"What is that giant T in the ground?"
Hi! It has been a while since I've written! To be honest, work has been a bit of a roller coaster and I have felt the need to rest. Running and writing have taken a back seat. I made it through the best week of the year! Vacation Bible School! Making it through VBS this year feels like such a milestone. In a way, it marks the end of the life altering, Covid-era. For me, VBS last year, was the start of some kind of marathon I did not want to run. Yet, I ran anyway and haven't stopped since. Now that it is over, I'm resting in a different way. Resting in the form of being re-inspired and renewed. Running and writing, again.
Many of you may have your own memories of VBS, possibly good and maybe even bad. Most of my recent memories of VBS are a blur. But I know at the end of the blur of my own memories, we're instilling new ones in the children who come through our doors. Will they know who Jesus is? Will they comprehend a new, to them, Bible story? Will they make new friends? Will they feel like they belong? My prayer at the beginning of every VBS is always the same. I pray for safety. And I pray that seeds be planted. The thing about planted seeds is the gratification of growth is not immediate. The other thing about planted seeds, for me, is that I might get to plant them, but then I have to hope and pray someone else comes behind me with the water and nurturing.
One of my favorite parts of leading and teaching children is to facilitate conversations. Give the opening for sharing thoughts. Encourage the thoughts in a way that asks, "say more about that" rather than saying, "your answer is right or wrong." Facilitating conversations also offers me the opportunity to be a spectator and a listener. Vacation Bible School is one of the best times to put this to practice! Some of you may be rolling your eyes. Vacation Bible School sounds like a farce to you. Maybe your experience was to have some form of God shoved in your face without the opportunity for questions. I don't blame you. I've seen it do more damage than good. At the same time, I believe it is a special place and time. Children don't have to leave the space with a belief in God. In fact, it is totally okay if they don't! For me, that isn't the goal. Any seed planted ultimately relies on its surroundings for what kind of future it might have. My prayer in planting seeds for children is for it to represent goodness. Something that makes them better and want to make others better. Maybe that turns into faith in God. Maybe it turns into a belief in themselves. Maybe it turns into a friendship. This is why facilitating conversations is important to me. It is open to asking questions. It doesn't tell a child, "No! You're wrong. You're believing in the wrong thing." Through facilitating, the conversation is open to creating and building upon surroundings and thoughts. While I prepare to facilitate conversations and say the same prayer every year, I also reflect on this story as a reminder of the good and wonderful fruit that can grow.
I'm sitting outside, looking down at the lesson I'd prepared for the 1st grade group to play games and hear a Bible story in a new way. If I'm being honest, I was really proud of this lesson. I knew the kids would enjoy playing with the parachute and to use it in telling a story would meet them and keep them engaged. I'm preparing, reminding myself of the plan and moving supplies around as the group of 1st graders makes their way to me. They sit down and I begin the lesson. About 3 minutes into my plans, one of the children looks over, interrupts and asks aloud, "What is that giant T in the ground?" I'm caught off guard and somewhat frustrated because I can feel this lesson I've spent a lot of time preparing is about to come right off its tracks. Not only am I shocked by the timing of her interruption, but also very confused because I can't seem to locate what she is looking at or what has prompted her question. I'm about to ask her what she is talking about when one of the other children aligns his eyes with what she is looking toward.
He says, "Oh! I see what you're looking at. That isn't actually the letter, "t" although it totally looks like one! I've never thought about it like that!"
She asks again, "Well, what is it?"
He responds, "That is a cross. It's Jesus."
I'm still trying to get my bearings when I realize she is looking in the direction of an outdoor worship space. It has wooden benches, a campfire, a stand for a pulpit, and in the center eye view, a giant "t" in the ground. I'd never thought about it like that either.
She continues asking questions, not really knowing what she is asking, "What's a cross? What is Jesus?"
Another child in the group, "Jesus is a person. He died on the cross."
Her eyes are wide, "THAT cross?! A person died on THAT cross?!"
What follows is every single child in this 1st grade group telling their own favorite story about Jesus. I set my meticulously planned lesson to the side and didn't say a word. Just listened and witnessed the most perfect teaching of Jesus I've ever seen. I heard the words, "Jesus loves me AND you!" several times. I looked over at the little girl who started all this with a question and wondered how much of the other's enthusiasm and knowledge was meeting her. She seemed to be considering and continued to communicate only in the form of questions, "So, this Jesus person is MY friend too?" The wonderfully resounding response, "YES!!!" complete with claps and cheers put a smile on her face and I realized something. This little girl had been moved around so many times. Many of these moves were the result of being in immediately unsafe situations. She hadn't had much of an opportunity to form friendships. Her question wasn't about Jesus. Her question was about herself. Jesus, for her, was still a question. Yet somehow through these children, Jesus for her, was also an answer. Previously the answer, for her had been fear, no one and nothing. The realization that Jesus could be her friend too was an answer to a question she'd been asking, probably her whole life. I'm sure she still had 800 questions, but there was also a sense of relief. She belonged. Even in the turmoil around her, she had at least 1 friend. Jesus. What a friend to have. I'm sad I don't remember her name, but wherever she is now (around 15 years old! What!) I pray she still finds answers in Jesus. I pray she finds friendship and belonging there too.
The other side of this joy filled story are the other children. The pride on their faces to know they were sharing goodness with her was equally as heartwarming. Not one of those 1st graders said, "What! You don't know who Jesus is!?" Not one was judgmental. Not one seemed to feel uncomfortable with all her questions. They were each thoughtful, gentle, genuine and kind with their words. I was shocked a few of the children in that group said a word. Some hardly ever participated in Sunday school or seemed to pay attention to anything I said in Children's Chapel. Yet, when it mattered most, they knew the answer. Seeds that were planted, watered, and nurtured grew in the form of planting a seed with someone else.
Especially when I come across a new, to me, worship space and align my eyes with the cross, I think, "What is that giant T in the ground?" What it must be like to see it for the first time. What it must feel like to have so many questions. What it must feel like to not know any answers. What it must feel like to know you have at least one friend.