All winter has been one cage rattling cough after another.
“It’s to be expected with an immuno-suppressed child,” the doctor said with a flick of a smile and compassion in his voice.
So we just go about life as usual. We try to warn people that the cough is our normal. They nod in understanding, but everyone flinches a little when they first hear it, like the low gravelly growl of a teacup size dog.
Every night I try to put Vicks on her back and on her chest. She lets me rub it against her back easily enough. She hunches her shoulders and bends into my touch like a purring cat. But not her chest. No, usually she protects it with her two arms crossed over it. Turns her back to me and pushes me away with her bottom jutting out.
I write it off as a three-year-old quirk. One of her many behaviors that I’ll never fully understand—she doesn’t seem to understand them herself. But a couple nights ago, in our usual way, I rubbed the Vicks on her upper back . Then I scooped more on my pointer gestured at her chest. She guarded her front in her usual way.
“Why won’t you let me put it on your chest?” I asked again. I’m usually met with a head shake and shrug. But this time she tried to explain.
“Because It will stop God from getting into my heart,” she said. Her face was solemn , lips formed her signature pout, eyebrows hooked up in concern.
I got up a minute and went into the other room where I could laugh to myself. I didn’t want to chase away her vulnerability with misunderstood laughter. When the humor wore off I was left with the simplicity and innocence of her words, like blossoms plucked from a tree. Not fit for a bouquet, no. But ones you you picked and pinned behind your hair as a little girl.
“The Lord protects the simplehearted.” Psalm 116
Her urge to protect her heart for God is a good and worthy desire. The Bible uses the word, “heart,” 830 times in the King James Version and doesn’t just mean the organ of our body or even “love” like we represent with heart emojis and notes to our crush folded into a tiny square. In the Bible, our heart is the very core of who we are.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
We can protect our heart when we consider whose words we let sink to those depths. We protect it when we forgive so that our heart does not become bitter. We can protect our heart as we consider the words we listen to, read, and speak; as we consider the things we take in with our eyes; the unjust things we do not speak up about.
There is much we can, and should do to keep a simpleheart. It is something I consider every day. When I am overwhelmed with guilt or regret I cry the prayer of David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God!”
But we can never do enough.
I came back to her lying on the couch. Our eyes found each other.
“There is nothing that can come between you and God. Nothing."
"It can't block my heart?”
“No way, sis.”
She pulled down the top of her shirt and puffed out her chest. I rubbed the ointment on.
We can guard our hearts, but we must also surrender our hearts.
Ezekiel talks about how God removes our hearts of stone and gives us a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).
These new hearts are soft and tender. They bruise, and break, and bend and bleed with others. Living with this flesh heart doesn’t feel as though our hearts are guarded at all.
“If through a broken heart God can bring His purposes to pass in the world, then thank Him for breaking your heart.” Oswald Chambers
God will have his way with our hearts.
So we guard our hearts from hate, evil, and dark things that would darken or jade us. We remain as simple and innocent as a child crossing her arms over her chest. But we give ourselves as freely too. In childlike uncertainty we offer ourselves, our hearts, trusting that God is our protecter. That even in the hurt and disappointment, the God who formed our hearts in the secret place is sewing seeds that make our hearts more complicated, more beautiful, and more fully surrendered to Him.