VBS: Not Just For Kids
A little girl rocked my world today.
This week, I am one of literally dozens of volunteers for my home church’s Vacation Bible School. Before I go further, let me just say how much I absolutely love my church. I love it because I can feel God there. When I go into the sanctuary and there is no one there, the lights are dimmed and the only noise is the air—I can feel Him. When the choir starts singing, I can feel Him. When my pastor speaks, my heart just listens. And when I am teaching a class of kindergarden students or third grade kids and tears fill their eyes as I tell the Easter story–I feel God. Also, the people. They are near and very, very precious to me. So. I love my church. Honestly, though, I lead a VBS crew every year and, I mean, there’s screaming matches. For real. 300 kids screaming at the top of their lungs for long minutes on end. And games. And crafts. And snacks. And the lessons are good but kid-level. I mean, Vacation Bible School IS for kids. Right?
Not this year. This year, it’s impacted my heart too. And the straw that broke the camel’s back, the one that made me hear God’s whispered plea for me to pay attention even above all the noise was one of the little girls in my group. She’s the one that took God’s whisper and turned it into a shout right into my ear. But it actually started on Tuesday. On Tuesday, after snack, I had ten full minutes of unexpected free time. Nothing planned because I wasn’t supposed to have free time–we are scheduled tight. Ten full minutes of nothing to do in a building that’s full of noise and organized chaos with MY group, which includes a few energetic boys is just not good. But then… An idea.. The prayer tower. It was a whisper. I didn’t know if my age crew would get it or not, but I listened to the whisper and took my group to our beautiful, blessed prayer tower. Before we went in, I told them that we were there for quiet time with God. To pray. To talk to Him about whatever we needed His help with, or to thank Him. We would be quiet and we would talk to God. Then we would exit the prayer tower. My kids, every one of them, not only got it and prayed beautifully, but immediately asked me afterward if we could do it again the next day. So we did.
Today, I told them that if they wanted someone to pray with them, if there was something in their lives that felt impossible and they just didn’t think they could do it by themselves, that I would pray with them. Three asked me to do so. But one little girl… One little girl had been hearing the whisper too. “What would you like to pray about?” I asked. And then she proceeded to confine in me something sad. And she answered all my questions. Finally, we prayed over it. That little girl showed me what trust looks like. You see, VBS is loud and so fun—there’s offering wars, there’s gym games, fun snacks, friends and a whole lot of laughing. But this little girl not only heard a whisper from God to seek someone to pray with her, she acted upon it. With the rest of the group biting at the bit to move and laugh and play and talk, it would have been very easy for her to say nothing. But she trusted. She trusted God. And God gave me the words to comfort her. God moved. And two hearts, one big and one small, were touched. But only through trust.
I have put writing this post off for at least a month. A full thirty days, at least, and probably it’s been longer than that. It is scary sharing something personal. It is scary thinking that all your worst fears about yourself are true and that, if you share, those fears will just be confirmed. It’s scary. But, in VBS, I am being reminded that I should:
– Trust God no matter what I feel
– Trust God no matter who I am
– Trust God no matter what happens
– Trust God no matter where I am
I write a lot. And I write about very painful memories. But there are a couple things about which I don’t talk and I don’t write. Trust and intimacy top those lists. Asking me for access to my thoughts in these areas is like asking Isaac to carry the wood that would be used in sacrificing HIM. But both Abraham and Isaac showed great trust. And if a sad little girl can trust God, and me, then why can I not take a sledgehammer to these walls?
Of course, the trouble is where to start.
Once, I was in the midst of what I thought was a dream. A beautiful, all-consuming dream. But every so often I was asked to “relax.” Great effort went into trying to help me do exactly that. Massages. A seemingly unending supply of immense patience. The repeated verbal request to close my eyes and relax. An assurance that thinking wasn’t required, only that I allow myself to feel. The comfort of a powerhouse embrace, and sun-lit smile. But… despite all the effort, my muscles remained stubbornly rigid, as though someone had locked them into their tight positions and thrown away the key. I would have vehemently denied it til doomsday but, ultimately, the problem was a lack of trust. I’d give my heart in an instant, my loyalty and my affection in half a heartbeat–as long, that is, as I didn’t have to break a promise to the little girl that is trapped inside me, and who is terrified of the power of an intimate touch.
You see, I was pretty young–a teenager–, when I promised the little girl with white-blonde hair sitting with her back to me in a corner when I closed my eyes, that she was finally safe and that I would never, ever allow her to be hurt “like that” again. Ever. Period. Since then, my life has revolved around her, and in keeping that promise. Shakespeare said, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Well, I believed that I could call it whatever I wanted—“making love,” “sex,” etc— it was the same act that trapped the little girl. Justifying it with pretty words, or romantic nights would not change the act itself. So I told her that, until I married, until God Himself, said it was ok, she didn’t have to worry about it. Unfortunately for her, misguided conceptions and the over powering need to feel wanted, normal and loved would leave her with a broken promise. But as long as I held myself rigid, as long as I could remain emotionally untouched… She was okay. As long as I locked myself away, she was safe. That system of logic made trusting anyone in the intimacy department very dangerous because, if he touched more than my body, if he cracked the walls enough for me to ever feel anything but numbed, she’d feel betrayed by me. If I enjoyed that act now, then it must mean that the lies I’d heard for years that said I’d enjoyed it THEN, were true. It must mean I’d stayed silent until it was over because I’d somehow secretly enjoyed the attention, like he claimed. As easily as I give hugs now, I can promise you that touch can be the most degrading, shameful and terrifying act one can possibly experience. All I had to do to remember that was close my eyes and see the little girl sitting with her back to me. What all this meant was that, no matter how much I liked someone, no matter how perfect, no matter how patient… I could not completely trust him if he wanted the same physical act that had destroyed the little girl I’d once been.
So I didn’t. Even after my promise to wait for marriage had been broken, I simply retreated behind lessons learned ago and hid emotionally so that none of the physical touches could touch me. I didn’t believe I was safe. Or that the little girl was safe– how would she understand the difference in circumstance? How would she understand that the act wouldn’t necessarily traumatize the grown-up? And, even if she did understand it… What if that wasn’t true? What if, like I’d been told, I was broken, un-redeemable. Broken. If I was broken, then eventually, I was going to be left again anyway. If I was broken, then my heart was in danger and the giving of my body and soul heightened the risk. Trust is dangerous. It’s my fault. It always has been. I knew the way out. And, no matter the excuses I can create, I did not take it. And, as an adult, I have never really given anyone the chance to prove me wrong. .
It just is.
But then, the little girl in my group.
I know how hard the Holy Spirit can be to ignore. But still. I mean, she barely knows me. For her to do something scary, to confide in someone whose reaction you are uncertain of, takes guts. True bravery. I mean, I’m a grown-up and, while I can write about stuff all day long, put me in a room with one other person who wants to dig deeper into my messed up thinking and I’ll teach him all the cheerful diversion tricks there are to avoid basically saying, “Okay, here’s my biggest weakness…. What’cha going to do with it?” I don’t like the walls any more than he does… But I can’t live with believing the things I heard and was taught to feel. Yet, a six year old can tell a practical strange details of her family’s pain if only she’s asked while trusting she won’t be branded guilty.
Trust is earned but trust is also given. I write about sensitive sore spots because it helps me crystallize my emotions and bring the root of any issue to my conscious awareness which, in turn, helps me deliberately combat and overcome challenges. I try very hard to close difficult posts optimistically because it leaves my readers–and me– with hope. Unfortunately, sometimes happily ever afters really end in tears. Sometimes the last chapter hasn’t been written yet do we don’t know how the pain ends. But I know that the reason I show affection at all, that I trust men at all, is because there is One who saw everything, who heard everything, who gave me extra oxygen when choking back the tears made breathing especially hard… And has never let me down. Instead, He filled my world with remarkable teachers, a faithful and loving mother and sister… And who has led me to a sanctuary in which I feel His warm presence while also being surrounded by faith, hope, grace and love. His blueprint for my life hasn’t been completed yet. He holds my hand and gave me two daughters with whom I laugh and learn and grow. So… I’ll teach and pray and heed the whispers knowing that, as I wait, strength will rise.