My eldest daughter, my sweet Tessa, turned 4 today and it is still hard to fathom. People warned the days would fly by but I thought it nothing more than a figure of speech. But here we are, celebrating a girl who starts school later this year; an adventurer whose quirky personality shows more each day, a curious visionary whose creativity astounds me, a strong-willed and decisive child who moves with purpose, a thoughtful and gentle child whose heart overflows with compassion.
This girl is a hero of mine.
I say hero, not because I worship her, but because I deeply admire the courage she shows by embodying her true self. I don’t often boast about my daughters. I’m conscious to not let every conversation lead to stories of my girls because I don’t think others would always want to hear it. Of course Daddy thinks they’re amazing, that’s a given. The main reason is that I can’t talk about them for long without being reduced to a puddle. At least with writing I can take breaks to compose myself (while shielding the keyboard from water damage).
Tessa amazes me; I am inspired by her audacity. Her love for others is pure, unlimited and unconditional. She wants to give to people, friends and strangers alike. She sees pain and wants to comfort. She asks questions to understand the complex. She sincerely appreciates quality time. The best part, these desires are hers alone. She hasn’t been coached; this is simply her heart.
Tessa will bring great joy to our world and she has already embraced that vocation.
She and I went Christmas shopping together and she asked to buy gifts for “friends we hadn’t met”, one boy and one girl. I agreed, partly out of curiosity but mainly in awe of her initiative. I watched in wonder as she searched the dollar store in dogged pursuit of the perfect presents. She packed and placed the two gift bags by our front door, awaiting delivery to her friends-to-be. My wife and I tried to brainstorm ideas for when she could give them away but she wouldn’t have it, so we left it to her.
Three months later (we were now well into January), Tessa and I were leaving to pick up food from my favourite Jamaican restaurant and she grabbed the bags. She hadn’t been there before but she walked in confidently and handed the bags to the owner (an amazing woman of God who I’ll tell you about at a later date). And we found out she has two grandchildren, one boy and one girl, who were now the friends we hadn’t met. While I stood in shock wondering how it all came together, Tessa pulled up a stool and calmly munched a patty.
About a month before the Christmas gift idea, she and I were discussing my upcoming work trip to Honduras. I told her we were visiting children and I tried to explain poverty in ways she could understand. She quickly left the room, returning with crayons and paper. She made a few drawings and made me promise to give them to “special friends”.
I agreed, thinking it was cute, but not realizing how invaluable her scribbles would be.
Giving the first drawing to Judy, an impoverished girl the same age as Tessa, nearly broke my heart. I couldn’t imagine how a picture could bring such joy but that girl’s reaction was priceless. By 3 years old, Judy had seen half of her house collapse in a mudslide; she watched her mother mourn the loss of her unborn child; she heard her grandmother’s pleas for the return of her own missing son. It hurt my heart that she had witnessed so much pain at a young age but, if only for a moment, her childhood innocence was restored. Judy, our special friend, clutched the paper like a valuable treasure, barely looking up from it while she jumped on the bed with a grin on her face.
These ideas were entirely Tessa’s; simple gestures that brightened someone else’s day. How did my little girl know to do these things?
Neither my wife nor I can be accredited with planting these thoughts and I don’t believe her compassion is a result of our parenting. I am convinced God created her with this innate inclination and our job is to empower her as she strives to bless others. The greatest gift to her (and challenge to me) is to allow her the freedom to live out her full potential without allowing my fears and cynicism to pollute her heart.
It is a difficult task. When she shares her ideas my brain thinks logistics, strategizing how to make it happen. Inevitably, fear and doubt interfere with even the simplest of plans but this child has given me courage. She inspires me to embrace my own God-given vocation, to live with purpose, to resist second-guessing, to fight for what I am called, and dream beyond self-imposed limitations. A four-year-old taught me what it means to be true to oneself and how to love doing it.