I attended the home-based Bible study more out of loneliness than anything else. Sure, as a new Christian, I hungered for knowledge about this wondrous God who now resided in me, but it was February in Chicago and I didn’t have a car. That meant my bicycle and I needed to brave thirty blustery blocks to Housegroup if I wanted to go.
As any solitary soul in a new city knows, loneliness is a great motivator, so brave we did, my trusty ten-speed delivering me to group early. As I laid my bike against the side gate, I envied the fact that it showed no sign of frostbite. My body, on the other hand, entered the leaders’ home like the thing that sunk the Titanic.
I stepped in and warmth came as if by tropical waterfall, meeting my frozen flesh even through the downfilled coat. I’d selected a bright yellow jacket, poofy and thick, which promised superior insulation despite the fact that it made me look like a lemon with legs. A noble opponent to winter, even my lemon proved little match for Chicago’s arctic best, and I stood beside a heating duct, melting the ice that held my bones captive.
“You can lay your coat on the bed in the back room,” Sherry, one of the leaders, smiled and pointed the way.
Still wearing two pairs of gloves, I clutched the coat’s collar to my chin and gingerly made my way down the hallway. As I did, my skin began to feel and move like skin again. By the time I’d reached the bedroom, which so far only held two coats, humanity had returned to me and I smiled, knowing I could finally remove the lemon without also giving up the ghost.
“Hi there,” came a child’s voice.
I turned and balked at the tiny toddler who spoke so clearly. “Hi.”
“You want to play with me?” She stood looking up—short dark hair, teeny pink t-shirt, pleading eyes. An angel in training pants.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” I smiled. “I can’t. I’ve got a meeting here.”
She slipped a chubby hand into mine and led me from the bedroom. I giggled, thinking I surely had the cutest escort back to the living room, but the child made a detour, pulling me (okay, as much as a toddler can pull a grown woman but she did!) into a bathroom and shutting the door, promptly taking her place in front of it. “You’re gonna play with me! You’re gonna be my doll!”
“Uh …” I stammered, wondering whose two-year-old had just kidnapped me. I reached out to pick her up but she set her jaw with a grunt, holding out doll-sized hands. Weird but effective. The thought of some strange kid--with whom I now stood in a room alone--screaming bloody murder in my arms, made me back off and sit on the floor beside the vanity.
People began arriving for the Bible study. I could hear them outside the door. Did I dare risk ridicule and cry out? No, might scare the child.
“So, what’s your name?” I smiled, nodding slightly at good old child psychology.
“I’m the princess and you’re … you’re …” she fought for words.
“The queen?” I suggested, not yet realizing I’d been sucked into toddler psyche.
She sneered, shaking her head, and then smiled, remembering. “You’re my doll.”
“I’m awfully big for that,” I said, and then returned to adulthood at the sound of footsteps in the hallway. “Hey, little girl, I’ve really got to—”
“Let’s sing now, ‘kay?” She beamed, squatting to pull at her toes.
A silent scream rattled around in my head. “Sorry, princess, I don’t know any—”
“Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb …”
I couldn’t help smiling when my captor began to sing, and I couldn’t deny knowing that ditty. So I joined in. By the end, we were laughing so hard I barely heard the knocking at the door.
“Joy? Is that you in there?”
“Mommy!” the child leapt and turned the knob, filling the arms of a woman who warmly met my gaze.
“I’m sorry. Did my daughter do this to you?” she asked.
I nodded sheepishly before rising.
“That’s my Joy.”
I left the bathroom and joined the Bible study that night, yet cannot recall one word spoken there. I only remember keeping company with Joy.
[Two years later, that little girl became my Joy too when I married her uncle.]
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