Anyone who knows me fairly well is aware that for quite a while now I've been stuck in a "not a huge fan of children" phase. Tuesday night I joined three other members of my small group in providing childcare for the 5 & 6 years olds during the adult teaching series at church. Wendy, the only one with any real experience or affinity for children (having one herself) was unable to make it, so there we were, 4 bewildered adults, faced with a room full of energetic short people who, with characteristic naivete, assumed that we knew what we were doing.
Scrabbling for an activity that would bring some kind of order to the hyper horde, we latched onto a game of catch, grasping for ideas creative enough to keep it interesting and yet simple enough to not cause chaos and confusion. Regrettably, the game fell apart shortly after my brilliant "between your legs" call which sent balls in every direction except to the next person in the circle.
Whether it was the actual situation or merely my own perception, I soon came to believe that although I did not feel adequate to command this room full of children, somehow I was the most qualified (or at least felt the heaviest sense of responsibility) to keep the evening going and lend some order to the criss-cross traffic of little legs. And so we had snack time, potty time, drinking fountain time, video time, and that popular party time-consumer, musical chairs. Of course, the room had no source of music, and so I volunteered to provide it, much to the chagrin of all but the severely tone deaf. With my back to the circling vultures, I belted out every children's church song I could remember, from Father Abraham (not so much fun when sung alone) to the B-I-B-L-E (which I started and then realized I didn't remember most of the words, aside from the spelling part) to "I'm In the Lord's Army" which apparently was a little too old school for that crowd.) By the end of the game, rather than repeat myself I defaulted to the Hokey Pokey, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, and in a moment of irony wasted on the young folk, Jingle Bells.
All that, and we still had over an hour to go...
The last hour is a little more of a blur, as I settled in and actually started to like hanging out with the kids, in spite of myself. God seems to have a way of always sending along one or two who decide they especially like me, and so I found myself with a lap full of Abigail and Ashley, a back struggling to support their leaning weight in a chair much too small, and two arms quickly losing all feeling. Then later I found myself arbitrating between conflicting cartwheel techniques, comparing owies and bandaids, and giving what felt like hundreds of airplane rides with a quick prayer that their parents wouldn't discover bruised ribs the next day.
The point of all this? (Other than my affinity for over-dramatizing events in writing?) There was a little girl named Ashley in a pink dress (and, I found out later when I took her to the bathroom, two pairs of pants--she forgot to take off the blue ones before putting on the pink) who decided early on that I was her friend. And so with every turn, there she was, clamoring for my attention, climbing all over me, whispering secrets, asking me questions, needing my help...it was cute and even a little ego-boosting at first, but then I have to confess it became a test in kindness and patience and I found myself checking the clock more often.
When her mom came to pick her up, Ashley rushed over and asked if I could sleep over sometime. Her mom smiled in that knowing, how- do-we-humor-the-child-without-lying way, and said "We'll see." I gave Ashley one last squeeze and told her mom, "I think I've got a new friend." And then with a frankness that surprised me, she said, "Well, Ashley could really use one. We've been moving around the country for the last 18 months following her dad's job and so she's a little uprooted. God is good, though, and every so often he sends an angel like you."
Wow, and ouch. I had arrived at church that night grumbling about serving just one night in children's ministry, and here's this mother of a nomadic child telling me I'm an angel. In that moment I was so humbled all I could do was smile and wave at Ashley as they left the room.