I squiggle thin lines of glue up and down one side of an empty cardboard Kleenex box before sitting it down in front of a fluffy pile of tissue paper squares. With sticky fingers, the children try to separate the pieces that cling both together and to them. It's easier said than done.
What may seem a mere silly craft to keep preschoolers busy while the adults pray and study Scripture in the worship area is really fine art to this age group, art worthy of their best effort.
As I make my way around the table with the Elmer's, they clench jaws tight, furrow brows in concentration while covering each visible dot of glue with dozens of red, teal, yellow, and orange squares. Four times they begin anew before sitting back to appreciate the finished product.
This night, I'm leading half a dozen children in making a prayer box. It's nothing magical, no attempt to turn God into a jukebox where we insert 25 cent prayers and hear an instant answer. No.
In the end, it's just an empty Kleenex box re-purposed for a higher purpose. It's merely one way of teaching them about the conversation with God that we call prayer.
I give each child two slips of white paper, kneel down with Sharpie to write names on the top and listen to their individual prayer requests.
"Emerson's Prayers," I write on my son's box top.
"What do you want to pray for?" I ask, expecting a parroted response from one of the older children. Instead, my head recoils a bit.
"For Amelia not die."
I diligently write out his prayer of the heart, not willing to tell him that's not the prayer I wanted, to choose something different.
Although I didn't realize Amelia heard him, when I circle around to ask her prayer request, she parrots her twin brother: "For Emerson not die."
We've seen a lot of death over the past year. First there was the much-loved kitten who didn't make it, then a half dozen extended family and friends' wakes that I attended, most with my three ducklings filing down the aisle behind me toward the open casket. Then came Maw Maw's death shortly before Christmas.
As you might expect, where we go when we die has been a key topic of inquisitive discussion, one repeatedly introduced by them, not by me. The twins have determined they don't want to die, even if Jesus is waiting on the other side. What's more, they already understand that anybody can die, even them. And at three years old, they've already lost enough to death to fear losing each other.
In a way, it makes me sad, this loss of innocence, this understanding (already) that the world is full of loss and pain.
My children aren't even in kindergarten yet, and already, I find it difficult to navigate the hard topics--to comfort without lying, to teach without instilling fear.
I guess this is just the Father continuing to show me how ill-equipped I am so that I'll keep seeking after Him for much-needed guidance.
Image: Introducing Mischief, Fussy, and Sassy: the annual mom-taken Valentines Day photo that (as always) almost wasn't.