I did promise you a breakdown of VBS, Reader, and I keep my promises. I hedge it, though, because I really haven’t processed it myself—after having worked about 75 hours last week between my actual job and VBS, I turned around and am working about 60 this week because I am an idiot.
What this means, though, is that I haven’t taken myself off to a Thinking Place—and also that I haven’t written anything, notes or otherwise, on the experience. This feels terribly odd, because so many of my thought processes require writing to become coherent.
VBS stands for Vacation Bible School, and it’s an excuse for churches to indoctrinate kids for one week in the summer via ridiculously catchy kid songs and short Bible verses masked in various activities and repeated ad infinitum. This may sound horrible, and it is a jaded description, but that’s totally what it is—and that’s awesome. In all of that, VBS is a place for kids to go where they are entertained and loved for a solid week, where they get to learn on their level and be the center of attention rather than the service’s afterthought. VBS, as a kid, is crazy fun. It’s a vacation to the world of all the adventures in the Bible, the place where you can totally meet Peter and Elijah on the same day, where you get to make stuff that will hide in your attic until your mum makes you clean up all “your things” when you get a house at 30.
VBS as an adult is so very, very not a vacation.
Here’s the thing; I’m not good with kids. I’m just not. But, because God, Interpreter, and Mr. Great-Heart have a running plot to make my life much harder than I want it to be, I’m discovering that I can at least function with teenagers. They make sense to me, perhaps because I’m still close enough to having been a teenager that it’s not fuzzy and golden yet, or perhaps because the desire to be taken seriously at that age was so fierce it is now burned into my understanding of things, never to fade. Probably both. But I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with teens in the last year or so—I was a camp counselor last summer, I was a mentor for a middle schooler, I’m going to be on a team of such in the coming year—and people say I’m not bad at it. More importantly, the teens say I’m not bad at it.
My mother, ever hopeful that I will become Gaia like she is and love the little children, wanted to see this grudging acceptance on my part when I wasn’t dead Monday night as a sign that God is wanting me to be a youth minister, because hey, crazier things have happened. I don’t think that’s it, though, not least because after Monday came Tuesday.
I broke on Tuesday.
Reader, I can’t really explain to you why I broke on Tuesday. Part of it is that I don’t want to tell you some of the things I’m fighting with this month, but most of it is that I honestly don’t know. It was the proverbial straw on my rough desert back, I suppose, but I just broke down. I went home and freaked out, knowing I couldn’t do this, knowing I was failing my 7-12 graders, knowing I was standing in the way of their knowing God, putting my own millstones on as a necklace of doubt and darkness. I wept between work and the next round of VBS on Wednesday because I had nothing left to give, nothing left to teach, nothing left with which to show these kids that this was worth it and God is love because I had no love or energy at all.
The journey of faith and of following the Call, I’ve found, is far less like picking up the telephone than like mending an improperly healed bone. You have to break it and bind it anew, and then re-break it if it goes wrong again, and re-break it until it heals to the shape in which it was meant to work the best. Each time, the bone gets stronger, the use more certain, because it is becoming its properly functioning self, but it hurts like hell, and it’s difficult, and very, very draining.
Granted, it’s an imperfect illustration, because breaking a bone too many times results in unpleasant things like osteoporosis and arthritis and such, but the point is that the process—for me—is painful. I broke last Tuesday, and it was not pleasant, and it was not fun. I came to the end of myself—and, like so many before me, realized Who was waiting there to be more than I can be. I mended on Wednesday, slowly but surely, teaching in my comfort zone on medieval theatre which I could talk about for days, and the kids who never spoke read lines with their peers, and we forgot the time and were almost late to the closing service, and it was a good day. At the end of the week, one of the most irascible teens told me I had done well, and I heard from various parents that even their boys gave the half head jerk of approval when asked how the week had gone.
With these strings, I mend, and the bone grows again with cells slowly stretching to new places, with understanding that tomorrow will be different from today, that the strength is there underneath the pain. God is remaking me, and it is a hard, hard process. VBS took everything I had and demanded more—and God gave it for me, friends gave it for me, my kids gave it for me when they danced with me on the last day as we abandoned propriety in the sheer foolishness of exhaustion. In this I am healed, slowly, slowly.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:8-10, ESV)