A Four-Year-Old’s Gift

Laughter, Tears, and Our Teen Years, by McKennaugh

This past week, I brought my two youngest brothers to a playground down the road that belongs to a church. I pushed the four-year-old on the swings for a little while (picture loud giggles and “More!”) and soon I was feeling a little bored with Austinville’s only entertainment. Tivon didn’t like the teeter-totter and there wasn’t anything else there besides that and the swings. The sun was feeling a bit hot as I pushed him back and forth. He hadn’t mastered the “pump your legs” technique yet. (Why would he want to do it himself, when he always has older siblings around to assist him?)

“I want to go sit in the shade, Tivon,” I told him. “Come on, buddy.”

“No, no, no!” he said. “Swing!”

“We’ll come back to the swings later. Come with me.” After a short argument and help from his older brother, Nevin, I had a drooping Tivon following me, as I made my way under the large maple trees. I said, “Hey, want to see if we can go inside the church?”

Tivon liked that idea.

We were happy to find that the doors were open and we walked into the quiet building and sat in the pews. There is something about an empty church that fills me with a good, needed silence. It seems close to God. I sat, talking softly with Nevin, while Tivon happily ran up and down the aisles.

“Maybe I can bring you here on Sunday,” I told my brothers. “That would be nice.”

Nevin grinned and nodded. Tivon did another lap around the pew.

After telling Mom our plans when we got home, it was settled. I was going to drive Brennan, Nevin, and Tivon down there come Sunday. You see, my family doesn’t go to a typical church. No, we “home church” together. My dad gives us the sermon. It’s special this way. My dad gets a chance to guide the family and the sermon is specifically made just for us. We often engage in a long conversation afterwards, where everyone gets to say what the sermon meant to them. And, then, we sometimes tell each other what we’ve been struggling with and what we are going to try harder to do (or stop doing). We grow closer as a family during those times.

However, it is occasionally nice to go to a “regular” church, every once in a while. So that’s why my brothers and I wanted to go. By the time we took a bird walk Sunday morning and ate breakfast, we had to rush to get to church on time. As I was dashing out the door, Dad stopped me and handed me his tithe to place in the offering plate. Tivon took one look at the tithe and decided that he wanted it. Dad was worried that if he gave the real tithe to Tivon, it would get lost. He drew out a single dollar and handed it to Tiv, just so my little brother could feel like he was making a contribution, too. We told him that it was, “Money to give to Jesus.” Whether it was for Jesus or not, that buck instantly belonged to my brother. Nobody could touch it. We couldn’t even help him put it in his pocket. Four-year-olds can be stubborn. He carried his money to the car, laughing as he ran with it. I buckled him up and we were off. When we arrived at church, I told him to keep the money in his pocket. I didn’t want him waving it all over the place. He kindly tucked that buck deep down in his shirt pocket. And watched it. His bright blue eyes kept peering down to make sure his money was there. Then his little fingers would slip in, just to be positive. When we took our seats, he was all smiles. He sat very still (for a kid his age, at least—all four-year-olds insist on making friends with the people in the seats behind them). His blue eyes matched his light blue shirt perfectly. He looked so cute and handsome. He scooted close to me, wiggling against me. There was an excited grin on his little face.

We sang and listened and after the songs Tivon would clap for everybody and say, “Wooooo!” like he was at a concert.

Then the offering plate was passed around. Tivon was holding his dollar, ready. “Put it in the plate,” I whispered, dropping in Dad’s tithe.

Tivon never got to carry money all by himself. He was proud of his dollar. He felt that it was all his. He had only had it for a few minutes and now he was supposed to give it up. His fingers released their grasp on it. Just as it was slipping away, he caught it. He tried a second time. A third. It was just so hard to let go of that bright dollar. The plate was taken from us, passed along. A stricken look was on my brother’s face. He wanted so badly to keep that dollar. But he wanted so badly to give it. He watched the offering plates the whole time they were being passed around the church, twisting around in the pew. Finally, the offering collected, those plates were placed in the front of the church…in plain view of Tivon. And he knew what he was supposed to do with his dollar. It was still clutched tight in his hand. He looked at me for advice. I didn’t say anything. Everyone was standing up to sing now. Tivon was standing up, too, but not to sing. He stepped out into the aisle and, after a few faltering, unsure steps, he walked to the front of the church where those plates were lying. Just before he reached them, he turned and fled back to me. He grabbed my hand. He pulled.

“No, Tivy,” I said, laughing a little. “You can’t do it right now.”

He pulled.


He yanked.

Then I realized that it didn’t matter what anybody else thought about us walking up to the front in the middle of everybody singing. No, it mattered that my little brother had a dollar that he wanted to give. I took his hand and he bravely strode to the front, dropped the buck in, and ran back toward our pew. Then he stopped in the middle of the aisle and clapped. For himself. He was so happy. I was laughing. I felt a swell of joy in myself, too. Joy because it is a blessing to see a small child give something that he would rather keep. A dollar is so small to most of us. And offerings are dropped into that plate without a second glance. But I am pretty sure that God was smiling down on a clapping child in the middle of that church.

And I realized that, indeed, we must have the faith of little children. And, like Tivon, we should be willing to give something that matters to us…even if we hesitate at first and then have to run after the offering plate.


McKennaugh Kelley (mckennaugh@inbox.com) is sixteen years old. She lives in Troy, Pennsylvania with a handful of crazy, creative, but mostly wonderful little brothers.

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