When Hannah was about two, a paper wad and a cardboard box could hold her attention for hours. For her it wasn’t the gift that mattered, but the box it came in and the paper it was wrapped with. Mary and I prayed she’d never outgrow her fascination with paper products, as they were much cheaper than Barbie dolls and so much easier to obtain; who’d have thought a toilet paper tube, a ball of yarn, and a glue stick could be so fascinating and versatile? Alas, her taste in toys has matured as she’s gotten older, but the joy in watching her toss out the toy and play with the wrapping paper and the box opened our eyes to the capacity of a child to find mystery in even the simplest things. We could all learn a lesson in this truth, as God has set before us a world of paper wads and cardboard boxes called “life,” and if we look at it through the eyes of a child, His infinite mystery can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Life, in all its wonder, can provide unlimited joy to those who seek the Lord with childlike faith and the capacity to take every situation and turn it into a double-sided puzzle.
“Jesus is essentially a happy man,” John Eldredge wrote in his book Beautiful Outlaw (page 51). “He loves life. How could the joy of the Lord be our strength if the Lord is seldom joyful?” And how can we be the light for others if we cover up our own light with gloominess, complaining, and just plain seriousness? “We are the people of God,” said Amy Hossler, a member of New River Fellowship, reflecting the theme of Psalm 126:2. “And if people don’t see joy in us,” she continued, “are they going to want what we have?”
When Hannah was three we spent a week at Disneyworld in Orlando. Each day we visited a different theme park, from Epcot Center to Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios, and each day Mary helped Hannah gather autographs from the various Disney characters we spotted. But one character in particular eluded us: Mary Poppins, Mary’s hands-down favorite. On the last day of the trip, we took the ferry boat across the lagoon to Magic Kingdom and set out to explore Cinderella’s castle, ride the Dumbo Flying Elephant ride (I barely fit), and watch the parades.
As the morning grew hot we found our way to the merry-go-round where my wife finally spied her hero. Mary Poppins stood alone in front of the carousel, wearing a white Victorian dress with red bodice, and topped with a white silk hat tied around her chin. She carried her signature umbrella. Mary squealed like a little girl, abandoned Hannah and I, and ran to Mary Poppins with arms outstretched, clutching the autograph book and the pen. In that moment my wife shed 20 years and reaffirmed to me her continued capacity for wonder and enjoyment. I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise for fifteen minutes after she said goodbye to the magical nanny! What a joy!
Joy is in freedom, and playfulness is the offspring of freedom. And if freedom begets playfulness, playfulness begets invention. Mary admits she doesn’t know how to play (yet). She generally hands activities like drawing, making up ridiculous songs, and telling stories over to me. She has a hard time playing a game Hannah created on the fly because she has little patience for the invented rules, lack of rules, or fluidity of rules. Me? This is one area I’m happy with just going with the flow. I play by Hannah’s made-up rules even if they make no sense whatsoever.
For instance, one day Hannah asked if I’d play a game with her, and when I agreed, she proceeded to open the bottom drawer of our entertainment unit and pull out a pack of cards, five dice, and three bean-bag juggling balls. Hannah then laid out three cards face down between us. Next, she threw one of the bean-bag balls onto the line of cards, flipped over the card the ball had landed on, then rolled the five dice until a combination of one, two, or three of them added up to the number represented by the card. When it did, she picked up the card from the floor and set it beside her; this was a card she’d won. Then it was my turn . . . . Surprisingly the rules remained intact as we continued to draw cards, throw balls, and toss dice, and when Mary called us for dinner the smiles on our faces proved both of us had won the game.
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes