One Unlikely Lesson from Kids Club 2011

It’s been one of those weeks. I’ve run from activity to activity, knocked down task after task, and as today (“ESI Post Day,” on my calendar) began to loom large, I realized I had no idea what to write about. So, if you’re looking for something deeply insightful, you won’t offend me at all if you move on right now, save yourself a few minutes and return to Every Square Inch tomorrow to see what Justin Garrett has to say. Today, I think I just want to share a few reflections on this week’s Crossing Kids Club experience.

As I sat down last night to write this post, I’d just gotten home from picking up my four-year-old, Eli, from the last night of Kids Club. Exhausted, sticky and smelling unpleasantly, Eli nonetheless had the reserve energy to talk non-stop about what he had learned that night.

I learned that Jimmy the Number One Fan came out of the ceiling, that a lot of kids sang Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never” (coincidentally, the only song my van’s CD player has been allowed to play the last several weeks as we drive around Columbia), and that he had enjoyed a cupcake right before I picked him up. (This told me where the “sticky” part of the filthy-kid equation came from.)

This year’s Kids Club theme was Outer Space…And Beyond. I know a lot of the teaching circled around the theme of heaven and teaching our kids what heaven is like, why it’s so wonderful, and how we get there. In fact, every night Eli came home wearing a large sticker that said “Ask Me,” followed by a prompt indicating what he might have learned that evening about heaven. Despite the faithful efforts of hundred of volunteers, though, he was never really interested in answering those questions.

I was tempted to worry that my son never actually heard any of the “real” teachings; last night’s report was pretty similar to the three previous nights. Each night he told me that he’d talked about outer space, but when I asked him what he learned, he responded with, “I don’t know.” I was tempted to think the hype, the water guns and the crazy skit characters obscured the bigger message.

But if you’d known my son last year, you would know why I am still going to call this week an unqualified success, and why I am so deeply grateful to each and every person in The Crossing community who helped make it so.

Eli is, in many ways, his father’s boy. He’s got a loving, tender heart and an acute sense of justice; he’s also fairly shy around people he doesn’t know, and too many strangers, too much activity and too much noise can really stress him out.

Tons of people, tons of activity and tons of noise pretty much defines The Crossing Kids Club experience, doesn’t it?

Last year, Eli “participated” in Kids Club for the first time as a three-year-old, but he was nearly traumatized by the excess of all of these things. I could barely unwrap him from my legs 20 minutes into class, and all he did was transfer his death grip to the legs or neck of a volunteer in his classroom; he would attach himself to someone he knew and remain steadfastly attached to that person for the rest of the evening. I think by the end of the week he’d progressed to just holding their hand, but I think that even my use of the word “progress” is the generous assessment of a mother’s heart.

After last year’s whole experience, I expected him to begin trembling in fear whenever he heard the words, “Kids Club.” But it wasn’t long after the end of last year’s event that I caught him singing the theme song, and making the “Extreme Wilderness” gestures he’d learned in large group (apparently while peeking out from his hiding place in the volunteer-of-the-day’s arms). We had been given a CD of the theme song that week, and he asked to play it over and over. Eventually, against all odds, Kids Club 2010 became something he remembered as a fun experience.

Understandably, though, I wasn’t sure what to expect this year in terms of Eli’s reaction to the usual chaos. As expected, that first night he was very unsure of the whole thing. Again we had crowds of people, and this time he was led downstairs in the children’s wing – he’d never had class downstairs. I wasn’t sure if he would view this as an adventure or yet another Kids Club-related terror.

Walking into his classroom, though, he spied one of his regular Sunday class teachers, Miss Bonnie, one of his very best friends, and then something even more exciting – macaroni and cheese. Someone had had the wisdom to order Eli’s absolute favorite food for dinner that first night. I could almost see him thinking, “It can’t be all that bad. They have giant bowls of mac n’ cheese!”

As the week progressed, Eli became more and more confident, striding into the building and heading straight for the red slide. Each day he would ask me when we were going to Kids Club – “Not church,” he would clarify, “Kids Club at church, but it’s not church, right, Mom?”

It’s easy to listen to the funny things that pique the interest of a four-year-old and wonder if he’s getting anything “meaningful” out of his experience. But I think what Eli got out of this week has far more eternal value than any of us might recognize at first blush, even if he can’t tell me yet what color the roads in heaven will be. As he grows in confidence in himself and his ability to withstand the unfamiliar, he is also growing in his confidence of God, his home church and the people who fill it. He is coming to understand that this place – church – is a place where he can be himself.

I think most of us adults continue to struggle, to varying degrees, to feel like we can be ourselves and be accepted by those around us. One of the joys of knowing Christ is in admitting who we really are – hopelessly sinful people incapable of changing ourselves apart from Him – and finding that He loves us anyway.

This week at Kids Club, as I watched the love of Christ exhibited through all the volunteers that gave of themselves to hundreds of kids all week long, I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude that God would so graciously draw me into a church like The Crossing, which – for all its flaws – is made up of a remarkably large number of people willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the Body of Christ.

I might find in the weeks to come that as Eli thinks about Kids Club 2011, he will begin to recall some of the things he heard in class. Maybe he’ll remember why heaven is so much better than where we live now. Maybe he can tell me how we get to heaven. I know he was in class when all these things were taught. But even if every detail of this year’s lessons escaped him, I’m okay with it. I believe he is learning that church is a place he can trust, be himself, and rejoice in God. It is what God’s people do.

And besides, by the grace of God, one day I’ll find out firsthand what color the roads in heaven are.

Acts 2:42, 46-47
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.

Revelation 19:6-8
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure,” for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

Revelation 21:2-3, 21b
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God with with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God…and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

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