As a parent, I fret over the small stuff. Oh, I invest plenty of hours praying over the major details. But I major in the minors, as they say. I police the perimeters, knowing that prayer, my attentiveness, and a whopping dollop of grace goes a very long way indeed in cultivating spirits that eagerly desire to live and serve the Lord, and others. “It’s not the eruption,” I tell myself often, “It’s the tremors signaling the build-up.”
Yet, somehow, when I’m looking for signs of growth, I pass over the small shadows of “Coming Soon,” in the search for the marquee that screams, “Now Playing!” I miss the fact that someone exhibited that first tiny shred of self-control in simply saying nothing when his anger flared as I look for him to walk away from a confrontation I know had him grinding his jaw. I wait for offer to take out the overflowing trash and miss the little hands carefully sweeping every scrap of paper from the snowflake cutting into the recycling bin.
But God is patient with me, and sometimes, He shines a light so brightly on the road signs along the way that even I can’t miss them.
Earlier this week, an exciting non-Christmas package (“We can open it now? Today?”) hit our doorstep. It was a sweet box of surprises from Mamaw, who had sent, among other things, a pair of moccasin slippers. Five Native American-obsessed pairs of eyes immediately lit up with sheer joy. I smelled a potential tussle in the making. After all, each of those five pairs of covetous eyes had a pair of corresponding feet, all itching to don the leather footwear and slip into their Native persona. My kids are normally fairly happy to abide by the “May I have a turn?” “Yes, in two minutes,” rule of play, but still, I foresaw a full week of playing moccasin police.
“Who gets them first?” I heard John Mark ask as they retreated to the boys’ bedroom to gear up for another lively afternoon of scraping deer hides and constructing drying racks for salmon. (Seriously, this is pretty much what they’ve done every day for the entire length of their break.) Because I have learned not to create a problem where one doesn’t exist, I went back to my own work and waited to see the outcome of what could easily become Moccasingate 2017.
About an hour later, a child with an odd gait slipped behind me while I stirred a pot on the stove. They’ve been practicing this “walking silent as a Native American,” for the past few weeks, so I didn’t think much of it. A moment later, another tried to pass unseen, but I needed someone to bring in eggs, so I stopped him in his tracks. That was when I saw:
Two feet, one moccasin.
“Son, you’re missing a shoe,” I told him, though I was pretty sure he had noticed.
“No I’m not. Birdie has it,” he replied.
I thought for a moment, then asked the obvious: “You’re wearing one moccasin on purpose?”
“Yeah!” John Mark answered eagerly. “There are two moccasins, and if we take turns wearing one at a time, more people can have a turn more often!”
And he was gone, off to hunt beaver before I could ask him to retrieve eggs for our supper.
That was when it hit me: there hadn’t been any fights, any wrangling. No whining, no complaining, no insisting that any one person be patient. They had worked it out themselves, as it seemed best to them. They had show deference to the needs of one another, and they had done so with love, with respect, and with creativity.
And I had nothing to do with it.
In the days since, they’ve kept up their rotation. As a matter of fact, I’ve yet to see both moccasins being worn by just one person at a single go. Instead I see Jude stumbling about in one oversized leather left shoe while Phin tip-toes carefully behind the couch in the right. There haven’t been any major acts of altruism (“Here, Birdie, we want you to have them!”) but neither has the status quo of amiably sharing broken down. Normally, I’d be waiting for the earth to shake and someone to go above and beyond. That would be my sign that major heart change was being accomplished.
But in truth, the fact that five kids, all developmentally 9 and under, have been happily, joyfully, enthusiastically cheering one another on as they’ve shared a single pair of moccasins? That’s a sign. It’s not flashing neon, but it can’t be ignored. All the things that the Bible says love is? Patient, kind, not being jealous, not boasting, not seeking its own? My kids are showing that in the simple act of waiting their turn for a few minutes with one little leather shoe.
That’s character development. That’s thinking of others. And that, most definitely, is growth.