If you have been one of my Baptist Messenger readers for any length of time, you know that I have a love for carnivals. My grandmother was a carnie, so I guess you could say it’s in my blood. Every year, I return to serve as a chaplain at the Tulsa State Fair, so I can spend hours ministering to the carnies.
Growing up in small town America, few things brought as much excitement to my life as a carnival. One day passed much like another, so when an independent carnival (“independent” was just another way of saying “cheap”) arrived in town, this young boy could barely contain himself.
Every year, my best friend Mike and I made the trek to visit the carnival together. Our pockets stuffed with a couple of dollars apiece. We boys had to be careful where we spent our riches.
An unwritten code said to look for the ride that lasted the longest, moved the fastest and put the fear of God deep into your soul. Of course, you could never let your friends know that it scared the daylights out of you. You exited casually, hitched up your britches and bragged that it “had to be meaner than that to scare ME”—all the while, silently thanking the Lord for your survival.
You also had to remember to save enough money to buy an oversized puff of cotton candy and play a few games on the midway. It was serious business, this plotting and planning for an evening at the carnival. The game I enjoyed most was the Claw Crane Machine. When you tried any of the other carnival games, you gave the man your money and, less than a minute later, walked away empty-handed. This one was different. It involved no small amount of skill, and you could take all the time you wanted.
The Claw Crane Machine was a small square box filled with things designed to turn a boy into a man: a shiny knife, a telescope, a pair of dice and powerful eyeglasses guaranteed to see through anything. Each one-of-a-kind item called your name as you searched for the most significant treasure of all. You put a dime in the slot and turned the handle to operate the lever.
Slowly, you cranked the arm until the crane centered itself perfectly over the item you wanted. Holding your breath, you lowered the claw with the skill of a surgeon, trying your best to grab the prize. You always knew that if you went too quickly, you might miss it altogether.
After lowering the claw, you had to close its teeth around the prize and then crank the handle to bring it back up. Next, you swung the crane around to drop its precious cargo into a hole that sent it straight to your waiting hands.
Sometimes the claw failed to achieve the right grip, and your treasure dangled precariously from its teeth. Sometimes the prize would slip out as you cranked it up, and you had to start all over again. The secret was to stay with the same crane until you learned all its nuances. I don’t how many dimes I spent on that game during a night at the carnival—at least a dollar’s worth, trying to gain bragging rights until the carnival returned.
Over the years, I have found that life is a lot like a carnival. Unique opportunities comes along only once in a while. Far too often, I have looked back and discovered that I missed special times with my children. I found myself too busy with daily life to stop and enjoy the Kingdom moments.
Scripture reveals that Jesus was wonderful at capturing these: “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there” (Matt. 19:13-15).
Maybe one of these days, I will write a new book: “All I Really Need to Know I Learned at the Carnival.” Among its many lessons, the carnival taught me to: 1. Be ready when it comes; 2. Choose your activities wisely; 3. Count the cost; 4. Push yourself to do things you thought were impossible; 5. Share your experience with a friend, because going alone is… no fun.
If you look closely, you’ll see that even without a carnival, Jesus understood the true meaning of these statements. Maybe that’s why, every year, He and I have a great time going to the carnival . . . together! Happy 2022!