My last 24 hours have included the following: a Thomas and Friends marathon, spontaneous dance parties, races in the park, Travel Town train rides, car seat banter, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, belly laughter, and fart jokes. Yes, fart jokes, because my 3-year-old nephew Rocco is in town, and preschool playground talk is all about the flatulence at the moment.
When it comes to Rocco, it was love at first sight. The moment I first held his tiny infant body and looked into those big blues eyes, I knew I was a goner.
Three years later, and a lot has changed. He’s no longer a sleeping baby in my arms. He’s an active (very active), talking, walking, running, strong-willed, goofy, kind-hearted, curious, imaginative, and very smart little boy. He has moved from sunny California to bustling Brooklyn with his mom and dad. He just started preschool last week, and is already spelling words and retelling stories and facts from his classroom lessons. And he is becoming more and more used to this mysterious device we adults frequent called ‘the potty’. A lot has changed. But one thing has remained the same: this little boy still has my heart.
He is absolutely, and with no strings attached, loved by me. I don’t love him because he has impressed me with his potential or knows all the right people or can help me achieve any of my personal agendas. I just love him. I saw him, and I loved him, and for the rest of his life, that will be how it goes.
He is one of my beloveds in life: someone I treasure dearly and with all of my heart.
Beloved is not a term we hear much these days, but it is a term of endearment that God has chosen throughout Scripture to bestow upon us. We are His Beloved. By definition, we are His dearest, His precious, His adored, His cherished, His treasured, and His prized.
Beloved. It’s a pretty word, but behind the pretty is a powerful punch. It’s not just a mere pet name or vintage diction; it’s a message, that if received transfigures us to our very core.
We live in a world that demands we be many things, but Beloved is never one of them. Be strong. Be capable. Be a survivor. Be a winner. Be successful. Be in control. Be wealthy. Be fit. Be in style. Be seductive. Be in the know. Be tolerant. Be fun. Be famous. Be liked. Be tough. Be powerful. Be busy.
Be loved? Well, between getting it all done, having it all, and being on top of it all, there just isn’t much time left to be Beloved.
It’s hard to grasp the endless implications of being God’s Beloved when we are busy juggling this world’s endless demands. But 24 hours with my 3 year old beloved Rocco has reminded me of a few things:
Yesterday morning, earlier than I would have desired, I was woken up by the sound of my nephew tiptoeing (and I use that term loosely because any 3-year-old’s attempt at quiet is more comical than subtle) down the stairs. As soon as he saw me open my eyes, he raced to me with a grin on his face. “Aunt Colie! You want to play with my trains?”
And with coffee in hand (because, let’s be real, coffee first) we began arranging his many Thomas and Friends trains with an ambition to make the largest circle of trains mankind, or at the very least my living room, had ever seen. We decided the best candidate for Mr. Conductor was a tiny ninja action figure. We had a good laugh over the whole thing, and in the middle of a chuckle, Rocco’s shoulder bumped my cup of coffee. My carpet became, sadly, a casualty of our playtime. As soon the coffee mug fell to the floor, Rocco turned to me with a worried look. “It was an accident, Colie. I didn’t mean to.”
Immediately, I wrapped my arms around him and said, “I know, buddy. It’s okay. It’s not your fault. I’ll take care of it.” I kissed his forehead, and grabbed some towels and a bottle of Resolve from underneath my kitchen sink.
Lesson 1: God isn’t mad at me for the spills in my life, and He knows how to get the stains out.
Later that morning, my sister, my brother-in-law, Rocco and myself all loaded into my car for a surprise adventure. Rocco’s parents, knowing his deep passion for trains, made it a priority to take him to Travel Town, a portion of Griffith Park with old trains, train exhibits, and a small train ride for little children and the young at heart to explore.
When Rocco first saw the row of trains at Travel Town, his walk instantly turned into a sprint. His eyes grew big and his smile took over his entire face as he waved his hands in pure ecstasy. He began to proclaim, “Oh my goodness! Look at these trains! Oh my goodness! Look at that one! And look at that train! Look at that train, Dadda! Wow! Look at that one Momma!” He was in pure train heaven. And he wasn’t alone. It was Dadda and Momma and Aunt Colie who had brought him to this locomotive paradise. And it was Dadda and Momma and Aunt Colie who would experience all the joys of exploring with him. He was free to enjoy every moment without worry because he wasn’t travelling alone.
Lesson 2: Life is an adventure WITH Jesus that is filled with awe and wonder, not a lonely journey filled with anxiety and worry.
While at Travel Town, we purchased tickets to ride the children’s train ride that circles around the park. It’s one intended for small children, which is pretty much code for boring. Let’s just say this is the least threatening ‘ride’ I have ever been on. But for Rocco, it was a little intimidating. I sat next to him in one of the carts, and before the ride started, he became a bit frantic. “Carry me, Colie. Please, carry me.”
“Of course, buddy. Here, sit on my lap.” He scurried onto my lap as I wrapped my arms around him.
He started to tear up. “I don’t want to ride this. It’s scary.”
We all reassured him that we were with him, and it was going to be fun.
“But it’s going to be bumpy! I’m scared!” Tears continued to well up in Rocco’s eyes.
“Buddy, I’ve got you. Aunt Colie is holding you. I’m with you, buddy. You don’t know it yet, but this ride is going to be so much fun!”
Rocco wasn’t sold on the fun part, but he did know that I was holding him. He could feel my arms around him, and he could rest his head on my chest. Rocco may have been afraid of the ride, but he took comfort in the fact that he was safe in my arms. And by the end of the ride, my nephew was no longer afraid. In fact, he loved it!
Lesson 3: We don’t have to be afraid of bumpy rides because we are safe in the arms of our Heavenly Father.
30 minutes later, I snuck away with my sister to the Travel Town gift shop. We found a train named Dash that would be the perfect addition to his Thomas and Friends collection. I purchased it, found Rocco playing with his dad and handed him a gift shop plastic bag.
“Rocco, Aunt Colie got you something. You want to open it?”
I kid you not, this little guy became so excited he started shaking and dancing in anticipation.
And when he opened his present and began to play with Dash, he kept saying, “Thank you for Dash, Aunt Colie! He’s great!”
And then he asked me a peculiar and profound question. “Aunt Colie, why did you get me Dash?”
I looked right at his little round face, smiled and simply said, “Because I love you.”
Lesson 4: God gives us gifts simply because He loves us.
When we got back to my place in the afternoon, Rocco was ready for round 2 of train playing. I joined him on my living room floor as we invented new ways of assembling the trains, and new games to play. One game in particular was a favorite of Rocco’s. We called it ‘The Elevator’, in which my hand would act as an elevator for trains and Mr. Conductor (aka The Ninja) to ride. We would pile as many trains as possible on the palm of my hand, but sadly, I could only hold 2 trains before they would topple to the ground. Rocco thought this was hilarious. He laughed, and not just the courtesy laugh or the small chuckle-laugh, but the full-blown belly laugh. His belly laugh is highly contagious, and before long we were both rolling on the carpet laughing hysterically. As we looked into each other’s eyes, laughing to the point of tears, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Now this is joy to the full.”
Lesson 5: Jesus delights in our joy, and His great desire is to share in our joy.
My time with Rocco was drawing to a close. Rocco and I said our goodbyes. He gave me a big hug and kiss. Then he looked at me with an expression unusually contemplative for a boy of 3 years. He suddenly blurted out, “I love you!” I kissed his forehead, and looked deep into those big blue eyes, and with every fiber of my being replied, “I love you, too.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told Rocco I love him. Every time we talk or text (yep we text each other, mostly random emoticons) I make sure he hears from me that I love him. I initiate and he responds back with an “I love you, too.” But not this time. This time, he was the first to say those three wonderful words. I was completely taken back. His outburst of affection left a mark on my heart. I realized that I had just gotten a small glimpse of what God must feel when we initiate worship or prayer for the sole purpose of expressing our love.
Lesson 6: Our sincere worship is not just heard by God, but felt by God.
And there you have it. I have been schooled by a 3 year old. The last 24 hours with my nephew have taught me more about the love of God than half a dozen books on the same subject. The simple has confounded the wise. Or, I guess you could say a 3-year-old Beloved has tutored a 32-year-old Beloved. One crash course in Rocco’s School of Theology, and I am a changed woman. And I guess that sounds about right. After all, Jesus did tell us that if we are going to have faith, it might as well be of the childlike kind.