Spring fever attacked me -- with snow piling at the door, perhaps cabin fever was more accurate. Whichever, I smelled a garage sale while sorting trash from treasure. With my youngest approaching teens, the bulging bookshelf demanded space for new interests. Tattered copies of Seuss's zingers joined first dictionaries and fairytales in the discard box. I glanced through "Find Ferdinand", then plunked it down on the rest. Some nitwit had ruined it, circling the missing character where he hid inside the intricate drawings on each page. Too bad, it looked barely used.
"Funny about that book, Mom." I hadn't noticed Matt, munching a muffin as he sprawled on the chair behind me. More and more he resembled his older brother, Mark, an eating machine midway through his teens.
"What about it?" I questioned. "Pick up those crumbs, don't --- ." Sigh. Before I could finish he'd brushed them from his lap onto the floor.
"I was so proud that day," Matt continued. "Do you remember the Christmas you gave us that book? Mark gave you a present, and Angie made one for you, too. I was the only one without. I felt ashamed -- sort of left out. I wanted to make up for it; you'd made such a big deal about theirs."
Suddenly I was listening. This was my middle child, the silent one -- getting him to talk was usually like prying a pearl from an anxious oyster. This time, he was volunteering.
Matt grabbed the book from the box. "See on the back cover how they show Ferdinand?" He pointed to the character, circled where he hid. "I thought it was an example of what we were supposed to do. Christmas Day you sat down with us and helped us find Ferdinand on some of the pages. It took so long. Then we'd turn the page and he was lost again. You were so busy, and I wanted to surprise you."
I scrutinized the book more closely, gradually remembering. "What happened next?" I asked uneasily.
"I kept searching for Ferdinand -- I wanted to give you a present. Everywhere I found him, I circled just like the example -- every page, in ink. It was a lot of work, but I did it. I was so proud."
My anxiety grew. There was this expression on Matt's face -- a tension behind the sheepish look.
"I'd made a present for you, just like the others."
He was looking at his feet. A tear splashed onto his hand as he fumbled with his sweatshirt drawstring. "Matt," I said softly, but he wouldn't make eye contact. Quietly, he placed the book back in the discard box and shrugged.
"You made such a fuss. But not like with Mark and Angie's gifts. You were angry with mine. You said I ruined the book; then you sent me to bed. Do you remember? It was Christmas."
"Oh, Matt." The day rushed back at me like a freight train, crushing me in its tracks. "Oh, Matt." I rose from the floor and held him in my arms; my precious, wounded child. "I was wrong. I should have realized." Like Ferdinand melting into the background while begging to be noticed, how often we mistook his appearance. If only he would communicate more often.
"It's okay, Mom. It didn't matter."
"Didn't matter?" His sensitivity amazed me. No more than five at the time, even then he saw how pressed I was between too many burdens and too little time. It was so like him, and so like me to misinterpret. James 1:19-20 admonished me: "Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God" (RSV). What had I accomplished? "Will you forgive me?" I asked, lifting his chin so his eyes would meet mine.
"Sure, Mom. I always do."
Always do? How many times had I hurt him, too busy to perceive the motives for his strange, irritating ways? So sure I knew all the answers without even asking the questions, how many problems had I caused?
On every riotous page, finding Ferdinand was the challenge. I never dreamed the reward was finding my own son revealed there instead. Thank you, Lord, I prayed, as I reached into the discard box to retrieve my precious treasure. Matt smiled at me. Outside, snow swirled against the door. Inside my heart -- it was the first day of spring.
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