The Open Gate of Play

I experienced an awakening to change recently.

I had driven to our family’s favorite river park, better known as The Island. I hoped to reserve a picnic table for an upcoming summer barbeque. I pulled in, put my car in park and stared through my windshield as something out of the ordinary came into view. I sat, shocked by what I saw.

river gate

A large green gate stood solidly in the center of the footbridge that connects the mainland to the island. Once unobstructed and open to allow free access to fun and play, the bridge was now hindered by the obstacle of a locked gate. I sat silent while my mind recalculated the change to what was normal.

I felt my resolve rise as I stood and began to power up inside, preparing for battle with an invisible foe. In an instant my mind began processing ideas in rapid succession to conquer the obstruction…just like I did as a little girl, when crises were my normal. Think fast, prevent obstacle, and solve the problem…

I had great ideas…
I could wade across the river.
I could climb around the gate.
I could sound my car horn until, out of desperation, someone opened the gate.

My choice to walk freely across the bridge to a place of play, rest and fun was no longer free. Frustration. It is my initial reaction when something I hold dear is threatened. I want to protect it at all costs.

I stood looking through the bars of the gate, my heart beginning to settle and soften as I heard the whisper in my heart… “Have you become protective of play?”

The question unnerved me. “Me? Protective of play? When did that happen?” When did play gain ground in the space of my heart?”
I returned to my car, remembering.

It was just a few short years ago that I began praying and asking God to redeem playfulness in me. The little girl I was, who loved making mud pies, climbing trees and playing house was buried long ago under the demands of responsibility. As an adult, I had all but divorced it from my life. Play was uncomfortable for me.

Keeping busy kept my well-constructed “do not disturb’ look in full view. The ‘look’ that I falsely believed kept me safe and told people “I don’t have needs”; the ‘look’ that kept love away.

Because playful love is unpredictable and wild and uncontrollable.
I played it safe.

But Love is faithful. God is restoring my heart to trust in Him and I am noticing that play has taken space in my heart. Instead of playing it safe, I now know I am safe to play and experience joy. I don’t want to miss what playful love offers…

Playful love invites connection and intimacy. Playful love lights candles, inviting risk and abandon. It showers its extravagance through bright colored shoes, exquisite guitar music, and deep sea fishing trips, thirst quenching beverages, fig newtons and filet mignons – sometimes all at the same time. It makes time to enjoy bubble baths, canoe rides, shopping trips and rest. Playful love can unlock a heart, freeing it to enter a wild adventure.

I am grateful.

Love wed me to a man of play, risk and adventure. Love blessed me with four kids, each offering their own unique ways to experience play. Love has given me relationships to enjoy with family and friends who challenge me to play in my story in ways that have brought my heart healing.

I am free to enjoy play and invite others to play as well on the playground of grace. I am becoming more of the woman I long to be…a woman abandoned to risk in the unpredictable adventure of play.
My heart has changed.

I returned to look through the gate once more, this time thankful for the light of hope in the colors, sounds and sights of play.
Just beyond the gate I could see…

The spaces where colorful canoes that have provided hours of fun and play on the river; the picnic tables and grills, the volleyball net and the spots on the banks where our kids have fished; the green bench where I have sat alone or with friends, celebrating joys, grieving losses, planning, writing and taking time to breath and enjoy the blessings I’ve been given.
The beauty of play in relationships in all its splendor and whimsy. I want it. I long for it. I dream about people joining me to play this summer.

I turned to leave and just as I got to my car…

“Will you try it…the gate?” At the risk of being seen as a fool, I stepped onto the foot bridge for a third time. I chose to push the gate hard and fell through it without any effort at all…it was open the whole time.

river gate2

Ellen Oelsen lives in the Texas Hill Country with her husband of 24 years. She is a mother of 4 children and loves their 2 dogs and 1 cat. Her hobbies include cooking, nature, reading, plays, and two stepping. She delights in offering hospitality of the heart and creating spaces of care, rest, play and reflection to inspire hope. She is beginning to expose the writer within her.