Grace in the Storm: El Crucero Goes to Sky Zone

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Around January, someone donated a significant amount of money to El Crucero with the expressed desire that we take some of the El Crucero children to Busch Gardens (or somewhere comparable) for a bit of Spring Break fun.

I was excited by the idea, but also nervous. By now, we had gained plenty of experience taking children on outings, but always only one small group of children at a time. This would be different—a full day out with both boys and girls, 3rd grade and up (including our middle schoolers and our stray high schooler).

As I began to query my team for input, I quickly realized that most of them were extremely uncomfortable with the idea of taking the children to Busch Gardens and that I would be hard-pressed to find enough adults willing to transport and chaperone the children all the way to Tampa.

So my friend, Jill, and I began to brainstorm alternatives. Jill suggested Sky Zone, and we met there one afternoon to give it a look-over and to get information about scheduling an event.

It seemed perfect—far enough away that I knew the children would feel like they had traveled somewhere, large enough that we could bring as big a group as we could gather, exciting enough to compete with a theme park, especially to kids who’ve never experienced one.

I felt ecstatic as I looked at the event options and realized that for about half of what it would cost to take them to Busch Gardens, we would be able to pay for an hour and a half of jumping, rent our own dodge ball court and then take them out to lunch before heading home. That would leave the other half of the donation to fund a soccer camp in the neighborhood this summer! …or to fund sports scholarships to kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to join a community league!

Then I saw the waiver.

For those of you who’ve never been to Sky Zone, there is a row of kiosks at the front door where parents and guardians fill out an extensive waiver before their children are allowed to jump. Not only does this looooong waiver suggest the possibility of death:

NOTICE TO THE MINOR CHILD’S NATURAL GUARDIAN

YOU ARE AGREEING TO LET YOUR MINOR CHILD ENGAGE IN A POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS ACTIVITY. YOU ARE AGREEING THAT, EVEN IF SZITP USES REASONABLE CARE IN PROVIDING THIS ACTIVITY, THERE IS A CHANCE YOUR CHILD MAY BE SERIOUSLY INJURED OR KILLED BY PARTICIPATING IN THIS ACTIVITY BECAUSE THERE ARE CERTAIN DANGERS INHERENT IN THE ACTIVITY WHICH CANNOT BE AVOIDED OR ELIMINATED.

…but it also requires the parent to fill out their complete address, birthdate and driver’s license number.

A driver’s license number???

To understand my horror, you need to know that I consider it an accomplishment when I manage to get back a form with a child’s last name, a street name, and some semblance of a phone number on it. An actual house number requires a minor miracle. I knew there was NO WAY my children were going to get their parents to fill out a form that asks for a birthdate and driver’s license number.

This waiver was a deal breaker, an insurmountable obstacle to Spring Break jumping joy.

But where else could we go? I was out of ideas. After chewing on it for a few days, I decided to find a way to make Sky Zone work. I began by calling and asking if I could sign the waiver for children who weren’t my own. The guy who answered the phone told me “yes.” Ahhh, hope.

Next, I called the event coordinator and began planning the details of our visit. After establishing date, time and best-guess group size, she brought up the waiver. Sigh. There it was again. I explained a bit about our group and asked if I could take responsibility for the children myself. “No, all the children will have to have waivers signed by their own parents or guardians.” Defeat. “But…,” she continued, “I can make up a paper waiver for your group that doesn’t ask for a driver’s license number.” Clearly, this woman was an angel in disguise!

This angel-woman made Sky Zone possible for us. Not only did she make up a paper waiver, she highlighted in yellow everything that had to be filled in completely and later hand-entered all of the children’s information into the Sky Zone system. The waiver still presented a challenge, but at least now it didn’t seem insurmountable.

Now I began to prepare for our special day. I made up a flyer and printed the waivers. I recruited chaperones. I started talking up the event to the kids. But mostly, I began to pray. I passionately prayed no one would get hurt; but I also prayed we’d have enough drivers to get everyone there and that the day would generally “go well.”

Do you pray the “ everything go well” prayer, too? I ask God for “all to go well” in the hope that all will go perfectly. You know…perfectly…without hitch or complication, without conflicts or bad attitudes. What I’m really praying is that everything will go exactly according to my own plans and expectations.

I’ve found that particularly in ministry this prayer rarely goes answered.

Sky Zone day was no exception.

For starters, in the week leading up to the event I lost 2 of my chaperones, one to a family funeral and the other to an unexpected work conference.

Then, the morning of the event, my 5-year-old daughter woke up with a fever. I didn’t have any choice but to leave her behind and pray I wasn’t passing along any terrible virus to my 82-year-old mom.

Twenty-two children, waivers in hand, were happily waiting for us when we arrived at El Crucero. We quickly checked forms and divided kids into cars. Our caravan, including 7 adults and 29 children (the 22 from the block + 7 volunteer’s kids) made it to Sky Zone without incident.

IMG_5280Then we jumped (and jumped and jumped and jumped). The jumping was glorious fun, but while our group radiated joy and laughter inside, outside the sky was growing ever darker and more ominous.

Here in Florida, most days are sunny. Rainy days are the exception, and stormy days are a rarity. But by the time lunchtime rolled round, the entire sky was coming apart. Thunder. Lightning. Torrential rain.

According to my carefully laid plans, we were supposed to go to the Steak and Shake two blocks up the street and feed the kids hamburgers and milkshakes. It was a perfect plan, perfectly prepared. I had called ahead. I had pre-bought gift cards at Sams and clipped coupons in my effort to get the best deal possible. And I had gotten the kids excited for this new restaurant experience.

Braving the downpour, my volunteers and I herded our 29 children through the dark, rainy parking lot into our various vehicles. My van full of girls squealed and made much noise about being wet, but I told them we were having a grand adventure. Don’t you think the rain makes the day more fun, girls?

Meanwhile I tightened my grip on the steering wheel and snaked my way through rain and traffic to Steak and Shake where I was met by an employee waiting to tell me that the storm had caused them to lose power. We would have to go somewhere else.

I quickly tried to coordinate with the other 5 drivers what was to be done. There were no other viable restaurants in the immediate area, so we planned to make our way to a Chick fil A about 10 minutes away.

Chick fil A was chaos. By some mercy, we eventually got everyone fed, shuffled back into cars and  safely delivered to their own doorsteps.

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I will not say that the day was easy. I had prayed that “all would go well” and then encountered loss of volunteers, a sick child, an unexpected (and expensive) change of plans and an epic storm.

And, yet, the day did go well. God provided a good turn out of children, an adequate number of vehicles and chaperones, an alternate lunch spot, and safe passage through the rain and traffic. All of the children were allowed to jump (even though I later learned that some of their waivers were not fully acceptable). No one got hurt. Everyone had fun. Grownups and kids strengthened their relationships, and God was glorified.

I used to think that if God loved me, he would smooth the path for me. I’m an “acts of service” girl and feel most loved when someone helps me out. It has taken me a long time to accept the fact that when I choose to take the road of sacrificial love and compassion in Jesus’ name, God, more often than not, allows the road to be littered with complications and difficulties. But, in the end, all is well, because God is in our midst and his love is never failing. I just need to remember to stop looking at myself and my own worries and frustrations to see it.

 

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