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I recently took a trip back in time, all the way back to my childhood. I visited a little place called Wild West City — a site I visited on more than one class field trip as a kid. It’s a Western theme park located in the hustle and bustle of New Jersey (if you use the phrase “theme park” very, very loosely, that is).

Wild West City 1

Picture a dusty street lined with saloons, a jail house and merchant stores. If you need to run errands, no worries. You’ll find everything right there within walking distance, including the bank, post office, seamstress, land office, town hall, and a doctor who specializes in bullet removal.

Horses? Check.

Cowboys? Check.

Outlaws? Check.

This town has got it all. As you roam the street exploring all the little shops and businesses, you might just witness Jesse James robbing the bank, or masked outlaws holding up the stagecoach. I even saw the town mayor slingin’ his guns against the bad guys in a live street duel! Yep, this place definitely transports its visitors back to a time when air conditioners were but a dream, a sheriff’s badge made you the coolest cat in town, and every problem could be solved with a gun fight.

Wild West City 2

Twenty years or so have passed since the last time I walked these dirt roads. I remember when I was a kid, I used to think Wild West City was… well… an actual city. Now it’s not even a town. As I arrived this time, I thought to myself, Was this place always this small? I watched the actors drag themselves out into the street for each show, seemingly dreading their jobs. Some of them were clearly in their eighties, probably left to wonder how their lives amounted to performing badly-scripted cowboy skits for school kids and their bored chaperones. The old, warped country music playing through the loudspeakers was enough to drive anyone off a cliff. I had to admit that the whole place just seemed so… pathetic.

Where has my sense of adventure gone? When was the last time I suspended my disbelief long enough to enjoy an outing like this? When did I lose my innocence?

So there I sat on the Wild West City train, driven by an overzealous conductor in overalls. We rounded a corner in the woods and I watched my niece and nephew enjoying every second of the ride. Then, as a train robber jumped out from behind a tree to hold up the train, I held my nephew close and could feel a literal race in his little heart. With our hands held high in surrender, the burglar demanded we hand over our jewels and our gold… even our gold teeth! The kids instantly opened their mouths wide open to show their filling-less smiles. And I smiled in return.

There’s something about childlike faith and belief. It’s beautiful. Then somewhere down the line — somewhere between middle school and college and our careers, between marriage and babies and saving for retirement — we lose that sense of wonder. We lose the desire to strap a gun holster to our hips or tie a bandanna around our necks.

But on that rickety old train, as we sang “Old Dan Tucker” at the top of our lungs, I found just a little piece of that wonder again.

And this time I’m determined to never let it go.

“And he said: ‘Truly I tell you,
unless you change and become like little children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”
Matthew 18:3

Wild West City 4