We got to church early that summer morning, though not quite as early as we wanted to. As usual. We parked and speed-walked through the parking lot, snapping at Annalyn to HURRY UP. As soon as we walked into the building, we all headed to Kids City – Mark to serve as security, me to lead the student volunteers in Praise Parkway, and Annalyn to bounce between the two of us.
At one point Mark sent Annalyn to me so he could take attendance of all the classrooms and tally the total number of kids attending first service. She didn’t want to. She wanted to stay with her dad.
As I tried to finish setting up the room and talk with my students, make a few last-minute changes to our slides and run a quick sound check, my sweet, strong-willed daughter was climbing on chairs, complaining about my instructions to be quiet and sit still, and begging to go find her dad. No amount of explanation or reasoning calmed her down – neither did threats or bribery, in case you’re wondering. Her whining escalated alarmingly fast into a full-blown meltdown.
The whole thing reached its peak when I picked her up – not an easy task for a pregnant mom to do with her tall and oh-so-angry five-year-old – and dragged her down the hall into the bathroom. Where her screams – and my own yelling – proceeded to echo off the cinderblock walls.
Awesome. I was HOPING everyone in the church could hear this absolute MESS of a situation.
Because it WAS a mess. My daughter was a disobedient, irrational, out-of-control mess. I was an angry, frustrated, short-tempered mess. After yelling, threatening and lecturing, after totally losing my cool and any control I still had left, I caught my reflection in the mirror. Immediately, I looked away, pretending not to see how ugly my own behavior was, and I marched my still-crying daughter out of the bathroom.
As we headed back toward the classrooms, we ran into my friend and the director of Kids City. I looked at her helplessly and admitted, “I don’t know what to do.” She offered to talk with Annalyn, and I said, “Have at it.”
My friend talked to my daughter – and miraculously, my baby girl finally calmed down. She even went to her classroom without much of a fuss, standing stubbornly at the door only until her teachers noticed her and shouted, “Come in, Annalyn! We’re playing a game! Do you want to play?”
Feeling heavy and exhausted – and extremely embarrassed – I walked back to Praise Parkway. As I was wiping tears of my own and preparing for second service, my friend Erich walked in the room.
“Hey, are you going to the baptism service after church?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I was going to, but this has been a terrible morning,” I said. “Probably not.”
“Oh. Well, okay. I was just going to tell you that Parker is being baptized . . . and he mentions you in his testimony.”
Parker is Erich’s son and one of my student volunteers, and I had no idea he was planning to be baptized that day. I certainly didn’t realize he would want to talk about me when he did it!
Even after sitting through church, I felt lousy. And that’s saying a lot, since worship and a sermon almost always makes me feel better, no matter what baggage I carry into service. But this morning had been one of the very worst in my parenting career, and I was just So. Very. Tired.
Still, I couldn’t very well let Parker down. We’d only been serving together in Kids City for about six months, but like all the kids I worked with, he was important to me. I wanted to be there for him, so I picked up Annalyn from her classroom and headed outside. (This baptism service was part of our summer picnic and held beside the playground of the elementary school we met in.)
Parker was the first one to climb into the round tub of water, along with his parents. I was still chewing my [third] hot dog when our pastor began reading a statement Parker had written. He talked about how he loved Jesus and fully believed because of the influence and example of several people. Of course he listed his parents, small group leaders and family friends, but then he said my name.
He said my name.
Until that moment I had not thought I was doing anything special at all. Sure, I got to church a little bit early and hung out with the kids serving in Praise Parkway. We hooked up the speakers and fiddled with the cords connecting the laptop to the sound board. Sometimes they told me about their week, what was going on at school or at home. Sometimes we just joked about how many peppermints they could snitch from the snack table up front and whose turn it was to get drinks for the team.
But I never once imagined I was making any kind of eternal impact on those kids. I just thought I was filling a need, completing a task. If anything, I thought my service was making a difference for the younger kids who came into Praise Parkway to sing songs and hear a story. But the middle schoolers I worked beside? Sure, I was leading them, but I had no idea I was serving them, too.
Until the moment I watched Parker climb in the water, and he said my name.
That Sunday was one of the worst days of my parenting life – and one of the best days of my ministry life.
It was also the perfect illustration of parents and church working together for the good of the children.
My church uses Orange curriculum for our children’s ministry, and its main strategy is to create a partnership between parents and the church to influence the hearts and lives and children. Orange refutes the idea that spiritual formation is the “job” of the church and encourages parents to be active in teaching their kids about God’s love.
On that Sunday morning last summer, the truth of Orange’s philosophy could not have been clearer to me. When I failed my own kiddo, my friend and her teachers were there to help out. And even though I didn’t realize it, I was making the same kind of difference in my friend’s son just by showing up every week and serving with him in Praise Parkway.
I’m incredibly grateful for our church family – both for the privilege of serving and leading, and for being served and led. And when it comes to my work in Kids City and my daughter’s experience of church, it’s strongly influenced by Orange. Which is why I’m super excited to attend the Orange Conference in Atlanta later this month!
[The chance to see the Sisterchicks doesn’t hurt either, but that’s a completely separate post!]
If you serve in children’s ministry at your church (or at home), I highly recommend the Orange Conference. It’s not too late to register, and it will be well worth your investment. For more information about Orange, visit the website here.
Disclosure: I have received a ticket to the Orange Conference, but all opinions here are my own. Photo sources here.