She curls her body into mine, as tightly pressed as she can get. She is all flannel nightie and coconut shampoo and girl. They fight for space with Mom in the middle, each flanking me and claiming a side. He wraps one tiny arm around my belly and grins. It’s his favorite spot, tucked into my squish. He rests his chin on my arm and looks up at me through thick brown lashes. The kind girls dream of having and this charmer has gotten used to batting at me for “just 5 more minutes, Mama.”

I let the seconds drip lazily from the clock and push back worry that tomorrow will be full of grumpy overtired children because sometimes there’s magic in these moments. A few beautiful seconds when I can remember what it was like to be nestled on my mama’s lap, curled around the lullaby of stories told and dreams woven. And my words get softer as the story grows.

I can never tell them stories and expect sleep. Once there were words spoken over them and their eyelids would weigh with slumber and close softly to the world, but now they wait for each sentence and grasp hold, fighting back yawns for the end. The moment where the story will close and everything will make sense. The rights will be wronged. The hero will conquer. The wounds will heal.

She’s 10 and knows the power of redemption in a story. That to truly conquer anything there must be opposition, and the stronger the peril, the more interesting the story.

She is beginning to understand the protagonist isn’t always perfect, that sometimes the whole story is their struggle to oppose things within themselves that would hold them back or keep them blind to their true calling. Her books now have flawed and nuanced characters.

He’s 6 and knows only that any good story has funny voices and scary parts, and if there are animals and silliness, it’s a plus.

But she is 10 and he is 6. And at 10 and 6, if you’re lucky, you still dream wide open. You still dress in costumes and host tea parties with dolls and chipped porcelain cups from Goodwill and tap water. And it is a feast. The only difference is now the 10-year-old bakes something to put on those China plates, and I steal a few treats because she’s gotten good at it. You still make forts out of sheets and chairs and couch cushions I remind them to put back when they’re done. You still make art and see in Play-Doh a divine sculpture. For a child will unleash their imagination with such ferocity if given the tools. The words and language and time.

In each child is a storyteller, no matter how quiet or pensive.

Each child writes the world with crayon or chalk, with imaginary friends and talking stuffed animals, with Lego creations and matchbox cars. To each child, the world over, sticks can be swords or bats or the frame on which to hang another dream.

Each book is a world of possibility and each character a possible lifelong friend.

The scary parts in the depths of the closet where monsters hide at night, when the nightlight glows casting about more wicked shadows is born from the depths of imagination. They are creators of their own tales, and once created, they are enchanted by them. Involved in them to the point of trembling voices and pleas for the light left on, the door wide or the comfort of Mom’s bed.

We are woven in story from birth. Our identity was spoken before time and most of us have yet to claim it fully.

Because — wow! — this life can tear you to shreds and batter you down and sometimes we come back limping and weary and we can’t imagine that tiny seed girl, the one whose mother wove her fingers through her long hair like a headstrong fish in the waves, parting it this way and that into braids and pinning bobby pins suspended between her lips to keep the baby-fine strays in place.

We cannot remember the days when we swung into the sky with our brown, skinned knees pumping hard and our tennis shoes stretched to the heavens to see if we could topple the swings. We cannot remember what it felt like to believe we could fly.

We cannot remember the days when the fruit grew wild around us and we walked in the cool of evening childlike and unashamed. Known and seen and beloved. We cannot remember freedom at all.

Some wonder fades with age and purpose, clouded out with responsibilities and duty, grown up life where our monsters are now finances, and health, marriage problems, and depression.

Some of us stopped dreaming so young, when doors crept open and real shadow monsters stood. The place where nightmares live full grown in grappling hands and promises not to tell. Some of us were no longer naked and unashamed.

Some of us stopped believing when we hit the ground one too many times and we knew then and there we had no wings to fly, only torn skin on our knees and flesh on our bones. And all of it hurt.

And somewhere along the line, the stories we told ourselves were less about redemption and more about obstacles. Less about sovereignty and more about survival. And we put the childish things away, like faith and hope and dreams. Somewhere along the line many of us got realistic about what faith looked like in our new world, and it became trying harder and doing more. It became tired and sad and just out of reach.

Somewhere along the line we are no longer sure if the end will go as we hope, the hero will win, the story will close tidily. We are introduced to a great and mighty doubt, weaving our fig leaves, and dropping our dandelion chains.

But what if we embraced that wings may be for fairy tales but flying like the wings of an eagle and running without weariness might not be a dream?

What if we believed that in finding our story, we would begin to dream wide open again? What if we could rewrite our narrative with a much wider text? One that strained to stay awake through the last lines and fought hard against the fading light of day, to believe wide awake.

What if we told our stories and had faith they matter? What if the revelation was that, “they overcame by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony?” {Revelation 12:11}. What if we faced the monsters in the closet and had faith like a child?

I wrote last week about the word enjoy, my one word for 2016. I wrote about wonder and enjoying God. I can’t erase those moments that grew me past childhood and into fatigue, but I can believe that all things made new means a chance to dream in the wilderness. A chance to see  the beauty even on scorched earth.

It’s no secret these past few years have been full of hard seasons and trials, and yet I hear it so clearly, the dreams spoken into me. You are loved every moment of every day. You are cherished and adored and called. You belong to me.

It’s something we get wrong sometimes in our rush to be obedient and have good strong faith, this idea that we must die. Yes, we must die to ourselves but the goal is always to come alive in Christ. And alive in Christ is the most dazzling wonder of it all.

The surest way to prove that the gospel is real and enough is to enjoy God and fall deeply in love with the story He tells.

Listen to the lovesong played through the ages. To recall our ancient identity as creators, made in our Father’s image. Free and becoming.

My kids climb into my bed, their clumsy bodies toppling over each other to get a side of Mama. And this time when I’m about to do the voice of one of the characters, Nehemiah chimes in with a deep rattling vibrato.

“I’m Mr. Punkin Head,” he pronounces. And then he’s telling my story, the silly one with the man whose head is a pumpkin and the adventures he goes on when it falls off and rolls away. And I watch the performance, lean back into the pillows and take in the scene. My children, tucked in close as new storylines come to them and their faces crack wide with brilliant smiles as they giggle and carry my words on.

They’re imitating me, but they’re becoming themselves more and more. Free and becoming. Alive and dreaming awake.

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  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Alia Joy,
    “Our identity was written before time, but most of us have yet to fully claim it.” How blessed your children are to have you to weave stories for them and encourage their imaginations!! That is a true gift and blessing! Thank you for the beautiful reminder which encourages me that I am never too old to tap into my God-given, childlike ability to dream. I can dream while I’m awake and just like the dream I used to have as a child (that I could fly), I can truly soar like an eagle. Wonderful and wonder-filled!

    • Alia_Joy

      Thanks Bev! Yes, just like a child. It’s such a gift to see God’s love and care for each of us in the creative imaginings of a child and such a blessing to return to them when we get older and wiser. There’s a simplicity to it and even though we complicate faith so much, really it’s sitting in our Father’s lap and letting Him tell His story.

  • http://www.lindastoll.net Linda Stoll

    always, always so good to hear your heart, Alia. may you live out ENJOY with absolute delight this year. you are an inspiration …

    • Alia_Joy

      Thanks Linda. I think it will be a beautiful year of enjoying God.

  • Donna

    I’m single, no children but loads of nieces and nephews and greats. I was enthralled. You write beautifully. And I love to tell The Story. Thank you for beginning my morning so richly.

    • Alia_Joy

      So you totally know because with all those nieces and nephews, you’re bound to be exposed to dreamers and creators. I love how kids remind us of the story of God. How simply we can come to Him, how simply we can dream.

  • Nancy Roe

    I so love your words and your telling of stories!! I love this: “And somewhere along the line, the stories we told ourselves were less about redemption and more about obstacles. Less about sovereignty and more about survival.” Striking chords in me as I wonder if my injuries are taking me swiftly to the end. Sometimes I wish for the swift end! Recovery is painful, hard and long. After a year, I am halfway there… A lot of pain from premorbid conditions as well..

    • Alia_Joy

      It’s so hard to see and believe when we’re hurting. It’s so hard to imagine life as anything other than brutal and cruel when our bodies fail, but we’re given a magnificent hope and I know I’ve seen it time and again during the long pain, that there is a bigger story being told. That there are a thousand tiny moments of grace and wonder woven into the agony, if we have eyes to see. Praying for you this morning, Nancy. For solace in the recovery, for dreams to live even when it hurts and for a great hope to carry you when you’re too weak.

      • Nancy Roe

        Thank you so much!!! HUGS!

  • http://www.Theflawedtreasure.com Kristi

    Beautiful. It’s so true that we are all born storytellers and story-believers. Even just last night: our family sat in the living room by candlelight and told made-up stories – and even our little three-year-old chimed in and told his own ridiculous stories as well! Limitless dreaming. Always ready to have fun.

    • Alia_Joy

      Right? They’re not held back the way we are, worrying if we’re telling it right. Worrying it’s not going to end right. They just dream wide open. It’s a gift to watch them become.

  • JeanneTakenaka

    Your description of your mama time with your kids made me think of mine. They love to climb on our bed and cuddle with me. I love those moments. I love that you tell your kids stories, and that they are both learning them and making their own. Isn’t that how Jesus wants us to be? To know HIs stories and to live them out in the ways He designed us to? Such a wonderful post today, Alia Joy!

    • Alia_Joy

      Yes, to know and live as we were made. I think that’s just right.

  • Monica

    Thank you for these BEAUTIFUL words and renewed hope.

  • Keri Siegel

    Thank you for being real, without losing your encouragement. Be blessed.

  • Rebecca Jones

    How did we get past childhood into fatigue. My mother said I lived in my imagination. That’s because it’s a good place. Good always overcomes evil, doesn’t it? We are God’s children and we need to have His imagination.

    • Alia_Joy

      Yes! A holy imagination is something I think we lose as we get older if we’re not careful. We’re considered dreamers and unrealistic and there’s a certain measure of cynicism and reality we’re supposed to have so we’re not foolish. But I think we need to return to the ‘foolishness’ of spiritual things. To believe again.

  • Alison Buck

    I love the way you weave words together in a way that paints a picture so vividly, I feel as though I’m sitting across the room from you and your children. Thank you for this particular journal article. I am leading a women’s conference soon called “Dream Big” and it’s all about this subject. Ultimately, “all things are possible with God!” We need to allow Him to bring healing and renewal to our hearts so that we can live in child-like faith, following after Him and joining Him on His mission for all the world.

    • Alia_Joy

      I love that your conference subject is on dreaming big. I’ve always been sort of an idealistic pragmatist but I’m learning to live into the story being told. Child like faith without having it all figured out. It’s rocking my world. ;)

  • http://www.aringingbell.com Kate @ A Ringing Bell

    You weave words so beautifully…every word painting me a picture. So glad I stopped by the site tonight. Many thanks for sharing. Blessings to you, Kate :)

    • Alia_Joy

      Thanks for stopping by, Kate.

  • http://www.eclecticaffinity.com Jacquelyn

    If “the story will close tidily.” So much yes to all this. <3

    • Alia_Joy

      It’s that so often, isn’t it? Not believing until the end because so much of this life doesn’t just resolve with happily ever afters and a fade out to a golden sunset. I think so much of our faith walk is admitting we often have a great and mighty doubt, naming it, and asking God to retell us the truth. To cast light on the monsters in the closet.