50 Reasons December 16, 2011Posted by markgeil in Awana, Family.
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Last week at Awana, Rebekah frantically scribbled on a sheet of notebook paper, vigilant to keep it from her parents’ prying eyes. “Don’t look!” she kept reminding us, and I tried to recall which Awana assignment would require such secretive effort. Finally, she produced the finished product: “50 Reasons Why I Love You”, with the word love replaced by a heart. It looks like it was originally going to be 25 reasons why she hearts us, but at some point she got ambitious and changed it to 50. The list is a beautiful Christmas gift for Amy and me, containing some very perceptive and thoughtful insight about this sweet 10-year-old and our family. Here are a few of the 50 Reasons:
1. You’re Awesome
‘Nuff said. A nice, overarching complement. I would have been fine if that was the only one.
5. You take me to church
5. You take me to AWANA(s) :-)
This is excellent for two reasons. First, Bek accidentally put two #5’s in, so it’s really 51 reasons she hearts us! Second, she made me laugh by sticking an “s” on the end of Awana, knowing it secretly bugs me when people say “Awanas”, since it’s an acronym with no “s”.
9. You let me choose for myself
27. You let me have my own world
28. You don’t force things on me.
Here’s where Bek started getting a little philosophical. She’s the third child, and I know from personal experience that third children get assimilated into a lot of their older siblings’ activities and expectations. With these reasons, Bek notes that we’ve somehow managed to let her forge some of her own identity. I didn’t really know we did it, but I’m glad she feels a bit empowered. She deserves it.
24. You cuddle with me
Oh, this might be my favorite! I do love to snuggle with Bek. She calls these times our “cuddle sessions”, and I know their days are numbered, so I cherish each one.
35. You taught me my sight words
Here’s where Bek probably realized that any list of 50 items is long! So, she might have been stretching, but she does make me laugh. I think “laugh” might be a sight word!
38. You fight with mean teachers
39. You praise nice teachers
I love this recognition. Bek knows that we’ve got her back, and that her Mommy in particular will gladly take up her cause in the face of some school injustice. But she’s also learning a balance. Yes, there are times when we must fight for ourselves, but that can’t be our only mission. There’s also a place for praise.
41. You take pictures of me
This one really resonates with me as a youngest child myself. I like to joke that while my older brothers had all sorts of professional portraits with matching monogrammed suits and cute little hats, there is no photographic record of my childhood. Not true, of course, but I’m nonetheless determined to photograph my youngest child often. And apparently she notices.
46. You buy me sock-monkey notebooks
49. You thank me for helping in the smallest ways
She’s the smallest, so perhaps she doesn’t always feel like she makes the largest contributions, but I’m glad she knows that everything she offers, big or small, is appreciated and valued.
50. You’re willing to do just about anything for me
My goodness, after reading a list like this, who wouldn’t be?
On Broken Legs and Personalities January 28, 2010Posted by markgeil in Awana.
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Last night, Jared broke his leg. Jared is a plucky little boy who attends our Wednesday night Awana program at church. A group of kids likes to play “tag” each week after the program, and Jared was among them. There was a collision, Jared fell, someone fell on top of him, and then he started wailing.
I was in a little sound room, putting away a microphone, when I heard the screams. Now, with a day’s reflection, I’m fascinated by different peoples’ reactions to the calamity. Most of the kids stopped, stared for a moment, and backed away from the heap of sobbing boy in the middle of the floor. Others stepped in for a closer look. There’s personality marker number one: do you back away or get closer? I suspect you can already categorize yourself as one or the other.
The grownups closest to Jared offered what immediate aid they could. Where does it hurt?, Try to be calm, that sort of thing. Our Children’s Director followed the sound of the cries to Jared and took charge. Interesting, I’m thinking in retrospect, that’s usually the role I play. Now I might be reading too much into this, but I’ve pondered why Sonya, the Children’s Director, immediately rushed to Jared’s side while I did not, and I have a theory. Here comes personality marker number two. She’s a mom. Obviously, I am not. Jared is a boy. Sonya has a son, while I am a father of daughters, so I might have developed a double standard along the way. Jared’s a tough boy, I thought, almost subconsciously. He’ll be okay. I’ll help him in a second once I put away this stack of papers. I think if that had been a little girl screaming on the floor I would have hastened to her side. Curious.
Sonya sent me to fetch Jared’s mom and one of our leaders who is a nurse. In the hall I was immediately beset with Awana questions from people who did not know about the nearby trauma. I sent Sarah Kate to find the nurse and answered questions while summoning Jared’s mom. Funny, it never occurred to me to send someone for Jared’s dad, who was in the other building. At that point I was more focused on what we should do with Jared. Maybe that’s a personality marker also. I’m fairly clinical and analytical, even in response to crisis. I’m glad there were others there who were more feeling and thought to send for the poor boy’s mom and dad!
What followed was a continued exercise in personalities, roles, and responses. The nurse struggled to calm Jared and assess his leg. I cleared the room of the gawking kids. Mom offered comfort. Dad cracked jokes to try to distract the boy, and even took some pictures to show him later. Once Jared started declaring that he could not feel his leg, 911 was called. His big sister sat close by, saying little, but clearly feeling his pain in a poignant, emotional way that I did not understand.
It sort of worked out that we all took turns trying to comfort Jared, each in our own way. Some brought cups of water and tissues, attending to physical needs. I seemed to naturally try to attend to Jared’s mental needs. I showed him the brace the EMTs were going to put on his leg. I verified for him that none of the “911’s”, as he called them, had a needle and he would not get a shot. Then a friend of mine named Tom came in and attended to Jared’s spiritual needs. He asked Jared if we could all pray for him, and he said yes. Just then, the EMT’s started trying to roll him over and apply the splint, so Jared started wailing again. The prayers at that point were silent. Once he was supine and calm again, Jared announced, “Why isn’t everyone praying?!” I laughed. We prayed. It helped.
Jared was loaded in the ambulance and we learned later that he had clean breaks through a couple of bones in his leg. Again, a study in contrasts. My immediate response? Must be a tib-fib, shouldn’t affect the growth plates, with thoughts about the most likely treatments. Amy’s immediate response? I wonder if he’s home yet. I want to take him a little care package.
The Bible says that, spiritually, we are different members of one body. Some play metaphorical roles of eyes, others ears, others feet. I think we’re also put together to respond differently to crisis, whether it’s a boy’s broken leg or a massive earthquake in Haiti. Just like we work together well spiritually, I saw Wednesday night how we can work together physically and emotionally as well, and I was once again reminded that God knew what He was doing when he made each of us the way we are.
Oh, and one more response: no more playing “tag” after Awana!
Happy Veterinarians Day November 12, 2009Posted by markgeil in Awana.
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Since Veterans Day was on a Wednesday this year, it coincided with our Awana program for the kids at church. One of our leaders, Mr. Tom, is currently deployed in Afghanistan, so for the last couple of weeks the kids have been collecting items to send care packages to his unit. The kids came through in spades, and Tom’s wife joined us Wednesday night to thanks the kids for their generosity and to show new pictures Tom just sent. It was a special evening.
I usually have very interesting conversations with the kids at Awana. They tend to share whatever’s going on in their life, however great or small, with wonderful enthusiasm and sincerity. Last night, a little girl came up to me as I was packing up and shared this: “My grandfather is a veterinarian.”
“Really?” I replied. “What kinds of animals does he work with?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Like dogs and cats, or bigger animals like horses?” I returned.
“I don’t know,” she repeated. “He was in Vietnam.”
I wondered for a few seconds why I was hearing this story about an obscure animal doctor in Southeast Asia when the light bulb finally went off.
“OH!” I declared. “You mean your grandfather is a ‘veteran’!”
“Yes,” she smiled. “He was in Vietnam.”
“Was he in the Army, or Marines, or what?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said again. “I just know he is a veterinarian.”
On the occasion of me becoming a large bear August 27, 2009Posted by markgeil in Awana, Church.
Tags: Awana, Cubbies
Last night was our first Awana club for the year at church. That’s when we gather on Wednesday nights with hundreds of children and mainly try to have fun and read the Bible without A) injuring, or B) losing any of them.
Last night represented a bit of a pinnacle in my Awana career because of something special that happened to us recently. I’ve joked for years about wanting this one item in the Awana catalog, a full-size Cubbie Bear costume. Cubbie Bear is the mascot for the 3- and 4-year-olds and an all around cool dude. The Cubbie Bear costume is rather expensive, like most Awana stuff, so it has remained for me a dream deferred, not unlike Langston Hughes’ raisin in the sun. Until now.
I was joking again during our training session for new leaders this year that we had about $12 in our Cubbie Bear Costume Fund. Of course, there was no such fund, and I always assumed no such costume, either. Later that night, one of the families showed up at our door with a check. “We talked and we decided we’d like to pay for the Cubbie Bear costume,” they announced to our incredulous faces. Cubbie Bear fruition. Dream no longer deferred. I felt like a kid at Christmas.
The big box arrived about a week later, and the big night, our Cubbie Bear debut, finally came. I tried the costume on about an hour early to see if it would fit. Along the way I figured out you have to take your shoes off, then put the furry shoe covers on, then put your shoes back on. I also learned that I’m just about as tall as one can be in the costume, and that I’m not nearly fat enough. I found some makeshift stuffing. Finally, I confirmed my suspicion that bears are made of warm cozy fur and this is still August in the ATL and that Cubbie would be spending his time inside that evening.
When the kids started to arrive, I found some stuffing, snuck into an empty room, and donned the costume. The next 20 minutes were so much fun. There were three categories of children that night:
Category 1: I’m a little too old to get too excited about a big bear walking around, but deep down inside I think Cubbie is totally cool.
Category 2: Oh. My. Goodness. That’s… that’s the REAL Cubbie Bear! This is like my wildest dreams coming true! Must touch. Must hug. My life will never be the same.
Category 3: AAAHHHH! MOMMY! THERE’S A BEAR!! AND HE’S SIX FEET TALL!! WHY AREN’T YOU PEOPLE RUNNING FOR YOUR LIVES?!! You just keep your distance, you scary bear. I’m watching you!
One little toddler (Category 2) followed me around the whole night, giggling. I did my best not to trample him as I peered through the little screen in Cubbie’s mouth. He must have hugged me a dozen times, and he just guffawed when I patted his head.
One Category 3 tike was walking through the front door when he glanced up, spotted me, and did a priceless double-take as the look of dread spread on his face. He almost fell down, right there on his bum, trying to crawl up his mommy’s leg.
A group of slightly older boys gave me hearty high-fives and then stood back a bit, watching me and sizing up the scene. Honestly, I sometimes forget what goes through children’s heads. Turns out these boys, who were old enough to know better, were having a fairly serious debate about whether or not I was, in fact, a real bear. As in, wild animal. Finally, one put on a wise face and whispered to his friend, “Look, you can see part of his shoe. I told you it’s just a guy.” Bittersweet to be a part of the end of the innocence, but really, it was time.
A sweet little girl wrapped her arms around me and then turned to her mother, smiling. “Oh my, mommy, he’s very soft!”
All too soon it was time for me to become Mr. Mark again, so I went back into my bear cave. Amy said that some of the older kids stood staring, wondering how I vanished like that. Another little cutie who can’t quite say her “R” sounds stood angrily in the hall, devastated that she had missed me, demanding, “Wheyw is Cubbie Beyw?”
Another time one of our leaders, Mr. Jimmy, who has a devious streak in him, decided it would be fun to perch me on a chair completely still as if I was a stuffed bear. Then my little friend Joshua came around, and Mr. Jimmy asked him if I was real. Joshua timidly poked me once or twice and I didn’t move. Then he lifted my arm, and I let it flop right back down. Mr. Jimmy said, “Why don’t you go give him a hug?” and just as Joshua approached I sprung out of the chair and wrapped my bear paws around him. He freaked. We laughed. I realize I have now ruined any chance of any of you sending your children to our church.
I could have been Cubbie Bear all night. We’re so happy that we’ve gotten the costume. It’s one of those silly, frivolous things that we know is not necessary for ministry, and we feel like God gave it to us anyway, just to show us a glimpse of His extravagant love.
Now we just need to start a fund for the therapy bills for those Category Threes. And Joshua.
Stay Married February 16, 2009Posted by markgeil in Awana.
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I passed a new billboard today. It said something like, “For the Children, Get Married. Stay Married.” This week, I couldn’t agree more. I had a wonderful Valentine ‘s Day with my wife and children. A few days before that, I learned about a few more families being torn apart, or in some cases tearing themselves apart. I was the speaker in a room full of 70 Awana kids between Kindergarten and Second Grade. I spoke about love, trying to explain to children so young that agape love means God loves us all the time, everywhere, no matter what. I mentioned without great emphasis that some of the kids in the room have probably had times in their lives when they’ve felt unloved, only half believing it to be true. I finished and dismissed the kids, and a little line formed in front of me. The first kid in the little line said, “My aunt uncle are getting divorced.”
Another kid said, “I have a sister but she lives far away. I’ve never even seen her before.”
Still another said, “My mom and dad got in a big fight, and mom went to stay with my grandma.”
I know each of these kids, but I had no idea. I know the mom, and the dad. I’m not sure why my talk elicited these stories, but they blindsided me. What broke my heart the most was the way these kids were communicating. They weren’t in tears. Far from it. They could have just as well been telling me about what happened on TV the night before. They were either throwing up some sort of defense mechanism that renders such trauma somehow… conversational, or they were so accustomed to the notions of divorce and separation that they were resigned to it as some inevitability. God, I hope we are not that far gone.
For the children, please, stay married.