Lessons from Avery

Mid-summer. Guess what that means? That’s right, VBS. What does that mean? The person who heads it up begging for volunteers. That, and a core group who help out at every VBS slowly marching toward the front to be assigned our place. For the last couple of years, I have been assigned the role of Bible lesson teacher for the elementary group. These are my folks. They are still at an age where the mystery of God is not cynically looked at. They don’t question Scripture that has been in place for millennia. That, and a bowl full of candy can usually quiet the whole group down.

My wife and I have been paired together for the last few years. Working with me is not the easiest. Why? Because I am pretty particular about details, and I like things a certain way. She knows this about me and even asked to work with someone else. Boundaries, you know?

My OCD is overwhelming at times. I obsess over minute details. I want everything to flow in a certain pattern. I struggle with being in control. Two days before VBS was supposed to start, a wrench that became my blessing got thrown into my plans.

The room that was designated for the Bible lesson portion of VBS was on the 2nd floor of our Family Life Center. The steps to it…well, they are less than gradual. (For anyone who has read Tolkien, think Cirith Ungol.) My children’s minister told me that one of her neighbors, Avery, would be in attendance. Avery was born with cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. She also suffers from seizures.

In my need for control, I tapped the brakes. This is going to mess up my lesson, I can’t manage 25+ kids in every group, plus help someone up and down Cirith Ungol in between lessons. My children’s minister, in her motherly way, told me to quit worrying, that God would work it out. You would think the guy teaching that lesson would know that. It’s always easier to be afraid of a situation when you don’t know the folks involved.

So the first night of VBS comes and goes, but no Avery. The second night comes, and I see her at the general assembly before breaking up into classes. That little girl was worshipping her heart out. She swayed to every song that the song leader played. She clapped her hands and smiled so big.

That week, one of my lessons was on Paul and Silas in prison from Acts 16. After Paul and Silas had been whipped, beaten, and locked in prison, this was their response: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” After being whipped, beaten, and locked up, they were praising God and singing hymns to Him. Not that they weren’t hurt or needed care. They were in a worshipful mood because their faith was in God and God alone. Paul would write later, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.”

The question to me, and to all Christians, are you living like Christ is your joy? Are you guilty of living a check-list approach of trying to cross off all the things that you should be doing as a “good Christian,” or are you worshiping wholeheartedly with your whole self? Do you love others radically? Do you go the extra mile for those in need? Are you living like Jesus?

Avery and I became fast friends. I was told that she would probably not be there the last night because on Wednesday’s, she had therapy and it took a lot out of her. Wednesday night though, there she was. Her grandmother told me that she insisted, even after therapy on coming to VBS. That night, I got a chance to eat with her before VBS kicked off. I held her hand and we got to chat a little. She smiled a big toothy smile at me.

Her grandmother brought her up to me that night after the lesson was over. She threw her arms around me and gave me the biggest hug and said thank you with that big grin on her face. I watched her at the closing assembly that night again. Just like she had all week, she worshiped. She WORSHIPED. She worshiped with her little hands in the air swaying from side to side in love with her Savior. While her physical limitations may keep her bound on this earth, her soul burned so brightly.

In all my preparation, in all the points that I had planned for the kids to hear that week, I had been guilty of missing God. I was guilty of missing the forest for the trees.

Maybe, just maybe, I and you should take Avery’s approach. Maybe I should lift my hands in praise to the Savior who loves me. Maybe, for just a moment, I should cast off the limitations that this world puts on me, and be loved by the Creator of it.

Maybe, the teacher needed to be taught.

Jim Shempert

Editor, One Million Dads
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