it’s not coming out right, and nobody will help me

On a recent Sunday night, after a much longer than necessary weekend, I took advantage of an oh-so-small opportunity to sit in the recliner in the basement and attempt to ignore the constant motion around me.

Then, Noah dropped several small pieces of Renee’s scrapbooking paper, of varying shapes and sizes, into my lap.  He was trying to make a birthday card for Grandpa Dougherty, and asked me to help him arrange the pieces into something that would make an interesting card.

In less than 10 seconds, I dropped them in some semblance of card-forming order, and then brushed him away to make it work with a glue stick and scotch tape.  No problem.  A few minutes later, it was a card fit for a king.

Then Ellie showed up.  Oh God, I love that girl!3141505750_5587df0e3b_o

I was checking something on the computer with a lap full of small child and others lurking, and Ellie was rattling something in my ear, amidst the constant droning of little voices reaching to at least a three-block radius from our home.

“Dad, will you help me make a birthday card for Grandpa like Noah’s?  I want to make a card like Noah made and I can’t find the right kind of paper and pieces and I don’t know what colors to use or how to cut the paper and  I don’t know how to put the pieces together and I want to make something for Grandpa and it’s his birthday tomorrow and I don’t know how to make a card like Noah’s.”

This is where a good father would swiftly move distractions from the view and focus all energy on a little 6-year-old bundle of heavenly bubbles and do the right thing.

This is where I say, “No, Ellie, I don’t know where that stuff is . . . and I need to do this other . . . and I can’t . . . and just put it . . . it will be fine . . . Mom will help you tomorrow . . . it’s time for bed.”


Ellie returns to the table and the pieces, and works diligently on her own without complaining.

One load of kids up the stairs, picking up shoes and dirty dishes along the way, then running back downstairs for this and that, and stop.

There’s Ellie standing at the bottom of the stairs in the doorway to the laundry room, facing the other direction, wimpering and wiping tears from her eyes.  She ran into the family room when she heard me coming.


“Ellie?  What’s wrong, honey?”  I offer contritely, sounding suddenly fatherly and gentle and carrying enough guilt to melt Antarctica. 

She was still standing with her back to me, wiping her eyes, until I sat down and offered again, more softly, “What’s the matter, Ellie?”

Then she turned, rushed to me and dug her face into my shoulder and blustered out, “I can’t do it!  I want to make a card like Noah’s for Grandpa’s birthday, and it’s not coming out right, and nobody will help me, and I can’t do it.”

Oh, Lord!  Oh my sweet Jesus.  Really?  Please Lord, fix me of all the stupidity that ever leads to heartbreak such as that, from a beautiful creature such as this.  Oh, Lord, please!

We found new sheets of paper, and we picked all the colors she wanted, and went through all of the options twice, and Ellie instructed me on all of the intricacies of the design in her vision.  We cut and glued and taped.  We found stickers and picked the perfect shapes and wrote all of the right words.

As we worked, I discovered Ellie’s first attempt, laying amidst the rubble of remnants.  There was more tape than paper, and the words were written in ink and smeared and fragmented across the face of it all.

It was a pitiful expression of something conceived with passion and visions of beauty.

All of the right intentions, but none of the ability to produce the vision.  From a grown-up perspective, even the final product fell short.  From a six-year-old perspective, it was heavenly.

Oh God, help us, we can’t do it – celebrate this life with its due – and we’re broken-hearted.  Even the best falls short, but you are gracious, and you see our poor efforts and vision as more than enough.  Please, Lord, help us to help one another, to be sensitive, to build and serve with passion to produce the best version of your life among us with the limited vision we carry.

Please, Lord, help us.

6 thoughts on “it’s not coming out right, and nobody will help me”

  1. It (they) was (were) lovely. As the object of the creative cutting, pasting, and writing, I received, probably 12 or so hand made cards (I think Ethan set the record with 5). It must be in the family blood, because even Angel and Gabriel honored me with their hand made offerings. I love learning from each of our 14 ‘kids’…

    Mark 10:14b Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
    Acts 20:35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.

    What Dale did not experience was the end product… their beaming faces and glee as they each presented their card or cards in Meghan’s and Ethan’s cases. It is hard to imagine that they were MORE blessed by giving than I was in receiving, but a great deal of love was expressed and shared, for sure.

    So, thank you Dale for, as Paul Harvey used to say, telling me the rest of the story. Thanks for your part in creating wonderful birtday remembrances and keepsakes.


  2. korinna and i have an understanding, for she and i are both first-borns. kory is the baby, although he is no longer a baby, and so i drink him in. then there’s keenan; his is the heart that i break most often. his is the heart that is most fragile. why can i not remember this when it matters? why does it take his tears, his sobbing for me to realize that he needs me? how can i long so desperately for a world made right, and yet so readily contribute to that which makes it wrong?

    keenan, i love you honey. i thank God for you. please know these truths, for they are from the depths of my being. i’m sorry that it is so difficult for me to find them when you need them most.

    Jesus, thank you for loving, for giving. please be for keenan what i cannot be.


  3. Though i do not share the weight and depth of being placed in the role of a parent, i very much look up to parents who can learn from their children and who see things that are seemingly minor events as catastrophic and groundbreaking moments in children’s lives. Thank you for your example and wisdom.


  4. not to get all sappy here, but your family is an amazing blessing in my life. well, except for you…you’re mostly just a pain…sort of a thorn in the side type. 😉


  5. Grace woke up at around 11:30 a couple of nights ago. She has a waist-high gate at her door to keep Faith out, but still allows her to keep her door open. We like this, because it allows us to see her dance and hear her sing.
    This gate squeeks.
    I know the sound, and when I hear it, I know that, yet again, she is up and out of bed. We’ve done this before, and she knows what the punishment is. We have 2 small flights of stairs in my bi-level, and I was up the first flight in 2 steps, about halfway up the second flight, I heard a whimper.
    Okay. She’s crying, so she knows there’s a punishment, but she’s up anyway. Somethings wrong?
    I reach the top of the stairs and turn the corner to see the 35 pound frame of my 5 year old standing in the hallway under the dim single bulb above her. Grace was taking short steps and holding her head like her brains were going to spill out her ears.

    “Papa. I’m a little uncumfratable.”

    Earlier that day, she was so excited to get her ears pierced, Mandy tried to explain there would be pain, but there was the first day of school coming and the other little girls.. She was so excited, and really- one doesn’t know the after-pain feeling unless you’ve lived a little of life yet. This was her first experience.
    Geez, growing up is hard sometimes isn’t it?

    I was reminded right then of how self-centered I can be. I usually get mad that she wakes up because it happens right when the commercial ends, or immediately after I add new paint to my palette. So I tried to be the dad I wish that I always was. I put my arm around her and we went into the bathroom to clean her ears with the stuff that makes them “feel good and cold”.

    Sometimes loving your children can be so convicting, because it feels so right- and then you realize that it’s so easy.

    I hope she remembers this time and forgets all the others.


  6. Yes. This story is the best. I fully embody this story, even though my chaos is a 1/3 the amount you shoulder daily. Thank you for sharing and helping us to remember how precious our children are and how important our actions to them are, and how important we are to them. Love you guys. 🙂


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