After worship we were hanging around the church campus talking to some people. Reese was starting to show me how well she could toss a rock. I told Reese that we don’t throw rocks, but I’d be willing to get her a ball if she would like to toss one of those. She said, yes, so I got her a soft, rubbery golf ball looking thing about the size of a large softball.
Once in hand, Reese looked at the ball for a little bit. Then Reese decided she didn’t want to toss it. Instead she wanted to give birth to it.
She put the ball under the front of her dress and situated it in front of her belly. She patted the lump carefully with both her little hands.
I asked her what she had in there. Reese said, “I have baby in there.”
Then she walked around the fall pumpkin patch the congregation was hosting on campus and showed her belly to a couple of people. After that, right there among the pumpkins, gourds, and autumn finery, Reese proceeded to “give birth” to her baby. She popped the ball out from under her dress, held it carefully, and showered loving attention upon it.
Sadly, the large golf ball made an ugly, dimpled, newborn child.
Looking back, I think what was happening here is pretty obvious.
Reese was clearly (dramatically and very publicly – sigh) playing at being a mature, pregnant woman. It was cute. It was alarming. It had me wondering a little about what a Child Protective Services caseworker would think if one had been picking up a pumpkin that particular afternoon.
Even then, Reese was starting to make strong associations. She had seen pictures of her family: Mindy, me, and Reese. Reese understood those right off. She could, from early on in her life, look at such image, point, and say, “There I am!”
She had also seen pictures of Mindy and me with Mindy sporting a big belly full of Reese. At first, when looking at those pictures, Reese would always ask us where she was. We told her a few times that she was inside Mommy’s uterus. “Is that the belly?” “Yes.” Then she got the idea pretty quickly.
But Reese had also seen pictures of Mindy and I from our wedding day. To these she asked, “Me in Mommy’s belly?” and we told her, “No, not yet.”
Reese started to put all this together.
In addition to all the pictures, even then Reese was starting to sense a little of what it meant to be a girl, a woman, perhaps even a mother someday. Reese was connecting things, imagining possibilities, playing roles.
It seems to me that Reese was envisioning how the story of being a person, connects with her own life experience, her own story. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s still my theory. (But, then again, who can comprehend the toddler mind?)
Earlier during the same week in which I became grandfather to an oversized golf ball, I’d been reading the memoir of a Christian named John Dear.
As a younger man, Dear was called to interview an older Christian whose life and ministry Dear deeply cherished. In his memoir Dear said he asked the more mature man, Daniel Berrigan, a few superficial questions about his work for the interview. Then – suddenly at a loss for his next question – Dear blurted out, “So, what’s the point of all this?”
With both tenderness and earnestness the older man answered, “The point is to make our story fit into the story of Jesus, so our life makes sense in the light of the life of Jesus.” Dear said that this little sentence offered him a framework for everything he would try to do for the rest of his own life.
That little scene from the memoir was playing in my mind as I thought about how Reese was, in her own babyish way, playing with how her life fit into the story of being “a big girl” (as Reese would put it) or a mature woman (as I would put it).
I think there is a critical aspect of Christian spirituality bouncing around in here somewhere. As Christians we are in a serious, yet wonderful way engaged in this type of play-acting, this type of connection making all the time.
We read Scripture, and perhaps especially the gospels, to gain a sense of Jesus: how he acts, how he prays, how his life story reads. Then we make associations. We experiment by imagining how our lives can fit into his as we live them here and now. And then we try out the associations by doing what we believe Christ calls us to do in our present circumstances.
Sometimes the experiment ends up being a blessing. Other times it leads to a mess. Still other times a mixed “blessed mess” or a “messy blessing” is the outcome. But, we will never grow unless we dare to play, make connections between sacred stories (both Christ’s story and our own), and experiment with those connections in the living out of our daily lives.
For Reese, the story of womanhood and marriage and children was not just locked up in a picture of her mother. It had to do with her real life here and now.
For Reese and for the rest of us, the story of Jesus is not just locked up in an honored, ancient book. It has to do with our real lives here and now.
Let’s never forget how to play it out.