I signed up to teach Sunday School three years ago for one main reason: I thought it was mandatory. Our church plant was in its initial stages, and a non-negotiable for our pastor was that children's ministry would be staffed by members, not hired help. He said it was one of the greatest opportunities we had to tangibly love visitors and newcomers, to show them that we took care for our children so seriously that no one but "us" would care for them, and at that point in the plant it would take all of "us" in order to make that happen. From the very first Sunday, we have had nearly as many children as adults. The pews teem with the cutest smocked dresses and oxford shirts tucked into embroidered belts that would make any mommy blogger jealous. I joke with my friends that if they want to see "the cutest kids in Houston", all they need to do is visit Apostles on a Sunday.
The first time my sister and I team-taught Sunday School there, it was in a rented schoolhouse across the street from the "sanctuary": a Boy Scout hut we also rented. We were a bit overwhelmed at the thought of teaching 15ish 3-and-4-year-olds, but between the two of us we thought we would be able to survive an hour and a half of almost anything. The feeling of duty quickly subsided when we began to build lego castles and play restaurant and read Jesus Storybook Bible pages. The laughter and joy that escaped from the half-built walls of that first classroom was genuine and contagious. Kids that walked in with trepidation left giving tumble-you-over hugs and high-fives. Our pastor was onto something, I thought, as we packed up after it was over, but I think it's more than he let on: we are loving the kids, but perhaps more so-- they are loving us.
We didn't know many people when the church started, so the way we built many relationships was first through our Sunday School children. To be truthful, I would approach each Sunday with a trepidation unfamiliar to my Pastor's Kid self-- I was now The Outsider. But after a few months, I think both the children and I let down our guard. They no longer hid behind Mama's skirts or Daddy's pant legs. Having a multisyllabic name, I always smiled when they would yell out "Mamcy Page!", "Ancy Page!", or my favorite, "Fancy Page!" when they saw me. And I would enter Sunday services not nervous about sitting alone, but happy to see smiling, waving faces of kids who asked us to sit by them.
Fast forward three and a half years later, and I still teach Sunday School. I moved up with many of those early 3-and-4 year olds who now are 5, 6, and 7 year olds in my current class. I have watched them become big brothers and sisters, learn to read and write, and sprout in height. I have studied Scripture with them in Sunday School and with their parents in Bible study for almost 3 years. I have laughed alongside their moms at their hilarious antics and enjoyed spending time when them in their homes. I have watched them graduate to "big church", and sat near them as we worship. A lot has changed since those first days of Scout House Sunday School, but I think what has changed most of all has been in me, in my heart.
You see, I have never loved being single. I admitted to a friend as recently as last night, I have never once "thanked" God for my singleness. I cringe at the articles and sermons and well-meaning talks on the "gift" of singleness, because it's never felt like much of one to me. But last night, after a lively but very normal dinner with many of these kids and their parents and siblings, I found myself crying in the shower. Crying because I realized for the first time that while I still struggle with singleness as a gift by itself, the gift IN singleness has been, in part, these people. These kids and their parents who have burrowed a hole so deep in my heart, a place I don't know would be as accessible if I had my own family at this moment. The love I have for them is, as we sang in those early days,a "deep and wide, can't get around it, can't get through it" kind of love.
I think I love them so much because in many ways, they have healed me in places I didn't even know needed it. Their arms-wide acceptance, generous grace, and hilarious playfulness has made me acknowledge that I am worthy of a love I had forgotten and denied. I am not the same person I was three and a half years ago when I began to attend Apostles, and it's because of Jesus, but He's used these people (both big and small) to remind and teach me of who I am in Him. Last night, at dinner, they took a kids-only picture in front of the ice cream shop next door. Even though I'd been sweating in the Houston heat for over an hour and looking less than my best, I asked if I could jump in the photo with them-- My People. As I held a toddler whom I've prayed for and loved since before she was even born, that was the moment where I finally thanked God for the gift He has given me in these single years: these little people, and their big people. They are a gift I never knew I needed, and one I'll never forget.