One rainy afternoon about a month ago when we were limping along the uphill path between lunch and bedtime, I let my daughter look over my shoulder as I scrolled Instagram. She saw a video of a golden retriever puppy with the “I’m just a hap-hap-happy guy” soundtrack and she yanked the phone from my hand and demanded “Are there more videos of puppies in this thing?”
Oh kid. There are so many videos of puppies in this thing.
This began our ritual of indulging in exactly 10 minutes of Puppy Videos after lunch. She burrows into my lap and squeals with laughter as infantile voice-overs declare “I’m a pah-tay-toe” and sing the “Found a stick on the ground” song or any of the other two dozen repetitive ridiculous TikToks or Reels that people are making with their puppies these days.
The tricky bit is that for every eight videos of a German Shepherd snuggling a kitten, there is at least one foul-mouthed, vulgar voiceover puppy video mixed in. I try to pre-screen them or stick with a reliable hashtag like GoldenDoodlesofInstagram, but still the swearing dogs sneak into the queue.
I handle the sneaky profanity by casually brushing it off and scrolling quickly to the next video. “That video had some gross and rude words in it. We don’t use those words, and I don’t want you to hear them.” That’s been enough of an explanation so far.
Yesterday, in an effort to minimize the number of F-bombs my kid hears while she digests her fruit snacks, I switched it up to a set of Reels that rotated puppy videos with videos of pandas and baby elephants and flying squirrels and whale calves breaching next to their mommas.
I swiped up to the next adorable innocuous video, and my kid watched in horror as a beetle ambled into the jaws of a venus fly trap. She saw the spiked lobes clamp shut as the beetle struggled to escape. She burst into tears. “What is that? Mommy! What happened? Did the plant just trap that bug?”
“That’s a Venus Fly Trap. They eat bugs. They trap them in their petals and then they eat them.”
Her face pinked and she struggled to produce words through the gulp of hot tears. “You mean there are plants that kill animals? On purpose? Do they eat any other animals besides bugs? Do they eat butterflies? Can they trap humans? How big are they? Where do they grow? Does anything eat them?”
We watched a couple of kid-science videos about Venus Fly Traps and the facts seemed to help. Venus Fly Traps are small. They don’t grow around here. They don’t trap other kinds of animals. Lots of different kinds of animals eat Venus Fly Traps. We talked about how many kinds of creatures need to eat bugs to survive, and how if no other creatures ate bugs, the whole earth would just be so full of bugs we would never want to go outside.
Somehow this spun out into a tearful discussion about death and God and her soft heart. We talked about how God is sad when even one creature dies, and that she is reflecting God’s image when she is sad about death. I made the mistake of mentioning souls, and she asked me to remind her what a soul is. I said it is what makes her who she is – what she thinks and feels and how she lives in the world. “I think my brain does most of that” she retorted.
Touché, kid, touché.
I was talking with her through her dribbling tears and she referred to God as “He” and then she remembered previous conversations and amended herself. “But God is not a he or a she! God is both!” Les chimed in from the table where he was clacking away at his laptop – “You know that Jesus said that God is like a mother chicken!” Her face unfurled into a huge wet-cheeked smile.
“That’s right!” I said. “God is like a mother chicken who gathers up all her chicks under her wings. Do you remember we saw that video of the chicken sitting on her nest on the farm and then the person walked over and picked up the chicken and the chicken had actually been sitting on some tiny baby kittens? That’s what God is like! God gathers up anyone and everyone and takes care of them and loves them.”
She was giggling now, remembering the kittens under the chicken. “Momma! I bet God is like a banana!” “Really? Why?” “Because God is yellow and has a peel!” She collapsed in a pile of giggles.
“I’m not sure God is like a banana, except for the fact that God is good for us like fruit.”
We spent the next several minutes giggling over how God could be like a dog, or a tree, or an ant (God is patient and faithful, God is strong and provides things we need, God is always working for our good).
I’ve felt a bit uncomfortable talking with my kiddo about faith-related topics for about a year now, but that is starting to ease a little. Someday I may be ready to write about that, and what this season of intense untangling has been like for me. Maybe not.
Let’s just say my relationship to my faith is complicated at the moment. God, it seems, is on the lookout for me as surely as I am on the lookout for God. Every time I feel like I’m standing at the edge of the abyss and screaming into the void, something pulls me back and dazzles me with beauty and God-ness. Creation, and my kiddo’s exquisite sensitivity to its fragility and interconnectedness tended the sore spots and scabs of faith I had been picking this weekend.
God is like my daughter, whose heart breaks for the cruelty and sadness of the world.
God is like my daughter, who laughs at the ridiculousness baked into the system.
God is like my daughter, who pulls me deep into the wonder of this life, this earth, and reminds me that I have so much to learn.