I'm not a big one on hanging onto childhood art projects. Don't get me wrong – I loved looking over projects brought home from school, but multiply six kids by at least six productive project-years each by forty weeks per year by one project per week, and the volume gets overwhelming. Add to that the ad-hoc kitchen table projects that occur throughout a creative childhood, and you've got the potential for construction-paper-and-Elmer's-glue overload. So, outside of a handful of projects that go up every Christmas season, our unwritten policy was to quietly and tactfully broom the artwork once interest faded.
With one exception.
It's sitting on my dresser in a 5x7 picture frame, and it has an interesting history. I think it was about Valentine's day, and one of my daughters set out to make a card for me to express her love. She got off to a good start, but muffed part of it along the way. Disappointed and discouraged that she'd “ruined” her card for me, she was about to throw it away when Ellen stopped her. Knowing that fathers have different standards for such things, Ellen assured my daughter that even a flawed card would be appreciated. So it was saved from the trash, and presented to me, and I'm sure at the time I gave it the usual “that's lovely, sweetheart” before tucking it in my drawer.
Some time later I came across the card while I was having a tidy fit over my cluttered dresser. Recognizing it as a childhood art project and wondering why I'd hung on to that one, I was about to pitch it when Ellen stopped me. She told me of my daughter's work to make it, of her crushing disappointment at “ruining” it, and how she'd been encouraged to present it anyway. Hearing that, I looked at the card in a new light. This was a hand made expression of love to me from one of my darling children, and in a way stood for all the birthday and Father's Day and Christmas and whatever cards they'd all made for me over the over the years that we simply hadn't been able to keep. It wasn't perfect, but it was all the more charming for that. A purchased card, no matter how elaborate and eloquent, couldn't have begun to touch the simple expression of love that the smeared paint represented. I decided that this one I'd keep, and found a frame for it. Now it sits on my dresser, where I can see it every morning as I get ready for the day. Over the years of mishaps the glass has cracked, but the frame still perches there, holding the card. And as I've been reminded every morning of my children's love for me, a deeper meaning has become more apparent.
We adults think we can do so much for God. In fact, we're so great that sometimes we wonder how He'd get along without us. But the truth is that we can't bring anything before Him but our own weakness and humility – our broken hearts. That's what He really wants of us, and that's all we can bring. Of course, we don't want to bring them, because they're smeared and smudged and imperfect and not at all as good as He deserves. But that's what He wants, because it's the intention behind the smeared and damaged work that interests Him.
Yet how often do we keep away from Him, not wanting to draw near because the project that is our life isn't ready yet? We keep Him waiting for us while we take another stab at it, because this time we're sure to get it right. We can't conceive of a love so deep that even our failures are precious to Him if we bring them in love. We scramble and scurry and hang back because He's so important that we want everything to be perfect for Him – even though He's assured us that we'll never be perfect, but that's okay, because He loves us and treasures even the smallest, most damaged things we do for Him.
It's a lesson I'm still learning. As a reminder, I keep on my dresser a Broken Heart that was given to me by one of my precious children. It isn't perfect, or expensive, or even impressive art. But I treasure it because it is a gift of love. I try to let it remind me that my Heavenly Father wants my imperfection, and my poverty, and my emptiness. He wants my heart, even though it's broken. That's the only treasure I can give Him.