It seemed like a great idea.
This year I was asked to play guitar for the two and three year olds as they sang “Away in a Manger” in our annual Christmas program. Our wonderful program leader (who I have the utmost respect for and think she did a wonderful job) asked me to sit right in the middle and have the children huddle around me as they sang. When my wife and I talked about the idea, she commented that it sounded like something out of the John Denver Christmas special; however, I doubt it ever went like this for Mr. Denver.
During the Sunday School hour, we rehearsed this seemingly harmless idea and all was peaceful and precious. My beautiful daughter stood right beside me as I sat on the steps of the platform; her little hand rested on my should as she sang. During our rehearsal, I did notice that this group of 2’s & 3’s was much larger than in past years and that the area where we were to sing was a little small for the group. However, after the practice I was assured their would be plenty of room when it came to that actual program.
Later that afternoon, I talked to our Pastor about my opportunity to join the kids and accompany them with the guitar. I gushed about how blessed I was to share this experience with Rylie; I would be right beside her as she sang in the Christmas program for her first time. I was so excited!
Like I said, it seemed like a great idea. But when the actual event transpired, well…
As a parent of a 2 year old, I’ve learned that the later it gets, the less predictable and controllable my daughter becomes (if she stays up much past her bed time she starts acting like she’s been drinking!). The Christmas program started at 6, but the part for the 2’s & 3’s was toward the end of the evening. Since 6:00, they had been corralled in the back of the sanctuary, waiting their turn. They were ready to melt their parents’ hearts and eager for the bag of treats they were promised would follow. I would come to see later on that this was the packing of the powder keg that was set to explode!
After 35-40 minutes, it was time for stars of the program to make their grand entrance. I was already seated on the platform, guitar ready. The cue was given for the group to come up to the front. I sat there waiting for a few solitary moments as their wranglers (a.k.a. Sunday School teachers) gathered the children and sent them forward. This took a few minutes, but eventually I started to see the line of toddlers marching up the aisle, flashlights ablaze, ready to sing “This Little Light of Mine.” (I had found out earlier in the day that “Away in the Manger” was to be the third song they would sing, and I was to sing “This Little Light of Mine” and “Bells are Ringing” with them before we did A Very John Denver Away in a Manger.)
As Rylie made her way up the aisle, I was enveloped by a mass of well dressed, pint-sized, energized little boys. I helped them try to find their places around me and the look in their eyes was a mix of weariness, eagerness, and restlessness. Rylie came and took her place alongside “Daddy.” Her cousin, Luke, sat in front of her and her best pal, Abby, stood beside her, however she chose to give her back to the audience.
Before I knew it “This Little Light of Mine” was under way and flashlights were waving in the air… and in my eyes… and in the eyes of the other children. During the song, Rylie set out to inspect Luke’s head and tried to burn a hole through his scalp with her flashlight. Some kids were singing, others were inspecting my guitar, and others were trying to inform their neighbor that they’d had just about enough flashlight-in-the-eyes thank you very much! Eventually, the song ended and it was time to replace the flashlights with bells on a string. Yup, you read that last line correctly: “bells (made of metal!) on a string.”
As we pulled the flashlights from the hands of tired, excitable, and now angry children (“But it’s MY FLASHLIGHT!”) we armed them with these jolly, ringing maces and set out to sing our next song.
We began: “Bells are ringing, Children singing…” and the bells started ringing as the children started swinging them over their heads and at each other!
We continued: “…Christmas is here, Christmas is here…” and a group of boys to my right, who somehow interpreted that line as “Let’s get ready to RUUUUMMMBBBLLLE!,” tumbled down the three stairs of the stage and onto the floor. Right on the heals of this, an eager 3 year old to my left ran and jumped off the small platform set up for the evening’s solo and duet performances. I am pleased to report that he is ok (actually, he got good air and was pretty pleased with his landing!).
As we attempted to finish the song, anarchy was breaking out all around me. I found myself in the midst of a swirling sea of toddlers and my precious daughter standing next to me began to joyfully ring her bells off my head! (Talk about a magic family moment!) I tried to smile, but my heart was filling with panic. The song had ended, but the bells were still swinging and the mob of boys behind me had become a seething mosh pit. The teacher, who was trying his best to control this choir of chaos, caught my frightened eyes and shouted, “Play, Ryan, Play!” I regained my senses and Away in a Manger began.
I don’t know if I played the right chords, or if the tempo was appropriate. Looking back on it now, it is all just a blur. I remember my daughter turning the stairs into a slide and her pal Abby looking like she had had more than enough of this “pagentry.” After two verses and some “lowing” cattle the children were dismissed to their seats and I was again left alone on the platform. I placed my guitar back in its stand, my hands still shaking, and walked back to take my seat next to my wife. She looked at me, and with a smile on her face, she said, “well, that was pure chaos!”