We had a late batch of kittens, born a few days ago and hidden away in the bale stack out by the barn. Safe, momma kitty thought, from all the dangers. Tucked away, deep down in a nest she’d obviously prepared for them ahead of time. It took Carter two days to find them.

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Four beauties, tiny and precious and fragile.

The next day, one was dead. Looks like momma had accidentally rolled over on it and suffocated it in the night.

The day after that, Carter brought the little black and white one to the house, and by the way he was walking, fast but gentle, it was a sure thing something was wrong.

Can I warn you? This is nasty.

The baby had a hole in it, a perfectly round hole drilled through its soft, baby skin, and there were maggots. Yes. Gross.

A fly had taken a nasty bite out of her and laid eggs, and baby was being eaten alive.

It took dad and son and tweezers and alcohol and about an hour to remove the evil and clean the wound and the baby cried the whole time, poor thing.

When they took baby back, they checked the other kittens and found one perfectly fine, and one with so many holes in her there was no hope of saving.

Two kittens left, one sick and one fine, and Carter is vigilant about checking on them. Sick baby has made a few more trips to the house, a few more treatments with tweezers and alcohol and salve, and today she seems quite well. The wound is healing and she’s nursing and Carter is praying, and we are cautiously hopeful.

And I’m thinking this morning about compassion, and about raising compassionate kids, and I’m thinking about the mom who asked the questions …

How do we do it? How do we raise kids who are compassionate and caring and who think about others in a world like this? How do we teach kids to be kind and giving when the world teaches them to be selfish and thoughtless?

I’ve thought about this a lot.

At the time of the conversation, we were discussing big things. Hungry children and orphans and third worlds and natural disasters. And we were planning big things. Mission trips and service projects and, you know, going and helping.

Since then, we’ve done some of that. Some going and some helping, and it’s been good. I’ve loved being able to serve as a family that way.

But I’m thinking, as my boy leaves for the barn this morning to check on the kittens – I’m thinking compassion is perhaps built on the small things. Maybe compassion is learned in the barn, or on the playground, or wherever a family spends time.

Maybe this is what Carter is learning, although he probably doesn’t know it.

He’s learning it’s not fair. Life, I mean. Things happen that don’t make sense. Poor baby kittens didn’t do anything right or wrong. Why did one kitten suffocate? Why did one kitten become so sick it died? Why was one kitten healed? Why was one kitten safe and whole and untouched?

I don’t know, Son. But you helped where you could and you did what you could and you walked through death and pain, and a baby lived because of your willingness to touch the yuck.

He’s learning to be tough. Not to be uncaring or unfeeling, but to have a thick enough skin to do what needs to be done and to let go of that about which he can’t make a difference.

Yep, it’s hard to lose a battle. But you won’t win every fight. If you can’t handle loss, you’ll quit and you won’t experience the victories, either. Life is not perfect, here on this earth, and no matter how hard you try, you won’t win every time.

He’s learning the sweetness of  leaving it in God’s hands.

You pray and you hope and you trust, and you do what you can. That’s living faith, Son.

Living by faith. It’s not for the weak.

Maybe compassion is just that, though. Learning to live by faith, daily. To touch the needs in front of you, no matter where you find them. In a barn, on a playground, in a classroom, in a friend’s living room. You pay attention, and notice the vulnerable, and you try to be the hands and feet of the saviour you love.

Picking maggots out of the belly of a two-day old kitten? Yuck. But maybe that’s exactly how you teach a kid compassion.

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