When Vacation Bible School messages intended for grade schoolers hit you right in the feels.
I ran our small Methodist church’s one week Vacation Bible School summer program for 8 years – including one year when I gave birth in the middle of it (I mean, I made it to the hospital but it happened right in the middle of that week). I did everything from writing preschool curriculum to painting decorative backdrops and everything in between. A few of those years, the pastors also decided that I was the best option for giving the Sunday wrap-up sermon for all of the parishioners and VBS attendees. Was this because I’m an amazing orator or because they wanted a mini-summer break? I guess we’ll never know (except that we do and they definitely wanted a break). However, a few of those sermons have really stuck with me, so I’m offering edited versions of them, hoping they resonate with a broader audience as they still do with me.
As I find myself up here for the third year in a row, I must confess that it turns out this is harder than it looks. I know when I’m on the receiving end of these messages, my hope is to take the words I’ve heard and translate them into a weekly “new beginning” – a way to start out fresh, trying to be a better person in at least one aspect of daily life. And so that is what I always try to impart when I’m up here, but – and I can imagine this must happen to everyone – sometimes, when you’re just trying to survive the week and your “new beginning” goal is to catch up on the laundry, the cleaning, the bills and the purchase of some non-drive-through version of food that the kids might not even recognize at this point … Well, I’m not sure the few pithy, Facebook-post-worthy comments that have been floating around in my head in a nonsensical loop are going to be all that inspiring. And truly, the amount of material we covered this week is awe-inspiring but very, very hard to sum up in 10 minutes or less (and I know I’m on the clock – because that cake in the fireside room won’t eat itself).
What was fascinating for me in this year’s program was that it is a mini-tour of Christianity – starting in Genesis with the story of Noah and the Ark, passing through the humble servant girl sharing God’s message, John the Baptist, Peter choosing to be Jesus’ disciple and Paul proclaiming Jesus as our savior.
Each of these stories had characters from the Bible who exemplified key characteristics of a life of deep faith. Each of these stories has people making tough choices in the face of various adversities. Each of them shows us that if these ordinary people can do it, so can we.
It’s funny, though – as powerful as these messages are, and as familiar as some of the stories are – some of the most popular, really – when I think of how I remember learning these lessons…
I picture my fisher price Noah’s Ark and my concern over making sure there were two of every animal and wondering how you’d fit all of those animals in one boat and who could safely be “roommates” – and it was just Noah and the animals – I don’t even remember wondering if there were other people on board.
I’d definitely never heard of the servant girl story or the full story of Paul before I was running VBS.
John 3:16 was always some dude in a rainbow wig with a cardboard sign at a major league sporting event.
“Fishers of Men” sounded very poetic – still does – but I never went much deeper into the meaning of it.
All of which is to say that I’m not sure I’m qualified to give anyone a lesson in how to live a life of deep faith. When I am asked why I run Vacation Bible School or, more simply, why I have chosen this church for my family – I have to pause before answering because the reason is complex and yet, at its heart, selfish.
John and I have three boys. Boys in today’s society are taught all sorts of things about how to get ahead, how to be someone, how to succeed, how to WIN. They are rarely taught to be caring – which translates as “soft.” Polite? Absolutely. Even Chivalrous. But Compassionate? Dirty word. And that breaks my heart a little bit. The emphasis on winning – in school, in sports, in extra-curricular activities as varied as piano, geography bees and chess…. It’s all-encompassing and so easy to get swept up in. And I keep wanting to demand an end-game strategy from my fellow parents. College Scholarship? Major League Ball? What? Why must the “hotly contested piano recital” ribbon be displayed for all of Facebook to “like”? I had two boys drop out of VBS at the last minute this year because a hockey camp’s waiting list had opened up for them. That has been eating at me all week… why more sports, when they are available virtually All. The. Time?! Is there really not even one week available to learn about taking care of each other?
As most parents do, I want so much for my children. I want for them to grow up knowing how to be successful but also how to take care of others and to be good people. I want them to be “Fishers of Men” – I want them to make the world a better place, in some small way, every day. I want them to be the ones who dare to care, to love their neighbors as themselves – and not just the ones who look and think like them – all people. Most importantly, the ones who don’t think or look like them – for those neighbors are the ones from whom they will learn the most.
And so, here I am – struggling with my own definition of deep faith and laughing a bit about worrying that I sound too “preachy” when I re-read this to myself…because isn’t that the point right now? I fervently hope that I’m showing my boys through my actions and, truly, through all of yours – that there are so many ways to make the world a better place – and here is a building to start in; here are people who will help you, when Dad and I inevitably falter. I wish this for my boys and for all of the children who were with us this week and even more-so for those that weren’t.
And because I am asking for so much from all of you;
I also wish for all of you, no matter where you land on the faith spectrum:
- to take comfort in the knowledge that we can depend on God;
- to embrace the knowledge that we can claim the gift of Jesus’ love – whether we shout it from the rooftops or quietly hold it to ourselves;
- to go forth with the knowledge that choosing to follow and changing the world can look and feel and be a million different things and they are all good.
Jesus led by example; I wish for us to do the same. I wish for us all to be daring enough to care for more than just our own success, our closest neighbors, our tiny space in this world; even when its hard to do…especially when its hard to do.
The boys and I recently picked up a copy of “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss in preparation for this past week’s lessons and I want to leave you all with Dr. Seuss’ parting words, because they are so much more eloquently simple than mine could ever hope to be:
“But now,” says the Once-ler,
“Now that You’re here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
Cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better.
I have deep faith that there are a whole lot of “someones” who are ready to go forth and change the world and it IS going to get better. A Lot.