Like any normal middle schooler, my daughter is searching for her identity. And, maybe because she’s in the middle of a passel of kids, she finds identity in what she can claim. “Mine” is hard to come by with six siblings. But “mine” is what she wants to define her.

Currently,  she defines herself as a “pet girl.” She wants something to nurture that doesn’t talk back. So she’s been saving for a dog. She’s spent hours googling non-shedding dogs, setting her heart on a mini-golden doodle that could live inside. And this particular kid – if she sets her mind to something, she can do it. She requested “big jobs” and I gave them to her. She alphabetized my pantry and cleaned out a room in our basement. She knew it would take patience and saving up all of her Christmas and birthday money, but she was determined.

A few days later, we all got a little Christmas money from a beloved relative. I collected everyone’s envelopes and put them in my purse. It had been a particularly trying week for us: several injuries (one that landed my husband in the ER), exploding appliances, and one very large pay cut had that wrinkle in my forehead pinched tight.

I sat in church with my little ducklings by my side and tried to breathe deeply and trust – to remember Who is faithful… always. Because it was December, the church was presenting examples of how they use our global offering to help meet needs and spread the gospel around the world. I don’t even remember the story they told, I was crunching our budget in my mind. I knew we’d give to the fund later in the month, once we’d figured out our new financial situation.

As soon as the music started and anyone who wanted to give was invited to drop their offering in a basket up front, my daughter shoved her way down the aisle to me. With an urgency in her voice and a set to her chin, she whispered, “Can I have my Christmas money? Please?”

I bent down and pulled the envelope with her name on it from my purse. She tore it open and dashed out of our row and down the aisle. She pushed that money – intended for her dog fund – into the basket and was back in a jiffy, while I stood with my mouth open and tears streaming down my face.

To her, a dog meant identity – something that was hers. But when faced with the idea of proclaiming the gospel, of helping others in the name of Jesus, she gave freely and, yes, even recklessly. She set aside the idea of “mine” and the hoped for dog – I know this kid, I know she counted the cost in those few tiny seconds – and she gave to Christ. I saw her little heart learning to love Him, growing and changing, in spite of her human desire for “mine.”

I knew she’d go home and google puppies, but she wouldn’t regret her decision or ask for her money back. I knew that this didn’t end the dream for her, but she was willing to postpone it for the sake of Jesus. Meanwhile, I clutched my dollars, quietly fearful, afraid of want, afraid of the future… utterly humbled by this kid in single digits of life, loving Jesus with reckless abandon and selflessness. I said I was clinging to His faithfulness to see us through, but I was also clutching my wallet tightly.

Later, during the sermon, our pastor reminded us: Jesus doesn’t want piles of money, or piles of animals sacrificed in His name. He’s always only wanted our hearts. Our love. Our trust. Our faith.

Now let me tell you the rest of the story…

Two days later, a sweet little dog showed up in our driveway. A stray, outdoor dog, not at all shed-free. But our current dog tolerated her, a first, and she made nice with my daughter immediately. We were going out of town, so we prepared her for the possibility that this little pup would move on when we didn’t come home. But four days later, when our van pulled back into the driveway, New Dog was still there.

We had a nice long talk about how this wasn’t the dog she wanted – “I know, but an indoor dog wasn’t really a good fit for our family – I could never be gone for long!,” and that a dog was still a responsibility, “I’ll keep working and I’ll pay for everything, but look how much I saved not having to buy the dog!,” and we even covered the idea that, while this dog certainly made a great story, it was not a guarantee that every time she gave money away, the sky would rain puppies. Despite appearances. 😉

God is not a vending machine. But, as I look at her curled up contentedly with New Dog, I know that He is good. He is kind. And He loves my little girl’s heart that is growing and changing to be more like Him. And He loves me, too, despite my wallet-clutching ways, and His plans for me are good, too.

I hope I can be more like her – and Him – when I grow up.