As he slowly opened his eyes, his mind was filled with the same momentary confusion that plagues many children…what day was it? Suddenly, his eyes popped wide open and he launched himself out of bed with an energy that was mysteriously missing the other six days of the week. Yep…it was definitely Saturday and he had places to go and people to see.
As the only child of a single mother he had no brothers or sisters waiting to share his day with and he had no real friends waiting to play. Of course, he knew that some of the neighborhood boys had planned a pick-up game of baseball at the field a couple of blocks from his house and there was always the caravan of bicycles he could join that would be headed to the local lunch counter for ice cream and penny candy. He also knew that the local swimming hole with its “always in demand” rope swing was an option; but he had plans to travel much farther than any of these destination today. And the people waiting for him were far more interesting, anyway. Today was traveling day and his ride was waiting.
He wasn’t going to the local amusement park like some of his classmates. There would be no trip to the zoo or the city. His mother had neither the time nor the money for that. And the annual visit to his joyless grandparents was still months away and not that much fun anyway. No, this was a different kind of trip. A trip that only he had been invited to go on. He ran to his bookcase, picked out his boarding pass for the day and rushed downstairs to eat his breakfast as fast as possible so he could be on his way. He quickly moved through the morning litanies of “how you doing” and “what are you up to today” as his mother sipped her coffee and he inhaled his meager breakfast of oatmeal. It mattered very little to him that he had had the same breakfast almost every morning of his young life. This was going to be a “special” day.
She watched the screen door slamming behind him as he raced into the woods behind his house. A soft sadness fell like a shadow across her face as she watched him go. “He was a good kid,” she thought, “but is that because of me or in spite of me.” She remembered the cruel words her own parents had hurled at her when they threw her out nine years ago. “Maybe they were right,” she accused herself. “Maybe she wasn’t fit to be anybody’s mother.” Suddenly, a warm wave swept gently through her body until it came to rest around her heart like a holy hug. “No…she was doing the best she could.” She never withheld her love from him and did her best to acquaint him with the Father she had come to know the day her own father had disowned her; maybe the only father he would know. Every night was spent teaching him how to talk to and trust that Father and every day spent telling one of the tales about His Son she liked to say, “…was the greatest story ever told.” One day she hoped that if God was just and her boy was ready, he would come to know His Spirit as well.
She felt bad that she couldn’t afford to take him the places other kids went and she did most of his clothes shopping at Salvation Army. And, no, he probably would never enjoy the thrill of owning the newest toy or the latest trends but she gave him what she could; her love surrounding him, her prayers protecting him, her tears baptizing him, and her faith strengthening him. And she gave him the gift that was given to her as a child by a caring second grade teacher. It was a gift she used often as she grew and now, it seemed her son had had no trouble getting that gift completely out of the box. Looking up the hill her son had just run she smiled to herself. “Yes, he was a good kid…and yes, she was a good mother.” She relaxed into the thought as she sent a little prayer up the hill behind him, “Enjoy your journey, sweetie. I love you!”
Up a short hill, down a worn path through birches and pine the boy traveled. Finally, he arrived. There it stood in all its glory. To the casual observer it appeared to be nothing more than a dilapidated tree house of weathered boards and fraying fabric hastily tacked together about twenty feet up a towering old pine; its only access a thick rope with knots tied in it every foot or so.
Now I know that you may be tempted to feel sorry for this friendless boy with nothing but an old tree house to play in. “How sad!” you might think; but he knew better. On any given Saturday that old rope might be a gang plank, an on-ramp, a tunnel entrance, a cave opening or a launching pad. And when he climbed through the floor of that old tree house he might find himself a kidnapped boy in Scotland, a prisoner on the pirate ship of Long John Silver, a passenger on a hot air balloon about to travel around the world, a sailor on a whaling ship doing battle with the largest whale anyone had ever seen as he labored under the watchful eye of his one-legged captain or even in an old rocket ship heading for the moon. Today, however, the rope was the cragged side of a dormant volcano in Iceland and as he climbed through the floor he found himself slowly descending into its belly because today his boarding pass read, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and there was no time to lose.
In the hours that followed, each chapter led him deeper into an adventure of a lifetime. He found himself deep within the caverns of Earth with a band of earnest explorers. He became lost within its depths with one of his travelers, saw a towering shepherd tending his huge animals, and witnessed an epic battle between giant sea creatures on an underground ocean as he clung to their makeshift raft for dear life; his impatient imagination desperately pleading with his eyes to read faster. As the shadows of late day began to descend upon him, he found himself spewed out of an active volcano on the other side of the world.
As the last page turned, the scene slowly faded and he found himself surrounded by the familiar pines and birches once again. He gingerly made his way down the old rope, through the woods and back through the screen door once again where his mother stood at the stove. He plopped the book on the kitchen table, snuck up behind her and joyfully hugged her tightly, inhaling her comforting aroma and then quickly headed out of the room. “Clean-up for dinner, okay sweetie?” she called after him as he disappeared down the hall. A few minutes later she could hear the water running as she glanced down at the title of the book he had left behind. “So, that’s where you’ve been all day,” she thought to herself. Then smiling proudly, she congratulated herself for the gift of reading she had long ago determined to pass on to her son and then she thanked God for the seemingly boundless imagination He had graciously bestowed on her only child. An imagination he was exceptionally skilled at using. Two gifts combining in perfect harmony allowing him to travel farther than she would ever be able to send him.