Sometimes I write about letting go of daily distraction. Sometimes I write about grasping what matters. And sometimes I just sit down and write something that’s on my heart. Every time I do, someone out there writes to tell me that message was meant for him or her. Maybe today’s message is for you.
I waited six years for this moment. It was the confirmation for which I yearned.
My eight-year-old daughter’s small hand shook nervously as she held the microphone. Standing in front of a large audience, she described how she chose “The Girl With the Broken Smile” from an array of children in desperate need of education, friendship, and hope.
She concluded her inspiring speech by adding, “You, too, can put a smile on the face of a heartbroken child like I did.”
It was all I could do not to take the microphone from her hands and say, “There’s just one more thing.”
And with conviction, I wanted to look into the eyes of every parent in the audience and say these words:
Someday, maybe tomorrow, maybe a year from now, someone will tell you that your child has an issue, a problem, a weakness. Someone will tell you your child needs to be changed.
But before you attempt to stifle that issue out, I beg you to look at the flip side. Take your child’s “problem” and look at it from the other side. With the right nurturing and encouragement, that weakness might turn into your child’s gift. And to deny it, alter it, or extinguish it could have tragic results.
I know because someone once told me to change the very heart of the child who just stood here and told you how she is saving another person’s life.
This is my story …
My older daughter was nearly three at the time, her unique personality already beginning to take shape. She was an attentive caregiver of stuffed animals. She comforted other children when they got hurt. She was kind to all creatures, even the unsightly roly-poly bugs on the sidewalk. My child loved singing and dancing and coming to Miss Sue’s music class.
Normally she stood up the entire class period laughing and smiling, but not on this particular day. On this day, her face was buried in the front of my shirt. She wasn’t crying, but she was hurt … sad … offended.
Another child had aggressively grabbed the musical instrument she was playing from her hands. As I comforted her, I could feel a penetrating glare coming from the mother sitting next to me. She was a woman who I considered a friend.
In a disapproving tone she chided, “All I can say is you need to toughen that child up.”
And if that wasn’t enough, the woman then predicted a dismal future.
“Because if you don’t toughen her up, she is going to have a VERY rough life ahead of her.”
I drove home from music class admitting the fact that yes, my child did get her feelings hurt easily and yes, she was extremely tender hearted, but I saw something that woman did not. I saw the flip side of my child’s “weakness.”
On the flip side of being overly sensitive and tender hearted I saw compassion, altruism, and kindness.
And when we got home, I looked into my child’s big brown eyes that held so much promise and declared, “I will never ever ‘toughen you up.’ Mark my words. Someday, someday that tender heart inside you will be your gift.”
Someday has arrived … six years later. Six years later, I have received confirmation – three signs of confirmation to be exact.
When my daughter was asked to speak to our church congregation about her experience sponsoring a child through Compassion International, she was hesitant. She was so nervous at the thought of speaking in front of so many people that at first she said no. But after thinking about it awhile, she changed her mind. Knowing there would be thirty available children who needed to be paired with a sponsor, she said, “If I get up there and speak instead of an adult, I bet more people will sponsor a child.”
And she was right.
That was confirmation #1 that I did the right thing by rejecting the warning to “toughen her up.”
A few days later, my daughter excitedly announced that she was going to receive an award at school. Her teacher described the reason she was being recognized to her like this: “You are always kind to everyone. It doesn’t matter who it is, you are always kind, caring, and helpful.”
That was confirmation #2 that it had been a wise decision to nurture my child’s tender heart, rather than “toughen her up.”
But it wasn’t until I was cleaning out my daughter’s backpack that the third and greatest confirmation was discovered.
At the bottom of her book bag there was a speech she had written and recited to her class before being voted class president in a mock election.
My daughter wrote:
My name is Natalie. Here are some reasons you should vote for me. I am hard working. I am very kind. I take care of the animals and the plants. I have self-control. I am very brave and honest. I am caring and a little curious. I am very smart and fun. I make a good leader. I care about other people. I am so exided to be one of the class presitents. Please vote for me.
I cried as I held that paper.
I cried for every little boy whose parents are told he is too rambunctious, too inquisitive, too loud.
I cried for every little girl who parents are told her head is in the clouds, that she is a daydreamer, and too much of a free spirit.
I cried for every little boy whose parents are told he is too small, too weak, and too timid to ever play the game.
I cried for every little girl whose parents are told she is too clumsy, too uncoordinated, too slow to ever succeed.
I cried for the mother who was told her child needed to be toughened up and for ever year that mother waited for the moment she would know she had done the right thing by nurturing that tender heart.
The moment was now.
And there was cause for celebration. Not because I had been “right”. Oh no, there was something much more miraculous to celebrate.
In the act of protecting, nurturing, and encouraging that overly sensitive heart at age three, my child’s gift had blossomed.
And what was more important than the fact the world could see and appreciate her gift was the fact that she could see it herself … among the other gifts she possessed.
I shudder to think if I had tried to change her, mold her into something she was not. What would I have destroyed in my beautiful child?
I was certain she could have never written these words, her purpose, her future in clear legible letters.
Herein lies the flip side to an overly sensitive heart – and it’s a beautiful sight to behold.
As I was putting the final touches on this post, a tragic headline inundated every source of news media. A young man killed and injured classmates in a shooting spree at an Ohio school. Reports said he kept to himself, and he was quiet and withdrawn.
I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone had ever looked into his eyes and told him of the gifts they saw within him.
As a teacher of children with behavioral and anger management issues for ten years, I attempted one thing with my students. I formed a bond with them simply by seeing their strengths and telling them of the gifts I saw. Even though plenty of other adults said, “Those kids will be in prison in ten years,” I chose to believe otherwise. And my students knew that.
A few days ago, I received a message from one of my former students, now a young adult. He wrote to tell me he is getting his associates degree, writing a book, and has spent the last several years actively assisting a local youth group. He ended the message by saying I was the reason he believed he could achieve his dreams and is doing so today.
Today’s “Hands Free” challenge is simple, but powerful:
Look in a child’s eyes and see the good. Tell the young person you believe in him or her. Then do whatever you can to encourage and nurture those gifts you see.
Weaknesses have a flip side – they have the potential to become strengths. And it only takes one person to take something others see as a “negative” and mold it into something in which dreams are made.
*If you feel this is a worthy message, I ask that you share it. With your help, this message can reach thousands of people who have the power to change the life and future of a child. Thank you. Please visit “The Hands Free Revolution” this week for inspiring ways you can build up a child.
The The Light on the Flip Side by Hands Free Mama, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.