Sunday, February 14, 2016

I love you!

“I love pelicans!”
“I love my Mommy!”
“I love a quarter pounder with extra cheese!”
“I love Jesus!”
“I love Disneyland!”
“I love baseball!”
“I love you!”
These were all responses I got when I asked my kindergartners to tell me something they love. As we talked about love at our Valentine’s Day party, I told them that I couldn’t possibly let Valentine’s Day go by without making sure they knew about two loves in particular. First, God’s love for each of them. They know. I tell them all the time how much God loves them, but perhaps because of that it becomes just another nice thing to say. I want them to know! I told them, “You guys, God loves you so much! Like, He really, reeeeeeeeally loves you! He is crazy about you! God would rather die than spend forever without you!” Then I made them tell each other, “God loves you!” and “God is crazy about you!” with lots of giggles ensuing.
The second love I need them to know is mine. I’ll never forget my first year teaching kindergarten, I asked my students half way though the year, “Did you know that I love you guys?” and they shook their heads no! What?!? They must have known. But I guess I had never said it out loud. So I told them that day how much I loved them. Then they knew. And I’ve made sure to tell every class after how much I love them. They need to know. They need to have no doubt. And so do I. So do we all. Don’t we need to hear those words spoken out loud by another human being and aimed at just us? Those three words may just be the most powerful words there are. Words that can launch a life or save a life. 
I calculated it and I think that I get told “I love you” an average of eleven times per day. Kate tells me she loves me every time we hang up the phone (around three times a day), Mom, Dad, and Jenn tell me they love me when I say goodnight to them in person or on the phone each day (that’s three times), and I’d say that on average I hear “I love you” about five times a day from kindergartners. That’s eleven. And that’s not counting the phone calls I get during the week from close friends or cousins who usually say “I love you” before hanging up and that’s also not counting when I see the words “I love you” written out in an email or text from family and friends. I don’t know what the average is, but I would guess that I’m over the average! I like it that way! So on this Valentine’s Day, go tell someone “I love you!” and up their average!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday...Of Confession and Smelling Like a Campfire

Ash Wednesday. Sin. Confession. Forgiveness. Those are deep ideas…but kindergartners are deep people. Yes, they cry over a bow falling in the potty, and they laugh like crazy when we pray for the country of Djibouti (for obvious reasons…it’s pronounced, juh-BOOTY), but amid the silliness and crazy, five and six-year-olds understand so much more than they are given credit for. They may not understand the big word “repentance” or “confession,” but they certainly understand the need to say sorry when someone has been pushed or when mean words have been spoken.
Today is Ash Wednesday and in kindergarten we had a time of confession, which sounds kind of funny for kindergarten, but it’s the absolute truth, and it was real and good and turned into a sweet celebration of God’s forgiveness. I explained about the Biblical practice of putting ashes on ones head as a sign of repentance and how the dirty ashes reflect the dirty state of our sinful hearts before we’ve asked forgiveness and God has washed us clean. Together the littles and I talked about the problem of sin and how we’re all in deep. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that God loves us each so much that he sent Jesus to take the punishment for that sin for us. We all agreed that that is totally not fair (like someone taking our spanking when we’re the ones who deserve it), but we’re awfully glad that He did!
Then came the hard part…we all had to think of a sin that we have committed and write it down on a piece of paper. Kindergartners are good at knowing what’s right and what’s wrong. 

I say “hard part” because don’t we tend to find it excruciatingly difficult to lay down our pride and actually confess that we stumble and that we fall? But you know what? Honestly it’s not so painful when you and a group of five year olds are all being honest together. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other so that you may be healed.” When we stand together in our need of forgiveness it just seems so less daunting, even when those who are standing with me are under four feet tall.

I helped them each spell the words that they wanted to write and they took it seriously as they fumbled through the letters to spell ugly words like,
-“not sharing”
-“mean words”
After writing our words we each had a chance to say a short prayer asking God to forgive us of whatever it was that we wrote on our paper. After confessing and asking God for forgiveness we each got to put our piece of paper in a bowl where we lit it on fire and celebrated (as we watched it disintegrate into ashes) that God has promised to forgive us and to no longer see that sin when he looks at us, but instead to see us as pure and washed clean.

Nothing like a little pyrotechnics to get a point across! We took our time in doing this…lighting each person’s sin in turn and asking if God still sees that sin or if he has forgiven that student, which was met every time with a resounding “No! He has forgiven him/her!”
After we each had a chance to ask forgiveness and see the visual representation of God erasing that sin, we poured a few dribbles of water into the ashes to make a paste which we stuck our fingers in and finger-painted crosses on squares of paper which we will use in our countdown to Easter.

The crosses are literally made out of the ashes of the sins that those precious, honest, five-year-old hands wrote down. Isn’t that exactly what the pain of the actual cross was made of?

            I told the kids at the end of the day how proud I was of them because sharing a sin with a whole group of people is not an easy thing to do. We like to hold our failings close and keep them hidden, but as we discovered today, what joy there is in the freedom of confessing our sins and being forgiven. And it certainly helps if you can involve some flames and watch those sins disintegrate into ash as God’s grace and forgiveness covers it all! Watching (and being a part of) kindergartners confessing sins and rejoicing in forgiveness is truly sacred ground and I was blessed to be in their presence and in the presence of our living and loving God today. So on this Ash Wednesday of 2016, we’re all leaving kindergarten forgiven….smelling like campfire, but forgiven!