I had an interesting experience this past week that taught me a thing or two about expectations… and frankly, it humbled me.
For the last three years, I have been one of the organizers of our parish cluster Vacation Bible School. Honestly, when I agreed to do it for the first time, it fell into the “this will put my anxiety into overdrive” category. But at the time, I was making some major changes in my life, trying to be a more positive person, so I figured, what could be more positive than taking part in VBS? It gave me an opportunity to meet some new people, be more involved in church, and do something fun with my kids. So, I signed up… and it has been quite an interesting three years.
The first year was somewhat successful. The four of us ladies who accepted the responsibility of doing this had little to no experience with this sort of thing, so we were essentially flying by the seat of our pants. But considering the inexperienced nature of our little team of coordinators, it went pretty well. We did a five night VBS going Monday through Friday night for two hours each night. There was a supper served with each session and the final night had a pot luck with a little program put on by the kids. Could it have gone better? Of course. But for the most part, it went pretty well. Chaos was kept at bay and the children were relatively happy during the duration.
The second year, we decided to try something a little bit different. One of our coordinators met up with a church in a neighboring cluster and found out that they had a treasure trove of VBS decorations that they were willing to let us borrow. So, we used one of their past program ideas and recreated the ancient city of Babylon. There was a Bible study in the parish hall, the craft project was done in the city of Babylon located in the parish house, and the music was taught in the sanctuary. The kids were divided into three groups by age and rotated through the stations in the same five-night format that we had done the year prior.
This one worked pretty well. We had learned from the prior year what crafts would be best and what food was easiest to prepare. And everyone LOVED the Babylon setup. The only problem was that it took us FOREVER to set up and tear down those decorations. Then, we had to drive them back to that neighboring parish… which was a solid hour drive (one way!) away. For the four of us ladies who all have full-time jobs and full-time kids, this was just not realistic to do again.
So in February, we all got the familiar email that it was again time to plan VBS for the year. This time, we made some changes based simply on the fact that we had put so much time into the prior year program that we wanted to make it a little bit easier. We found a two-day VBS kit online and purchased it. Then, we opted to combine the two days into one, four-hour day camp that we would hold on a Friday. The theme of the VBS was a camp-out, which we figured would be easy to decorate for and still fun for the kids.
First, I should give you a little insight into my frame of mind regarding stuff like this. I am not the kind of person who is comfortable with the unknown. I want there to be a set agenda and I want things to go as planned. Unfortunately, that’s just not how the world works… which is why planning VBS makes me so anxious! In the months leading up to VBS, it sits in the back of my mind like a little toad, occasionally croaking out threats of all the things that might go wrong. I’ve learned that it’s best to ignore the little toad, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t there. Anyway, enough of the toad metaphor, VBS is something that makes me nervous. Actually, planning ANYTHING makes me nervous.
So back to this year’s VBS. It started off okay. Thursday night we prepared the parish hall and decorated in our camping theme. We opted to have both the craft and the Bible lesson in the parish hall instead of in different buildings due to some construction on the adjacent street. Then there would be games played outside. Similarly, the kids would break into three groups and rotate between the three stations. And actually, we had 12 more kids signed up than we had the prior year… which we thought was a good sign.
The first thing that went wrong was the weather. It was cold and rainy. I ask you, in what part of the world is it cold in June?? Apparently, in Minnesota. I’m from Texas and June is just not supposed to be cold. Sooo, the games had to be moved into the parish hall… meaning all three of the stations were right in the same room together. Which lead to the second problem – proximity. This is a big hall, but not THAT big. As the morning progressed, it became harder and harder to hold the attention of the campers who were trying to do Bible study because of the games going on right next to them.
The final, and most detrimental problem, was the craft. Note, we chose to do one of the craft options that came with our VBS kit. It’s not like we went rogue and opted to do some craft that was totally off the wall… this was in our kit! It was a little lantern made out of popsicle sticks and wax paper that the kids would decorate. It was to be glued together with these things called glue dots and then a small tea light would go into the center. When lit up in a dark room, it would shine through the wax paper in pretty colors. In theory, this seems like a good idea (And it was in our kit! Did I mention that??)
Turns out, this was not a good craft for us. Perhaps our groups of kids were too big. Perhaps this was just something that was better suited for older kids. Or perhaps it was not something that could have been done in the time frame at all! Either way, the craft was a disaster. We ran out of glue dots SHORTLY after we started the first group and the issues just escalated from there. In reality, it was just way too hard of a project for our kids to do. The craft was so difficult, that it backed up the station rotation to the point of utter collapse. Before we knew it, we were on the brink of disaster.
It was kind of like that scene in Kindergarten Cop… have you seen that movie? Here’s a brief synopsis. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an undercover cop and his partner becomes ill forcing him to pretend that he is a seasoned Kindergarten teacher. When he shows up to teach his first class, he realizes quickly that he is out of his league, the kids take over, and chaos ensues. At one point, the camera pans to a closeup of his anguished face while he screams, “Shuuuuuut up! Shut up! Shut up!” at the top of his lungs. Later, after he collapses on the bed in his hotel, his partner pops in to ask how it went, to which he replies,”Go away…”
Okay, so it wasn’t quite that bad… but it was close. Eventually, we had to pull out the glue guns and glue those blasted lanterns together one at a time while the children ate lunch. We did manage to get them all through the Bible study portion, which I suppose is the most important part, and we got them fed. So there, you could say those are two wins.
In reality, it was probably not as bad as it was in my mind. But it really taught me something about expectations. When I expect a certain outcome, odds are pretty good that the actual outcome will fall short of my expectations and no matter how much preparation I do for something, there are always going to be little wrenches thrown in the system that will cause me to have to think on my feet. That’s just the reality of life, and I need to be ready to do that feet-thinking. The children had fun (mine did at least), so I suppose that’s all that matters. But I’m not going to lie, I collapsed on my bed later at home just like Arnold did and muttered “Go away,” when my husband asked me how it went.