What do you get when you mix 136 kids, 52 adult volunteers, 68 bananas, 200 pool noodles, several miles of tulle, several THOUSAND miles of butcher paper, 20 first aid kits, a precarious tower of Costco pizzas, and the sweat and lifeblood of the Director of Children and Family Ministries?
You get VBS, my friends; a glorious combination of paint, water balloons, and Veggie Straws.
Having taken this position in February, by now I can answer the question, "what are the dates for VBS?" faster than I can answer the pediatric nurse asking me, "what's your son's date of birth?" VBS has the power to keep me up until midnight on Saturday when I need to be in the office the next morning by 5:45 (that's AM...yes, I hold the distinction of occasionally beating David Teeter to church), trying to write a note in my phone to ask Jessica about who might be good at coming up with gym games and pinning one more idea on Pinterest of how to turn paint samples into clownfish. VBS has me inviting my best friend over for cider and Ethiopian food, seemingly just to hang out, but actually with the ulterior motive of picking her brain for science experiment ideas because she's got a degree in environmental science and grew up loving The Magic Schoolbus.
VBS is the kind of event that terrifies and exhilarates me in turns. When I contemplate cornering people individually to tell them how great they would be at one volunteer opportunity or another, I feel like an Army recruiter and am internally cringing. When I'm painting a sheet of paper with tea to make it look like parchment and creating a treasure map-style VBS poster, I am keyed up and gleeful at the idea of how excited the kids will be when they see it. Taking affirmative action with adults is daunting to me because I am a huge introvert. I've gotten better at eye contact and speaking up in a group of adults, but it is not instinctual, it is very much a mindful practice. Out of fear for losing ground with the adults I serve in my position, I write down every little item I need to remember in three places, to be sure I do not let anyone fall through the cracks or let anyone down by forgetting something I promised to do for them.
But with kids? I'm not coming to their level - I'm running with my pack.
I understand kids. I speak their native language and I love their rituals and traditions. I so deeply respect children, and it is not a mindful practice, it is second nature. Yes, sometimes you have to use the Mom Voice and I remember that part of my job is to demonstrate the discipline required of them, but even with the
But let me tell you, the world is painted in brighter color when you strip away the layers of gray and beige and slate, the colors of the drudgery of work, financial worry, loss, and doubt. How do you scratch at those layers to see the vibrancy underneath? For me, I enter the lives of the children of our church and invite the little girl I used to be to come to the surface and play. For other adults, many use their hands - making bread, knitting, woodworking, painting, fixing up cars, gardening, things that are tied to the childhood thirst to learn with our sense of touch, long before we could read it in books or even ask our parents with words. Other people turn to music, a force that can make even a child still at the breast bob and sway in an approximation of dancing. Many find the hues of childhood in nature, perhaps now carefully keeping their footing with the use of a cane as they walk down a forest path, but in their hearts they are running through the leaves and climbing the trees, feeling the echo of those blessed years of childhood we will never get back. Only the likes of a child can see the Kingdom of God, and so we must not just remember our childhood but re-enter it somehow.
During vacation bible school, I will forget the months of planning and email and training, those months that sometimes felt as long and discouraging as those spent assembling IKEA furniture. I will finish putting together the shelves and begin to fill them with the treasures that come from bringing the little children to the feet of Christ, as I feel He has personally asked and equipped me to do. For a week, after months of planning, I will be there to watch the little children come to Him. For a week, the adult who helped organize the event will step back so that the child can invite the other kids to fuel vacation bible school with their energy, joy, and beautiful, simple, childlike faith.