Thanks to Pxhere for the free download of the photo above
Don’t you just hate it when you know how to prevent some potential disaster, like when you see a full glass of soda too close to the table edge near a stream of running kids and you act to prevent it from spilling, only to accidentally trigger the catastrophe yourself perhaps into the lap of the most innocent person you know? Seriously – at least for a few seconds, don’t you just want to die, knowing that the world would be safer without this talent you have for creating chaos?
For this story, I think this quote is apropos.
But Jesus said, Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for to such belong the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 19:14
Carmen (not her real name of course) may have been 12 years old when she accidentally pulled off one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. She and her family were new to our church where I was working with a growing herd of young’ins in our children’s ministry program. She had, by far, the most extrovert and playful personality I’d met in a long time. She knew no restraint in her smile and warmth and rowdy affection. Soon after her arrival to our group, when she or I walked into the room, no matter who I or she was with, she’d drop anything she was carrying and dart across the room and leap into my arms and it was part of my job to know whenever she was coming because she was going to leap whether I was looking or not.
I, as the guy in charge of this effort, knew that one of the mistakes you never make in this business is to allow any kind of extra friendship to develop without the young girl’s parents having the chance to get to know you. Any parent worth their keep should be immediately suspect when their young lady comes home raving about how much fun Mr. Wilson is. For reasons, I’ve never been able to isolate, it’s too hard for these girls to say that Mr. Wilson’s program is fun, which would actually be a helpful thing for the parent to hear and cause a lot less suspicious energy being wasted on poor old Mr. Wilson.
If you were the daughter’s parent, can’t you imagine how quickly you would start a conversation similar to, “Oh really?. Here, sit down and tell me about Mr. Wilson. . .” Of course by this time, Mr. Wilson has already been demoted to prime suspect for anything unpleasant that happens to your girl in the next 4-7 years. Nope. After one such parent from my college days showed up at my door all but demanding an interview before her daughter came to any more of the kids program I ran in college (as part of my bachelors work in Education) I, from that point on, made the effort to find them before they found me to introduce myself and give them a heads up to what we were doing and make sure they had my contact information and an invitation to come join the fun. That practice carried over to both my marriage and early involvement in our local churches both in Washington State and California.
My wife and I both worked with the children in that church, so whenever she wasn’t doing choir, she was with me, trying to mitigate as much of the chaos as possible. These proved to be important years for me. My wife was just finishing her graduate work and was ready to start our family. I on the other hand was having a hard time seeing where kids would fit into our lives. Our 2 bedroom apartment was already bulging and money was pretty tight. “So, unless you want to help me empty this closet where a kid might fit for a year or two. . .”, yea, kids were pretty much out of the plan for now.
Then the opportunity came up to work with the children at our church and I, clever husband that I thought I was, decided that working with kids on Sunday would bleed off my wife’s maternal instinct. Okay – Okay. Gosh, I can hear you yelling at me from here, but I really did think it would work.
Instead, there were a couple of young boys and five girls (yes, five then six with Carmen, wait, seven with Maggie) who were so much fun, so charming and pleasant to be with, that instead of removing my wife’s desires, they fixed mine and thus caused our our first born.
So when Carmen showed up, I discovered it was difficult to catch up with her parents. I would frequently see them from the high second story walkway over the parking lot, already on their way home, so I began looking for a way to meet my obligations to the kids and present myself to Carmen’s parents. One warm Sunday, we got a break in the weather and the kids really needed the fenced playground much more than they needed my lesson, so I marched them down and closed the gate behind us and turned loose the mass of energy they had built up after several days of rain that kept them indoors both at school and home.
I was kind of worried about Carmen because she had this love of elaborate, puffy and lacy dresses that did not look like playground attire to me, but she seemed not to notice and shot into the climbing structure. Things were going pretty good after just a few minutes when my wife said, “Hey, there’s Carmen’s dad coming toward the playground.”
“Great. Keep an eye on the kids and I’ll go introduce myself.”
Now, it’s key that you don’t miss this part. To get into that playground, one had to walk around the corner of the fellowship hall to get to the gate. This took Carmen’s dad out of sight for a few seconds. I had waved to him, but was not sure he understood that I wanted to come and meet him, so I walked quickly past the climbing gym that Carmen happened to be halfway up. “I’m going to meet your dad and will be back in a bit.”
Carmen quickly decided that she had a better idea and it involved being part of this meeting. I was almost past that gym and only a few more steps from the gate where I was hoping to meet her dad, when Carmen leapt from the gym, like some kind of spider-woman in a puffy prom dress and landed partially wrapped around my neck, shoulders and one arm pit.
I managed two more steps, but had to stop to make sure this cloud of dress and the young girl somewhere inside didn’t slip on all that shiny fabric and fall to the concrete. Wouldn’t that have made a fine introduction; “Hello. I’m Gary Wilson, and I believe this pile of dress and crying, bleeding girl belongs to you.
Between Carmen’s efforts and my own, we managed to tie a knot (of course) of the whole affair, but that clever girl suddenly cleared it all and had both legs around my neck piggy back style, which if she had just left everything alone at this point – all would have been fine, but no, the dress had to be straightened out and so she quickly wiggled the whole front wave of fabric free and threw it out in front of her. So, yes, you have the picture correct. She was sitting on my shoulders with her dress thrown OVER MY HEAD. . .
In a sudden pastel blindness, I panicked. We’re at church! How incredibly unseemly! I have to get this mess off before . . .
I did manage to get two handful’s of dress and pull my face out – just in time to meet her dad who had made it through the gate and was standing there looking right at us, no more that 4 feet away.
Could there possibly be a worse way to meet a girl’s dad!? Okay, it could be worse if her dad were in law enforcement – maybe, because he might be armed. My short time as director of the kids program had to be over. How do you recover from something like this?
Her dad, thankfully, knew his daughter well and this situation apparently had some precedent because he only laughed at my embarrassment and only mentioned the incident occasionally in the following years as his family and ours became close friends. That same day, I (much more carefully) met her mom – without incident except to note that mom had quite a rowdy personality and got a great laugh at the whole event. Carmen was struggling to understand what was so funny, but now I knew where Carmen got some of her extroverted energy.
Finally, about the title of this story, I apologize for misusing the scripture fragment. It should not be interpreted to mean: Suffer not (from) the children – but don’t you agree it well matched my situation that day?
Okay, that’s pretty much my most embarrassing story. Go on. I want to see if you can top that.