Sunday morning. Neil’s sick. Discouragement from the previous week’s circumstances wreaked havoc on my perspective of life, not to mention life’s other pesky stress inducers: small paychecks, large bills, vehicle maintenance, overwhelming and demanding “to do” lists, etc. Sometimes there’s a difference between positive thinking and truth thinking. Positive thinking just wasn’t working.
We live a little over an hour from church, so the drive provides quality family time or thinking time –or both. About twenty minutes from our destination, Hopelessness sang its song louder than the kid’s music in the cassette player, which I turned up to drown out my thoughts –unsuccessfully, I might add. So, I did what I should have done in the first place: I prayed.
God, without You, my boys have no hope for this life. Then another thought occurred to me, and I had to be completely honest. Neither do I, for that matter. I gave God all my seemingly hopeless situations. Then I prayed for Noah and Judah.
Upon arrival, we found Judah’s pal, and together they walked to the middle school class. But, Noah, just like last week, indicated he wanted to attend the service. I was pouring some hot, black coffee into my paper cup when Emily, Noah’s pal, walked over.
“Hey, there! Noah wants to go to the service. You up for that? Neil’s not here, so it’s just the two of us. Not totally sure what to expect.”
“Sure! Yeah, let’s do it!” I love her enthusiasm for adventure.
As we entered the sanctuary, Emily and I let Noah choose our seats. Although church isn’t full to capacity every week, the auditorium holds between 600 and 700 people. We followed Noah across the large room to some seats in the front row. Oh, well, how bad can it be?
The musicians began playing and singing. I watched Noah as he really enjoyed the music! I recognized some of the only dance moves he knows from Alvin and the Chipmunks. I could see he was indulging in his environment. Maybe a little too much. I grabbed his shirt and pulled him over to the side so he wouldn’t be so visually distracting. It’s not that I was embarrassed. I wasn’t. But the inward tension of receiving accusations for being disruptive, inconsiderate of others, disrespectful, selfish, acting entitled, (on and on) grew so tight in my chest, I couldn’t think of what to do with him.
A few minutes earlier, during one of the songs, our pastor greeted me with a side hug, then reached Noah, greeted him with a hug, and told him he was glad Noah was there. The tension eased momentarily. He is welcome here. But what about everyone else? What will they think?
As though to address my fears, warm arms wrapped around my shoulders. “He is beautiful. He’s just fine. He’s worshiping.” Instantly, I knew that voice. My friend, Terry, who has worked with kids and adults with disabilities for years, was watching Noah from across the room and noticed my unease. “Let him worship in his way. He’s not bothering anyone.”
“Okay, I’m going to follow your lead and take your cues. I don’t know where to draw the line. How far do I let him to go? What’s “appropriate” and what’s undignified praise that should be allowed, even encouraged? Will you help me?”
“I would love to.”
I could advocate for anyone, but I realized in that moment, I needed someone to advocate for me, as a mom –and for Noah. I needed the door to be opened and be invited to allow my son to worship. I couldn’t just barge in and take that allowance.
As Terry and Emily took over, a dam cracked inside me, and the tears wouldn’t stop. Unknown remaining residue from previous years melted like hot wax, completely changing my inner form from an image of rejection to an image of acceptance. Then, just as I was basking in that healing comfort, to my horror, Noah took off running in front of the stage and up one of the aisles. Emily chased after him. That hot, melty wax froze, and I couldn’t move. So I watched, like a movie projected on a 3D screen. The next words I heard were Pastor Rob’s as he stopped the sermon:
“Don’t worry about him. He’s okay. I personally invited him to be here.”
Then he picked up where he left off and continued the sermon. Emily and Noah made it back to their seats as I felt Terry’s arm around me again. “See? It’s fine. This is Noah’s church, too. He’s a part of this body.” This time the dam completely crumbled. I felt God’s healing touch going back years. Well-meaning words spoken in haste, well-meaning advice trying to make our lives easier…to unthoughtful, careless words and actions, all washed away. Tears gushed as truth thinking kicked into full gear.
At the end of the service, a friend from the worship team approached me and said how much she loved seeing Noah worship, how he blessed her with his uninhibited expression of praise. Then another friend walked over. He said, “I just wanted to tell you how much he was a blessing to me, just watching him worship.” One more friend walked to the front with her family and hugged me as she mentioned how excited she was to see Noah up front worshipping.
I could hardly speak.
I’m still overwhelmed. God’s healing for me came through the church body. Exactly what I needed. Nothing I could ever ask for. Only God could orchestrate that. I have a new concept of the body of Christ. The church is like a group-hug that never ends. Sometimes you’re on the outer fringes hugging everyone, and sometimes you’re in the very middle and everyone is hugging you. Only the arms of Christ could hold this hug together for so long.
“I give thanks to the LORD with all my heart. I will tell about all Your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in You. I will sing praise to Your name, ‘Elyon.”
~ Psalm 9:2-3 (CJB)