Tonight was the end-of-the-year AWANA awards dinner. Robbie ended the night disappointed that we went to church for AWANA but he never got to play with anything. At least he enjoyed the garlic bread.
I'm going to admit that tonight actually turned into sort of an emotional event for me. This is only the third year I've worked with AWANA (and the first time I've got to stick with it for the whole year--Phoenix Too Frequent and Little Foxes took me out for the spring the last couple of years), and I watched kids who Kim has had the past four or five (I can't remember exactly) years in Cubbies as well as the kids who've moved up from my time with T-N-T's, and I saw how much many of these kids have grown in the six years I've been in Houston, and I listened to how much each of them have accomplished over the past year in AWANA (By the way, if you don't know what AWANA is, ask me sometime. I don't feel like going into it all here :-)), and I was so proud of every one of them. I thought about how well I've gotten to know some of the kids, and I looked at the ones I don't know well and found myself getting excited about getting involved with them through AWANA or other activities in the future. I watched each of the adults who have dedicated nearly a year's worth of Sunday nights (the pastor said it best--giving up time the rest of the world uses for needed rest and recouperation) to encourage these kids, to listen to these kids, to love on these kids. And then our club commander said to an audience of leaders and parents: "They do it because they believe your kids are worth it."
I don't know why I was so struck emotionally by that phrase, but I was. Yes, these kids are worth it. Yes, I miss having quiet evenings alone on Sunday, but I don't regret giving them to the kids at the church. Yes, my Wednesdays are now pretty much shot, going from one job, rushing through traffic and dinner, heading to my other job, and trying to get the kids to bed before it's too late. But I'm glad I do it. I would rather watch the choir members' kids run around the gymnasium for an hour or two than read or surf the Internet--and reading time and, yes, even Internet time are things that have been very important to me, because they are mine.
I don't think it's a surprise to anyone to hear me say, "I love kids." But what I realized tonight was how much I love these kids. Not in that sense which I receive satisfaction from stories that come back to me from parents of kids I have taught, or who have seen shows I wrote that made an impact, but the way you care about a friend or a cousin. I've been asking God to open my heart for these kids, and I feel He has started to do that. And I think a benefit to that has been that me loving the kids at church has in turn enhanced my love for my own kids.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield says that the creative mind is a lot like a muscle. (He doesn't use that terminology; it's much Higher and More Artistic than that, but it's the same concept) The more you use it, the better you become with it. The more you write, the more blocks you push yourself through, the easier more creative solutions to writers' problems will start coming to you. Well, I think loving is the same way. Learning to love anyone selflessly--and that's rare, folks. I don't say that in judgment, but very few of us have truly selfless relationships--increases your capacity to love others as well. An alien love deepens a familiar one. Telling your mother you love her when you are four is an entirely different expression from when you are thirty. When you realize you love The One you'll one day wed, you realize how different it is from all the ones that came before. You had no capacity to understand that until the moment it happened, and in that moment your heart discovered an ability it had never had before. It impacts everything else you've given your heart to. Likewise, learning that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother makes your heart stronger, that ultimately you may be a better son, friend, brother, spouse, whatever.
Healthy, Godly relationships make us better people. I guess that's the bottom line. As we grow, so grows our capacity to love one another. And as our capacity to love one another grows, so increases our capacity for further growth. And on and on and on. I think I've been needing to look at ways (in this job) to put myself aside for the benefit of those I'm serving. Which, obviously, is something I knew when I took the job, but knowing a thing and learning it are two completely different things. When I was in school, I never wanted to "show my work" if I didn't need to do the problem long-hand. This was true in math, English, science, whatever. This is because I've always been a "the answer is what's important" sort of guy. Here, I think, is where God has most been working with me this past year. "Great, that is exactly the right answer. Now, how do you get there?"
I'm working on it. And thanks be to God, because I feel like I've glimpsed another variable to the equation.