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Children Who Shine from Within

Author // Rachel Macy Stafford

What’s your favorite insect?” my 7-year-old daughter asked as we took an evening walk on the first night of her spring vacation. Before I had a chance to respond, she added, “You can’t pick butterfly. Everyone picks the butterfly.”


Appearing in Issue #47. Order A Copy Today

“Hmmmm,” I thought out loud. “I guess mine would have to be a ladybug,” I finally answered. “Mine’s a firefly. I love the firefly,” she said wistfully. We kept walking. Talking. Enjoying the rare treat of alone time—just my younger daughter and me.

And then:

“Am I okay? I mean, am I fine?” she asked, looking down at herself. “Sometimes I feel different.”

I immediately stopped walking and searched her face. Without saying what she meant, I knew; I just knew.

I bent down and spoke from a painful memory tucked away since second grade. “When I was your age, I felt different, too. I felt uncomfortable, self-conscious. One boy said really cruel things about the way I looked. He said I didn’t belong. His words hurt me for a long, long time,” I admitted.

As she looked at me sadly, her previous words echoed in my head. Everyone picks the butterfly.

I placed my hands on her sturdy little shoulders as if somehow this could make her feel my words right down to the bone. “I want you to know something. You can always talk to me when you feel different or uncomfortable. I will never laugh. I will never judge you or tell you it’s no big deal. I will never brush away your feelings, because I understand. I remember how it hurts. And sometimes you just need someone to understand that hurt.”

“You mentioned that you love the firefly,” I reminded her. “Well, I think you’re a lot like a firefly. You know why?” I asked.

The worry on her face lifted. She looked at me hopefully. “Why, Mama?”

“Because you shine from within,” I said touching my finger to her heart. “Not everybody sees it, but I do. I see it. And my job is to protect that light. So when people say mean comments that squelch that light, I want you to tell me. I will protect your light by listening and loving you, my brave, courageous, unique little firefly.”

My daughter stepped forward and wrapped her arms around my neck. She still said nothing—not one word. Maybe it was because she was on the verge of tears. Maybe it was because silent comfort was all she needed in that moment. I can’t be sure. But what I can be sure of is this: This story is not over.

You see, as weeks have passed, I haven’t been able to stop thinking of our firefly talk and the timing of this message. The end of the school year can be hard for kids, especially the fireflies—those who shine from within.

It’s that time—time for awards, banquets, recognition and applause. The butterflies will be noticed. So brilliant. So colorful. Their talents so obvious. But let us not forget the fireflies. Their triumphs are quiet and unsuspecting. Their gifts might even go completely unnoticed.

A firefly might be a seat saver on the bus, so someone doesn’t have to go to the intimidating back row. A firefly might be a songwriter who pens music in her nightly dreams and hums away her days. A firefly might be an artist that creates pictures you can feel with your soul. A firefly might save his money for years, just waiting for his heart to tell him, “That’s the one who needs your help.”

A firefly might stay up past bedtime calculating numbers beneath the covers because he was born a mathematician. A firefly might be the I.T. kid of the school, who jumps at the chance to help teachers with their computer woes. A firefly might get lost in a cloud of flour, delighting in culinary arts.

A firefly might be a horseback rider, finding peace in the company of animals and nature. A firefly might devour a 357-page book in one sitting. A firefly might have eyes for the lonely, looking for someone who wonders if she’s invisible. A firefly might stick up for the lost, the rejected, the alone. A firefly might be the lost, the rejected, the alone…just waiting for someone to notice his light among all the bright, fluttering wings of the butterflies.

Maybe you know a firefly. Maybe you love a firefly.

If you do, please don’t wait. Don’t wait for someone to hand him an award or a give her a certificate to make their talents and gifts “official.” That day may never come. So say it now. Say this:

I see your light.

I see it when you pick up your guitar.

I see it when you make brushstrokes of yellow, green and gold.

I see it when you sing with your eyes closed.

I see it when you laugh with your mouth open wide.

I see it when you stand along the water’s edge, dreaming of your future.

I see your light, my brave and courageous firefly.

You shine from within.

And regardless if anyone else sees it or not—you know it’s there, and I know it’s there.

So keep shining.

Keep singing.

Keep creating.

Keep dreaming.

Keeping caring.

Keep adding, subtracting and multiplying.

Keep making your magic.

And just you wait.

Someday the world is going to see what I see.

And your light will be so beautiful, so brilliant, and so bright that the world is going to stop and wonder where such a light comes from.

And you and I will both know that light, well, it’s been there all along.

Because you are a firefly.

You shine from within.

And I am here to protect that light, my brave and courageous firefly.


Soul-Building Words for the Ones You Love

When they need to know how much you love them:

  • You make my day better.

  • You make my life better.

  • I love spending time with you.

  • Seeing your face makes me happy.


When they need to know you are all there:

  • I’m listening.

  • My time is all yours.

  • How can I be a better parent/friend/spouse to you?

  • Nothing is more important than being with you right now.


When they are stressed or frustrated:

  • How can I help?

  • Take your time. You don’t have to rush.

  • I think you’re doing a tremendous job.

  • Keep going. You’ve got this. When they experience failure:

  • Be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can.

  • Mistakes mean you are bravely learning and growing.

  • It may not be the outcome you hoped for, but I noticed your effort and it was quite remarkable.

  • I believe in you.


When they face a challenge:

  • I am amazed at how much you’re handling right now.

  • I am learning a lot from you by watching you do something so challenging.

  • This isn’t over—there’s still time to turn this around.

  • You are not alone.


Pathways Issue 47 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #47.

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