08.25.2017

What I Learned from Being a Tree Frog

My plate was already too full. I didn’t have the energy, or the time. Plus, I barely even knew any of the 150 kids who’d signed up.

Why would I want to help out at Vacation Bible School?

I didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I like VBS. When my children were young, I volunteered every year. I saw the job as a great way to get to know my kids’ friends, strengthen their faith, and maybe even introduce a few newcomers to Jesus. And if doing those things meant dressing up in fake lederhosen to show the kids how to climb Mt. Everest (which, I am sure, had a Very Spiritual Point that I am temporarily forgetting right now), then so be it.

That was then. This is now. And now, when the call went out for volunteers, I said no. Nothing good, I thought, could come out of having me as a helper.

At best, I’d be marked as a fraud. Today’s kids are savvier than they were 20 years ago, and I knew my plastic “snowshoe” tennis racquets wouldn’t cut it. I’d be Googled – and outed – in no time.

And at worst, I’d get hurt. I am too old to climb mountains. When I get up in the morning, my knees sometimes creak. Even my computer knows things are slipping; when I clicked over to BibleGateway just now, look what popped up:

(I don’t know what’s worse: The thought that you might get mistakenly flagged as a terrorist, or that the NSA spies will just brand you as “old.”)

Where was I?

Oh yeah. I did not want to help.

Still, though, it was my church, and I figured I had a duty to serve. So I did what came naturally.

I donated the paper products.

And for about 20 minutes, I felt pretty good. Duty done. But then, early one morning as I was thinking about my Super Important to-do list (I had to get a hair cut, pick up the dry cleaning, alphabetize the pansy orders for the annual Garden Club sale), I read this:

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. (Psalm 84:10)

I was like, Seriously God?

And he was like, Yes.

So I said okay. I will do it. I will spend one day as a VBS volunteer.

But, as it happened, they didn’t really need people in God’s courts for one day. They needed people all week. So could I please be a leader for one of the Animal Family tribes at Noah’s Ark?

Sigh. Okay. Make me a lion. Or a tiger. Or even a zebra. Something grand and majestic, something worthy of the “family cheer” that, according to the Leader Handbook, each tribe would GET TO CREATE!

They made me a Tree Frog.

I didn’t even know what a “tree frog” was when I showed up and they gave me my visor. But I put it on and studied my list. I had 10 seven year olds.

Day One began well. One kid showed up, looked at me, and immediately requested a transfer to another tribe. Three children were sick. My ten had been whittled to six. Things were looking up.

“Tree frogs have only four fingers!” announced one little guy, demonstrating the fact by hiding his thumbs and clinging to my arm.

“We’re small, but we’re mighty!” crowed another (which, actually, became the basis for our family cheer).

I liked these kids. They seemed smart. And enthusiastic. And active. No sooner had we finished our first aerobic session of singing when it was time to head outside for rain-and-flood-themed games.

Games like “Line the Leaders Up Against a Brick Wall and Try to Hit Them with Water-Soaked Sponges.”

I couldn’t believe it. A few of the kids had incredible arms, and had I been a middle school baseball coach, I would have been early recruiting. As it was, I stood there, ducking and dodging and trying not to get beaned. And all I could think about was (inappropriately, I know) that scene in The Hangover where the kid tazes Alan and the delighted cop keeps yelling, “In the face!”

(Yet another reason why I should not be a Bible School helper.)

By Day Three, I was exhausted. As in, more than what a glass of wine and a nap had the power to fix. I could not remember any workout that had left me so tired or so sore, not even the ones I used to do in my leg warmers, with Jane Fonda. (See? Old.)

I was also – and unexpectedly – inspired. And refreshed. And encouraged.

Because I thought I knew Noah. Who doesn’t? He was the guy who built the ark and saved himself, his family, and the tree frogs. He was the guy with the dove. And the rainbow.

He was all those things, sure. But he was also the guy who obeyed God when, honestly, he probably didn’t even know what he was doing, or why. Back then, nobody had ever even seen rain, much less the “floodwaters” that God said were coming. It’s not hard to picture the neighbors talking about Noah behind his back, or even mocking him to his face.

(I mean, let’s be honest. We’ve had neighbors drop hints when our grass got too long. How much more would they squawk if Robbie went out there and started building a boat that was as big as a football stadium?)

And yet…Noah did everything just as God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22)

VBS gave us an up-close look at the guy:

Day after day, we watched Noah’s progress. And to see him there, putting fake tar on his fake ark while all the fake villagers (teenagers whose costumes were definitely more authentic than my mountaineer kit) stood around scoffing, it kind of broke my heart. And I wondered: Did the real Noah ever get discouraged or tired? Did he question whether he had heard God right? Did he ever look up and say, “Hey God. I’m too old.”

He could have. He was (and I’d forgotten this little detail) 600 when the rain started to fall. Six hundred.

And, in that little nugget, God spoke. I don’t know what he said to the rest of the tree frogs, but what he said to me was this:  You are never too old to bear fruit. You are never too old to obey. And you are never too old to be mine.

And these tree frogs of yours? They belong to me, too.

And I love them.

Well that was all I needed to hear. Hang on my back and hit me again with a water sponge; I don’t care. Because you know what? Better is one day in God’s courts than a thousand elsewhere.

And so here’s the thing: I don’t know if maybe God has asked you to do something hard – something that takes a long time, something you don’t really understand, or even something that (to other people, at least) looks a little bit crazy. I don’t know if maybe you are wondering whether you heard God right, or if he will actually do what he promised. I don’t know if maybe you’re where I was, and you’d say yes to God’s nudge if you weren’t just so darn busy. Or old.

I don’t know. But I do know this (because it was our VBS memory verse, and we jumped up and sang it every day): Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. That’s Genesis 6:8, and it’s the same grace that God gives us today, even when we don’t feel up to whatever it is that he’s called us to do. His grace is sufficient; his power is made perfect in weakness.

So…say yes to God. He’ll make it all worth it.

(And if you don’t, who knows what you’ll miss?)