Last night I decided in my heart that I would attend the night service and not the early service. I had plenty of legitimate excuses; my husband was working in the morning and it would be better for us to go together. I didn’t want to leave my dad alone with grandkids. The Conqueror would need medications right in the middle of service times. The real reason was lurking under all these layers: I didn’t want to bring my 3 year old to church.
Why not? Well, our church population is growing and the nursery is beyond maximum capacity; we can’t get a new building fast enough. My struggling kiddo does not do well in large groups of people in small spaces, especially seated school-like activities. Our struggle is on full display. When all the factors are combined, the 3 year old class isn’t a great setting for my son. 3 out of 4 weeks, he won’t make it the full 2 hours before we need to retrieve him. While his teachers love him and are great, it isn’t working well. In our present situation fighting cancer, the thought of not being able to have fellowship or contribute to the Body of Christ is an emotional quagmire for me that has wounded me deeply and made me face some true ugliness in myself.
Now, I REFUSE to say more about that situation in the online world because it will bring criticism onto a) my church b) my son c) my parenting. I’ve had quite enough of that and all the suggestions, thank you very much and bless their hearts.
As I settled into bed and prepared to charge my phone, I noticed an unread text message. Teddi, an amazing mom of four boys and chaos-coordinator extraordinaire, had typed,
“Jaxson wants to know if your Jonathan would like his company for Sunday School”. Darn it.
Several weeks ago, Teddi informed me that I am one of the ranks of THOUSANDS of moms in the not-nursery-acceptable stage and insisted that I bring Jonathan to the Sunday School class. She refuted all of my reasons with great solutions and simply insisted, “We love you. We love your family right where they are. Bring him. Anyone who can’t learn in Sunday School while loving you where you are can find another class.”
I can push away a mom invitation, but how do you refuse a sweet four year old who actually wants to play with your “Least of These”? “Bring him. Jaxon has asked and asked”, the text read.
Groan. Several families from the church have enjoyed playdates with Jonathan. Their kids ask for him and want to play with him. It is wonderful…in a loving, open, noisy house. Then again, the best way to bring people to church is through personal invitation. The pastor says it all the time. He is right.
Today we arrived early to Sunday School. I soon saw Jaxon in his adorable cowboy boots that went well with Jonathan’s cowboy hat. Jaxon excitedly presented Jonathan with a toy– a stuffed cactus that wore a cowboy hat just like Jonathan’s. He specifically thought of Jonathan. It is one of the first gifts a child ever picked out and gave to him. They shared a snack and Jaxon followed Jonathan around as he ran about the room. With toys in tow, Jonathan jumped down the choir-room-stairs and walked right up to people. During the teaching he walked right up the the podium and listened to Byron teach. He chattered away, stared up at him, and jumped around his feet.Byron simply took Jonathan’s hat, put it on and kept going. When Byron wrote on the whiteboard, Jonathan tried to write too. Jonathan fully enjoyed being around Byron as he taught.
I was DYING inside.
I am the firstborn, Type A, not-in-my-house mom. With everyone watching Jonathan I was exposed and vulnerable.
Teddi held me back with the ‘mom-arm second seatbelt’ and repeatedly told me to sit down and let him be himself. NO! He needed to sit by me. He needed to be quiet and not distract people. The years of advice, scowls, “my kid would never”s, etc rang in my ears. Teddi patted my arm and said, ‘Let it go” so many times I may have to call her Elsa from now on. Several friends told me to relax and that no one was bothered by him.
Then I noticed something. Jonathan went up to a few people repeatedly because they SMILED at him. He actually looked at me in disbelief. I realized I hadn’t been smiling. A look of stressed frustration had been on my face. How many Sundays had he seen that face more than smiles? The pleasantly surprised look on his face soon spread over his body as Mike laughed with him and asked about his favorite toy. During the prayer, he tried to hold Jonathan’s hand and pray with him but never shushed him. Then class began.
Jaxon quietly got up from his seat and followed Jonathan. They played in the front of the room at the teacher’s feet TOGETHER. Jaxon met Jonathan where he was and loved him. That is what being a follower of Christ is all about.
Jaxon waited patiently and very gently took a toy from Jonathan, returning it when he wanted it.We went for a walk and the boys played in the hall. We saw another mom whose baby was fussing. Her husband, annoyed at his own child’s noise, told her to step out. We huddled up in the mom-circle with whispers of “I’m here too”.
We returned in and the the quiet chaos continued. My child acted like a three year old boy. He wandered and played. He didn’t cry, scream or act ugly. He put himself on display as he really is, without pretending. He didn’t “behave” a certain way. I was prevented from correcting him– which I needed. I would have done it to save face and would have apologized for my son as I have for two years. Jonathan smiled. He laughed. He spoke. He never cried, screamed or asked to leave. NOT ONCE.
As the bell rang, Jaxon hugged Jonathan. They smiled at each other. We had a mom and son group hug. I thanked the class for patiently loving us where we are and then turned to Jaxon on my knees so I could look him in his beautiful eyes. “You are my hero, Jaxon. You loved me and you loved Jonathan today. You were patient and kind. You did what Jesus says to do. I can’t wait to see how Jesus uses you.” He kissed my cheek and whispered, “I love you.”
Today three different moms said versions of, ‘We love you. We want you here. If that means a little more noise and a kid underfoot, oh well. That’s what church is supposed to be.” and “I’ll walk with Jonathan. I’d love to play with him!” Words like that drown out the silent voices that scream that my child and I are unacceptable, unwelcome, unlovable and difficult. Make no mistake, NO ONE at church said those words. Those are the lies Satan whispers to us that begin to echo in our heart when our children struggle. I discovered that those words get muffled when I hear, “We love him the way he is”, “We are SO glad to see you”, “We are praying for y’all! How is William?” and “How can I help?” When the broken people aren’t accepted in church, you get nothing but a group of Pharisees. I should know– I am a recovering Pharisee. Raising a child with Down Syndrome and a Rip-Roaring-Struggling-Toddler causes painful sanctification. I know I am a broken mess…just how Jesus wants me.
Maybe next week the three year old class will work. Maybe he will have to be in class and then come with me. What I do know is that we are seen. We are loved. We are gently sharpened and spurred on to be better. That is what the church should be. That is the gospel according to Jaxon.
“Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”