Sometimes it’s fun, just to have fun.”

This came from the most fascinating figment of my imagination, Ash, after he coaxed a reluctant, always obedient Anna into requesting multiple taste tests from the local ice cream parlor. The comment has been stuck like a broken record in my head for days now, quietly lingering, demanding exposition, analysis. It’s a lesson that I’ve always regurgitated but never engrained internally. Never, frankly, exercised much, either. When I was in school, the thing to do was go to pep rallies. They were viewed as great fun by most everyone, except me. Me, I coaxed my English teacher into allowing me to stay locked in the classroom with pen and paper, all by lonesome, rather than attend a pep rally. Lunches were fun too. Except for me, who preferred to stay in the art classroom with my teacher and sister rather than venture into the extraordinarily large, noisy, lonely cafeteria. Prom was supposed to be fun. I did not attend my Senior prom. Going to parties and hanging out at the mall was also viewed as fun—unless you were me, and then you’d have preferred staying home. For the life of me, I could not understand the big to-do about clubs and dancing the few times my sister pleaded long enough for me to give in and go with her. Fun was writing and reading. Fun was organizing foundations to teach in classrooms. Fun was working with hurting children. Fun was acting as “counselor” to some advise columns online. Fun was solitary horseback riding, or swimming. Amusement parks, fairs, dance clubs, those sorts of typical young adult hang-outs gave me the heebie-jeebies. Spending time in a group of my peers was enough to make me break out in hives, unless I was, in some capacity, leading or teaching them. I honestly could not see the point in jokes, and I could not fathom what could entice someone to do something like walk into an ice cream shop and demand multiple taste tests, just to get a reaction from the worker. Even when I was in grade school, my games consisted of deciding to put on a concert for the neighbors and practicing my singing outside, or pretending while I was swimming that I was getting ready for a big swim competition, for which I was currently practicing. Solitary, imaginative games. The older I got, the more solitary I became until, by high school, it was a genuine, honest mystery to me why other people seemed to care so much about such trivial pursuits as spending time riding around—just to ride around. What was the point? What were they accomplishing? Couldn’t they see that there were, like, a million things more important to be thinking about than laughing at stuff they themselves called stupid? I could see the sense in camping out on the concrete for Fan Fair every year, and that was enjoyable: I rationalized it by saying it was nice to feel part of a community that didn’t think me weird for enjoying the country music genre. I could see the point in sitting on a porch of a secluded Georgia cabin and doing absolutely nothing but staring out at the mountain tops. I got that. But that wasn’t typically included in the popular definition of “fun.”

Was I right?

I mean, I could go off on a hundred different rampages right now, quoting statistics from child abuse, from teenage suicide, even from the fact that the number one killer of children in the United States is car accidents, deaths which, for the most part, could have been prevented by safe usage of car seats. I could quote statistics about dozens of tragic things that take place every second of every day until all you could do was cry. I could quote history and the lessons we need to learn from it until I turned blue. I could point out that lots of people are fooled by a smile. I can’t tell you the number of times in my life when someone asked me, “are you sure you’re okay?”, heard my common refrain, “I’m fine. See?” followed by my bright smile and let it go. If you gave me a blank piece of paper and told me to list the number of things that need attention in the United States, it would be full within minutes, and it would be a serious list of societal and familial issues that need urgent attention. So—who’s got time for frivolous stuff that doesn’t make any sense, or have any real sense of purpose? After all, if everyone picked just one cause, and got passionate about it, I mean, as passionate as Mother Teresa was about serving God, then, this world would be a radically different place.

Do I sound pompous yet?

I’m sure I do. Pompous and arrogant and self-righteous, too, for good measure.
But I really believed it all. I can’t tell you what it did to me when I was fifteen, sixteen years old, lying in bed and crying because I knew in my heart that even if I couldn’t see them, even if I didn’t know their names, some other teenager, some other child, was hurting for the same reason I was but would choose some gang to hang out with instead of a book. Fun was good, but it wasn’t rewarding, it wasn’t important and, furthermore, it didn’t even help anyone.

Except the individual.

In “The Character,” Ash guides Anna down several roads to spontaneous fun: chasing clouds, flying kites, demanding taste tests from an irate ice cream parlor employee. And Anna loves him for it. I used to justify everyone else’s fun. It was perfectly fine for my sister and her friends to spend their time at clubs, because hanging out together made them happy. It was fine for the other kids in high school to enjoy painting themselves silly to enjoy a football game. It was not fine, however, for me to do the same. I thought that by participating in “fun” activities, I was somehow being disloyal to the nameless kids I knew were laying in bed somewhere crying, broken-hearted. Worse, I thought it was disloyal to the little girl, the one I was before I “got bad” because she was trapped, she wasn’t capable of having fun, she hadn’t just been hurt, she’d been totally run over and, by not telling, with my silence, I practically sanctioned it. At the very least, I was the only one who knew about it. How could I, then, laugh my way through life, while she hid in the corner of my heart, heart-broken and alone? The guilt for doing simple things, like laughing for any reason whatsoever, was enough to motivate me to do as much as I possibly could to make sure that other children weren’t hurt like The Little Girl anymore. This contributed to my going off the deep end with volunteerism: did you know that you can be addicted to volunteering? Going on a crusade can help mask the one whose tears haven’t been revealed.

For another thing—refusing yourself “fun” does not help.

It doesn’t help the world—the statistics don’t change—and it doesn’t help The Little Girl whose tears you’re running from either.

“Sometimes its fun, just to have fun,” said Ash.

I am among the lucky ones. Writing was my fun time. Without it, I doubt I’d have survived in one piece. I certainly wouldn’t have come as far as I have come. I credit God with the gift of writing, and I hope that it helps shine light on His creativeness and His goodness and comforting Spirit because it has brought me all of the things His Word promises to those who believe. Writing has been a lifeline. And it’s a good one. But it isn’t the same as having fun “just to have fun.” My writings are serious, and reflective, and intense, and they have an important point to them, a message I need to impart to anyone who picks up one of my books or opens up one of my blogs. It’s fun for me to write them, but in a serious kind of way. It’s not the same thing as laughing so hard your side hurts, without even really knowing (or caring) why you’re laughing. It isn’t the same as spending time at lunch with a friend (or two) laughing over the latest plot development of The Bachelor.

My daughters have brought this lesson home.

Today we made homemade paint again. I hid a doll and a stuffed horse and then we pretended that we were cowgirls on a ranch, called on an important mission: we had to find the missing ranch hand, and her horse before the sun set. We turned on the music, as loud as it would go, until I thought my ears would burst, and we danced like maniacs. We played silly games: Breathe and I played Chicken Scratch, where we talk to each other in chicken, pretending we understand exactly what the other one is saying. The following is an example. Breathe says, “My whoo owoola doggy boot nockanocka bot supper uppa chicken fried” to which I promptly and seriously replied: “The ananana bamasooka cuckoo clock oooso nhorse poop.” Her answer: a roll of the eyes and a “Mama, that is so noosooka wrong.” Alight and I played the “Which One” game where I list two of her favorite things and ask her which one she likes better : “Cailliou or Barney?” to her “Caillou” followed by my “Caillou or Diego?” until the Tickle Monster shows up and she collapses in laughter. Ridiculous, silly games. And you know what? These non-sensical games are the ones they are most likely to remember, and think fondly of five, ten, fifteen years from now.

What’s forming the foundation of a happy, confident and secure girl is the moments when seriousness is about as far away from us as Jupiter. When I mentored the children I worked with, the same was true. What Damian will remember the most about me, most likely, is that I chased him silly around the Greenway and I wasn’t afraid of getting mud on my cool outfit. What Kincaid will probably remember the most is that I painted with him. What Jessica will remember is that I took her to see whatever movie she wanted and got her the biggest bag of popcorn AND a Snickers bar to eat at the same time. What Breathe and Alight hopefully will recall is that I throw myself in the midst of their games, nothing comes before playtime with them, and we often paint ourselves as messy as we possibly can get. Fun was beneficial for the abused children I cared about, and it is beneficial to the two girls I adore and love deeply. Fun is the amongst the foundations of happiness in secure and healthy hearts and it is also an important element in healing for the emotionally broken.

Maybe spending time doing ‘fun’ things does take away time from working on an important cause. Maybe it does distract our minds for a time, keeps us from remembering that there are billions of people, millions of children, who are hurting deeply. I can’t help but admit that that still makes me sad, and is hard for me to justify on a personal level. The truth is, though, that God created all of us as equals. The Little Girl was hurt, she was wounded, and she is still sad. Unfortunately, I can’t change that fact. I still share her memories. I still see her in the wee hours of the morning, and I know she inhabits a piece of my heart that will always feel cracked. But reminding her daily that a healthy dose of genuine (not pretend) laughter and optimistic participation in “fun” activities is taking care of one of God’s creations. Everything in the Bible says that we are created equal. Everything in the Bible says that God loves me. Everything in the Bible says that Jesus was burdened, but capable of experiencing joy, and laughter. Nothing in the Bible prohibits innocent fun. Nothing in God’s Word prohibits laughter; indeed, it encourages it.

Sometimes it is fun just to have fun.”

I sure am glad Ash introduced himself to me.