Every Spring, some time around mid-June, we wait for them. Week after week we march over the bridge and through the woods. We gaze at the bogs and slowly moving river and hope for their return. Then, one day, the awe and wonder falls all around us as we stare at the ground and those tiny hopping miracles.
Toads. No bigger than your pinky fingernail. Everywhere. And I mean, EVERYWHERE.
Today, I watch from a distance and wait for the high-pitched 6-year-old scream.
“MAMA!!! THEY'RE HERE! THEY'RE HERE!”
Yes, they're here. I smile wide, almost tearing up as the boys chase after her at top speed to witness the toad bog wonder.
She's beyond elated. I think she might fly as she bounces around waving her arms, hollering and motioning for her brothers to come witness the beauty.
The sun breaks through the clouds for a moment and shines bright on their backs as they crouch low to take it all in. I catch up and stoop with them. Yep. Thousands of toads, emerging from the mossy waters, finally, they have their legs and arms. They're ready to escape the bog and discover life's wonders. And just as they think they've found their freedom – one of my kids catches them and gently places them into a nature viewer. Oh, the irony! I chuckle at the thought of it.
“Mama, these toads are hoppin' everywhere. Be careful. Don't step on 'em.” Our littlest child scoops the hoppers from a gravel footpath and places them back in the grass and into an open bucket. He crouches low and peers into his catcher, poking and chatting up his new-found friends.
This is our weekday afternoon, and this is homeschool. And I love every moment of it. I'm just as blissful as they are. These small wonders, it's what makes life rich. Because life is about miracles like this, the small, the precious, the unaltered-by-man miraculous. It's about leading children to a faraway place and showing them how to find the awe-inspiring and consequently, they find God at the very same time. Because God is in all things beautiful and all things awesome. Teaching them, by example, how to be over-taken and over-joyed by the littlest of things. Like the tiny hopping miracles that surround us on this pebbled path today.
Yes, they really are that tiny.
My attention leaves the micro-toads and I'm instantly enchanted by the breeze in a little girl's flowery dress and the raspy voice of a 4-year-old, in love with the dream of catching a dragonfly.
“Watch him, Mama!”
“THERE he is!”
I giggle as he bounces here and there following the path of a buzzing dragonfly. He wants to catch him so badly. Just to get a closer look at those beautiful wings. I get excited with him, prancing around, trying to chase an impossible to catch insect. We grab a net. I fail miserably, so Audrey takes over. She's incredibly talented at catching all things insect and amphibian related. She's an expert. (Self-proclaimed, of course.) Six years in the making, my friends!
She sneaks through the bulrushes and tiptoes towards a perched dragonfly and easily (and gently) captures it in a large net.
“I'VE GOT HIM, ALEX!!! Come quick!”
“MAMA! She got HIM!” He's screaming and bouncing on tip-toe now.
“That's awesome, Audrey, way to go!” I grab the Nature Viewer and help Audrey carefully slip the net over the top and in goes that beautiful creature.
We let it go and watch it buzz away, back into the thick of the swampy waters. The kids gush over how 'beautiful' it was.
Our children are over the moon to catch a dragonfly. And I think part of this awe of nature is born in us. I believe we have an inherent desire to commune with God's creation. I just think most people stamp it out of themselves and consequently, their children. I know this because I've met enough children.
For me, Nature Study (the fancy term for being outside and taking a hands-on look at all things nature related) is among the most important 'subjects' we study. Why? Because I believe we need to put far more emphasis on nurturing a love of nature in our children than we do. Children today spend so little time outdoors and even less time just 'being' with God's creation. Just kneeling low with Mom or Dad and breathing in the smallest of wonders. Touching and feeling the slimiest of frogs or the fluffiest of caterpillars. Learning, by experience, that our world is full of wonder and that wonder isn't found at a shopping mall.
How do we inspire awe in God's little things? In the small miracles? In the humbling reality that we are just one of God's many, many creations? Instilling it deep in their souls that this universe is a gift and we are here because the Creator wills it and we can find him everywhere. We can find him especially in His creation. And we find Him when we seek and when we humbly get low with the ants and the toads.
“Mom!” Our eldest calls to me, a hint of worry in his voice.
“What's up, bud?”
“These tadpoles – they're trapped.” He points to a pathway that has flooded over from the recent rain.
“Look, Mom.” He gets closer and swishes his hand in the water. “They'll die here.”
I know what's coming next. We will have to find a way to save several hundred tadpoles from dying an unfortunate death on the pebbled path of doom. I smile wide and can't help but feel full of joy. All this nature romping has done something for these kids' souls. They care. They deeply care about God's creatures.
And I've spent many a-day caring for a sick bird or a lost baby mouse or a dog with no collar. And now, tadpoles trapped on a path – this is a new one. But, isn't that what the peace-makers do? Make peace? With people and with God's creatures? I want our children to be blessed peace-makers.
The sun breaks through the clouds and shines bright on their backs as they crouch low to take it all in. Swiftly, they start strategically planning and scooping and moving pebbles to relocate the little slimy tadpoles. It takes nearly an hour, but, they do it. And I mostly let them do it alone. They need to accomplish the task independently. As they are scooping and rerouting water, I sit close by and talk to them, all three.
“You know what this reminds me of? That beautiful story about the little boy and the starfish. Remember? Once there was a little boy who saw hundreds of starfish abandoned on the sandy shore, unable to make their way back to the ocean. The boy was overwhelmed with sadness for the dying creatures. He was also overwhelmed by how many starfish there were, but still, he started slowly placing them back in the water, one by one. An old man came by and made fun of the boy, saying: 'Are you crazy? You'll never save all these starfish. How can you possibly think you're making a difference?' And the boy replied...”
Simon interrupts me.
“And the boy replied, as he placed another starfish in the water – 'It made a difference to THAT one.'”
I breathe deep.
“Yes, I love that story.”
“Yeah Mama,” Audrey looks up at me. “We're like the little boy. Only we're saving tadpoles.”
“Yes, hun... you are like the little boy.” We fall silent for a while, just taking in the breeze and the water and the little bitty jumpy things and the little bitty wriggly things.
This is the school of the little things. Because this is something we learn. To search for the little miracles. To care about the little creatures. And to do the little things we can to make this world a better place. Even if it seems like it won't make any difference at all. It will and our children must know these truths. I want our children to be like that boy saving starfish. Like the boy, who in his saving, was really loving.
Whether it's starfish.
Or people. Especially people.
After a long time, we stand and gaze down at the puddles which were once full of struggling tadpoles - now nearly empty of anything wriggling.
Audrey leans over and pushes the water with her little hand. “I think we saved 'em all, Mama.” She whispers it, smiling proud.
“I think you did,” I look at the beauty around us. “And I'm sure God is smiling.”
And I'm sure He is.
Crouch low friends. Get small. Find the miracles in the little things and inspire your children to embrace the simple, small truths that wonder is something far too valuable to forfeit and far too priceless to be purchased.
It really is true – the lower we get, the wider we open our eyes – the more we see God. The smaller we stay, the wider the wonder.