This post was prompted by a video shared on a forum I’m in that features a bunch of adults acting out a certain song that was rather commonly sung at VBS. And while I thought it pretty sad that grown adults were acting out all the motions to a kids song, it got me remembering my own experiences.
Ah, VBS. Vacation Bible School. It was a time of the year that I looked forward to. School was out for the summer. I got to go to church (a central part of my childhood) and see and play with my friends (since for a good chunk of my schooling, I was homeschooled, I didn’t get to see my friends anywhere but church). Snacks were usually involved in some way, and I swear those church ladies knew how to make the meanest rice krispy treats. And those little plastic juice barrels! Oh yes, you knew it was a good day at VBS when they brought out the juice barrels. That and those little cups of vanilla ice cream with the strawberry or chocolate flavour swirls in them.
I went to a lot of VBS’ over the years, at several different churches. Even though they were all different in some little way, they followed the same basic principle. Play time, singing time, story time, snack time, bible time…sometimes memorization was involved similar to AWANA. There was usually some sort of fundraiser type of thing that happened. I never really won anything with that, as during that time, my family wasn’t able to give me much to donate. I didn’t really like that they did that, because it seemed to isolate the kids who weren’t able to give and rewarded the kids who were with…things that they could have afforded to buy themselves. I tried not to feel too jealous, but sometimes it was hard. I wouldn’t say we were “poor” exactly, but we weren’t exactly diving in the vault ala Scrooge McDuck.
Aside from those awkward feelings, I still had plenty of fun. It mostly seemed to be a super-charged combination of AWANA and children’s church. There was usually a theme for the week and the stories and decor went along with that theme. Story time was usually hit or miss, depending on who was doing it. If it was my mother, I knew it would be good. She was a great storyteller, and she used felt boards to illustrate the story as she was telling it. Some people would use a felt board and it would be awkward, but she used it masterfully. I was always entranced, even if she was telling a story I’d heard at least a dozen times before. I remember watching her carefully cut out the various figures from new story sets, being careful to place them oh so exactly in a box so they wouldn’t rip. I wasn’t allowed to touch and play with them when I was younger, but I always watched her and wondered what story she’d be telling next.
The ultimate guilty pleasure of VBS was, of course, Veggie Tales. I had to google this because I didn’t remember the exact year, but it came out for the first time in December of ’93, so by VBS of ’94, there were videos at the ready to play. It was usually Friday, the last day of VBS, unless a teacher wasn’t feeling well or particularly prepared and decided to opt for a video. We loved watching Veggie Tales, especially singing along with Silly Songs with Larry. Today, I think the great thing about Silly Songs is that the songs have nothing to do with any religious message, really, they’re just silly and fun. Kids need that. Growing up in the church the way I did, we were constantly bombarded with Jesus and the Bible and messages from all angles, even when we were just trying to play. We really just wanted to bust out and have fun without it having to involve religion. And even though the rest of the video was chock-full of religious messages, the Silly Songs part was the one part that I could look forward to and know that I didn’t have to pay attention for a message.
The last time I was ever involved in VBS in any way was when I operated the puppets in my teens. By that time, my religion was losing his luster and VBS no longer held the appeal it once did as a child. The songs that I’d previously had fun singing and acting out were corny, contrived, and condescending in a way. The stories were old, having been told hundreds and hundreds of times before in more entertaining ways. The shiny facade was gone, like adults find in so many things from childhood, but in my case specifically, it was still present for a time, taunting me in a way. The joy experienced by the children, while wonderful for them and wonderful for me to bring out of them, was not the same as I experienced. I tried desperately to hold on for years, to convince myself that I was happy in this faith, that this was my life. But while it was, it wasn’t in a sense. It wasn’t the real me. I only said I believed because I didn’t have any other option.
While I’ll still look back on those summers with fond memories, that’s all they are for me anymore. They have no power to draw me back to a church I can’t reconcile my personal beliefs with. While they may seem to haunt me at particular times, they have no true hold over me. Any pang of hurt I feel came after, and I understand that. I work to separate that. The bad memories don’t overshadow the good memories, nor do they cancel each other out. They exist side by side, hand in hand, simply as they are. That is one thing that I’m trying to keep in mind while writing this blog: that while some memories are painful, and some hurt, that the good memories surrounding them shouldn’t bring on that same hurt. I try to just look at them as they are, acknowledge them, allow myself to remember the good as it was, untainted by any bad memories. Just because they may be surrounded by bad ones doesn’t mean that they are bad themselves, and remembering them as they are should only bring back a sense of nostalgia, not of pain.
When I previously tried to remember certain things about my childhood, I only ended up getting depressed. Indeed, my fiance was concerned when I started this blog, not wanting me to go through a downward spiral that he knew I was capable of doing. But I’m working towards bettering myself, and I’m evolving and growing, and I’m trying to change my point of view of my past. And, by changing my point of view, owning it.
I am Elisabeth. Former fundamental, evangelical Independent Baptist. Today I am a hippie-ish, body modded Pagan. In the future … I don’t know. Who really knows? Life is a constant journey, and takes us to different places. Some things stay the same, other things change, but what I’ve found to be true is that the journey of self-discovery is never truly over, and that we should embrace it.