanked her, and it was as if he had handed her the keys to a brand new car. Here I am, sitting there wondering why he isn’t more aware of how much thought she put into his birthday, feeling offended on her behalf, and there she is—fearlessly putting her heart out there.
As a parent, I worry about what I am teaching my kids. Am I teaching them to grow in their faith? To learn the value of hard work? To be kind? In my worrying, I completely miss what they teach me. I’m envious of my daughter’s heart. While I work so hard to protect it for her, she just opens it more and more. It scares me to know how deeply she could be hurt with such a tender heart. How quickly I forget that Jesus is watching over her and blessing her sweet love for others. When her heart does get broken, He gently picks it up, as only He can, and makes it new again.
I want a heart like that. Covered in the scars of loving people. No room for feeling unappreciated or rejected or misunderstood. Consumed by love for others, no matter how much it hurts.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
4th grade is a whole new world for us. Not that Kindergarten through 3rd grade was a cakewalk for W or anything. The teachers at his school don’t mess around. They run a tight ship, and they are excellent at what they do. I can’t imagine a better learning environment for my kids. We’ve just noticed that 4th grade suddenly feels very…grown up. He’s spelling words like “omniscient” and “camouflage” and doing research projects online. It feels like we’ve turned an academic corner to the uphill climb from here to graduation. Bittersweet for this mama. 12th grade will be here all too soon.
Currently, we’re working on his “Bug Collection” project. Can I just take a moment to say how much I hate bugs? Hate. Them. He is tasked with collecting at least ten different insects or spiders or centipedes, etc. He is supposed to study what they are doing in their natural environment, write down where and when he found them, draw a picture of them and then brutally murder them. Okay, okay. The instructions don’t include the word “murder” but…let’s just say they are supposed to take a trip to the freezer, after which they’ll never be the same. After they are…no more, he is supposed to put them in a plastic tackle box (formerly one of my earring organizers–not anymore. I intend to burn it and its contents on Friday at 4 pm sharp).
So, here’s the problem. My tenderhearted boy does not kill things. He is a vegetarian. A staunch defender of all creatures, no matter how disgusting. For this reason, we are only collecting dead bugs for this project. Less murdery, but more challenging to find bug corpses in good enough condition that they’ll work for the project. So far his diary looks like this:
Name: Common Wasp
Where did you find it? In an old birdhouse. My mom killed it with Raid. I didn’t kill it. She did.
What was it doing? Nothing. It was just curled up all sad and alone under its nest full of dead offspring where my mom ambushed it and killed it. She killed them all.
You guys, the struggle is real with this boy. He is one bucket of red paint away from an anti-fur rally. We smuggle meat into our house like drug mules. I’ll distract him with a plate of soy nuggets while the rest of us crouch in the corner, stuffing steak in our mouths, shooing the cats and dogs away while we guiltily savor each cholesterol-laden morsel.
Why don’t I drop the hammer, and force-feed him some meat, you ask? Because he means it. It’s not a show. It’s not an act, or a means for attention. He is truly convicted that eating or killing animals is not something he wants any part of. He has stuck to his guns for nearly three years, despite our cajoling and ploys of tempting him with hot dogs (used to be one of his favorites). He knows that God put animals on the earth for our use, but he chooses to go the veggie route, and that’s okay. He’s extremely healthy, his eyesight is perfect and he’s an honor student.
Go on with your bad vegetarian self, W.
I am confident that his compassionate heart for all of God’s creatures doesn’t go unnoticed by their Creator.
Back to the bug collection. While he was at his grandparents’ lake house this weekend, he and his dad found an obscenely large, incredibly crunchy, disgustingly horrifying grasshopper. It was alive. He couldn’t bear to kill it for the sake of science.
Everyone, meet our new pet grasshopper “Lonely.”
I figured it would survive a day or two at the most in captivity. Oh, no. It is thriving under W’s diligent and loving care. Thriving. I swear it’s getting bigger. I threaten it. I show it the tackle box and assure it that it’s “only a matter of time before it joins the others.”
It won’t die.
I emailed W’s teacher today to ask if we might have a stay of execution for our stupid grasshopper so that he can use it as part of his collection but spare its life. If I were her, I would not want to set a precedent of my students (no matter how convicted) bringing live bugs into my classroom. Nope. In her benevolence, however, she has graciously chosen to humor our plight. Lonely is going to 4th grade.
As much as I don’t want a grasshopper in my home, and as much as I would like to eat meat freely in the light of day with the rest of the carnivorous world, I can’t help but admire my son. His compassion is real. It’s honest. As he grows, and that compassion takes root in things besides the sparing of grasshoppers and the avoidance of chicken nuggets, I imagine the difference he could make in the world.
Empathy is in short supply these days. You go ahead and save the planet one bug at a time, my boy. I could learn some things from you.
Now, if you’ll excuse me—it’s time to feed the grasshopper.