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If Christians were raptured up to Heaven last Saturday as that fellow in California predicted, I didn’t know anybody good enough to make the cut. Since I hang out with a lot of church-going folk most every Sunday, that’s a disconcerting thought.
All this talk last weekend about the world ending, though, set me to thinking about my stint as our church’s youth leader. Now before anybody accuses me of heresy and suggests I be hanged by the World Council of Churches, let me say right up front that all I’m trying to do here is tell a story. It’s a true one, a little sad and a little funny, but I’m not in the business of making theological statements. I leave that to those more qualified.
In the United Methodist Church, however, even the unqualified, like me, are often pressed to work above our pay grade. And so I zoomed to the top echelon of leadership in the UM Youth Fellowship, the same way I became a Girl Scout leader — by showing up at a meeting that everybody else skipped.
Our oldest daughter, Shan, 13, and a freshman in high school, was excited about being old enough to join the UMYF group at our little church.
Poof — just like that there was no leader to help guide this handful of teenagers through adolescence. We couldn’t afford a youth minister, the senior pastor was over-worked as it was, and when her last child left for college, the former parent-leader begged to retire after 10 years of service.
Actually, she went on a hunger strike to emphasize her point, but that’s a tale for another day.
There seemed nothing for me to do but say yes and blunder forward. As my minister gently pointed out, I had once taught in high school so how hard could it be?
Well, sleeping on the floor at the “de rigor” youth group lock-ins proved to be pretty hard in my opinion.
And my administration ran into other problems, too. Because of my husband’s business travel, meeting-time often found me without childcare for my two younger girls. I fell into the habit of taking Becky, 11, and Georgeann, 9, along with me, with vague instructions to “be good.”
To Shan’s distress, they were soon participating members of the group.
I also used up my program ideas more quickly than I had thought possible. Then I remembered the football coach in the old Funky Winkerbean comic strip who showed a film every day of his teaching career. That’s when I hit upon the idea of renting a series of 16 mm movies — this was before the easy DVD era — about the end of the world.
I sincerely thought these films would be interesting for the group to discuss. But I was also struck that it was a four-part series and would fill up a month of meetings.
And so we plunged into our study of the Book of Revelations, the blind leading the blind. What I hadn’t reckoned on was the early-Hollywood influence on the filmmakers. Have you ever seen “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” or other B-grade science-fiction horror movies popular in the 1950s and ’60s?
Despite my misgivings about the quality of the films, the UMYF kids loved them!
The movies began with decadent scenes of modern life, and then progressed to the Rapture of the few good people on earth. Oddly, most folks were making a cake when whisked off to Heaven. Many of the main characters, of course, were left behind to puzzle over electric mixers gone wild and the sudden plethora of unbaked cake batter.
The Tribulation of the earth came next — and I’m pretty sure it lasted longer than the five months Mr. Champing projects. At least it extended through three of our movie installments.
Each week our meetings ended with frightened teenagers crying and asking questions I had difficulty answering. Some of the hardest ones came from my 9-year-old daughter, Georgeann, a serious child who would grow up to be a clinical psychologist.
One late afternoon that autumn, I was busy cooking supper when I looked at the clock and realized I should have picked up Shan from band practice 10 minutes earlier. Becky and Georgeann were playing in their friends’ yard down the street as they often did after school, and wouldn’t come home until I called them for supper — even then under protest since they’d rather play than eat.
Knowing that the high school was nearby and that I could go and return home in less than 10 minutes, I dashed off without rounding them up. I’d be back before they knew I’d been gone, I reasoned. I’d never done that before, but it was a pretty day, Shan was stranded in the school parking lot, and I made a not-perfect-mom split-second decision.
Unbeknown to me, however, Georgeann hadn’t gone with Becky to play at the neighbor’s. Instead, she’d vanished to the basement rec-room where she was quietly cutting out magazine pictures for an on-going scrapbook of her life as she hoped it would someday be. (Have I mentioned that Georgeann was a deep child?)
So of course she emerged from the basement about three minutes after I drove out of the driveway. A casserole was bubbling in the oven. Salad fixings were scattered on the cutting board. But I was not there. And neither of her sisters were there. For the first time in her life, she found herself alone in the house. She reached the only logical conclusion.
When I returned home a few minutes later, she was near hysteria. Finally, to snap her out of it, I resorted to the only thing I thought might get through to a 9-year-old brain.
“Georgeann, do you really think God would take Becky to Heaven and leave you behind?”
She thought about that a minute and then, between sobs, laughed.
“No, she’s badder than me.”
So maybe the world did end last Saturday and I’m too arrogant to believe I’m one of Georgeann’s badder ones who got left.