Sweet Pea's Story

My middle child, my Sweet Pea, the one whose boisterous laughter delights everyone in her company, the one whose pensive introversion makes this momma scratch my head in prayer for help to minister to her heart. While my firstborn wears her heart on her face before verbally expressing every thought and feeling she possesses (making my role as nurturer, disciplinarian, and shepherd fairly easy to navigate) my Sweet Pea flees the scene at the first engagement of her emotional muscles. Tucking herself in a tiny ball within her bottom bunk, she grips "snuggly blanket," the obvious name for her favorite item of security. I stroke her hair and whisper reassurances to her. Rarely does she respond with words; occasionally a purr. Inwardly I pray for God to reveal to me what her heart needs in order to experience love and security. I pray that He would give me words to build her up, but mostly that she would eventually run to Him instead of "snuggly."

We talk about Jesus a lot in this house. We thank Him, we ask Him for help, we discuss His teaching. Big sister has "asked Him in her heart," which has added a whole new dimension to conversations during the last 2 years; the Holy Spirit is also mentioned frequently. Because of this, I wonder even more what goes on in my Sweet Pea's mind. We pray together as a family at breakfast--each one of us takes a turn around the table and thanks God for His blessings that are near to our heart that day, and each asks Him for help in whatever areas are weighing on our minds that day. At dinner, we pray for others--family, friends, missionaries. When we take turns, Sweet Pea asks to not participate 90% of the time. She doesn't want to pray aloud. She doesn't want to pray at all. We don't make her. I know from years of college ministry that children have to make their own personal decision of faith at their own time, and that pushing them to follow our faith will generally lead to 1 of 2 possible outcomes: insincere faith that is performance driven, or active rebellion from not only things spiritual, but of all things that parents teach. So we don't push. What is going on in her little heart? Are we doing something to make her turned off to God? We pray more.

Karl and I pray daily together, separately, and inwardly over her that "God would soften her heart to Himself, and reveal her heart to us." At age four, she is asking questions about personal faith. As we wade into conversations about it, she shuts them down, hops off, and clutches "snuggly." We let her--we don't push. Her teachers at church approach us to say that she knows every answer, and not just the obvious answers. When asked, "What is Noah known for?" She doesn't say, "Building the ark." She says, "He obeyed God." Wow. Grasping the deeper concepts is evidence of heart-level comprehension. Is she actually warm to God, but shy to express it to us? Why is she shy around us--does she not feel secure? We pray more.

On an October morning, (her age = 4 and three-quarters), we have a discipline session. A fairly routine display of rebellion--yelling hateful words at her brother, followed by a fairly routine consequence and "talkin-to"--(as we call it in Texas), where I lay out what was wrong and why, what is correct, and what God's word tells us about the situation. Sometimes in these instances, she wants me to read directly from the Bible. We may read a verse or two about love, but we usually end up viewing the 10 commandments illustration in the picture Bible--"Honor your father and mother." And always after a 10 commandments reading, I explain that God knew that no one can keep all 10 commandments. I reassure her that I do not expect her to be perfect, that I am not perfect, and that God knows this, and that's why He sent Jesus, who was perfect, to take our punishment for us. Sometimes this will launch her into wanting to read a story about Jesus. (You can see why it takes me a while to get my laundry done). On this October morning, she so desired. When we get to the end of the Jesus story, the part about what He did for us on the cross, and how we must accept this payment for ourselves, she outwardly shuts down once more. She walks away. In the calm, I sensed the Holy Spirit's whisper, "You don't have to push, but sometimes, your job as parent is to lay it all out for her."

In obedience, I called her back. I said, "Sweet Pea, I've read this story to you a hundred times, but do you know that there's more to the story? You see this page where there are 3 crosses? Jesus is on the cross in the middle, but you see these 2 other guys? They have a story too--do you want to hear it?" She nods, and climbs back into my lap. I relay the criminals' stories--how they both had done terrible things--things that deserved the worst punishment. I told her, "One of them didn't believe in Jesus; he said mean things to Jesus, and he died having never asked for forgiveness. But the other man admitted that Jesus was the True King. He said he was sorry and asked for forgiveness and Jesus forgave him, even though he was a criminal! And He said, 'Today you will be with me in paradise.'" I finished by saying to her, "Sweet Pea, everyone has a choice in life." I decided to leave it at that, and put the book on the shelf. She urgently ran back to get it, protesting, "Mommy, Mommy!" Then she leaned in to whisper, "I want to be the other guy."

We had a conversation about what that means, and I prayed aloud for her. I asked her what she was feeling and if she wanted to put her trust in Jesus. She said, "Mommy, I already opened the door while you prayed." Uncertain, I asked, "What does that mean?" She glowingly smiled, "I asked Jesus to clean my heart." I smiled at her sweet expression--all her own! She jumped up and down and called her sister eagerly, "Sissy, sissy, I opened the door to Jesus and asked Him to clean my heart!!" Such enthusiasm from our little one who curls in a ball in her bunk!

The next day, we had a "Breakfast with Angels"--a tradition we started a couple of years ago to celebrate when someone dear to us surrenders their life to Christ and joins the family of God. We presented her with a devotional Bible and a cross necklace of real gold to signify her life-changing decision.

That day, and for days following, she thrust her hand in the air when I asked for a volunteer to pray aloud. One morning she prayed, "Thank you for food and water and that Daddy has a job, and for Christmas and for Jesus, and that we are free to worship." All her own words and thoughts! Wow! What a testimony to "new life in Christ!" She has softened her heart to God, made a genuine decision of faith, and shares her heart openly with us = multiple answers to prayer!

Today, 6 months later, she is still not perfect, of course. She still breaks a commandment. But now when she is feeling hurt, shy, or mad because she received a reprimand, she runs into her bottom bunk and clutches her Bible. Rolled tight into a little ball, she snuggles the book. She remains true to her personality of using less words to express her feelings, but it is obvious from her actions that a change has occurred in her heart. Instead of finding security and hope in her "snuggly blanket," she now finds it in God's word. And we pray. We pray that it will remain there.

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