A little girl with bright, sparkling eyes and long brown hair runs happily through the grass barefoot, wearing a flowing pink gown that used to be a lady’s negligee. Now the billowing, lacy garment has been transformed into nothing less than a “princess” robe, filling this young girl’s mind with glorious dreams and fantasies of faraway castles and knights in shining armor. Suddenly she laughs, a pure sound of delight, and in her voice there is an innocence, a carefree, childlike spirit. Her name is Leslie. She is only eight. And to her, the world is full of endless possibilities.
As the television displays our family home video, the frame wobbles to indicate that the videographer (a.k.a. my dad) is changing positions. I smile. My dad is a great sport. He never failed in his fatherly duty to either be busy with the video camera, the lawnmower, or the barbecue on hot summer Saturday afternoons.
The scene shifts and I catch a glimpse of two excited little boys, ages two and four, one in a cowboy hat and the other with an Indian headdress. The “cameraman” struggles to keep them in the frame as they tirelessly bounce and squirm as only little boys can. Their hands and clothes are speckled with cakedon dirt and blotches of cherry-flavored Kool-Aid as they fervently dig for worms and buried treasure in the plastic green turtle-shaped sandbox. And there is my mother holding their two empty “sippy cups” with plastic lids. One of the boys suddenly lets out a yelp of indignation, but before a battle can erupt, she gently bends down and, speaking in her calm, soothing tone, helps the grumbling cowboy and frustrated Indian make a peace treaty in only ten seconds. Then she notices the video camera and laughingly tries to motion it away.
I shake my head in wonder as I watch this vivid picture from the past that floods me with memories. Could I ever have been that young, that innocent, that carefree? Could I ever have known, as I floated through the grass in my pink satin gown, all the uncertainty and confusion that life would soon throw at me?
At eight years old, I knew without a doubt that someday my life would bring me a “happily ever after” ending. One of my favorite pastimes was sitting in our downstairs toy room on a bright yellow rug, listening with bated breath to various fairy tales (via my little orange Mattel record player) and following intently along with the brightly colored picture book that accompanied each romantic story. I had Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Snow White memorized, and I was currently working on Sleeping Beauty. Without exception, every fairy tale ended with “happily ever after,” and I was sure that someday mine would be no different. I was still young, but it didn’t stop me from dreaming of my own Prince Charming.
Not that my standards were high or anything! I simply looked at the men in my life to help me picture what a knight in shining armor was supposed to be like. First, there was my dad—as handsome as any movie star on TV, stronger than the Incredible Hulk, wiser than old Owl from Pooh Corner, and the most gentle and kind member of the male species my young eyes had ever beheld. He was everything I wanted in a man.
Then there was good ol’ Ken, who always sat contentedly next to his gorgeous blond date in her hot pink plastic Corvette while I zoomed them around my bedroom at full speed. Ken didn’t say much, but his bright eyes and constant smile made a lasting impression on me. And if a girl as great as Barbie liked him, then so did I!
And lastly, I evaluated the heroes from my Mattel record player fairy tales—gallant, noble, and brave, even in the face of ferocious dragons and vicious warlords. I knew I would never settle for less in a man. I wanted someone who was a combination of my dad, Ken, and Cinderella’s Prince Charming. At the age of eight, I didn’t think that was too much to ask. I knew he was out there somewhere. I knew someday he would rescue me at just the right moment, and we would ride off together into the sunset. (Of course, I had also decided that my favorite dolls would be the guests of honor at our wedding and that my wonderful mommy and daddy would accompany my groom and I on our honeymoon!)
One night I had snuggled in between my parents on our mossy green couch to watch a movie. It was a love story. As it ended, I was less than impressed with the hero’s qualities.
“He didn’t even sweep her off her feet!” I complained loudly. “He’s not good enough for her. I can’t believe she settled for a guy like that!”
I still remember my dad’s fond chuckle as he scooped me up into his arms and said, “Leslie, one thing’s for sure: It’s going to take a very special man to win your heart.”
He had no idea how right he was. It wouldn’t be too many years later that I would embark upon a journey to find true love. But the “happily ever after” ending I’d always imagined wasn’t going to be as easy to come by as I once thought.
Ah, memories in the form of wobbly home videos! Viewing them has become somewhat of a love/hate activity for me. I spend half the evening just trying to decipher the hastily scrawled handwriting on the label. I struggle to decide if the tape I’m holding contains Uncle Harold’s fifty-sixth anniversary hayride or little David’s two-and-a-half hour soccer game, which was filmed so far from the field that all the players came out looking like little black dots. (Either of these two options could easily win the prize for America’s Most Boring Home Videos.) Once I finally select a tape to watch, I am usually forced to spend another large chunk of time fast-forwarding through a TV special that my mom has accidentally recorded in the middle of the video. After enjoying a muted, highspeed version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I finally arrive at little Johnny’s spaceship-theme birthday party and realize this was not the video I wanted after all.
But there are moments when I stumble upon a scene from the past that grips my heart and floods me with emotion. As I watch little Leslie merrily dance around the backyard in her pigtails and bare feet, I experience such a moment.
I can almost smell the freshly cut grass and hear the shrill echoes of my little brothers’ voices as they excitedly play out a duel to the death between their little green plastic army men. I can hear the distant tinkling music-box sound of the ice cream truck circling the subdivision, its high-pitched melody mingling with the dull hum of Mr. Harrison’s weed-eater zapping loudly a block away.
I can feel the soft satin of my “princess” robe and remember for a moment what it felt like to be there, young and secure. I can imagine my dad teasing my mother, attempting to get her on camera. I can picture her shaking her head and laughing as she gestures wildly to him and turns her face away. All the fun and love that surrounded my childhood comes back to me in a rush. And as I sit here, gazing at the television, I can only wonder, If I had known the road ahead, would I have taken those years of innocence for granted? Would I have clung to my childhood fairy tale dreams? I am suddenly filled with a desire to freeze the video screen and get that little girl’s attention. I have an urgent longing to warn her.
Leslie, be careful with your innocence; guard it with everything within you. You can’t understand now the cost of giving it away. Treasure your family. Cherish what God has given you. Hold on to your dreams. There will come a day when they will seem foolish. But they aren’t. This world wants to steal your heart away and damage your precious innocence. But there’s something more God has for you. Be careful. Please, be careful.
And yet I can’t go back in time. I can’t warn that innocent little girl of the traps that lie ahead and the romantic disillusionment that threatens to shatter her dreams. I can only remember back through the drama of my life—all the many moments, both good and bad, that were not captured on a video but were forever impressed upon my heart and mind. My fairy tale was a little more complicated than those entertaining stories on my Mattel record player. Yet the end goal was the same: a happily-ever-after story. But, like I said, it wasn’t quite so simple.
I don’t need a home video to remind me of every experience that shaped me, or of all the valleys and the mountaintops along the way. I had a God who knew my every desire. He also knew how I would fall. And yet He was waiting on the other side of my failure and my shattered dreams with some dreams of His own...