How Chuck E. Cheese Changed my Life

Light and Laughter

“One discovery I’ve made is that children are here for a purpose,
to share light and laughter.”
(Text on painting above)

It is my firstborn’s eighth birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. She is preparing to enter the ticket blaster, the glass tube where the birthday girl has her chance at catching flying Chuck E. Cheese tickets. The idea of the game is to see how many tickets you can catch in your time in the blaster. All of the party guests watch outside the glass tube as tickets spin past the birthday girl while she makes mostly futile attempts to grab them. It’s a comical sight, really, and gives the party guests a chance to get a good laugh at the expense of the birthday girl.

My daughter, who would prefer not to be the center of attention, takes one look at the ticket tube and says very calmly, “I’m not getting in that thing.” I ask her why, and she whispers to me, “What if I don’t catch any tickets? There is no way I am getting in.” I explain to her that catching tickets really is not the purpose of it, that it is about having fun and that it makes no difference whether she catches any tickets at all. I encourage her to just enjoy it and laugh at herself. She reluctantly enters the tube, still unconvinced that it is not about catching tickets.   She places the protective goggles over her eyes, while eager faces stare at her through the tube ready to laugh and enjoy the ride with her.

The ticket blaster turns on and the ticket whirling begins. She flails her arms reaching for the tickets. They fly past her. Quickly, I see her fears about the ticket tube coming true. I stare at her through glass, into her goggled eyes, and I see fear, uncertainty. “Will I fail?” I see her asking herself, while spinning and reaching for the tickets. I see it in her eyes, her awkward expression. “Will I fail with the whole world watching? “



My heart aches as I see the joy she is missing. She is blind to it, so focused on catching those tickets. Forfeiting joy for the sake of a paper Chuck E. Cheese ticket that is only good at the prize counter for a cheap toy from China.  A temporary, fleeting, plastic toy that promises something but delivers nothing.

I want to run to the glass and bang on it and scream, “You are missing the point. Stop worrying about the stupid tickets. Nobody cares if you catch them or not. This moment will soon be gone and you will never have it back. Laugh, Let others laugh with you. Celebrate! Enjoy this party I have given you”

But I stop myself, and then, I see what God intended for me to see. I see a mother inside a daughter inside of the ticket tube. I see me staring at me, through flying tickets, through glass and goggled eyes.   I know that look. I know that fear. I know that pride. I want to fall on my knees and repent, prostrate in the middle of Chuck E. Cheese, but that’s not exactly appropriate at birthday parties, not if you want your eight-year-old to still speak to you.  So I stand still reflecting on what God is teaching me through my daughter in a ticket tube in Chuck E. Cheese on a Friday.

Memories flash before my eyes, and I see myself striving to catch tickets, white knuckling the parental life, determined to get it right, because the prize at the ticket counter promises me something. Promises me that if I get it right, all will go well. So often seeking perfection, forfeiting joy for the sake of a cheap lie that only disappoints and leaves me emptier than before. Deceived by the deceiver.

How often my hands have reached out for those tickets, hands that God made, grasping and reaching for worthless paper. The Spirit whispers, I fashioned your fingers in your mother’s womb. I carefully placed every wrinkle, every line, every cell and ounce of skin, every knuckle and nail. I designed them, imperfection and all, for one purpose, to reach out and catch grace. I never meant for you to be a ticket catcher. I designed you to be a grace catcher. I did not call you to get it right. I called you to be free. Grace is falling all around you. Reach out the hands that I made and grab what I have freely given you. It is there for the taking.

I hear Him beating on the glass of my ticket tube, pleading with me. Forget about the tickets! It has never been about the tickets anyway. It’s about my love and joy in you and that only comes when you humble yourself and see that your hands are too weak for catching tickets. Their design has always been for catching grace. I came that you may have life and life to the full. Enjoy every moment. Enjoy missing the tickets in the ticket tube even when it feels like the whole world is watching. Laugh at yourself. Delight in your children. Enjoy your husband. Humble yourself and enjoy…

My daughter exits the ticket tube having traded in joy for paper tickets, but the lesson I learn from watching her is one I will never forget. So I leave Chuck E Cheese a somewhat different woman, a recovering ticket catcher of sorts. A woman still battling the urge to catch tickets, but a woman now desiring to catch a lot more grace.   A woman who is beginning to see through the lure of the shiny new toys at the prize counter.  And when I catch myself in my ticket catching, the Spirit continually whispers in my ear, ‘I made you a grace catcher. I made you a grace catcher. I made you a grace catcher…’ Now catch my grace.


  1. Rose Ogle Reply

    We recently visited St Francis rehab center on the same day. Honestly, I did not remember you as an artist and a writer. So glad I could catch up with you and your work! Hope your shoulder problem gets better. Rose

  2. Mary Haase Reply

    Thank you for this oh so beautiful prospective which by no coincidence I am reading today. How I love to receive Gods word through you and others and through ordinary circumstances that read like neon signs from Heaven itself. (I always prayed for neon signs so I wouldn’t miss anything I needed to know)!
    You ve most definitely been showered with grace and caught a lot of it without even knowing. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  3. Langford Reply

    Love this. Needed that!

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