When I was seven, my best friend was a boy named Jack. He lived up a windy road on a hill that felt like a mountain. My mom knew the pass code for the huge black gate. When the wrought iron swung open my heart swung free.
I kissed my mom goodbye and promised to be good. Then off we ran—me and Jack.
Across the lawn bigger than a football field to the edge of the earth where we collected bottle cap treasure and rocks that must've been Indian arrows. We raced back to show the dogs our discoveries. Laid each precious relic carefully on the deck so the slobbery pooches could get a good look.
We left Jack's watchdogs keeping watch over our riches and headed off for the next adventure: The dirt dune. (Who knows why such a large pile of dirt was left lying about other than for the pure delight of wild children?) Who knows how many times we scampered up and slid down that glorious slope? Over and over till our shoes and pockets were full of dirt and my pale skin was plastered in enough dust to make me look like my tan-skinned best bud.
Next we'd sneak into the small building near the main house—the one with the shiny wood floor and black leather couch. Jack knew where all the snacks were hiding. We'd plop on the sleek sofa and devour an entire box of fruit snacks. Leaving plastic wrappers and dusty butt prints in our wake.
But my most favorite thing about Jack's place was the climbing tree.
Up that tree I was no longer a little girl with scraggly hair and a gap in her teeth. I was a monkey. A leopard. A gorilla. A bear. Strong and nimble, climbing easily, fearlessly up the white-bark tree with smooth branches that bowed and swayed with the wind, our weight.
Higher and higher we climbed like little elves without a care in the world. If we found an extra sturdy branch we'd stop and swing, toes dangling in the summer breeze. But then the race would be back on to see who'd get to the tippy top first where the branches were more like twigs and the whole tree would bend. Where we'd somehow perch together and wait for my mom.
She'd pull back up the long driveway and the black gate would swing open for her maroon Isuzu Trooper II. Then she'd spot us near the clouds and start calling to "Be careful!" and "Get down now!" Feet finally back on the ground we'd wait for the appropriate reprimand about how we were far too high and so unsafe.
But no matter how harsh the scolding, it was worth it. Every. Time.
Because even if the height and freedom were temporary, my heart was made to fly, be free.
I wasn't the typical little girl who played contentedly with dolls and toy dishes all day.
I was a climber. A seeker. An adventurer.
I was a risk-taker and boundary-tester. Independent, determined, often stubborn, and always full of spunk.
...I hadn't thought about Jack and our summer adventures in years.
Yesterday morning when I peered out the kitchen window and saw my five year old in the backyard without shoes, digging in the spot we've told him not to dig. I opened the laundry room door to reprimand him for breaking two rules, but as soon as he saw me his eyes lit up.
"Mommy, Mommy! I found this HUGE buried stone and I think there might be GOLD underneath it!"
I heard the excitement in his voice. Saw the the dirt wedged between his toes, crusted on his knees. It wasn't even 8 am, but I knew deep in my heart he just needed to be free.
All my treasure-hunting, dirt-sliding, tree-climbing days with Jack came rushing back.
I breathed. And sighed. And nodded.
"Yes, buddy, I think you're right. I think there IS gold underneath."
He kept on digging and I went inside seeing. Seeing the riches just unearthed.
You see, there is a richness to our stories and I was awe-struck with the beauty of how God weaves them together.
So many desperate mama days where I wondered what on earth to do with this house full of boys who scream and shout and wrestle till they laugh or cry. These boys who have no volume control and make me feel out of control. These boys whose deep down wild I can not tame.
For so many years I had forgotten me and Jack.
Twenty-five years, in fact, of growing up, numbing over, facing reality and responsibility had made me forget what it feels like to fearlessly crave the heights. Forget the deep need to live beyond boundaries. Free and brave and wild.
Now I see the beauty of an out-of-the-box little girl who God was shaping to one day become a mama who needed a heart that understands how children thrive in freedom. (Not in an unsafe, unsupervised, become-a-little-delinquent kind of way.)
Freedom to explore. Adventure.
Cast off the shackles of a shoes-always-on, dirt-always-off life.
Freedom to experience. Discover how God made the world and how He made you.
Why did God give me boys?
Because of a grubby little girl and her best friend Jack.
I'm wonder struck at the grace in God's work. That he cares enough about my boys today that he started preparing their mama's heart decades before they were born.
I hear a lot these days about the power of stories. How we need each others' stories. I wholeheartedly agree!
But sometimes, we need our own stories.
I watch my boy try to unearth his treasure. I think of Jack.
And I wonder with excitement,
How will God use my now story to prepare me for my next story?
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