Lille has style, panache and attitude. She lights up a room when she enters. Sometimes she is boisterous, other times withdrawn. She is 14 and brings with her all the fragility and bravado of that age. When Ray met her for the first time she was playing in a Magic: the Gathering card game tournament and holding her own with the boys. He was so impressed that he immediately called me to come to the game to meet her. Although she can be flirtatious she can also face the world without using a boyfriend or an adult to shield her. Then there are the ears. Lille participates in cos-play which is a form of role-play that enters daily life. She wears cat ears every day and sometimes cat whiskers as well. The ears are her outward sign of her inward creativity and sensitivity. Piercings, heavy makeup and hair dye don’t detract from her looks, they anchor her in who she is and her time and place in life.
Don’t you hate it when your favors get called in? That happened to me last December. When you own a retail store that sells games and toys December is very busy month. There are two words that describe December for Ray and me: work and sleep. When we are not doing one we are doing the other. But when Joel Krueger of the First Church in Belfast, UCC asked us to help with his live nativity play we felt obliged to accept. Joel is a friend and a partner in our ENCOUNTERS program and has helped us many times.
It was a Friday evening and the church slowly filled with people. Joel waited for volunteers to play the parts and Ray was selected to be a wise man and I was a shepherd, or to be more precise, a shepherd’s grandmother. The minutes ticked on and no volunteers arrived to play the holy family. Joel started to pace. No, I would not, at age 66, play the Virgin Mary. Then Ray had a brainstorm and called The Loft. Would anyone come to the church and help with the nativity play?
In five minutes the doors flew open and about a dozen kids rushed in. Lille and her boyfriend were recruited to play Mary and Joseph. Destiny played an angel and Sage a shepherd. When Lille climbed up on the stage I saw that she was wearing purple fuzzy leg warmers under her costume and they stuck out about 8 inches from the bottom. Her lip ring caught the light on the altar. Her cat ears formed a frame for her face that was more contemporary than a halo. I saw her in all her glory and there was a lump in my throat. She was beautiful, contemporary and timeless all at the same time. When Ray presented his wise man’s gift Lille leaned over and whispered, “I hope there are Magic cards in there.”
The pageant ended and our kids rushed back to their dinner and games at The Loft. I sat in the foyer thinking about great events. Each is unique because they are set in time and place but some are so universal that a kid in purple leg warmers can teach you about a virgin from two millennia in the past. I thought about how fragile Mary must have felt and how much courage she displayed and then I wondered about Mary’s taste in clothes.
That was the Live Nativity 2013. Well, as you know, once you have a success you are called upon to do it again and so we did. The Nativity pageant is outside on a Friday night and most of our kids are over 15 who attend on Friday evenings. They are way past the aaaawwwwwwwwww stage one usually sees in Nativity plays but they can still pull your heartstrings. Lille arrived a bit late bursting through the door saying, “I’m here! Where’s my costume, I’m the Virgin Mary.” Brash perhaps, but enlivening, she is our nominee for Mary for a new age. Zach played Joseph with fake beard and glasses who looked like a nervous matzo salesman anxious to get back to the factory. But it was the angels who stole the show. Ray recruited two older kids, Brian and Bradley, to be angels with MacKenna, by saying they could stand in the church belfry three storys above the audience. As they were suiting up I heard Bradley ask, “Does my tattoo show through the arms of this angel costume?” Talk about angels with dirty faces! When I looked up to the spotlights on the belfry I was awestruck. The angels were tall and a bit frightening as divine messengers should be. Mary had transcended her daily cares. Joseph was more of a real person than I had ever imagined. And all the rest of the Loft and ENCOUNTERS kids made me proud to know them. To use a phrase from Fr. Bruce Ritter, “Sometimes God has a kid’s face.”