I try not to talk about what the church “isn’t” doing, preferring to focus on what is good, pure, lovely, etc. Sometimes it is in the contrast that we see the beauty that is hidden. The true gift that community is supposed to be, sometimes needs a little help rising to the surface.
The Princess and I were sitting at the church office, visiting with our Guy when the youth pastor dropped in to ask a few questions. Part way into the conversation he looked over at our girl and said “She really should come to youth group. It would be good for the kids. She would really like it too.” Wide eyed and choked up I pushed out an astonished “That would be great. She would love that, but how would we get her upstairs?” He replied “We would figure something out.” Tears blurred my vision as I just sat stunned, overwhelmed, thankful, determined.
If you are new here you may not know that our sweetness uses a wheelchair. She doesn’t speak, wears diapers and drools (sometimes profusely). We stash a rag on the back of her chair, an extra in one of her backpacks. Now she uses a g-tube to get all nutrition but a few years ago she was still using a bottle to to get any bit of nourishment we could literally squeeze into her body.
For four years we pastored in a small town about 20 minutes east of town. When it was time to return to our church home, we had to rethink more than just ministry. Our little girl was an infant when we left. Now she was old enough for the kid’s programs.
The first Sunday back, I was excited for our sweet one to be with a large group of kiddos, singing, praising and worshiping. As the children gathered, the worship leader took her seat, I took The Princess out of her chair, sat her on the floor next to the others in front so she could see. I stepped to the back of the room to watch. The lady with the guitar acknowledged her, mentioning how happy she was to have here there.
When all the children had filed in, crossing their legs on the floor, the leader stood up, walked around to the back of the group telling them to get up and turn around to face her. It was kind of an exercise to get those in back to experience the front I suppose. My stomach completely dropped as the most vulnerable child, my own daughter, unable to turn herself around just sat there, facing no one. As tears burned, threatening to spill over on my hot cheeks, I snatched her off the floor and carried her upstairs, leaving her wheelchair sitting empty, unnoticed, at the back of the room. Choking back tears, I declared to my husband, “I can’t do this. This isn’t going to happen. Please get us out of here.”
But we stayed.
For three more years we showed up. We would serve where we were allowed and participate where we were welcomed. Increasingly it became evident that those places were few. Even our beautiful daughter was not seen as a blessing but rather a burden. Even after offers of holding a training to demystify and quip others to enjoy her and other children with differences, it was clear, she was too much work. There “wasn’t enough help” for her to be allowed to attend Sunday School.
Can I explain something here? My daughter is the easiest child to care for in a contained amount of time. She doesn’t misbehave, she can’t run off, she doesn’t disrupt the class and she LOVES all things Jesus. She loves other children, music and stories. Even then, it isn’t just about her. All children benefit by being around a child who isn’t just like them but that didn’t happen because unless we were able to set up a special person to care for her, she was not allowed. For us, as long as we made it to first service, we were covered, if not there was only one other option. That was to take her in to church with us.
We would sit, pull her up on one of our laps and we would all worship. Then announcements would come. That was our cue to head out to the hallway. There were monitors there. We could crane our necks but at least we were getting to hear the teaching, right?
Well, that was great in theory but it is really hard to listen when everyone on their way to the bathroom or corralling a rowdy toddler wants to engage you in conversation. Where the rules inside were stifling, (every peep seemed frowned upon by leadership) the hallway was the opposite. There was no way to get in a full lesson. After a few weeks of this, we were spent. We were done.
It was then, at home in our office that I heard a sermon that poured into my emptiness. It gave me hope that there are still believers out there somewhere that really cared. They weren’t there to preserve order in a five year old classroom but they were willing to get out, get messy and get real. I mean in the trenches where it is dirty, painfully, gut wrenching real.
They called their series “Church Without Walls”. The speaker told the story of the “Good Samaritan”. The man who was beat up and left to die on a roadside while people of his kind walked by on the other side of the street, ignoring his cry and his pain. It was left up to a man who by all accounts was an enemy to their people. This day, this story became new. It became real. It became my passion.
What really sunk in my gut for the first time was that “the church”, is so busy doing good in the name of God that we don’t see the aching souls around us. We don’t see the hurting people in our midst. Some of us have gotten so focused on training our members to “minister” that we step over wounded souls on our way to endless retreats, seminars and conferences. We send our youth on trips to bordering countries to take part in church building projects to improve our own facilities. Very few are taught to serve in our own church body. The homeless in our own community are ignored. The disabled, addicted and grieving were avoided in order to get to our own causes.
We cried out for direction and our hollow sobs were heard. It was slow in our own eyes but perfect timing in retrospect.
Our new body of Christ followers welcomed us enthusiastically. They took us all in with grace and excitement. The children’s team looked right past any differences to the pureness of heart in this precious person that scripture tells me is “fearfully and wonderfully made”. Not only that, this new home has a vital ministry to the homeless that supports those who need healing from abuse, addiction and hopelessness.
It hasn’t all been perfect. That’s okay. Even in leaving our former place, it sparked movement in the hearts of some whose focus needed to be sharpened. Sometimes you need to make a bold movement to be heard.
The thing is, all of it, every bit of the journey, old, new, painful and joyous has led us to a deeper understanding of grace. We have a sweeter knowledge of a Saviour whose rejection was the passage to our salvation. If we had never walked that valley, how would understand a family like ours? If we never knew indifference, how would we know the need for involvement within our own community?
The story of the Good Samaritan had become a new lesson for me. It is no longer just about being the Samaritan who loved his neighbor. It is about heading out to minister and not walking past those He has put in my reach. Those who need their wounds tended to along the way. I can no longer ignore the groans of those right here. Ministering in all parts of the world is still vital but we need to be willing to attend to those on our way there.
|Holding her own back pack
on the way to Mother’s Day Brunch
Next month we celebrate the 13th year of life for our precious miracle. My baby is growing up. Hopefully her mommy is growing up too. We will hopefully have worked out a way to get her and a no longer tiny chair up to the youth room for Sunday morning youth church. I have suggested that we make a hole in the roof and have four kids lower her in on a blanket. The fact that there are those who want to try blesses me to my core.