Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Our first night of Vacation Bible School went off without a hitch.
Except for everything that went wrong.
Actually, after several years of directing this summer phenomenon known as VBS, I have learned to not only expect the unexpected, but to keep everything in its proper perspective. That proper perspective is as follows: the kids had fun and the Word of God was proclaimed. Score! It was a good night!

But I feel a special burden tonight to unload a deep secret from my first night at VBS. You see, during our closing program, we were to do a special object lesson in which dry ice is placed in the water, it churns and bubbles, and then the leader (that's me!) creates a film of soap over the top of the bowl. The fog from the bowl expands the film bubble, until it bursts over, symbolizing our thankfulness (okay, you Power Lab directors, you're with me on this!). The instructions made it look cool. The video clips made it look cool. It looked cool. I couldn't wait.

Unfortunately, due to various and assorted challenges, I was unable to get the dry ice until the afternoon before VBS. I determined I was going to practice this experiment, so that I would get the feel for it before doing it in front of assorted kids and volunteers. But the Monday of VBS is always a bit like running a Nascar race with a tricycle...you're pedaling as hard and as fast as you can, but your little bell just won't tell the other drivers to get out of the way (VBS directors, can I get a witness...?) Anyway, my rehearsal time got eaten away with a myriad of unforeseen (or foreseen, but not addressed) challenges.

Finally, with approximatley 40 minutes to go, I found my practice window. But there were still challenges. The glass bowl had disappeared. I hunted, asked around, and eventually located it. I knew I would have to fill the bowls with pitchers from the nearest sink. Hey...the pitchers were too big to fit under the faucet of the nearest sink (ding..ding..move out of my way, Gordon!).

I finally had all my ingredients. My wife had put the dry ice in the church freezer. The dry ice was in brown wrappers. I took the ice chest to the kitchen, put on the safety gloves, and took the four very cold, brown-wrapped packages out of the freezer, and returned to practice the experiment. Only 20 minutes to go.

I cut the bags open and emptied the shaved dry ice into the freezer. I then carefully picked up a big hunk of the shaved dry ice (which had fused together in a lump) and I dumped it in the water, waiting for the bubbling, churning effect to start.

At this point, I should let everyone know that, while I have seen the foggy, churning effect from dry ice, I have never actually handled dry ice. I knew what it was supposed to do, but I did not really know how long it was supposed to take to do it. I also did not know that dry ice could come in shaved form, but since regular ice could be shaved, I didn't give it a second thought.

So why was this taking so long?

The shaved dry ice sat there in the water. I saw a tiny bubble or two make its way to the surface, but nothing like the cascading white fog I was expecting. Yup, the shaved dry ice sat in the bowl looking a lot like......


Shredded, frozen (but thawing), hash browns. White, soggy hash browns. I poked at them with my finger, half hoping it was indeed shaved dry ice (in which case the flesh on my finger would rip apart from the intense cold of the carbon dioxide). But no...alas. It was, in no way, shape, or form dry ice. It was hashbrowns (ding..ding..splat!).

I quickly dumped the bowl, cleaned up my mess, and got ready for when the kids arrived. I found the other brown package in the church freezer and it contained the chunks of dry ice. I did the experment live with no rehearsal. The kids ooohed and aaahed as the water bubbled, churned, and fogged over. But try as I might, I could not get the film to stick over the bowl. Sorry, Group Publishing, I know it said to be patient and keep trying, but the kids and volunteers were threatening a boycott, so I just tied in the bubbling and churning and how our lives should be marked by overflowing gratitude (yes, Teacher Tim, even when experiments go wrong).

As kids were leaving, I almost thought I heard some of the children saying how much they liked VBS so far. One of them said, "I know Teacher Tim tried his best on the experiment. I think he's just way too hard on himself. There's no way I could get angry with him over this."

"Yeah" said the other. "Hey, by the way, are you going to Kid's Camp in a couple of weeks? There's lots of fun and good food. I'm especially looking forward to the breakfast: eggs, bacon, and lots of yummy hash browns!"

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